Audio Drama Review: The Toy

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! Today I’m starting a new range of audios–or rather, new to me: Big Finish’s “Short Trips Rarities” range. This limited range consists of stories that were previously subscriber-exclusive bonuses, but have now been released for individual sale. (They are also still available as subscriber bonuses, as well—but don’t think subscribing is no longer worth your while! These releases only constitute about half of the subscriber Short Trips; the rest must be obtained via subscription bonus.)

Like all of Big Finish’s Short Trip audios, these entries are audiobooks rather than full cast audio dramas; they are usually read by a supporting cast member rather than the relevant Doctor actor. They’re also, as the title suggests, short, usually about a half hour long. Currently there are fifteen stories in the range, broken into three “seasons” of five each; however there is no direct connection between stories, and they range over various Doctors and companions without much organization. As a consequence, I can just drop in as I see fit, and you, readers, don’t have to worry about catching every post.

We’ll start at the beginning, though, and that is October 2015’s The Toy. Written by Nigel Fairs, and read by Sarah Sutton, this story focuses on the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan, and Adric, with cameos from the first four classic Doctors as well as Susan. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this story! For a less spoiler-filled review, skip down to the line divider. However, some spoilers are inevitable in the discussion below. Read on at your own risk!

Nyssa of Traken is determined to lock away her memories of her lost home—but in her dreams, they return unbidden.

Nyssa finds herself dreaming of her childhood on Traken, and the scent of a much-loved flower, and a forbidden archway. The dream turns dark when she sees, and is chased by, the burned and ravaged face of the man who stole her father’s body—the Master. It’s not the first time, but it’s never been so strong; and this time, the memory is fresh when she awakens. She tries to tell the Doctor and her friends about it, but finds them arguing, and so she heads deeper into the TARDIS, looking for a place to think. She is surprised when she finds the doorway from her dream inside the TARDIS—and even more so when she hears a voice from behind it. The sign on the door says not to enter, but she disregards it, and steps inside.

Inside, she finds a number of old but wonderful things. She is drawn to a small chest containing a  brilliant red jewel; and from that jewel she hears voices, calling her by name, asking to be her friend. When she touches it, she is carried away, and finds herself on a planet of red soil and orange sky, with an old man who calls her “Susan”…a man she knows as Grandfather. They visit a great domed city called Arcadia, the man showing her around. She is confused, at first certain she is not this Susan, but soon becoming unsure. Another man appears, his face changing its age, sometimes even resembling her father—if she really even remembers her father?. The man speaks smooth, comforting words to her, offering her a way out of her troubles, if only she will help him, and tell him where she is.

She is about to do as he asks, but the first man speaks up and begs her not to do it. He has changed now, and continues to change—first becoming a younger, shorter, dark-haired man, then a tall white-haired man—but all the while his kind eyes remain unchanged. At last he turns into a face she knows, the face of the Doctor as she knew him before, at Traken and Logopolis. Finally he becomes the Doctor she knows—and he reveals that the other man is none other than the Master. Nyssa fights with the Master, trying to get away, taking injuries in the process…

She struggles awake, finding herself on the floor of the room beyond the archway. The Doctor is there, with Tegan and Adric. At first the Doctor is angry at her for being taken in by the Master’s ruse, but Tegan and Adric talk him down, and tell Nyssa how he went running to find her so quickly that they could barely keep up. Finally the Doctor explains that the jewel is a toy given to his granddaughter—Nyssa knows her name without being told—by an old family friend. It is a node in a telepathic communication network that transcends both time and space. Susan, he says, once become addicted to its use, and he was forced to lock it up for her safety. Nyssa asks if the family friend was the Master, and the Doctor reluctantly admits it was so. She asks if he could still be alive after their last encounter with him; he admits that the Master has a way of surviving the impossible—but, he insists, the Master she contacted via the jewel was a past version, from many years ago. It is very fortunate that she didn’t tell him where to find them; for no good could come of the Master having knowledge of his—and the Doctor’s—own future. And with that, he puts the “Do Not Enter” sign on the door, and leads the way back to the console room.


The Toy is a story that wants to be several things. It wants to be a multi-Doctor story, for one. It’s never confirmed that any of what Nyssa sees in the visions she receives in this story is real; so it’s unclear whether she really met the various past Doctors in any sense. (As an aside, I should mention that the wiki for this story says that the Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Doctors also appear; but that doesn’t fit the plot, isn’t mentioned in the wiki’s plot summary, and I don’t remember it, so I’m going to call that an error until proven otherwise. For this release, I don’t have the script—I bought my copy separately rather than as a subscription bonus—and confirming would require more time than I have at the moment.)

The story wants to be a cautionary tale as well. Near the end, when the Doctor describes how addictive the red jewel—the titular “toy”—can be for anyone with a degree of psychic talent, Adric compares it to “The Facebook”, a computer program alleged to have been banned in the 21st century for “turning people into mindless, incommunicative zombies”. But the story doesn’t commit to that take; it’s very much tacked on at the end, with no foreshadowing. It’s actually the one thing I didn’t like about this story, not because I have any particularly strong feelings about Facebook—I don’t—but because it’s shoehorned in so awkwardly.

