Charity Anthology Review: Mild Curiosities, and Doctor Who In A Very Exciting Adventure With The Eater Of Worlds

We’re back, with another charity anthology review! First, I apologize for my absence the last few weeks, as I’ve been dealing with an illness and some other complications with my life. But, we’re back today, continuing our look at the Ian and Barbara anthology, Mild Curiosities, with the fourth (and possibly longest) entry: Doctor Who In A Very Exciting Adventure With The Eater Of Worlds, by William J. Martin.

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!

Mild Curiosities

Vicki Pallister is admiring the rather ornate clock in the TARDIS console room, when the ship lurches and sends the clock toppling to the floor, shattering it into fragments. The Doctor, Ian, and Barbara all come running, just in time for the ship to shudder to a halt. They find they have landed in New York City—and the time appears to be very close to Ian and Barbara’s own. Have they finally made it home (or near enough)? Are they really just a transoceanic voyage away from home?

Unfortunately…the TARDIS has suspended itself half a mile up. Which would be fine—until there’s a knock at the door. Outside, a man made of light hovers in the air. He introduces himself as Starblaze, of the Quintessence Quartet, and tells them they must evacuate. Something strange is going on, and it’s only grown worse since the TARDIS arrived. Suddenly the TARDIS begins to lurch and groan again—not departing, but behaving very strangely. As the Doctor struggles with the controls, he allows Starblaze to get them out, beginning with Ian, Barbara, and Vicki.

One by one, Starblaze flies them down to the roof of a tall building with an atom symbol on its center. He leaves them in the capable hands of a new character—his sister, who introduces herself as Ms. Phantasm—and returns for the Doctor. But, all the observers are stunned as Starblaze disappears into the TARDIS—and then the TARDIS itself disappears.

Ms. Phantasm, or Debbie, as she calls herself, is momentarily shaken, but recovers quickly. She is sure they can track the TARDIS, and so she leads the others into the building, which is called Dawnrise Plaza. To everyone’s surprise, she does so by phasing them through the concrete of the roof. There they meet a third stranger, a man made entirely of stone, who introduces himself as Jacob. Debbie quickly explains: She, her brother Danny Grey (aka Starblaze), Jacob, and her husband, Stephen Sinclair, make up a research team. Some time back, they were exposed to a rather unusual situation, and as a result each developed unique powers. Now, they function as a sort of superhero team, and call themselves the Quintessence Quartet. Danny’s powers allow him to fly and turn his body to energy, most notably light and fire; Debbie’s powers allow her to turn herself or others intangible, and create force fields; Jacob, while turned to a living stone, is incredibly strong and durable; and Stephen, in addition to his prodigious mind, can totally control the molecules of his body, making him a sort of shapeshifter who can stretch to any shape and size. On this particular day, the team detected the presence of the TARDIS—but also detected some other, more frightening, phenomena.

Meanwhile, Danny and the Doctor make quick, if unsatisfying, introductions as the TARDIS grinds to a stop. They find themselves in a maze of corridors, somewhere far from Earth. The Doctor, without explaining, sets off in search of something, and Danny is forced to follow. Oddly, the corridors seem to be changing as they go, resisting their efforts to navigate. At last, though, they find themselves in a large observation bay, in which an image of the Earth is displayed, observed only by a single, strange man.

At Dawnrise, Debbie introduces Stephen, who is in a panic. He has detected two strange energy signatures heading for Earth. One is small, but moving fast; the other is so massive as to be beyond description. And they have nearly arrived.

The Doctor engages the man in conversation. He is struck silent, however, when the man explains why he is here: to observe the affairs of a creature called Omnidax. When the Doctor recovers himself, he explains to Danny that Omnidax is an almost legendary creature, a massive entity that devours whole worlds. The man adds that it is from beyond time, before time, from a previous universe. He insists that Omnidax now has its sights set on Earth—and must not be stopped. The Doctor, who now recognizes the man (or at least, his species and his purpose), argues with him over what is the greater good: to save the lives on Earth, or to save many others by allowing Omnidax to fulfill its purpose? They are interrupted when a beam of light streaks toward the Earth—and the man announces it is too late.

