Charity Anthology Review: Mild Curiosities, and A Restless Night

We’re back, with another charity anthology review! Today we continue our look at the Ian and Barbara anthology, Mild Curiosities, with the third entry: A Restless Night, by Jeff Goddard.

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

I can’t give a proper plot summary for this story, and for a very good reason: This is not a plot-driven story. (As a result, this entry will be shorter than most, but I think we’ll accomplish what we need to, despite that.) Rather, it’s a vignette, a slice of life that focuses much more on the feelings of our characters. We find Ian wandering the TARDIS at night, musing on how it seems to change, and how it seems to be benignly conscious, always getting him where he wants—or needs to go…within its own corridors, that is. Outside, in the universe, not so much—but save that for later. He finds his way to the console room, where the Doctor is not present, but Barbara is, lost in her own thoughts. She is clearly distraught; when prodded, she admits to thinking about Susan, who has recently left the team—no, not left; was left behind, by the Doctor. The old man’s motives are sincere enough, and seem to make perfect sense to him, but perhaps not to his human traveling companions. After all, Susan is just a child, isn’t she?

Ian points out that he has begun to suspect that she isn’t. Mounting evidence seems to point to the idea that the Doctor and Susan don’t age like humans. Still, the girl is capable, and everyone could see that she was falling for David on the Dalek-ravaged Earth, and…well, perhaps she’ll be alright. But that begs the question—what of Ian and Barbara? After all, it was Susan who led them to this life of travel and adventure, and now, without her…well, Barbara says it plainly: She just wants to go home. “No Daleks or telepaths or dips into history. Home.” Ian agrees—“Back to foggy nights and rainy days. Marking homework and football on Saturdays.” The question is…can the Doctor get them there? And that, it seems, remains to be seen.

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We fans, I think, have become a bit jaded over the years. Certainly we love this series, and certainly we still try to put ourselves in the shoes of companions of the Doctor. I think, though, that by way of familiarity we may have forgotten just how strange and bizarre this lifestyle would be. We forget just how stressful, how hard it would be to be spirited away with the Doctor. (As an aside, the modern series seems to be aware of this development, and has accommodated it; companions no longer stumble into the Doctor’s TARDIS and get whisked away against their will, as happened often in the classic series. Modern companions get a choice; the Doctor invites them along. It’s charming, and avoids the unpleasant specter of kidnapping. Even one-off companions usually get to go in with their eyes open, even if they don’t get the standard invitation.) Ian and Barbara, though, had nothing going for them, no invitation, no advantage to which to cling. They were, quite literally, kidnapped. We know that they later acclimatized themselves to the situation (a more unkind me might call it Stockholm Syndrome), and they—in a word—coped. Still, for much of their tenure with the Doctor, they were on the back foot, as it were; stressed, lonely, far from home, and without any real hope of ever getting there. Indeed, if they had relied solely on the Doctor, they might never have made it—let’s not forget that it’s a captured Dalek time machine that ultimately gets them home, in The Chase. (There’s a cute line in this story, which I omitted above, where Barbara says that she’d be happy with just getting close to London 1963, and Ian retorts “What, like London, 1965?” Which is of course where they ultimately land.)

This story captures those feelings. It plays them up further by its placement; this story takes place shortly after Susan’s exit at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It doesn’t let the impact of that story be lost; Barbara stresses that Susan didn’t leave (a distinction we fans sometimes gloss over), she was left by the Doctor, who is still very much an unpredictable and sometimes capricious character. (I’ve often theorized that the Doctor doesn’t really become “the Doctor” as we know him until The War Machines, which is when he finally embraces the heroic personality he’s been building. It’s pure speculation, of course; but if I am correct, I feel I should mention that that story is a long time in the future here, and the Doctor is by no means that man yet—though he is making progress!) Ian and Barbara are seen here at their most weak, most human, and most like the people we would really be in their situation.

But they aren’t hopeless! They despair—but only a little. Ian is, as ever, the consummate optimist; and he does what he does best, which is lift Barbara’s spirits. He really has no choice but to believe they’ll make it; after all, what’s the alternative? There’s no towel to throw in. There’s no such thing as giving up—what would that even look like? They must continue, and all they control here is their attitude toward it. It’s enough. It has to be enough, and so it will.

And so, they continue on.

There’s a lesson for us in that, but I think it’s obvious, and I won’t hammer it home; I’ll simply point out its existence. Consider it one more reason to buy the book and read it—yes, even this short-but-poignant story. Perhaps especially this story.

Next time: Doctor Who in a Very Exciting Adventure with the Eater of Worlds, by William J. Martin! 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.

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Charity Anthology Review: Mild Curiosities, and The Wreck of the San Juan de Pasajes

We’re back, with another charity anthology review! Today we continue our look at the Ian and Barbara anthology, Mild Curiosities, with the second entry: co-editor James Bojaciuk’s The Wreck of the San Juan de Pasajes.

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

Ian Chesterton is far from young when the opportunity arises. He is an old man now, and full of memories—but it’s for the sake of those memories that he invests the money. It’s a good cause, he believes; it’s the restoration of a ship once thought lost, the San Juan de Pasajes. Perhaps, as his friends insist, his involvement is a little stronger than the situation justifies—after all, why would he show such interest in the restoration of an old wreck? Well, he can’t properly tell them why, of course—but he doesn’t need the money, and neither does his son, Johnny, who is quite successful on his own. There’s no reason he shouldn’t donate—and no reason why he can’t attend the unveiling. After all, it’s to the memory of his beloved Barbara… There are many memories Ian treasures—but the chance to revisit one: now, that is a treasure indeed. So many are lost to history. But now, as he stands in the museum and looks over the restored hulk of the San Juan de Pasajes, his mind drifts back to a snowy day, long—and long—ago.

It was a different life, traveling in the TARDIS—and that’s no common turn of phrase; it was indeed very different. Ian and Barbara, along with the still-mysterious Doctor and his granddaughter, Susan, had just come from the markets of a far-flung planet in the Tracian system, bustling with aliens. Now they step out onto Earth—but not their own part of it. Instead, it is the dead of winter, in a raging snowstorm; and to Ian’s surprise, he finds himself on the deck of a seventeenth-century sailing ship. (History was Barbara’s purview, but perhaps the science teacher was picking up a few bits.) He steps back inside for a moment of banter with the Doctor, who then leads the way out, with Barbara close behind. Ian makes to follow— –and is hurled about as the TARDIS lurches in what seems to be agony. Somewhere deep inside it, a church bell—the cloister bell, though he doesn’t know the term—begins to toll. He staggers to the console, where Susan is fighting with a lever, and helps her to pull it, setting the TARDIS on its proverbial feet again. Susan leads the way to the door…but now they are on the shore, perhaps a mile distant from the ship. They can see the Doctor and Barbara on the deck, can hear them calling out, but they can’t reach them.

As they watch, the ship runs aground, tearing a jagged hole in its hull.

Something must be done. Ian suggests the fast return switch—not a bad idea! Susan dives for the switch, and the TARDIS spins away into the time vortex…and comes to rest in the Tracian market. A second attempt takes them back to the shore. The stop aboard ship hasn’t been logged! Now the ship is visibly listing, and the crew—and Barbara—are throwing barrels into the sea while the Doctor argues with the captain. And worse: the snow is falling faster.