What the story is, is a character study for Nyssa, albeit a brief one. Now, I will admit that I have many stories with Nyssa still to go, and so my information is incomplete; but until now, it’s been my impression that writers have largely avoided dealing with Nyssa’s feelings about her lost home, Traken. And that’s understandable; Nyssa is much more useful, in a dramatic sense, as a counterpoint to Tegan (who later goes on to be the same for Turlough); and as a counterpart to the Doctor, filling the role that Romana left open. And there are plenty of great stories to be told from those angles. But The Toy takes a direct look into Nyssa’s feelings for her lost world and her family, and it’s haunting.

This phenomenon of leaving Traken undiscussed is even acknowledged in the story. Nyssa comments at one point in the opening that for once, she’s going to avoid the Doctor, Tegan, and Adric, and sit out the day’s adventures, and avoid the battles to be fought, and just find a quiet place to sit and think about Traken. And she should; trauma like hers can haunt a person forever. It’s a wonder she carries on as well as she does.

Of course, the Master—the villain of this piece—can never leave well enough alone, and he turns her memories against her. It’s a crime of opportunity; this is not our Master, the one we last saw in Castrovalva, but rather, an earlier version. It’s not confirmed just how much earlier, but it’s hinted that it may be the Master from a time just after the Doctor and Susan fled Gallifrey. As a result, he doesn’t even know who Nyssa is; and as she has been overtaken by the echo of Susan’s identity, he at first thinks it is Susan. But his interference gives Nyssa something unique: A glimpse into the past of the Doctor, the Master, and Susan, and a suggestion that the Doctor, too, has known the loss of people he loves. The Doctor even suggests that the Master may feel the loss as well; he says that the Master perhaps couldn’t bear the thought of a universe without the Doctor to cross swords with, and may have left Gallifrey for that reason. (There’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for you—they’ll literally cross swords soon enough, in The King’s Demons!)

In the end, it works out well enough for everyone—no great harm done here. Nyssa and the Doctor each come away with a little more insight, so we’ll call this one a win. (Tegan, ever the counterpoint, comes away with a hint of jealousy toward Nyssa; when Nyssa comes up with Susan’s name before the Doctor can say it, Tegan thinks that perhaps it’s another thing he’s told Nyssa without telling the rest of them. Can’t win them all, I suppose.)

Continuity references: A pleasantly higher number than I expected from a Short Trip! Aside from non-story-specific references to past Doctors, it’s mostly references to other Fifth Doctor stories. Nyssa sees the Melkur in her dreams, as well as her parents and the decayed Master (The Keeper of Traken–as if there was any doubt that this one would be mentioned). She mentions the destruction of Traken (Logopolis). Her vision of the other Doctors takes her to Arcadia on Gallifrey (The Last DayMistfall, et al). She sees snow on Gallifrey (Gridlock), and members of the Prydonian Chapter (The Deadly Assassin, et al). She mentions Tegan’s bad dreams and possession by the Mara (Kinda). She sees a future snake-like version of the Master (TV movie). Susan’s psychic powers are mentioned (The Sensorites).

Overall: Not a bad start to this range! Almost, but not quite, a bottle episode, it’s still a cozy story with many references to old familiar territory. You can do worse for a Short Trip. Check it out if you get a chance.

Next time: The next entry in this range is Museum Peace, an Eighth Doctor story with strong ties to the Dalek Empire range. We haven’t covered that range yet (it’s on the list!) but we’ll do our best! Also, after much pandemic-related delay, I hope to get back to the Monthly Range soon as well, with The Wormery. See you there!

The Toy and other stories in the Short Trips Rarities range are available for purchase from Big Finish Productions. Its purchase page is available here. You can read the TARDIS wiki’s entry for The Toy here.

Next

Doctor Who Unbound: Zero Sum

No review today–here is some original fiction instead.

“Unbound” is a term coined by Big Finish Productions, the creators of many Doctor Who audio dramas. It refers to stories in alternate universes, where something happened differently–and then, what happens next? An Unbound story in Doctor Who terms is equivalent to Marvel’s “What If…?” stories, or Dark Horse Comics’ “Star Wars: Infinities” comics (for the oldtimers like me in the crowd).

I wrote this story a few years ago for a charity anthology of Unbound stories, but that didn’t pan out for me, so I’m posting it here. Zero Sum asks the question, “What if the Fifth Doctor’s sonic screwdriver hadn’t been destroyed?” Sometimes it only takes a small event to change a life. I hope you’ll like it.

Several Classic era stories are referenced here, and familiarity with them will help, but is not required; those stories include Logopolis, The Visitation, Castrovalva, Earthshock, Mawdryn Undead, and the six stories in the “Key to Time” arc: The Ribos Operation, The Pirate Planet, The Stones of Blood, The Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll, and The Armageddon Factor.