Steven, too, has detected the approach of the light, and rushes everyone to the roof. It rapidly approaches Dawnrise, and Debbie uses her power to contain it, creating a force field. However, she is quickly overwhelmed. The light resolves itself into a human figure made of light, similar to Starblaze, but much stronger. The creature introduces itself as Argamant, the Herald of Omnidax, come to prepare the way and observe as Omnidax feeds on the Earth. Jacob attacks Argamant, but is easily repelled. Argamant speaks to Ian, Barbara, and Vicki, and says that they seem different from the others; they alone are not afraid. He invites them to join him as he observes the citiy, and then heads for the street. With little choice, they move to follow him…and the sky explodes above them. Omnidax has arrived.

Debbie and Stephen send the trio to follow Armagant. As Omnidax begins to destroy neighboring buildings, Stephen has Jacob throw him closer to Omnidax, in an attempt to reason with the beast. However, Omnidax insists that only after he feeds will he hear reason.

Chasing Armagant, and trying to plead with him, Barabara and the others gather vital information. They learn that Omnidax consumes something vital, something more essential than DNA; though they can’t put a precise name to it, it may roughly be considered the soul of the planet and its people. Armagant insists that no one actually dies; instead, he claims, they become one with Omnidax, and are preserved as data (a small consolation to the victims, perhaps!). His task is to witness the worlds before they merge with Omnidax. Meanwhile, back at Dawnrise, Stephen realizes that Omnidax came here because of the density of life in the city. He realizes, as well, that Omnidax isn’t destroying the buildings; he is cannibalizing them for parts, constructing a strange spherical object. Clearly he needs this device to feed on the planet; and if they can damage it, they can slow his advance.

The strange man gives his name as Qajaqualconitonis, which the Doctor quickly abbreviates to Qaja. He claims to be an appointed Watcher for this system. He says that Omnidax doesn’t only consume life; he consumes the timelines represented by that life. He insists that he cannot let the Doctor interfere; the Doctor insists he must. The Doctor tells Danny that Qaja is of his own species, a rather lazy and fearful species at that. Qaja ignores the jab, and says that he is not permitted to interfere except in the prevention of a greater threat. He insists that if he repels Omnidax—forcing him to find another world, with its own innocents to die—he will add complexity to the course of history, and rip the web of time apart. However, he stumbles when the Doctor lets slip—innocently and quite accidentally, it seems—that he has friends on the surface. Friends, who just happen to also be time travelers. Qaja becomes enraged; the Doctor brought other time travelers here, into the most sensitive moment in Earth’s history?! And the Doctor refuses to try to remove them—after all, it is a sensitive moment in the timestream. Qaja knows his hand has been forced, and there will be consequences; but he grudgingly agrees to help. He tells the Doctor to consider Omnidax’s strength in order to find his weakness. He reminds the Doctor that Omnidax consumes not just matter, but timelines. Those timelines don’t cease inside him; rather, they war with each other, and it is the tension between them that sustains him. But, the addition of a few rogue elements—such as Ian and Barbara and Vicki—could upset that balance, and destroy him, and the universe with him…That is unacceptable, and therefore Qaja allows the Doctor to act. He gives him coordinates that will take him to Omnidax’s point of origin, in the previous universe. He also promises to provide the power boost necessary for the TARDIS to go there and return—but he warns them that the laws of reality in that universe will be quite different, and dangerous to them…

Debbie gets Stephen and Jacob into Omnidax’s sphere, where they set about destroying everything they can touch. Meanwhile, Vicki and the others follow Armagant to the now-damaged Times Square. Here they see a building with a collapsed front, and from inside they hear cries for help. They also discover quickly that Armagant can read a person’s history from even the slightest residue of their touch, and more if he touches the person. They hear someone calling for help from the broken building, and find a blind sculptor, Karen Lieber, trapped in the rubble. They work furiously to dig her out, much to the puzzlement of Armagant, who insists her story will end soon anyway when Omnidax consumes her. When they get her uncovered, they find that she is bleeding profusely from a leg injury, and Vicki begins a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding. However, Armagant is stunned to silence when he sees Karen’s timeline change before his eyes, something he has never seen before. It rattles him to his core, and though he has not yet decided what it means, he moves to heal Karen’s injury. He then declares that this event has made him see that Omnidax is not all-powerful, and can—and should—be resisted. Though it may damn him, he will now stand against Omnidax himself, and perhaps atone for the crimes in which he has been complicit. He spreads his golden light around the group, and teleports them away.