Ian sees the problem at once. If the crew—and their wayward companions—can’t be rescued at once, they will have to swim for shore; but with visibility quickly dropping, they can easily get lost, and hypothermia will make short work of them. He leaves Susan to work on getting the TARDIS to the ship, and looks for another solution.

Their place on shore isn’t just any landing. The ship is clearly a whaling ship; and this landing is a camp for rendering the blubber down to valuable whale oil. And it just so happens that one of the cabins contains barrels of stored oil… Ian quickly constructs two torches, and tries to signal the ship. If they can follow the light, they’ll be safe. But the snow is falling so hard that the torches are obscured, and he knows something more will be required. If Susan was making no progress—and she wasn’t—then he would need a bigger fire. He is able to make one quickly enough, but it’s still not enough; and the snow is nearly waist-deep. He’s a science teacher! He should be more inventive than this! He checks on Susan, who has disassembled part of the console in an attempt to redirect the ship; her face and hands are dark with grease.

Seeing the grease, Ian suddenly remembers.

This is a rendering plant. For whale oil.

Dragging Susan with him, he races back to the storage cabin. Together they wrestle a large barrel of oil back to the shore near the site of his first fire, which has burned out in the snow. They place the barrel on a rock, and then—praying the wood is dry enough to catch—they set it alight.

Now this is a blaze!

And it works. Slowly, the crew stagger to shore. With them are the Doctor and—to Ian’s unending delight—Barbara. As he gives her his coat, the two share a quiet, but heartfelt, reunion, safe at last.

That danger, that moment of triumph—all so long ago, Ian thinks. And now he knows why he came to the unveiling: to say goodbye to someone he has loved for a very long time. As he says the word, he is gently accosted by a short man in a porkpie hat, who speaks with a Scottish accent. The man, it turns out, is also here to say goodbye to an old friend. The man tells him a bit of trivia about the ship: that in its moment of death, a woman on board made sure that the crew had reliable boats, constructed of barrels, to carry them to shore. Remarkably, she saved their lives, and her own. Together, Ian and the strange man take a moment to remember a remarkable woman. As the man starts to walk away, he pauses and asks Ian his name. And Ian—knowing that somehow, against all odds, this man is an old friend—gives the only appropriate answer: “Ian Chatterton”.

There’s no need for the man to correct the mispronunciation (although he does). After all, old friends need no introduction.

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Well, it’s good to see we’re getting the tearjerkers in early! This is definitely a story to make one cry. I’ve mentioned in previous posts—though not yet in this series—that I consider Ian and Barbara to be among my favorite Doctor Who companions, if not my favorite; and here is a tribute to them that I didn’t expect to see until the end of the book. James Bojaciuk uses a frame story set in Ian’s old age to tell a story set during his travels with the Doctor; and frankly, it’s a moment I’ve been hoping to see in some capacity for a long time. (I’m still a little bitter that Ian didn’t meet the Twelfth Doctor in The Caretaker, but can’t have it all, I guess. Hmpf.)

There are a few things that get casual mention here, which are worth noting. Obviously, Ian’s relationship and marriage to Barbara is a given. As I mentioned last time, their wedding is acknowledged in several later stories, and seen in Hunters of the Burning Stone. That story also confirms that they became familiar with the concept of regeneration, although the Doctor hadn’t regenerated yet during their travels with him. That, then, plays into this story, when Ian rather casually meets the Seventh Doctor while remembering Barbara. Ian also mentions their son, Johnny, or “Johnny Chess” as he becomes professionally known. This was a detail with which I wasn’t familiar, although I’ve seen the name mentioned once or twice (and didn’t know what I was seeing): Ian and Barbara’s son John Alydon Ganatus Chesterton becomes popular musician Johnny Chess (first mentioned in Timewyrm: Revelation, first seen and confirmed to be their son in Byzantium!). I’ve since come to know that Johnny got his start as a fan fiction character, which perhaps makes it poetic that he gets a mention here in this charity work.

But this is Ian’s story, though, not Johnny’s; and it’s Ian who gets to be poetic here. It’s a rare look not so much at his actions, as at his feelings. He’s elated to be traveling; a bit caught off guard by the suddenness of their journeys; and then all of that is overwhelmed with desperation and fear when Barbara—and of course the others, but mostly Barbara—is at risk. He doesn’t think of himself as a hero here; he’s only desperate to save the people he cares about, and if possible, the bystanders as well. But that’s what a hero is: Someone who does what must be done, against all odds, without any drive for fame. Wanting to be a hero precludes you from being one, or at least, it should.

Make no mistake, Barbara is a hero here as well. Saving the crew of the San Juan de Pasajes is a team effort. But it’s Ian’s story, and the focus is on him; even he doesn’t know what Barbara did. In all the years of their marriage, it never came up, because she too is a hero, meaning she doesn’t think of herself as one. It took the Doctor to bear witness, belatedly, to her valor. And I think this is a pattern we saw often in the early TV adventures: Ian was portrayed as a hero, but in the background, Barbara (and Susan as well) was also quietly doing what had to be done. She didn’t get many moments in the spotlight, but she’s no less heroic for that.

And that’s that. Nothing else is required here. The emotion is enough. Read the story; I promise you’ll feel the tears, even if you don’t let them out.

Next time: Continuing chapter II, “Travelling Companions”, we have A Restless Night, by Jeff Goddard! 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.

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Audio Drama Review: A Star is Born

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we begin a look at the final collected volume of Short Trips audio dramas, August 2011’s Short Trips: Volume 4. I will confess that I’ve been anxious to get through these early collections; I keep a checklist of audio dramas that I’ve reviewed, which is organized by release, meaning that each seven-part collection constitutes only a single entry on the list. Naturally, I feel like I’m not making much progress. But, here we are, at the final collection; after this we’ll move to the monthly releases. We’ll begin this collection with A Star is Born, written by Richard Dinnick. Featuring the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan, this story is read by William Russell. Let’s get started!

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Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

An enormous, damaged spaceship drifts, pulled slowly toward the planet by gravity, falling through the planet’s exosphere. It sends out a distress signal on all available frequencies; and the signal is received by the TARDIS. The time ship’s arrival is overheard and detected by Egrabill, who is on his way to the Provost’s cabin; he is sidetracked by the ship and the aliens that come out of it—two males, one female, and one, the smallest, of which he is unsure. They tell him that they have come to help; and so, he takes them to the Provost, Rode.

Barbara finds herself marveling over the ship and its people, the Metraxi, who are very alien indeed. They resemble sea lions; and they originate from an aquatic planet called Kinneret. However, a virus some generations ago had stripped away their ability to procreate; and so they had turned to cloning technology to save their race. However, this is not without its problems; each successive generation loses a little genetic information, and so experiences a shortening of the lifespan. Some Metraxi had blamed their world, and so they set out into space to seek a new home. That was seven generations ago, on this very ship. And now, the ship is dying—or it will, if it falls to the planet below. Barbara pities them; they have done nothing to deserve this fate.

The Provost introduces himself as “Rode”. He shows them a projection of the engine deck, where the propulsion generators have failed. The reactors are leaking radiation. His crews are not able to handle the situation, though they try. Fortunately, the Doctor is familiar with propulsion systems, and Ian has a science background as well. Rode has Egrabill take them to Greneva, the young but capable female who serves as chief engineer. Greneva, oddly, is suffering from a strange fatigue and bouts of pain. The Doctor examines the control rods in the system, determining that there is no leak after all—and in fact, there is no malfunction at all. Ian agrees that this is very odd, and the Doctor sets out to investigate the engine’s vents, where any remaining leak must be.