This story has also been posted to my writing blog, Timewalkerauthor, and to Reddit’s new community, /r/WhovianFanfiction (come out and contribute!).


London, September 1666

One could be locked in a lot of cells in five lifetimes. The Time Lord called the Doctor knew it firsthand; he’d been locked up more times than he could count. This one, located in a particularly grimy cellar, was not one of the better cells he’d experienced, but it was hardly a time to be choosy. If only he wasn’t wearing manacles…

He fumbled in one of his voluminous coat pockets, searching for something to help his predicament. The sonic screwdriver? No, not at the moment—but it tumbled to the floor as he searched. “Oh, for a proper key!” Still, he couldn’t afford to be without it; and he quickly knelt and scooped it up, transferring it to the other pocket before resuming his search. He was still searching when the Terileptil leader entered the room and ordered him to remain still.


Earth Orbit, circa 65,000,000 BC

“Please hurry, Doctor,” Nyssa shouted. “We must get Adric off the freighter!”

“The console’s damaged,” the Doctor replied. “Working on it, though!” He pulled his sonic screwdriver from his coat pocket and leaned into the fissure in the console. “Ahh!” he yelled, shaking his hand as sparks flew.

“There’s not enough time!” Tegan said.

“There will be!” The buzz of the screwdriver came from inside the gap between console and time rotor. “Nyssa, set the coordinates, quickly! Tegan, grab—“ “ —This?!” Tegan shouted, and brushed past the Doctor, cyber-gun in hand. The Doctor managed a quick glance toward the inner doors, where the final Cyberman aboard was staggering in, just in time to see Tegan dispatch it with the weapon. She threw the gun down before stumbling back toward the console, but there was a look of triumph on her face.

“Coordinates in!” Nyssa said. No sooner had she spoken than the Doctor shoved her out of the way and threw the dematerialisation switch.


In the vortex, Time is everywhere and nowhere, and as a consequence it means very nearly nothing. Before the TARDIS could materialize at its destination, the Doctor slapped a control, bringing the time rotor to a halt, leaving the ship hanging in the vortex. He let out a sigh of relief, and took a moment to look over his companions. “Is everyone alright?” He helped Nyssa to her feet from where she had fallen, murmuring an apology; then he gave Tegan a cursory examination. Satisfied that no one was injured, he turned back to the console. “We successfully removed ourselves from events before the, well, the inevitable conclusion,” he said, “and as a result we’ve bought ourselves some time.”

“But what about Adric?” Tegan said. “That freighter will have crashed by now!”

“Yes, I’m quite sure it has,” he said, “for someone, somewhen. But for us, it has yet to happen, until we emerge from the vortex again. We can’t go back and change anything we’ve already experienced, but we can try to land at just the right place and time to change what we haven’t.”

Tegan frowned, not grasping it yet; Nyssa stepped in to explain. “He’s saying that we can’t, say, go back to twenty minutes before we left and prevent Adric from staying on the freighter, because we’ve already seen it happen. For us, it’s set in stone. But we can land on the freighter in the same minute in which we dematerialised, and rescue him off it, because for us, his fate isn’t sealed yet.”

“Correct,” the Doctor said. “And the spatial coordinates you laid in are correct, or close enough; but to land with that type of temporal precision, I’ll need to finish these repairs. I don’t dare try it with this much damage.” He glanced down at his sonic screwdriver. “I’ve no idea what I would do without this thing.” Looking up, he gestured at a nearby roundel. “Tegan, there is a toolkit in that storage bin, if you wouldn’t mind; and Nyssa, I could use your help.”


Adric leaped back as the console before him exploded, then turned to see the last Cyberman on the freighter collapse to the deck. He sighed, and turned back to the monitor. “Now I’ll never know if I was right.”

He tore his eyes away from the screen as, behind him, a wheezing, groaning sound filled the air. As the TARDIS materialised with its familiar thump, he was already moving; Tegan met him at the door, slamming it behind him. Seconds later, the freighter, minus one TARDIS, exploded.


Earth Orbit, circa 1983

It still baffled Adric that there could be two of this old soldier-turned-schoolteacher, the Brigadier; but there was no question that it was true. And at the moment, it was all that he and the strange (and apparently non-human) schoolboy, Vislor Turlough, could do to hold this younger version back. “I say, let go of me!” the Brigadier said. “Didn’t you hear that?” Showing surprising strength for his age, he shoved Adric off of his right arm; then he twisted and got a lock on Turlough’s wrist, and sent him rolling across the deck of the starship. Before they could recover, he hurried through the nearby laboratory door.

Adric and Turlough cleared the threshold just in time to see the younger Brigadier and his older counterpart raise their hands, and touch. A blinding flash of light and force sent them flying.


Some time later

The lights of the console room were low; even a time capsule sometimes must bow to the needs of its inhabitants, and maintain some form of day and night. Tegan, Nyssa, and Turlough were elsewhere, presumably asleep in their quarters, when Adric entered the room. The Doctor sat in an old, oak chair near the entrance door, one piece of the odd collection of furniture which seemed to appear and disappear in the room at the Doctor’s whim. He was deep in a thick, leatherbound book, but set it aside when Adric arrived. “You’re up late, Adric. What can I do for you?”