The Doctor and Danny successfully make the trip back into the previous universe, but they find that the environment is inimical to the Doctor. However, Danny has a better chance of survival; and so he goes out in search of the thing for which they have come: the device Omnidax built to survive the transition between universes. He is nearly killed in the process, but he brings back the component the Doctor requires.

At Dawnrise, Omnidax lashes out against Jacob and Stephen, repelling them and nearly killing Jacob in the process. Jacob is saved by Debbie and Stephen—but Omnidax successfully completes his device, and prepares to feed. Suddenly, the orb explodes apart, and Omnidax furiously looks for his new opponent—and finds Armagant. At the same time, Ian, Barbara, Vicki, and Karen materialize on the roof with Stephen and the others. Armagant challenges Omnidax, and prepares for battle—and then the TARDIS reappears on the rooftop.

The Doctor and Danny emerge, and the Doctor calls out to Omnidax. He presents the device retrieved from the prior universe: a quantum tachyon capacitor, a device capable of storing a nearly-infinite amount of energy. Omnidax recognizes the threat; if the Doctor activates the device, Omnidax’s hunger would increase to infinity, and he would wither away. Omnidax insists he must be allowed to live, for the sake of all the knowledge he contains, but the Doctor disagrees; all things have their time, and must pass away. The Doctor cannot favor the long dead over the living. Armagant, however, objects. He offers to destroy Omnidax at the cost of his own life—a due penance, he believes. The Doctor will not hear of it. He offers to keep the capacitor, thus becoming as it were Omnidax’s jailer, and thus allow Armagant to live and find peace. But it is Omnidax who breaks the standoff—he accepts the Doctor’s terms, and will only feed on dead worlds henceforth; but his travels will be long, and he still must feed in order to go. To that end, Armagant allows him to consume all the cosmic power and knowledge he contains, reducing him to an ordinary man, bound to Earth. The balance—and the bargain—is struck, and Omnidax departs.

As goodbyes are said, Armagant begins his new life; Karen finds herself getting close to Jacob, whose stone exterior doesn’t matter to her; and the Doctor grants Stephen a rare peek inside the TARDIS. However, they are interrupted by Qaja; he announces that his interference has been found out, and will be punished. As well, as his masters arrive, if they find the time travelers on Earth, they will correct the timeline, wiping them out of existence and restoring Omnidax to his previous state. All their work will be for nothing. And so the Doctor and his companions are forced again to hurry into the TARDIS and away, leaving the Earth—and yet another chance at home—behind them. Still, as Ian reflects, it’s not so bad; imagine if this crisis had been their last goodbye to the Doctor and Vicki. In the meantime, they’ll keep trying.

line break 1

I’ve met the Quintessence Quartet before, in my review of the Defending Earth Sarah Jane Smith anthology. (If you’re interested, you can read that review here; that story is titled When the Stars Come to Man.) Given that these anthologies come to me with no real order to them, that story represents a much later event in the lives of the Quartet, and represents a conclusion of sorts, as it brings them full circle with their origins. Here, however, we see them at their prime, in a more mainstream adventure.

For those not aware, William J. Martin’s Quintessence Quartet are a tribute of sorts to the classic eras of comic books, and specifically, to the Fantastic Four. The characters have very similar powers and identities to the Fantastic Four, and the stories seem to be structured in much the same way as classic FF adventures. There’s one major difference, though: Martin handles the characters with care and respect. That’s something that can’t be said about recent portrayals of the Fantastic Four, especially their big screen outings. (It’s an unfortunate truth, but even the classic comics didn’t always give the team the respect they merited. There’s none of that here, though—the Quintessence Quartet are well presented and well handled.)

