We’re back, with another charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing our look at the Ian and Barbara anthology, Mild Curiosities, with the first entry in Chapter III, the post-Doctor era: Adam Christopher’s Homecoming. You’ll notice that I’ve placed a link in that title; that link will take you to an older version of this story, first released in the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club’s Timestreams 5 collection, waaaaay back in 1995. If you haven’t yet purchased Mild Curiosities, and you’d like a taste of what you can find here, you can check out that link—but remember that the version in our anthology has been revised and updated, and is the “author’s preferred text”, as Adam Christopher puts it.
As always, there will be spoilers ahead! I do this when reviewing charity projects, because these projects are generally only available for a limited time or in limited quantities, and because they get little in the way of documentation. Although I would not give the text away for free, I believe these stories deserve to be remembered, and also to be catalogued and accessible in some way. Therefore, I include plot summaries, which are naturally heavy in spoilers. (But don’t let that stop you from buying the anthology and appreciating the work firsthand! Purchase link is at the end!)
With that said, let’s get started!
It’s 1965, and Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright have been in London for two hours. Reality is beginning to set in, and they find themselves in a pub, enjoying a drink on the last of Ian’s pocket change. They’ll be walking home from here–if, that is, they have homes to which to go. After all, it’s been two years (give or take—it’s two years on Earth, but how does one even begin to calculate their own elapsed time when traveling in time and space?), and surely their landlords have cleared out their flats by now. Barbara muses that she can go to her mother’s house, and that her mother will gladly put Ian up as well—but of course that’s just the tip of the iceberg. How do you go back to normal life, after all that they’ve experienced? And it’s not just the psychological adjustment, though that is certainly enough. No, it’s the practical matters. What will they do for work? What about money in the meantime? And fashions! Fashions have changed drastically in this short time, and the two time-stranded teachers feel very out of place.
All of that, though, fades into the background as Ian notices a stranger watching them. Clad in a steel-grey suit and holding a silver pocketwatch, the man acknowledges Ian’s notice, before leaving the pub. As it turns out, it’s closing time anyway, and so Ian takes the opportunity to escort Barbara out, keeping an eye out for the strange man.
Still, somehow, it’s the stranger who finds them, as they turn into an alley. He is now accompanied by an equally strange woman in a sapphire-blue dress. Strangest of all, the duo call Ian and Barbara by name—in fact, by their full names: Ian Francis Chesterton and Barbara Eileen Wright. Ian and Barbara are caught off guard as when the strangers question them further. “On November 23rd, 1963, your time traces disappeared from this continuum,” the strangers say. “Where did you go?*”
Our story today crosses the world of Doctor Who over with another time-travel series of the era: Sapphire and Steel. This is a series that I only know by reputation and by reading; I haven’t seen it, though it’s on my “eventually” list. Fortunately, this story hints more than tells; it stops just as our heroes meet the titular Sapphire and Steel, and so it doesn’t stray far into territory which I wouldn’t be able to properly discuss. I understand that there’s a fair bit of overlap in the fandoms of Sapphire and Steel and classic Doctor Who, and justifiably so, given the relation in the subject matter; therefore I think this is a great connection, and am glad to have read it.
What I appreciate most about this story, however, is the immediacy of it. When we last saw Ian and Barbara (chronologically, that is), they had just used the Dalek time machine to return home. In most instances of companion exits, we don’t get to see what happens thereafter. We carry on with the Doctor (and not always immediately, even in that context), and often we get to revisit companions at a later time, but we rarely see what happens to them when they return home. How does one adapt to the mundane life of an earthbound human, after traveling with the Doctor? How does one even get started? Here we get a glimpse, if not a long one. It’s a bit reminiscent of Rose, the first episode of the revived series, in which we get to see Rose Tyler’s first morning after meeting the Doctor—a situation that, while not quite a companion exit, is similar enough, as her encounter with the Doctor destroys a significant part of her old life.
So, check it out. Take this opportunity to get a glimpse of what Ian and Barbara are feeling as reality—the reality that they are home, and don’t know what to do–sets in. After all, what would you or I do in that situation?
Next time: We’ll carry on with Comfort in Tea and Tales of Time Travel, by Dana Reboe. See you there!
Mild Curiosities is published in support of Breast Cancer Now, the UK’s largest breast cancer charity and research organization. You can learn more about them here. The anthology can be purchased in digital form here for a limited time.