Adric seemed hesitant to speak; he glanced around at the room before leaning against the console. “You don’t sleep much yourself, Doctor.”

“Oh, here and there, when I need to, but sometimes I forget when that is,” the Doctor said. “But I don’t think you came to ask me about my sleeping habits.”

“Right to the point, eh?” Adric took another look around, and then nodded. “Alright then. I suppose that’s just as well.” He paused. “Doctor, I haven’t brought it up lately, but…I still want to go home. You know… to Terradon, or… or wherever my people landed. In E-Space.”

He expected the Doctor to shut him down, but to his surprise, the Doctor only nodded, looking thoughtful. “You’ve given more thought to how to make it happen, I suppose.” The charged vacuum emboitment, or CVE, which led to E-Space had been destroyed with most of the others at the Master’s destruction of Logopolis. The memory was always fresh in the Doctor’s mind; fully a third of the universe, including Nyssa’s home in the Traken Union, had fallen to runaway entropy at that time. No mass murderer in the history of the universe could hold a candle to his old friend-turned-enemy the Master now. Regardless, E-Space was closed; perhaps the Time Lords could create a route to the minor universe, but the Doctor was in no position to ask them.

Adric grew more confident at once; he had prepared for this. “It’s a matter of mathematics,” he said. The calculations… well, they aren’t easy, but… but, they’re just numbers! It can be done. And I’m close! I know I am!”

The Doctor nodded again, thinking. When he spoke, it seemed to be a new topic. “Adric, why do you want to leave the TARDIS?”

Had he said it with any kind of hurt, or pleading, or anger, or resentment, Adric might have bristled. Instead, the question held only one feeling: honest curiosity. The Doctor, it seemed, really wanted to know the answer—and now Adric paused, wondering if he himself knew the answer. “Because… well… it’s getting a little crowded here, isn’t it?” His meaning was clear; but again, the Doctor only nodded, and waited. Finally Adric looked away. “I don’t really belong here anymore.”

“Adric,” the Doctor said, “you’ll always have a place here, as long as you want it.”

“But it’s not the same, is it?” The sudden outburst seemed to startle even Adric, but he kept on. “When I first came aboard, it was you and me and Romana and K9, and you were…”

“—Different,” the Doctor completed. “I may have been a different man, but I haven’t forgotten him. Go on.”

“Alright,” Adric said, “you were different. And you’re a genius, and so was Romana, and of course K-9, when I was the only one I’d ever known. And suddenly I had so much to learn, and it was… it was…” He faltered.

A moment passed, and then the Doctor saw it. “Adric… we were like a family to you, weren’t we? Romana and I, you saw us as, sort of, your—“

“I never really knew my real parents,” Adric interjected. “Not well, anyway. So, yes, I guess… anyway. And then Romana stayed behind, and K9 went with her, and then you… changed…”

“I see where this is going, I think,” the Doctor said. “It was at the same time that Tegan joined us, and Nyssa—and now we’ve added Turlough to the mix. I suppose it is getting a bit crowded.” He stood up, and stepped over to the console, then put a hand on Adric’s shoulder. “Adric, you will always have a place here. I told you that, and I meant it. And, though you may not see it now, Tegan and Nyssa both care for you very much. You weren’t here to see their reaction when we nearly lost you, but they would have made you quite proud, I think. Turlough… well, he has a lot of growing to do.” He frowned for a moment, then went on. “But, regardless, I want you to choose a path that will make you happy. If you are happy here, so be it—but I won’t try to compel you to be happy here. If your happiness means going back to E-Space, then I will do whatever is in my power to take you there.” He met Adric’s eyes, and the boy managed a smile. “Now, what do you need to finish your calculations?”

Adric had the answer ready. “I want to go back to Logopolis.”


“But Doctor,” Tegan objected, “Logopolis was destroyed! Along with—“ She faltered, and glanced at Nyssa.

“Oh, go ahead and say it,” Nyssa said. “Along with Traken. It hurts, of course, but there’s no dancing around it. And, Doctor, she’s right! How can we go back there when it doesn’t exist anymore?”

“Well, to be perfectly correct, she’s wrong,” the Doctor said. He worked his way around the console as he spoke, not meeting anyone’s eyes, instead checking settings and flipping switches. He was in a state of excitement—any challenge always had that effect on him—but one could tell he was anxious about their reactions as well. “Logopolis, the planet, still exists. The city, and the people, ceased to exist due to the increasing entropy as the Master closed the CVEs. But, when the mass inrush of entropy took place, it was directed outward from Logopolis onto the rest of the universe.”

“Okay,” a new voice said, “so what?” Turlough had kept silent during most of the Doctor’s revelation of his plan to return to Logopolis, but now he spoke up. “If that’s true, then going there won’t accomplish anything. And if I understand this correctly, then we can’t go back to when the Logopolitans were still alive, because we—well, the four of you anyway—have already been there. We can’t change events.”