The Doctor, Greneva, and Ian don ill-fitting radiation suits, and head into the ductwork. The conduits running inside the ductwork is searing hot. They reach the junction that marks the beginning of the vent network, and Greneva explains how it is supposed to work—a set of pipes redirects steam overflow into the vents. The group tracks the pipes through the ductwork.

Returning to the engineering deck, they find Egrabill explaining more of their history to Barbara and Susan, and expounding on how events fit into the Metraxi religion. The Doctor is enraged at something as he listens to the folklore; and he catches Egrabill’s statement that the reactors have been leaking for years—since before Egrabill was created. The Doctor storms out of the room. Greneva quietly explains to Barbara that the engines have been sabotaged.

The group follows the Doctor to the Provost’s quarters, where he tells Susan that they are seeking the truth. The Doctor confronts Rode, calling him a traitor and scoundrel, and claiming that Rode is responsible for the sabotage and the radiation poisoning of his people—but, why? Rode begins to weep. Greneva says that the radiation was being recirculated into the secondary life support system. Egrabill demands to know if it is true; Ian insists that only Rode has the control over the ship necessary to see it happen.

Rode claims that he gave up a long time ago—that he had decided their search was hopeless. Therefore he took action; the radiation seemed to be the best way to end it all. But now, he sees the irony in his choice: the world below them is the new haven they’ve been searching for. But it was too late! Twenty years of radiation poisoning could not be undone so easily—and besides, now the engines have failed, and they will crash. He counters the Doctor’s accusing tone by insisting that the Doctor and his friends could not comprehend what it was like to be an exile from their homeworld—but, Susan says, they can indeed.

Rode insists he had no choice but to kill them all this way; the ship will burn up on re-entry without its engines. In his mind, he has saved them all from the misery ahead. However, the Doctor says that Rode may have achieved something unexpected: the opposite of what he intended. For Greneva, it seems, is pregnant. In fact, though she didn’t know it, she is probably in early labor. The radiation, it seems, has caused a beneficial mutation, restoring their fertility.

Rode is quickly arrested, and the Doctor takes the Metraxi aboard the TARDIS, along with as much technology and information as they can load. He lands the TARDIS on a beach below. Above, the colony ship is a burning streak across the sky; the Doctor had managed to put it on a course that will cause it to burn over several months, rather than crashing. It will now be a beacon of hope for the Metraxi. Last to exit is Greneva, with her newborn; she thanks the Doctor for saving them. He sends her off, and tells her to look over the child. As she leaves, the Doctor muses that it would be very unlikely for Greneva to be the only fertile Metraxi now; perhaps the race should get used to the sound of children.

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There’s absolutely nothing experimental here; and perhaps that’s the best way to start this collection. This story would fit well in the usual canon of First Doctor stories; the portrayal of the Doctor is spot on, both in writing and in voice acting, and the companions are also well portrayed, though a bit short on dialogue. (Admittedly, it’s hard to do justice to four major protagonists in a serial-length story, let alone in a twenty-minute Short Trip; the fact that it’s accomplished at all is frankly amazing.) The Doctor is perhaps a bit more proactive than he usually would be in the Ian-Barbara-Susan era; he chooses to answer the Metraxi ship’s distress call, and takes the lead in dealing with the Metraxi. That isn’t completely unprecedented, however; my impression is that he tends to be more assertive in alien settings than Earthbound stories. Slightly more conspicuous is that he is able to make the TARDIS do what he wants here; he is able, first, to home in on the distress signal, and second, to land the TARDIS by choice on the planet below. The Doctor’s degree of control over the TARDIS in the early stories is usually stated to be minimal, but occasionally we get these incidents where it does just what he wants it to; it’s a little odd, and the only explanation I can come up with is that the TARDIS is doing it by choice—she happens to agree at that moment with his decisions.

The Metraxi are interesting aliens; they resemble large sea lions, but they have been victimized three times. First, their race experienced a viral epidemic that left them sterile; second, generations of cloning (due to the absence of natural reproduction) have left them genetically degraded and with shortened lifespans; and third, as the story reveals, they have experienced two decades of radiation poisoning—which may not be an accident. As a result of all of this, their capabilities are a bit diminished, and one can’t help feeling a great surge of pity for them, as Barbara does in the course of the story. Aside from those conditions, however, they behave very much as humans do. The premise of the story sees their damaged colony ship falling toward a planet; they have been searching for several (cloned) generations for a new world, one that won’t try to kill them, and now, ironically, a new world will do exactly that. It’s a premise we’ve seen on television before; 42 featured a ship trapped in a star’s gravity well, and World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls puts a colony ship over a black hole, adding time dilation for an additional twist. In terms of urgency, this story falls somewhere between those two. (For another continuity reference, which doesn’t merit a paragraph of its own, Ian mentions the radiation poisoning he experienced in The Daleks.)

Overall, I enjoyed this story. It has a happy ending; no one dies, and the villain is arrested. There’s no real bearing on any larger events; but the Metraxi represent a race that could appear again at some point, though I am not aware of them having done so as yet. It’s a good start to this collection, and worth the twenty minutes it takes to listen.

Next time: We’ll join the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe in Penny Wise, Pound Foolish, by Foster Marks. See you there!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.

Short Trips, Volume 4

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Audio Drama Review: Seven to One

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re concluding our journey through 2011’s Short Trips, Volume 3 collection, back at the beginning: We’re listening to the First Doctor’s contribution, Seven to One. I say it’s the First Doctor’s story, but truthfully it features the first seven Doctors; this story, uniquely, is spread out in eight parts across the entire collection, between the other stories. It’s a different experience, and I’m looking forward to it. The story was written by Simon Paul Miller, and read by Nicholas Briggs and William Russell. Let’s get started!

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Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

Part One:

The Seventh Doctor and Ace find themselves walking across a grey landscape under a grey sky—in fact, the realm is called Grey Space. The Doctor explains it was created by two entities, bound together, as a compromise between their desires for individual spaces, black and white. This place is their only achievement; they must work together, but never agree.

They see an RWR-Mark II android ahead, holding an energy rifle and guarding a grey door with a combination lock. It announces that the Doctor has seven chances to solve its test of intelligence—and if he fails, he will be removed from all space and time. If he succeeds, he will be freed to keep traveling. No further instructions are given. The Doctor knows the entities—which are speaking through the android—love games; on his previous visit here, he was able to use a Monopoly set to distract them while he slipped away in the TARDIS. They are not unaware; they brought him here this time without the TARDIS. But why is Ace here? At any rate, she suggests getting pass the door. The Doctor orders the android to shut down, using an unchanged default password; he then circles the grey door, which only comes up to his waist. He suspects it leads to another dimension. He manages to crack the lock, and confirms his suspicions—and tumbles through as if pushed.

Part Two:

The Sixth Doctor approaches the RWR android with Peri, and confronts it. He banters with it over military intelligence; then it announces that its purpose is to prevent anyone from opening the door. He manages to use logic to get the android to shut down, by convincing it the door is no longer a door, and therefore the android has no purpose any longer. He quickly unlocks the door and pulls it open, then looks inside—and falls in as if pushed.