In this story, the Doctor and his companions, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki, stumble into the Quartet’s first encounter with one of their greatest enemies: Omnidax, the Eater of Worlds. I say “first” despite not having read any further encounters; that’s a bit of presumption on my part, I admit. Omnidax is clearly based on one of the Fantastic Four’s most persistent and famous adversaries: Galactus. Like Galactus, he is a force from a previous universe, known for consuming entire worlds, and expected to survive the death of this universe as well. Also like Galactus, he travels preceded by a Herald; Galactus famously had the Silver Surfer, and Omnidax has Armagant, who shares many qualities with the Surfer. Galactus is a bit less defined here than in the comics, where he takes the form of a massive (but variably sized) humanoid; here, the impression I got is more akin to the amorphous, cloudlike representation of Galactus as seen in the Rise of the Silver Surferfilm. (Apologies to the author if I’ve interpreted that wrong!) As happens in some Galactus stories, the Herald learns a new truth about his reality, and turns against Omnidax; but here, that is not enough. It’s the Doctor—in alliance with the others—who saves the day, by retrieving a deadly artifact from Omnidax’s previous universe.

(One has to ask, though: If the Doctor went back in time, and stole a critical part of the device that Omnidax used to enter our universe, then how did Omnidax do it? Shouldn’t his timeline be interrupted? Omnidax, of course, being above such concerns, sneers at our petty logic, and continues to exist anyway. The nerve of some people!)

I found myself intrigued by the character of Qaja (no, I’m not going to spell out his full name again). He seems to be a blending of two bits of lore here. First, he is a Watcher, one of a longstanding cadre of Marvel Comics characters (or the equivalent thereof), assigned to observe and record—but not interfere in—the events of Omnidax’s arrival. That sounds suspiciously like the Time Lords, however, who in Classic Who were chiefly observers and not meddlers (though of course that role began to change over time). Indeed, the Doctor tells Danny Grey that Qaja is one of his own race, though he doesn’t use the phrase “Time Lord”. Qaja is an interesting conundrum, though; he doesn’t act like he is here on behalf of the Time Lords specifically, and indeed it doesn’t quite seem that we can equate the Time Lords with the Watchers. Rather, there’s the distinct impression that he is a Time Lord who was plucked from Gallfrey to become a Watcher—and it seems those worthies represent something higher than the Time Lords. Rassilon is NOT going to be happy.

Overall, though, it’s good to remember that this is an Ian and Barbara anthology. They take a bit of a backseat in the events of the story; but the actions they take are the pivotal turning point of the story. On their actions rests the conversion of Armagant; and it can be argued that without that event, the story would have ended very differently. Ian and Barbara, along with Vicki, are the humanizing element here, the ones bringing sanity to an otherwise insane situation; and it’s their humanity that makes all the difference.

And once again, they’re prevented from returning home. Can’t win ‘em all.

Next time: I mentioned that this may be the longest story in the anthology. I haven’t confirmed that, but I do know that most of the upcoming entries should be shorter. It’s not that I have a problem with longer stories; but longer stories require more reading and writing time, and I’m already very far behind. We’ll try to make up for lost time, and we’ll start with the next entry: The Stowaways, by Peter Cumiskey. 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.

Previous

Next

Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology: When the Stars Come to Man, by William J. Martin

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re continuing on our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous entries via the links at the bottom of the post. Today—after some delay due to a power outage in my area–we’re concluding the “Investigations” portion of Sarah Jane’s life, with the tenth of fifteen stories in this anthology: When the Stars Come to Man, by William J. Martin. Let’s get started!

As always, there will be spoilers ahead! You can find my reason for this in the first entry of this series, linked below. As well, you can find links at the end to purchase the anthology, and to learn about and support the charity which the anthology supports, the Cancer Research Institute.