“Very good, Turlough,” the Doctor said. “And you are correct. Violations of the first Law of Time tend to create dire circumstances, paradoxes. We can’t risk it. But!” He made a final adjustment and then stopped, resting his hands on the console. “There is a way around it. Honestly, it’s so simple, I’m surprised you haven’t seen it already.” He glanced at Adric, who waited against the wall. “Do you want to explain it?”

For his part, Adric was subdued; but there was excitement in his eyes. “We go back to an earlier time, before our first visit to Logopolis. Probably several years earlier, at least.”

“Exactly!” the Doctor interjected. “We want the Logopolitans at the height of their powers, but before any hint of their upcoming… well, their demise.” That thought seemed to bring him back to reality a bit, and he looked at them soberly. “But they absolutely must not be told what is coming. I don’t need to tell any of you how knowing the hour and the manner of your own death could be a problem. Don’t you think it would be easy for me to find that out, using the TARDIS? But I shield you from that knowledge, because no one should have it. Not even me. Now, extrapolate that notion to the Logopolitans. Their deaths had an enormous impact on the universe. What would happen if they knew enough to prevent it?” At that last, his gaze lingered on Nyssa’s face.

Nyssa caught his expression. “Don’t worry, Doctor. As much as I would give anything to bring back Traken, I understand. We don’t know the ramifications for the rest of the universe.”

“Or time itself,” the Doctor replied. “Or even for us. We may not be visiting our own history directly, but our actions on this trip have the potential to change our own past. We may not directly violate the Laws of Time, but we can certainly do so indirectly.” He looked at each of them in turn. “We must be very careful.”

With that, he threw the dematerialization switch, sending the TARDIS into the vortex.


The TARDIS stood, half-hidden behind a rocky crag, on a hillside a mile from Logopolis. Tegan, Nyssa, and Turlough sat on the boulders scattered in the vicinity, watching as the Doctor and Adric, tiny in the distance, headed for the oddly helical arrangement of low stone buildings that comprised the city. Something was odd about the view; Tegan had caught it and remarked on it at once upon their arrival. “Where’s the radio telescope?”

“Remember that we’ve come to an earlier point in the city’s history,” the Doctor had said. “The universe’s entropy hasn’t reached critical mass yet, though surely the Logopolitans are aware that it is impending. They won’t have constructed their replica of the Pharos project yet—in fact, the original telescope on Earth has yet to be built. That, of course, means we’ve landed as we expected; the current Monitor of the Logopolitans is, I believe, the grandfather of the Monitor we previously encountered. With any luck, Adric can get what he came for, and we can keep the Logopolitans from handing down word of our visit to the next generation.” With that, he had planted his hat on his head, and made his way down the hill with Adric following.

“And so we wait,” Turlough said, scowling. “For how long? Weeks? Months? This block transfer thing, if it’s so complicated, we could be here for years.”

“Oh, you have someplace you need to be?” Tegan sneered. Despite the Doctor’s odd faith in Turlough, she had yet to grant him any trust.

“Tegan,” Nyssa scolded her. “It’s a valid question. We’re talking about mathematics so complicated and variable that they can’t be done by a computer.”

“Exactly,” Turlough said. “Clearly not even the Doctor understands it, or else he would teach Adric himself. Who knows if this will work at all, let alone how long it will take?”

Tegan scowled. “Adric is no normal person when it comes to mathematics. If anyone can grasp it, it’s him. You’ll see.”

Sensing that the conversation was not going to get any better, Turlough gave it a moment, and then stood up. “Well. If you need me, I’ll be in my room, I suppose.” He turned toward the TARDIS. Tegan made a motion as if to stop him, but Nyssa interrupted her with a look.

“The Doctor,” she said when Turlough had closed the door behind him, “says he has the same privileges as the rest of us. Besides, it’s not like he can fly away without us.”

Tegan’s frown deepened. “Nyssa, there’s something about him, I tell you. I can’t put my finger on it, but eventually I will.” She sighed. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”


The TARDIS corridors never confounded Turlough the way they seemed to do to the others. Perhaps sensing this, the Doctor had given him a room further from the console room, down several winding corridors. Turlough wasn’t certain, but he suspected the corridors moved, somehow; but so far he had always found his way.

This time, he had barely closed the door when the floor–the deck? What did one call it in a time ship?–lurched beneath his feet. He felt a wrenching sensation in his stomach, and his vision narrowed as green light sparkled around its edges. For a moment he lost track of time. When his senses reasserted themselves, he found himself on the floor (definitely a floor; too neat for a deck). He clambered to his feet–and found an unwelcome but familiar figure surveying him. “Guardian,” he breathed. “What do you want?”

“Watch your tone, Turlough,” the Black Guardian said. “I’ve come to set you back on track with our arrangement.”