Part Three:

The Fifth Doctor, accompanied by Nyssa, uses a fake Engineering Maintenance ID card to get the android to shut down, and then works the lock. He questions whether they should open the door; this test has been remarkably easy, after all. But Nyssa begs him to open it and get them out of here; and so he opens the door—and hurtles through as if pushed.

Part Four:

Romana looks over the android, which has been subdued with things from the Fourth Doctor’s pockets—his scarf, his jelly babies, other sweets. She reflects that it wasn’t very intelligent; but the Fourth Doctor says that as a soldier, it didn’t need to be. He uses his sonic screwdriver to unlock the door, musing on how unintelligent the robot was; but Romana reminds him that its processor indicates it has already beaten three of his future incarnations. She wonders what is behind the door as he pushes it open. “Why conjecture,” he says, “when we can see the answer for ourselves—“ and then he cries out as he tumbles in.

Part Five:

Jo Grant is focused on the laser rifle—or antimatter particle rifle, as the Third Doctor points out. The android, meanwhile, is in marketing mode; it explains how it came by the rifle, and how much it costs. The Doctor tells it that Jo is in the market for high-grade weaponry herself, and asks to see the wide-beam setting in action. The robot asks where to shoot it; the Doctor suggests the ground. The beam creates a hole in the ground, which will continue for infinity, as the particles will go on forever. Jo insists she can see the bottom; when the robot leans in to check, the Doctor kicks it into the hole. Meanwhile the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to open the door; and then falls in with a cry, as if shoved.

Part Six:

Jamie admires the antimatter rifle as the Second Doctor admires the android’s impenetrable zamanite casing. The Doctor questions its impenetrability, and Jamie joins in. The Doctor persuades it to fire the rifle at itself; and of course its head is burned off by the antimatter. Perhaps the robot really isn’t very intelligent. The Doctor tells Jamie that the robot wasn’t wrong; zamanite was impenetrable by all known technology when the robot was created, but the antimatter rifle was invented later. Fortunately the robot wasn’t good with such concepts…but that’s of no consolation as the Doctor tumbles into the doorway with a yell.

Part Seven:

The First Doctor—the youngest in age, but oldest in appearance of all the Doctor’s incarnations—ponders the oddly simple combination lock as his granddaughter, Susan, looks on. He is more mystified by the fact that—according to the entities that own this place—six of his future incarnations have failed here. Susan suggests that he’s more clever than they, but that should not be the case, if they came after him. They should be older and wiser—and anyway, it takes no great intelligence to outwit the android. He had distracted it by giving it a piece of paper with “P.T.O.”—Please Turn Over—written on both sides. Susan wonders what’s on the other side of the door; the Doctor doesn’t know, though Susan suggests it might be the TARDIS. The Doctor asks her to not stand so close to him as he contemplates the door. He wonders if his future selves had any companions with them. He continues to unlock it while musing on the basics of sleight of hand—distraction and division of activities. When he opens the door, he quickly springs aside—and whatever was impersonating Susan tumbles through the doorway as it tries to push him.

Part Eight:

The First Doctor has passed the test; and so, in keeping their own rules, the entities restore the seven Doctors back to the places and times from which they were taken. The entity that had bet against the Doctor complains that seven chances were too many; but its opponent, the other entity, insists that the number of chances had been determined by the roll of the Monopoly dice. After centuries of arguing, their game of Monopoly can at last start…or maybe not, as they set to arguing over who gets to use the dog token.

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I’ve called a few entries—mainly those to which the Fifth Doctor has been subjected—silly. I thought about applying the same term here; but it’s not really accurate, and at any rate I liked this story. A better term would be “absurd”, or perhaps “surreal”. That makes sense, as we’re dealing with a created realm here, similar to the Land of Fiction (The Mind Robber, et al). It’s not the most serious story ever, but it’s enjoyable just the same.

This is a multi-Doctor story of sorts, but unlike most such stories, the incarnations don’t meet. That fact dictates the story’s structure, and in turn defines it as a First Doctor story; because the incarnations don’t meet, they will each retain their memories of this situation, and so it has to take place in a very particular order. The parts of the story take place in chronological order, but the Doctors are summoned in reverse order, from Seven to One (hence the title). Otherwise, each progressive incarnation would retain the full memory of what has gone before. In this way the entities in control of the situation hedge their bets; the Doctors become successively less well informed as the contest goes on.

And contest it is. The two entities—unnamed, but affiliated with the colors black and white (and presumably not to be confused with the Black and White Guardians)—who created this Grey Space in which the Doctors find themselves, have set a test before each Doctor. There is a door which must be opened, guarded by an android which must be overcome—and one other aspect of the test as well, which I won’t spoil here. Each Doctor completes the first two parts of the test, but fails the third; only the youngest and least informed, the First Doctor, manages to succeed. There’s no solid reason why that should be so; but it is executed in a way that seems very fitting for his character.

William Russell has the smaller part in this story; he narrates the First Doctor’s segments in parts seven and eight. As usual his impersonation of the First Doctor is spot on. Oddly, his usual character, Ian Chesterton, doesn’t appear here; it is Susan who accompanies the First Doctor. Nicholas Briggs reads the other parts in the story; of course it’s long been established that he is extremely versatile with his voices, and none of his Doctor or companion roles sound bad. Of particular note is his Fourth Doctor impersonation; for a moment I thought I was hearing Tom Baker. I haven’t had much occasion to hear him impersonate Tom; I had no idea he was that good at it.

The only real problem I have with the story is a logical one. Though great pains were taken to set the story up in a believable way, it would almost have been better if the Doctors had encountered one another, so that memories wouldn’t be preserved; because the various later incarnations should have retained the First Doctor’s memory of how he defeated the entities. This is complicated by the fact that their experiences here happen in reverse order; if, say, the Seventh Doctor had remembered, and subsequently won the contest, then the First Doctor’s encounter would never have happened, setting up a paradox. In short: Time travel is confusing as always.

But regardless, if we set aside that objection, it’s a fun story. And that’s where we’ll leave it. With that, this collection ends on a high note (or at least a decent one), and we’ll move on to Volume Four! After that, we move to a monthly series format of twelve releases a year (plus the occasional bonus release). See you there!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.

Short Trips, Volume 3

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Audio Drama Review: Rise and Fall

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Taking advantage of Big Finish’s recent sale, I’ve picked up a number of entries in the Short Trips and Short Trips Rarities ranges; and that’s what we’ll be listening to today. Given that these stories themselves are shorter than the usual entries, these posts may be a bit shorter as well; but we’ll see. We’ll begin at the beginning, with Short Trips, Volume I, which contains one story for each of the first eight Doctors. The first is Rise and Fall, written by George Mann, featuring the First Doctor and Ian Chesterton, and read by William Russell. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume I

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

The TARDIS materialises on a planet that is new to the Doctor as well as his companions. Barbara and Susan relax in the TARDIS’s wardrobe, trying out clothing, while the Doctor and Ian wander outside. Along the nearby coastline, they encounter a new species, composed of horselike humanoids—and the species is not only new to them, but new in the world, as they have just arisen. They quickly discover that they are out of sync with the timestream of the humanoids; in only a brief time, they watch the aliens’ entire civilization rise and file.