Defending Earth (Cover)

A star made of metal falls on upstate New York. The ship—for of course it is a ship—is a loss; but four spacesuited figures climb out. Very soon, the site is claimed, and developed.

Far away, and years later, Sarah Jane Smith, former investigative reporter and sometime savior of Earth, sits at lunch with her friends, Joshua Townsend and Natalie Redfern. Joshua, no stranger to Sarah’s investigations—especially into the mysterious White Chapter and Red Chapter—has brought news of a new topic of interest: A strange US Air Force base in upstate New York, that is showing strange signs of activity after five decades of abandonment. Two urban explorers are missing—and this is exactly the kind of thing Sarah and her friends investigate. Soon, they are on their way across the ocean to New York.

The former Baxter Air Force Base is quiet, overgrown with trees that have reclaimed the property—except that several large hangers, and a new gatehouse, show a surprising amount of upkeep. Outside the fence, Sarah dispatches Joshua and Natalie to check various spots. Natalie finds the gatehouse empty of life, but filled with computers with a strange atom logo on the screens. Joshua finds an opening through the fence—and is knocked unconscious, and taken away. Shortly thereafter a strange aircraft lands, and four people—much stranger than the craft itself—climb out. The four are possessed of strange abilities: one, introducing himself as Stephen Sinclair, can manipulate the atoms of his body into any shape and size, allowing him to stretch his body at will; his wife, Debbie Sinclair, can create energy shields and manipulate the density of her atoms. The third, Debbie’s brother Danny, calls himself Starblaze, and has the power to transform himself into photons and energy; and the fourth, the family’s friend Jacob, has phenomenal strength—but at the appearance of having his body transformed to living stone. This unlikely group of superheroes calls themselves the Quintessence Quartet…and Sarah Jane has encountered them before, if not in person. She explains to Natalie that they have been active since the 1960s, but suddenly vanished—or went underground, as Debbie explains.

At the revelation that Joshua is missing, the group allows Sarah and Natalie to join them, and Sinclair produces a life sign detector for finding Joshua. It reveals several lifeforms…all underground, beneath the hangars. The group moves to investigate. They quickly find that all the buildings are flimsy, looking to be not much more than movie sets, but that they each contain a tunnel that leads down, eventually converging into a master tunnel.

Meanwhile, Joshua awakens and finds himself a captive of the Red Chapter, which is bent on the fated destruction of humanity. He is quickly identified as the son of the leader of the White Chapter, which believes much the same as the Red, but seeks to save the world from destruction. Their differences are irrelevant right now, however, as it is revealed that the Red representatives here serve a greater power: the Mandragora Helix. And the Helix has detected intrusion. It quickly sends its minions to stop Sarah and the Quartet, transforming them into powerful warriors in order to meet the threat. Further, it is enraged to find Sarah jane, whom it calls the Herald of the Helix, and it vows to destroy her.

With battle joined, Sarah and her friends are overrun. Jacob and Danny volunteer to stay behind and handle the enemy, allowing the others to press on. They eventually find their way to a large control room, now vacant except for a groggy Joshua. As Sarah and Natalie help him up and free him, Sinclair and Debbie begin to activate the various computers in the room. They get a shock when they learn that the entire place is being controlled by an old familiar ally: an artificial intelligence named Gordon. Sinclair explains quickly how they got their powers: in the earliest days of the space race, he arranged a mission into space for himself and his three friends, anxious to get there before the Soviet Union; but their ship was exposed to a strange energy, and crashed back to Earth. The team survived, and found they were blessed with new powers. However, the ship was unrecovered, on this very site—and indeed, it appears it still exists, further down in the base. That ship was co-piloted by Gordon, who has somehow survived; and, augmented by the energy that struck the ship, he has begun to develop.

But that isn’t all. The files reveal that the energy isn’t just random; in fact it is an old enemy of Sarah Jane: the Mandragora Helix. The Doctor warned her, many years and some centuries ago, that the Helix would return—and so it has. Now, it seeks to control Gordon, and through him the entire area, right down to its very fabric, its stone and soil, to establish itself and control the world. It must be stopped.