Turlough swallowed, suddenly nervous. This was a being of great power indeed–outside time and space, maintaining the order of the universe, but doing so as a force of eternal darkness and chaos. Turlough wasn’t sure whether to call him evil, but it certainly worked out to the same thing. It was true that he had struck a deal with the enigmatic Guardian: freedom from his exile on Earth in exchange for the task of killing the Doctor. Turlough neither knew nor cared what had led to the Guardian’s frenzied desire for revenge, but he knew one thing: the Doctor had proven to be a difficult man to kill. Turlough remained committed to the cause, perhaps, but he had quickly lost his stomach for the task. “Why should I kill him now?” he demanded. “I’m already free of my exile. Earth is behind me now.”

“But you haven’t returned to your world, have you?” the Guardian said. “You’ve seen the way the Doctor operates his TARDIS. It’s a miracle he ever lands where he intends. He won’t get you to Trion–and that’s if you tell him about it. But you haven’t done that, have you?” Turlough was silent. Some things, like the truth of his homeworld and his own past, couldn’t be shared, even–especially–with the Doctor and his companions. “Only I can finish our bargain and get you to Trion,” the Guardian continued, “and only–only!–if you uphold your end.”

Angrily, Turlough relented at last. It was a trap, and he remained caught in it, if he ever wanted to see his home again. “Fine. I suppose you have a plan? If you haven’t noticed, the Doctor isn’t here at the moment.”

“He’ll return. And he will take you and his pets to the city of the Logopolitans.” Turlough didn’t question it; the Guardian seemed to have as much grasp of time as the Doctor, and possibly more. “Your task will be simple this time. I won’t even ask you to attack him directly. You will simply wait until the right moment… and deliver a message.”

“A message?” It sounded simple, but… “What message? And to whom?”

The Guardian told him.


Adric’s training took eight days. The Doctor returned during the night of the second day, and moved the TARDIS into the city. At the urging of the Monitor–a bald man with the features of his future grandson, but much younger–the group took guest rooms in the city, and attended a reception dinner before being given freedom to roam. The Doctor, however, caught each of them in turn and admonished them to stay close to the TARDIS. “I’ve spoken with the Monitor and urged him to keep our visit off the records,” he said, “but remember that every encounter we make here, and every person to whom we speak, increases the chance that we may change the future. They’ve given us hospitality, and I won’t insult them for it, but… stay close.” He quickly disappeared again, off to audit Adric’s lessons.

On the final day, the Monitor escorted the Doctor and Adric back to the TARDIS. Nyssa and Tegan met them in the surrounding courtyard as they said their goodbyes. “It’s been quite a pleasure,” the Doctor was saying, “and I have to say that I’ve rather enjoyed the lessons as well. Even if,” he added, “they were over my head. It’s not often I can say that, you know.”

“Humble to a fault, Doctor, as always,” the Monitor said with a grin. “And the pleasure is all mine. We Logopolitans have spent centuries shaping our minds toward the thought patterns necessary for these calculations. Even so, you have seen that we require many minds in concert to make our calculations effective. It is a rare and surprising event when we encounter a mind like young Adric’s, born to the ability to grasp it all on his own. He is quite exceptional.” He paused, then added, “Of course, he won’t be able to maintain a steady state of computation for long periods. We manage this by working in shifts, but he is one alone. Still, he can create temporary structures, and permanent ones which do not require maintenance. That should be sufficient for your purposes, I think.”

“Quite,” the Doctor said, a bit hastily. He had made a point of not telling them exactly what Adric intended to create; had he done so, they would surely have insisted on creating the CVE for him, which would have had a much greater chance of upsetting history. “Well, at any rate, we thank you again, Monitor, both for the lessons and for your generous hospitality. But, we really must be going.” He shook hands with the Monitor, and turned toward the TARDIS; then he frowned. “Where is Turlough?”

“He went out walking…” Tegan began.

“I’m here, Doctor!” Turlough interrupted. The group turned to see him entering the courtyard from one of the many passages, flanked by two Logopolitans. The Logopolitans stopped at the entrance, and Turlough crossed to the TARDIS; but a look passed between the duo and the Monitor, who gave them a quizzical frown. “Sorry, I lost track of the time,” Turlough said as he joined the others.

“No harm done,” the Doctor said, and opened the police box door. “Monitor, we’ll be off now, I think. And it looks like those fellows want a word with you.”

“Yes, quite,” the Monitor said; but the Doctor and his companions were already disappearing into the TARDIS. The Monitor shrugged, and went to confer with his subordinates.


The Doctor threw the dematerialization switch the instant the inner doors closed, sending the TARDIS groaning into the vortex. “In a bit of a hurry, Doctor?” Nyssa said.

“Well,” he said, “yes, I suppose so. Oh, no, nothing’s wrong, precisely,” he said, forestalling her next question, “it’s just that… Nyssa, I’ve explained that we Time Lords can perceive the flow of time as a sort of sense, not as clear as most, but a sense nonetheless. And the longer we stay in Logopolis, the more I feel the weight of our every action on the timestream. I think we’re alright, as planned, but it’s best we get away quickly.” He circled the console, setting coordinates.