For the aliens, it is the opposite. From their perspective, the strangers on the hill had been there since prehistory, never moving. During that prehistorical period, one of the humanoids dies, reflecting on the life-long presence of the strangers.

Later, the aliens move to a hunter-gatherer civilization; and still the figures on the hill remain still. They are worshipped in this age, known as the Unmoving Ones. Children, as they come of age, present an offering to the Unmoving Ones. One man, Kilik, prepares his son Ethric for the ritual; his son examines a small amulet in the shape of the TARDIS, and asks why this ritual is made. It is tradition, as Kilik explains; after all, the strangers, though unmoving, are responsible for so much of the humanoids’ civilization—the design of their clothes is based on the strangers, and their homes are shaped after the TARDIS. Ethric agrees to complete the ritual of tribute. Meanwhile, in the Unmoving Ones’ timestream, Ian watches the constant motion of many lives blur past as more advanced buildings rise and disappear.

In an industrialized era, the scientist Pol determines that the Unmoving Ones are alive—they are in fact moving, albeit infinitesimally. He denies, however, that they are from a preceding civilization; they seem to predate all intelligent life on the planet, in fact. Though no one will believe him, he is sure they exist in a different time stream—normal to them, but slow to Pol’s people—but he knows better than to make such claims publicly, as they would make him a laughingstock.

It is now the futures, centuries later from the perspective of the aliens. There are colonies on the moon, and they want their independence. The war has come to this ancient location, this centuries-old city, and the bombs are falling. A young boy named Call Box—after the ancient structure on the hill—is too young to understand, and hides in his bedroom, clinging to toys in the shape of the Doctor and Ian, as the bombs begin to fall on his home.

The Doctor and Ian watch as life and civilization are wiped from the planet by the separatists on the moon. The city falls into ruins as they watch; a final building is in the shape of the TARDIS, though much larger. They sadly reflect that the entire history of this world, rise and fall, has happened in less than a minute from their perspective. “Time, Chesterton,” the Doctor muses, “is not the same for everyone.” Without knowing what to say, they return to the TARDIS.

Short Trips Volume I 1

We certainly picked a sad story to begin with. This story isn’t very interactive as far as the TARDIS crew are concerned; to put it briefly, Ian Chesterton and the First Doctor witness the entire history of a new civilization, from first arising to final annihilation, in the space of about a minute. That’s it. There are no great spoilers to conceal here, because the entire plot is encapsulated in the title. There’s no effort to save the civilization—in fact, there’s no time to get involved with them. They simply come and go. Along the way we get brief vignettes from the lives of members of that species, who know the Doctor and Ian as the “Unmoving Ones”—not dead, but moving and existing so slowly and for so long that they become icons to the people. It isn’t enough to save them in the end, unfortunately. It’s a tragic story, and doesn’t hesitate to bring the tears—the final alien perspective is that of a small child, too young to understand the destructive war going on around him, as the bombs begin to fall on his home.

Still, I find it compelling. There’s something noble, or at least worthy, about bearing witness to the passing of that which we cannot save. This civilization, this world, has one chance to say to the universe, “We were here!”; and it’s the Doctor and Ian who grant them that chance. No one else will ever know; if time on this world progresses as we have seen, even the ruins will be dust by the time anyone else sees this world. We, the listeners, also bear witness (and never mind that it’s a fictional story). It is certainly a memorable story; this is my second time listening to Short Trips, Volume I, and this is the only story I can remember in great detail without reviewing. It’s solemn, but even though it’s very different from the average Doctor Who story, it’s worthwhile.

If you’re looking for hard science, this isn’t the story for you. It conspicuously doesn’t dig too deeply into the science of the conflicting timestreams, and that’s just as well. While in the real world there is some evidence that smaller creatures do perceive time in a different way (looking at us lumbering behemoths as slow and unwieldy), such creatures still live in the same world as us. The wind, the waves of the ocean, the day-night cycle—phenomena like this still move as we perceive them. It’s difficult to imagine an intelligent civilization rising and perceiving a single ocean wave as lasting for thousands of years. That civilization mastered local space travel—we know this because at the end, they have colonies on the moon—and yet they would not perceive any kind of motion in the universe at all, having elapsed so quickly that they would never see a sunrise or sunset. It’s stretching things a bit, is what I’m saying. (As an aside, the first time I listened to this story, I assumed the creatures were in fact much smaller than humans, and that their entire civilization was essentially spread out at the Doctor and Ian’s feet. On repeat listening, I think I was wrong about that—the city grows up around them. This, however, begs the question of how they can be sure the entire civilization dies, and not just this city. Also, regardless of the passage of time, why are they untouched by the bombs?)

Continuity references will generally be fewer in the Short Trips entries than in longer stories, naturally; but there are still a few. Reference is made to recent events in France, a clear reference to The Reign of Terror. Ian, as well, muses about the Doctor’s piloting of the TARDIS; the Doctor’s incompetence at this task has been a running theme since An Unearthly Child, and will continue to be so for years to come. At one point the Doctor calls Ian “Charlton”; his failure to pronounce “Chesterton” correctly is also a common theme, present since An Unearthly Child. Bonus non-continuity reference: the local inhabitants are described as equine humanoids, with horselike faces; inevitably, all I can picture is Bojack Horseman (a show I haven’t even watched!). Ah, well.

Overall: A good entry, if different, and a fair start to the Short Trips range. If only it wasn’t such a tearjerker. George Mann, with whom I was only familiar by way of Engines of War, proves to be a subtle author for short fiction. William Russell, age notwithstanding, does a fantastic rendition of the First Doctor, and of course of Ian as well; I know he has played both roles for Big Finish on many occasions, but this story (in my first listen) was my first encounter with him in that capacity, and it’s always stuck with me. It’s the next best thing in audio to having William Hartnell back in the role (with all due respect to David Bradley, who is great in his own right).

Next time: I’ll try to post these daily as much as possible, as they’re very short and easy to complete. I still have plans for Jubilee on the back burner, and I’ll be finishing up I, Davros in a few days; in the meantime, the next Short Trips entry, featuring the Second Doctor, is A Stain of Red in the Sand. See you there!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below. This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Short Trips, Volume I

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 33: Storage Wars

Continuing my series of mini-reviews on the short stories to be found in the charity War Doctor anthology, Seasons of War, edited by Declan May and published by Chinbeard Books.

Seasons of War cover

On a November morning, the Doctor goes in search of tea in one of London’s more unexpected establishments: the City Mission Hall. He’s known here in this sandwich-and-sermon refuge for the homeless and disenfranchised; the locals simply call him “Smithy”. He deftly dodges the reverend on duty, and joins a friend—an old war veteran named Bill—for a game of chess. They have an audience, however; a young woman named Ruby, recently arrived at the Mission, who wants to learn the game from them. They are interrupted, however, by something on the television: an episode of Storage Wars.

Two months before the broadcast, Samuel Stockton bid on a storage lot, and won. The lot contained the leavings of an old junkyard in Shoreditch, one “Totter’s Yard”. In the interim, he’s sold most of the merchandise, but took a loss overall. Now, one item remains: a small, decorative box. He’s placed it on the eBid auction site, timed to end just hours after the broadcast of his episode, in the hope of one last stab at turning a profit. The box is odd, though; any mark made on it—anything that firmly touches it, even—disappears.