Debbie quickly concludes the obvious: That means that the Quartet’s powers are also the work of the Helix. Sarah Jane concurs, but points out that this is cause for hope: After all, they’ve controlled it for decades, rather than the other way around.

Sinclair chooses to stay and continue trying to disrupt the Helix from here, sending Sarah, Josh, and Debbie on ahead to try to reach the ship and shut everything down. Natalie, quite adept at a computer herself, chooses to stay and help him. Meanwhile, up above, Danny and Jacob are in the fight of their lives—and slowly, they are losing. The enemies are closing in on the rest of the team.

Sarah, Josh, and Debbie make their way down to the deepest point of the base—and there they find the wrecked spaceship. It is guarded by a field of energy—and by two ominous jars containing badly mutated fetuses. Sarah realizes that these are the bodies of the two missing explorers, heavily twisted by the Mandragora Helix in its attempts to give itself a body on Earth. Leaving Debbie outside to stand guard. Sarah and Joshua push on inside, and confront a fully corrupted Gordon, serving as the mouthpiece for the Helix. Once he brought man to the stars…now he brings the stars to man. The Helix, speaking through it, is angry at Sarah, remembering her past involvement in its defeat.

Outside, one of the jars shatters, and Debbie—following a purpose she doesn’t fully understand—sends the mutant into the blackness that borders the ship.

Sarah confronts the Helix. She is no longer the young woman she once was, and she is no longer frightened of this being or its plans. She challenges it, and forces it to name its two victims, the explorers—and forces it to explain its plans. It acknowledges it wants to give itself form and walk the Earth before bringing about destruction. But it is interrupted by the arrival of the mutant child. The Helix screams in terror as its own creation comes to it, looping its own power back onto itself—an act that will be sufficient to force it back on itself, out to the stars where it belongs. Sarah and Josh try to flee, but cannot.

But all is not lost; for Natalie has determined the truth: the entire base, its buildings, even its soil, consists of Helix energy. Gordon has been controlling it, but his control is slipping. However, a human mind can do it, at least briefly. Sinclair knows the kind of control necessary—he’s been living it for years with his own treacherous body—but, as Nat points out, he can’t be the one to carry this burden. He has been sufficient to control the Helix energy in his body; but this amount, added to his own, will overwhelm him. It will take someone without any previous touch of the energy; and Natalie is the only one able to do so. She connects herself to the system.

Sarah and Joshua—along with the others—find themselves in a vast, constructed pit of sand and statues. Sarah sees that the slaves of the Helix are here as well; but the humans, Red Chapter though they may be, are fighting their master for control of themselves. They approach the monolith that represents the Helix. Sarah confronts the creature, and tells it of its ultimate defeat—and then the slaves release their store of Helix energy back into the monolith. This is the final step needed to banish the Helix. Creation explodes around them, and all goes dark.

One by one, Sarah and her friends awaken in the forest. Of the pit, and the base, there is no sign. Only a long trench is visible, at the end of which they can see the ruin of a spaceship. In the absence of the Helix energy, the area has reverted to the state it was in on the night the Helix came to Earth: the night of the crash, more than fifty years ago.

With the Helix vanished, Sarah and her friends bid the Quintessence Quartet goodbye, and watch them leave, taking the ruined ship with them. Then, they turn to make their own way home, another battle won. The White and Red Chapters may continue their war; but for now, the Helix is gone, and the Earth is safer than it was—and that is reward enough.

Martin Title Card

One of the difficulties of the charity anthology”scene”, if you will, is that we readers must really keep up. Anthology authors, like any other authors, will often want to have some continuity between their own stories, perhaps introducing characters or settings that will continue from one story to another. With licensed works, this usually isn’t an issue. Stories tend to remain available in some form, and there are resources such as the TARDIS wiki which can be consulted. Anthologies, on the other hand, tend to have print runs that are limited in both number and time; once it’s gone, it’s gone, as these books usually don’t get much resale traffic either. Nor are there encyclopedic references for charity works, such as there are for licensed works. So, when an author introduces a unique character, he or she has to either work hard at making each story stand alone, or just hope that the reader can keep up.