“So, what now?” Turlough said. “How long until Adric makes his attempt?”

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel quite refreshed after the last week. It’s almost been like a holiday. So, if you’re ready,” he said to Adric, “we can get started right away.”

Adric’s usually sullenness was gone, for once, and he nodded. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” he said.

“Right! No time like the present,” the Doctor said. “Or rather,” he added, “the future. Since we’ll need to do this at a time after the closure of the Logopolitan CVEs.” He hit a final control, and the time rotor began to rise and fall.

No one’s eyes were on Turlough as he tugged at his tie and grew pale.


The time rotor slowed, but didn’t stop. “We’ll get a better result if I start while we’re still in the vortex,” Adric had said. “I can set the temporal elements, then build the spatial and dimensional elements on top of them. This CVE will be more stable than the Logopolitan version, because they were forced to work from the spatial components first. I won’t have to work as hard to maintain it, either.”

Now, as the TARDIS slid closer to its target–a point in space far from any civilization, some three hundred years after the destruction of Logopolis–Adric stood with his hands on the console, and closed his eyes. His lips moved, subvocalising, but no sound could be heard. “Is that all?” Turlough whispered to Tegan, who stood for once beside him, against the wall; she shushed him.

On the other side of the console, the Doctor winced. “Are you alright?” Nyssa said, moving to his side so as not to disturb Adric.

“Yes, I… I’m fine, thank you.” He shook his head. “For a moment I felt something… it’s nothing.” He returned his attention to Adric’s face. Long minutes passed, and the Doctor winced again, putting a hand to his temple. “Oh!”

“What?” Nyssa said. Tegan and Turlough had noticed his discomfort by this time, but remained by the wall.

“Nothing, I just… I think I may be feeling some cast-off effect of our journey. Nothing serious, I think.” He straightened. “It will pass.”

At that moment, Adric looked up at him. “Ready, Doctor!”

“Right! Here we go, back to reality!” The Doctor pulled back on the dematerialization switch, and the time rotor picked up speed, sending them careening out of the vortex and back into space.

Everything happened at once. The ship shuddered, hurling Tegan and Turlough to the floor; the three around the console grabbed on and maintained their footing, but only just. The lights dimmed and began to pulse, and the time rotor began to spark and flash red as the TARDIS’s familiar groaning grew loud. Over it all, the cloister bell–the TARDIS’s warning of catastrophic danger–began to toll.

Worst of all–though it took Nyssa a moment to see it–was the Doctor. With the last toss of the floor, the Doctor lost his grip on the console and fell, rolling away from Nyssa. As she watched, light–pale, shot through with sickly prismatic shifts, but pervasive–surrounded him. It was different from last time, perhaps, but it only took a moment to recognize it: the Doctor was regenerating. “Adric!” she shouted. “What are you doing! What’s happening!”

Adric’s eyes were wide now, staring in horror at the Doctor. “It’s not me! I’m not doing this! My calculations were clean, I swear!”

On the floor, the Doctor moaned in apparent agony, and began to writhe. “Well, something’s happening!” The cloister bell’s volume increased, and smoke began to pour from several roundels on the walls; Nyssa recognized them as compartments which housed electronics of various types.

“I don’t know!” Adric shouted. “It’s not me!”

“No,” a new voice said, “It’s me!” All eyes swung toward the scanner, where the Black Guardian’s face could be seen.

“Who are you?” Tegan demanded. “What are you doing to the Doctor?”

The Black Guardian assumed a hurt expression. “The Doctor hasn’t told you about me? How offensive. I am the Black Guardian of Time. Once, your Doctor wronged me in a manner that your mortal minds won’t comprehend. I’ve pursued him since, and now, my revenge is accomplished!” He smiled, an expression made more cruel on his severe face. “And you have none other than Turlough to thank for it!”

Nyssa and Tegan turned to Turlough. He glared at the Black Guardian. “So much for keeping your end of the bargain, Guardian. Throwing me to the wolves, eh?”

“Turlough,” Nyssa said, “you struck a bargain with this monster?”

“Oh yes,” the Guardian said. “In exchange for passage off of the Earth, he agreed to kill the Doctor for me! Shall I tell them what you’ve done, Turlough?” He laughed. “While you were preparing to leave Logopolis, Turlough did a favor for me. Such a small thing… he simply passed a message.”

“What message?” Tegan demanded.

“It should be obvious,” the Guardian said. “He went to the Logopolitans and gave them a warning. He told them what will become of them in two more generations.”

“The Master!” Nyssa exclaimed. “Turlough, you warned them about the Master? The Doctor warned us all not to let them know the future!”

“He said it would be a fair exchange!” Turlough said. “Think about it. If they knew the Master was coming, they would be ready for him. He would never shut down their Pharos project, and the CVEs they created would still be there. That means the universe would still be intact!” He looked at Nyssa. “Nyssa, that means your home would still be there. Traken will still exist! And all it costs is one life.”