Smithy is caught up in the episode, and admits that he once stayed in Totter’s Yard in his youth. Bill and Ruby notices that it upsets him; Ruby comments on his behavior, insisting that he is not thinking of the Yard, but of his long-ago home…and oddly, she refers to him as a “wounded healer” who won’t admit it. Smithy doesn’t here; he’s staring at the last item, the small box, and sees that it is listed for auction.

Smithy gets the Reverend to let him use his office computer. To deter any questions, he distracts the Reverend by quickly acquiring a massive new source of funding for the mission, and setting up an automated program that will continually search and apply for new funding as needed. It has the intended effect, and the stunned Reverend leaves him alone. Oddly, he seems inept at more mundane internet functions, and so Ruby helps him set up an eBid account (he rejects the username “TheDocSmith”—something that should have been a red flag, had he not been obsessed—but allows her to call him “CaptainGrumpy”). £6000.02 later, he has won the box…much to Stockton’s delight.

The next day, in the evening, Smithy takes a bus to Stockton’s pickup address, carrying an old rucksack containing the money. In better times, he would have just used the TARDIS to claim the box, but to do so now would alert both the Time Lords and the Daleks—something for which he is not ready, as he is still recovering from his long/short imprisonment and torture in a pocket dimension. So, the bus it is; and as he travels, long-buried and ancient memories surface. He thinks of his granddaughter, Susan, in her childhood. The box was her prized possession, and he thinks of her chasing rabbits and listening to the humming of the Galimites (Callimites, she called them, until he laughed and set her straight), dragonfly-like insects that once roamed the fields of Gallifrey. If only she could see him now—

His musing doesn’t stop him from being knocked unconscious. Bill apologizes to Smithy’s unconscious form before stealing the money. He then joins an accomplice in a stolen car, hauling Smithy into the backseat to be dumped elsewhere. However, his good fortune doesn’t last, as Ruby—driving the car—forces him out at gunpoint, then takes Smithy and the cash to collect the box.

Smithy—no, the Doctor—awakens to find himself bound to a chair in a shadowy room. Before him, on a table, is the box. Ruby appears, reading the Ancient Gallifreyan words on the box (To my dear Susan, may it bring you joy, and nurture curiosity). She tells the Doctor that she doesn’t want anything from the box, she wants to put something in it. The box is a breeding box for Galimites—bigger on the inside, and set up in a perfect environment for the wispy creatures—and long ago, Susan put a breeding pair inside. Ruby admits to being from Gallifrey, although she is too young to remember the now-extinct Galimites; but she has been sent to find the Doctor and bring him back to the War. She shows him her TARDIS, a Battle TARDIS adapted to serve as a front-line hospital. Inside, she has two new, angry creatures. She calls the Dalekmites, and explains that they are modified versions of Galimites. They are effective at taking down Daleks undetected. It seems that the Galimites never died out on their own; the Time Lords went back in time and experimented on them, creating these bioweapons, which attack the “scent” of a Dalek. She wants the breeding box—the last of its kind—because these are the last two Dalekmites, and conditions on Gallifrey no longer allow their breeding. In the box, they can reproduce. The Doctor is appalled—pleasure alone should be enough reason to let the Galimites live—but he has no choice but to open the box.

No one is more shocked than Ruby when Galimites flood out of the box.

For fifty years, they’ve bred inside the box…and now, the Galimites have returned, and their song fills the room. Ruby releases her two Dalekmites, hoping they will join the Galimites and crossbreed, but the Doctor whistles a tune, summoning the Galimites back to the box. Enraged, Ruby grabs the rucksack that had held the money, and swipes at the mites, trying to capture some before they are locked away. She gets a single pair. The Doctor closes the box, and swears he will never open it again for her. Ruby demands the box, and orders the Doctor to come with her; if he will not open it, she will find the one other person who can…

Suddenly her bag starts to rattle. The Doctor chides her, and asks her to consider why her Dalekmites wouldn’t join the others—and why they are the only ones that she managed to catch. She realizes what is happening, and runs into her TARDIS lab—just as the Dalekmites overheat, triggering the two long-forgotten cans of Nitro-9 in the bottom of the bag.

After the explosion, the Doctor pauses over Ruby’s remains, and retrieves the undamaged box. It is a bitter day indeed, when one threatens a man with his dead grandchild.

Later, and elsewhere, Stockton has finally recovered from his bout of depression after the theft of the decorative box. He returns to the auction scene, where a grey-haired man fills in for the regular auctioneer…but his winning bid turns to dismay when he finds that the rubies he hoped to acquire are just painted fakes.

Bill is a broken, haunted man when the Doctor finds him under a bridge…and thanks him. After all, Bill could have killed him, but didn’t; he’s simply an old soldier trying to survive, and the Doctor respects that, needed it. He gives him the money intended for the sale of the box; and when Bill asks his name, he calls himself the Auctioneer.

On a Gallifrey that is no longer beautiful, a planet torn by war, the Doctor stands over an unmarked grave. He remembers Susan as a child, playing in this park-turned-cemetery, and sheds a tear. Then he releases the Galimites back into the wild. Perhaps they will restore some music—and some hope—to the universe. Before he leaves, he places the box on the grave.

Few companions of the Doctor are as controversial as the very first one: his granddaughter Susan. Even her status as his granddaughter has been in doubt; some versions of the story cast her as the granddaughter of the Other, the ancient contemporary of Rassilon and Omega who was responsible for the Looms that preserved the Gallifreyan people from the Pythia’s curse. In that continuity, the Doctor rescued her from probably death, not knowing what he was doing; and she recognized her grandfather in him. It’s a strange dichotomy; there’s no lack of material even concerning her later life, and yet her final fate is still unknown and up for discussion.

Well, discuss no more (at least if you accept this story). This entry places her grave on Gallifrey (it’s not named, but the description of the planet in the last scene makes it definitive). As this differs from other stories about her later life, it becomes a safe assumption that she was called home along with other renegades during the War, and eventually died there. We’ve had hints of this in this anthology; other stories have indicated in passing that the Doctor’s family are all dead. Here, it’s spelled out, and it’s heartbreaking—especially, it seems, for the Doctor. The scenes of his memories of her childhood are especially touching; it’s a version of Susan we don’t often think about. My own three-year-old daughter spent an evening recently chasing fireflies; it’s easy to picture this scene, and it makes it especially sentimental. Still, you don’t have to be a parent to appreciate it; we all have our own nostalgic memories.

There’s another great, albeit brief, companion nod in this story. The rucksack that “Smithy” uses to carry his money isn’t described, and so you wouldn’t know that it is Ace’s; and so, the reveal of the cans of Nitro-9 in the bottom comes as a great surprise. Ace’s fate isn’t addressed at all in this book—it would be a bit of a stretch to include her, and her timeline is fairly muddled already—but it’s a nice touch, if a bit bittersweet.  (There’s also a possible reference to Ian Chesterton; at one point Stockton remarks on selling a clown mask to one of the Governors of Coal Hill School, which may be a reference to Ian, as he was listed on the board of Governors in one episode prior to the release of the spinoff *Class*.)

The Dalekmites are a clever weapon. The Doctor isn’t opposed to the idea in principle—he’s far beyond shying away from a weapon for its own sake—but he does resent that its creation was responsible for the loss of the Galimites on Gallifrey. At this point in the War, he’s resentful of the Time Lords for everything they do, and this is just another thing he can hold against them. His effort to restore the Galimites at the end is poetic and valiant, but I wonder how long these creatures can survive on a ravaged Gallifrey.