We’ve encountered some of this already: for example, our very first entry, The Sparks, included the character of Lola, who it seems has appeared in at least one more of the author’s stories; and also a meteor shower was mentioned, which the author covered elsewhere. Thus far the effect has been minimal, and the stories have been perfectly capable of standing alone. That changes today, with the introduction of the Quintessence Quartet.

I want to go on record immediately as saying that I am not, in any way, complaining about the characters. I found this story to be a rollicking good read, owing much to the comic books from which it takes inspiration. I’m only complaining (if I even want to use that word) that there’s clearly history here that I most likely won’t be able to appreciate, because it comes from a source that I won’t be able to track down.

The Quintessence Quartet are best described as a tribute to Marvel Comics’ The Fantastic Four. Their powers, appearances, and names are tweaked enough to not be a direct copy; but it’s overwhelmingly obvious what they represent. Even the name of the airbase in the story—Baxter Air Force Base—is a Fantastic Four reference, as the Fantastic Four have long worked out of a skyscraper called the Baxter Building. (I’ll admit I was testing my memory to come up with that fact; it’s been a great many years since I last read any Fantastic Four comics, and, well, we’re still waiting for a good movie treatment, in my opinion.) They’re a good tribute, though—a respectful one, saturated in the wholesomeness of Silver Age comics.

I suppose it didn’t help me, in my grasp of this story, that it takes place during the events of Big Finish’s Sarah Jane Smithaudio series. This, too, is an era that I am unfamiliar with, although some research helped. The series, from what I have read, revolves around the battle between the White Chapter and the Red (or sometimes Crimson) Chapter, two offshoots of a single organization, both of which believe the end of the world is imminent. The Red Chapter seeks to hasten the end; the White Chapter seeks to prevent it. The Red Chapter appears here. The author deftly weaves it together with another established villain: the Mandragora Helix, from the Fourth Doctor serial The Masque of Mandragora (one I have seen, at least!). That serial predicted the return of the Helix at or near the end of the twentieth century—a thread that has been tugged in a few licensed stories, but never again on television. (For reference, compare the novels Beautiful Chaos and The Eleventh Tiger, and the comic The Mark of Mandragora.) The connection between the Helix and the Chapters is implied in the audio series, but not so explicitly as describe here (or so my sources indicate—I really should listen to the audio series).

But, enough complaining! Now for the good. For any fan of either the audio series or Marvel comics, this story is going to be pure fun. It’s long, one of the longer entries in the anthology, though much shorter than Swinging Londons; and yet it moves quickly, never lingering, much as the comics to which it pays tribute. Moreover, it’s upbeat—the characters, including Sarah Jane, are confident, peppy, and strong, without being annoying. More than any story I’ve read so far, this is a feel-good story, with none of the darkness and tragedy that usually accompanies a story in the Doctor Who universe. It makes me want to read more. (If anyone has experience with the author’s previous work involving the Quintessence Quartet, feel free to join in the comments!)

Overall: I was a little dismayed at first. Who are these people? What’s going on? There’s some explanation for each story in the editor’s introduction to the anthology, but even that wasn’t enough to prepare me for the way this story jumps right in. As well, I was concerned about the introduction of superheroes into the Doctor Who universe…until I was reminded that the television series already covered this ground, in The Return of Doctor Mysterio. Nevertheless, I’m glad I stuck with it. It made the teenage comic book reader inside me quite happy, and brought back good memories. Perhaps it will do the same for you.

Next time: We start the final section of the anthology, “Family”, with a contribution by the editor, M.H. Norris: Gifts for Good. See you there!

Defending Earth: An Unofficial Sarah Jane Smith Charity Collection is edited by M.H. Norris, and is produced in support of the Cancer Research Institute, researching the immune system as a weapon in the battle against cancers of all types. You can find the Cancer Research Institute here, and you can purchase the anthology here. The anthology is currently available in ebook formats, and is available for preorder in a print edition.

The Sarah Jane Smith audio drama series may be purchased here.

Previous

Next