This story picks up after Always Face the Curtain with a Bow (It’s unclear how The Man in the Bandolier fits in, although it’s certainly possible it belongs in between—both this story and that poem take place on Earth, after all). The Doctor is recuperating from his torture, and has retained his limp. Nevertheless, as always seems to happen when he tries to hide from the war (I’m looking at you, Only The Monstrous), the Time Lords find him. Cardinal Ollistra and Ruby would get along quite well, I think. In the meantime, he tries to blend in, and somehow manages to pull it off. The Storage Wars elements of the story are mostly inconsequential, providing a framework; Stockton is a bit of an opportunist, and gets his comeuppance for it, but he’s no villain. Similarly, Bill isn’t a villain; his crime is one of desperation, born of his homeless circumstances. I often work with people in just such a situation, and I appreciate the gentleness of that depiction. He’s not evil, just desperate.

Overall: What a sad ending! And yet, there’s a little hope—something we need, as we approach the end. Rest well, Susan; unfortunately, there’s no rest for your grandfather, and the War is calling.

Susan

Storage Wars was written by Paul Driscoll. Next time: The Postman, by John Davies. See you there.

Seasons of War: Tales from a Time War is now out of print, but more information can be obtained here, here, and here.

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Audio Drama Review: The Time Machine

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we finish up the fiftieth anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, with the Eleventh Doctor’s contribution, The Time Machine. Written by Matt Fitton, this story is read by Jenna Coleman, Michael Cochrane, and Nicholas Briggs. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!

time-machine-1

November 23, 2013: Alice Watson is late for an appointment at Oxford. In her rush, she bumps into a young man in a bowtie, who is texting someone. In a nearby lab, Professor Cedric Chivers is at work on his device while he waits for Alice; on his desk sits a smoky, glassy cube—a Time Lord hypercube, though he doesn’t know it. The cube has given him, and continues to give, instructions for the construction of the machine—and the voice it uses is Chivers’ own. As Alice arrives, she meets the man in the bowtie again, who introduces himself as the (Eleventh, though he doesn’t specify) Doctor. She thinks he is from Cambridge (or possibly Yale or Osaka), and he plays along, claiming to be from St. Cedd’s, class of 1980. She accompanies him to meet Chivers, and see his machine…his time machine.

The Doctor asserts that the machine should not exist. He notes the hypercube, which Alice describes as a communication device. He warns her that the machine is impossible, and should scare her. Chivers joins them; the Doctor says he is here to dismantle the time machine. The Doctor confronts Chivers about his lack of real understanding of how the machine works; Chivers claims he trusts the instructions because they are coming from himself in the future. The Doctor inquires about the hypercube, calling it by name; Chivers says it arrived with the first parts of the machine. Chivers admits the cube represents a time loop [which actually is true—I’ll get back to this later], and says he intends to dismantle it himself—once he uses it to send the instructions and parts back to himself. Alice insists it can be duplicated repeatedly as long as every user does the same as Chivers. The Doctor takes the cube, and in response, something begins to materialize. A large, insectoid creature appears by the machine; Alice sees it, but Chivers cannot, because he is inside the causal loop. The creature and its people are the Creevix; the Doctor does not know them, but the creature claims the Doctor cannot stop them, because they are “already here”. Five more join the first. Suddenly the creatures vanish.

The Doctor says he sensed something wrong, which drew him here. He invites Alice to come with him. The Creevix reappear behind Chivers, who still can’t see them; the Doctor tells Alice to run. Outside, they see more Creevix mixed among the humans in the area. In a nearby library, they descend to the basement, where the creatures continue to hunt them. Back in the lab, Chivers unwraps the final component of the machine—the Time Core—and its schematics. He starts to install it.

In the Library, the Doctor leads Alice to the TARDIS; despite her lack of knowledge of fiction, she has a suitably impressed reaction to the ship’s larger interior. He tells her it is a real time machine, more so than the one in the lab. He begins trying to track the source of the hypercube’s messages—but the cube vanishes. He takes the TARDIS to track it. Chivers finishes installing the Time Core. He prepares to enter the machine—but one of the Creevix manifests itself to him, forcing him to admit the Doctor and Alice were right. The Creevix tells him one word: “Wait.”

The TARDIS gets stuck in the vortex, somehow—something is choking off passage, allowing them to travel only twenty years forward or backward of their starting point. They materialize back in Oxford, in the future, as the cloister bell sounds. In this future, the Creevix have overrun everything, and are visible everywhere. Copies of the time machine are all over the place, and more appear as they watch—the many copies are what has jammed the vortex. Each machine discharges another Creevix. They say they will consume the universe, as it is fractured, which is what allowed them to enter from their own universe. In that universe, they claim to be the masters of Time, and they are aware of the Time Lords. One Creevix takes a strand of Alice’s hair; the Doctor says that it is absorbing her potential time, her future. It says that if it did the same to the Doctor, and killed him, the future becomes unclear. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to disorient the creatures, inflaming their sense of time. The Creevix block access to the TARDIS, but the Doctor and Alice take one of the other time machines.

Elsewhere—and elsewhen—a man named Guy Taylor is in a time machine of his own. He works for the Time Agency, and is about to embark on his first mission, to resolve an anomaly in the 20th century. He takes a moment to reflect on his parents, who were early explorers.

In the glove box of Doctor and Alice’s machine, they find a photo of a couple, whom the Doctor finds familiar. Alice discusses her own past and her obsession with science and facts, and her father’s disappointment in her. The Doctor finds Guy Taylor’s Time Agency ID card, and concludes the couple are Taylor’s parents. [Presumably the items, like the machine, are copies.] The machine represents a paradox, but the paradox had to start somewhere—in Taylor’s time. Also in the glovebox is a copy of the hypercube. The Doctor and Alice send the machine back to its point of origin—Guy’s future.

In Guy’s machine, something is wrong. He sees Alice’s reflection in the canopy, with Creevix outside—and then he ceases to exist. In the other machine, Alice sees Guy, and sees him vanish. A Creevix pulls them from the machine, where they witness a devastated world covered in Creevix. It tells them it is the end of their universe. The Creevix demonstrates that it can anticipate their every thought and word. It tells them that they come from another universe, and that they were able to come through because the Doctor’s TARDIS struck Guy’s capsule in the vortex, creating a crack in the universe. This pushed Guy’s capsule into the Creevix universe, allowing them to force their way back through—and formulate this plan. Now they have devoured all life in the universe; and they have manipulated the Doctor to that moment in order to retroactively set the plan into motion.

They entrap the Doctor, rendering him immobile to witness the death of his universe. They also seal off the TARDIS. They give Alice the hypercube and send her back to deliver it to Chivers, just a few minutes or hours into his future, where he will start the loop by sending it back in time with the capsule and instructions. She is forced to go.

Once she arrives, she gives the cube to Chivers, and three Creevix are present as well. However, they are interrupted by the Doctor! He gives a lengthy-but-rapid rundown of his plan and how he has outwitted the Creevix [note—I’ll elaborate shortly; his explanation includes an explanation of all the parts of the plan that occurred in the preceding ten stories]. In the middle of it, the TARDIS is heard; the Doctor says it was breaking free of the Creevix’s trap in the future, materializing around his frozen form, and transporting him to just minutes before this confrontation. Hidden in the room are a psychokinetic manipulator, and the chunk of therocite [from Vengeance of the Stones]; the Doctor uses the manipulator to hurl the therocite at a structural weak point in the capsule, destroying it. This breaks the temporal loop, creating a void which sucks in all the wreckage of the capsule, the Creevix, and—finally—the hypercube, blasting them back to the Creevix’s home universe. In the future, the hordes of Creevix will never exist, as that timeline now ceases to exist.

At the last moment, another capsule materializes—and Guy Taylor steps out. For him, it’s only been a moment since he left his own time; he is quite surprised to find a welcoming party. He witnesses as the Doctor reintroduces himself to Professor Chivers, or Cedric, as Susan once knew him—and reflects on how Chivers’ life has changed. In the end, Alice is offered a chance to travel with the Doctor; but she declines. She asks, instead, to travel with Taylor, who grants her request.

time-machine-2

For a story that happens over the course of a matter of hours, this entry is quite complex, and a bit difficult to follow. I enjoyed it; for all its complexity, it’s a satisfying resolution to the series arc. Doctor Who has long been known for stories that involve paradoxes and quirks of time travel, and this story is one of the best in that regard.

There’s a good explanation of the Doctor’s plan on the TARDIS wiki, but I’ll try to summarize it here; it’s essential for understanding how the story works out. So, with each Doctor working at the direction of the Eleventh:

  • The first Doctor introduces the young Cedric Chivers to the music of Bob Dylan in Hunters of Earth. This changes Cedric’s life, and through attending concerts he eventually meets his wife and has children. Having a family makes the elderly Cedric hesitate to cooperate with the Creevix, allowing the Eleventh Doctor time to stop them. The Doctor also uses Dylan lyrics to identify himself to the elderly Cedric.
  • The Seventh Doctor and Ace saved the life of OhOne in Shockwave. OhOne would go on to become the father of Guy Taylor.
  • The Tenth Doctor and Donna saved the life of Lyric Erskine in Death’s Deal. Lyric would go on to become the mother of Guy Taylor. The pair’s adventures would inspire Guy to join the Time Agency.
  • The Ninth Doctor saved the life of James Joseph McNeil, who went on to become the mayor of New Vegas, in Night of the Whisper. As mayor, he created the Memorial Hotel, which is where OhOne and Lyric had their second honeymoon, on which they conceived Guy Taylor.
  • The Third Doctor, in Vengeance of the Stones, ensured that the super-dense therocite was present in Chivers’ office, which previously belonged to Dr. Raynard, UNIT’s geology expert. The rock was too heavy to be moved by Chivers, therefore it stayed put for decades; and it was sufficiently dense to destroy the capsule. However, it was too heavy to be moved by the Doctor, as well, so…
  • The Fifth Doctor returned the sphere to the Ovids in Smoke and Mirrors. This generous act impressed them enough that they eventually, some centuries hence, share their knowledge of psychokinesis with humanity. Humanity uses this to develop a technological counterpart. The Doctor is able to—at some point—acquire a psychokinetic manipulator device based on that technology. He uses it to throw the therocite at the capsule.
  • The Eleventh Doctor was already caught in the causality loop. Therefore he was obligated to ensure that the entire loop took place. To that end, he sent a message to the Creevix while they were still trapped in their universe, which led them to Chivers when they crossed over. He sent that message using sub-pulsar communication technology learned from the Quiet Ones in  Shadow of Death. He also sent the messages to his past self by implanting them in the hypercube while in the Creevix-infested future, and then keying it to activate when placed in the TARDIS by the Seventh Doctor in Shockwave. However…
  • …those messages were blocked in the vortex by the interference placed by the invading aliens in Enemy Aliens. Therefore one of the messages (received in a non-linear way) led the Eighth Doctor and Charley to eliminate the interference.
  • The sub-pulsar message was transmitted by the copy of the Fourth Doctor that existed inside the Babblesphere when it was copied at the end of Babblesphere. That copy was placed in a museum that would later have the technology to build a sub-pulsar transmitter.
  • And finally, the TARDIS escaped from the Creevix trap—and from the timeline that was ceasing to exist—using the power of the omniparadox hidden aboard by the Sixth Doctor and Peri in Trouble in Paradise.
  • The only true paradox in the entire ordeal is the existence of the hypercube. The cube was placed on Tarsus by the Doctor’s TARDIS—or rather, sent there by the TARDIS—and then collected by the Seventh Doctor, who gave it to OhOne, who gave it to Guy, who had it in his capsule. The Eleventh Doctor and Alice got it from there, or rather, from one of the copy capsules. Alice returned it to Chivers. The Doctor then tossed it into the void, sending it to the Creevix, who ultimately gave it to Chivers, thus allowing the Doctor to collect it at the beginning of the story and place it on the TARDIs, which then sent it to TARSUS. As such, it’s an ontological paradox—the origin of the cube is unaccounted for. But we can guess that the Eleventh Doctor created it, though we don’t know when.

I’ve picked at this complex plan for some time, and I can’t find any other flaws. Still, like any story, it’s open to analysis.

References in this story are mostly to other stories in the same arc—it’s not as though there is time for anything else. However, the Doctor does refer to Ian Chesterton, stating that Cedric had Ian as a science teacher, and a good one at that. St. Cedd’s college is a reference to the audio (Eighth Doctor) version of Shada. There’s a brief UNIT reference when discussing the therocite. When Chivers mentions Susan, the Doctor’s comments are an oblique reference to the loss of his family in the Time War.

Jenna Coleman does a great job with the voice acting here. While her usual character of Clara Oswald doesn’t appear here, it’s been suggested that Alice Watson may be one of Clara’s echoes (The Name of the Doctor); I personally like this bit of head canon, although I’ll admit it has some flaws. In Journey to the Center of the TARDIS, the Doctor lists only the echoes he has encountered onscreen, and Alice’s stated lack of imagination is out of character for Clara. Still, we don’t know that every echo is just like the original, so it’s possible.

In keeping with my discussion last week of how these entries fit their respective eras: The Eleventh Doctor’s era is known for stories that focus on causality and manipulation of time, much more than previous incarnations. This story’s use of paradox and time travel is in a similar vein to The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, and its discussion of parallel universes fits in with The Doctor’s Wife. As well, it’s fast-moving and sometimes hard to follow, but it resolves itself suddenly at the end with the Doctor’s victory.

So, that’s that! The series as a whole is very good, in my opinion; and in scope, it proves itself worthy to be linked with Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary festivities. It does have its weak moments, but those weak moments serve as a sort of meta-commentary on the very history of the show itself. It would have been better to have the original Doctor actors as much as possible; however, barring that possibility, it was completely appropriate to rely on companion actors instead. (It’s unfortunate that it became a bit inconsistent near the end, though.) It’s an excellent series, and I wish I had encountered it in 2013, when it came out.

destiny-of-the-doctor-cover

Next time: Having wrapped up Destiny of the Doctor, we’ll start something new. Stay tuned as we listen to the War Doctor, volume one: Only the Monstrous! And, prior to the audios, on Tuesday we’ll take a brief break from the VNA novels to look at the first non-televised War Doctor story, George Mann’s novel, Engines of War. See you there!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  This and many other audio dramas may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

The Time Machine

Destiny of the Doctor

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