“Turlough, you idiot!” Nyssa shouted. “Didn’t you think about how it would cost his life? Even if you overlook the rest of the things the Doctor told us… he only regenerated last time because of what happened at Logopolis!”

Turlough turned his gaze to the Doctor, who continued to twist in pain. The light had grown more intense around him, and was now shot through with red. To everyone’s horror, his hair had gone from short and blonde to curly and dark, and he seemed to have become taller. His face seemed to be in flux; now the gentle mien of the familiar fifth incarnation, now the chiseled features of the fourth. “He’s… he’s de-regenerating?”

“Oh, it’s worse than that, young friend,” the Guardian said. “Your actions have created quite the paradox! The battle with the Master, which you have now prevented, caused the Doctor’s regeneration; but events since that time led you back to Logopolis, and allowed you the opportunity to prevent those very same events. Do you see what you’ve done? The Doctor will stabilize in neither form–and the paradox will tear his TARDIS apart! I applaud you, Turlough. You’ve done something not even I could accomplish!”

Turlough gave another glance at the Doctor, then turned back to the Guardian. “Undo it,” he said. “Undo the paradox! This isn’t what we agreed to!”

“Vislor Turlough, it is exactly what we agreed! And I cannot undo this paradox even if I wished to. My powers do not lie that way. Nor,” he added, “do I have the power to pluck you from the paradox, of which you are now a part. I’m afraid I will not be able to keep my promise to you. But consider, the universe you are bringing about is a better place–” he glanced at Nyssa– “worth the Doctor’s life to you. Isn’t it also worth your own?” His face faded from the scanner.

“Wonderful,” Turlough said, “What do we do now–” He turned toward the others, just in time to see Tegan do a very unladylike thing: she swung a spanner at him, catching him just above the temple. A blinding flash exploded behind his eyes, and then all went dark.

“Damn, but that was overdue,” Tegan said.


“Doctor!” Nyssa shouted. “Doctor!” She hovered over him, afraid to touch him in the throes of regeneration. “Can you hear me? We need you!”

He twisted again, stifling a scream; and then his eyes flew open. Disconcertingly, they were two different shades of blue. “No,” managed to say, in a voice that carried an odd harmonic, as if also in flux. “You don’t need me–” and this time it was the fifth Doctor’s voice– “You need Adric!” Fourth Doctor’s voice. “It’s up to him!” The harmonic flux returned. He let out a piercing shriek that echoed from bass to tenor, and closed his eyes. The regeneration energy seemed to swirl over him.

“Adric?” Tegan said. “What does he mean?”

Adric took a step back from the console. “I don’t know exactly,” he said, “but I know what I can do. I can keep the paradox from tearing us apart, at least for awhile. Block Transfer Computation can do that. Do you know it’s a part of creating a TARDIS?” He shook his head, realizing the urgency of the situation. “It means abandoning the CVE.”

“Adric, if the paradox destroys us, you won’t need a CVE!” Nyssa said. “You’ll be dead with the rest of us!”

He nodded. “Right.” He stepped back to the console and took a deep breath. “I’ll get us back to Logopolis. If anything can overturn this, it’s there. And I can hold us together in the meantime… but I don’t know what to do when we get there. We’re already part of events.” He closed his eyes and began to mutter calculations. Shortly the ship’s shuddering ceased, and the lights ceased their pulsing; but the red glow remained in the time rotor, and the cloister bell continued to sound. Adric reached for the navigation panel, and made a few adjustments; then he threw the dematerialization switch.


No smooth materialization this time–the TARDIS careened out of the vortex and into reality like a grenade into a wartime trench. The battered police box–perhaps more battered than usual–slalomed into the atmosphere of Logopolis at a severe angle, its outer shell heating up until it glowed, then burst into open flame. Inside, Nyssa hauled on the stabilizer controls, desperately trying to drag the crashing ship into a stable flight path, while Adric clung to the console and did his best to hold the ship together. The cloister bell thundered through the console room, louder and faster than before. The TARDIS fell toward the city, then leveled off–but not enough, not enough. Its base struck a Logopolitan house hard enough to tear a hole in the roof; the TARDIS skipped off and tumbled end over end. Internal gravity held its inhabitants on the floor, but inertia sent them skidding around; Nyssa lost her grip on the controls just in time for the ship to crash into an alley. By some miracle, it righted itself in the final impact and fetched up against a wall, sending a cloud of dust and stone into the air.

“Is everyone alright?” Nyssa shouted, picking herself up from the floor. She didn’t wait for an answer, but ran to the Doctor, ignoring her own bruises. He had slid nearly to the exit doors. His features continued to flux, and now his height had begun to shift as well. Energy ran in a mad swirl of colors all over him. “Doctor!” she called as she knelt beside him. “Doctor, stay with us! We’re back at Logopolis, but we don’t know what to do!”

The Doctor only groaned, thrashing about on the floor. In the opposite corner, Turlough and Tegan were picking themselves up; Tegan angrily shoved herself away from him. “Ow…” Turlough moaned, rubbing his head, and then glanced at the scanner. “We’re back at Logopolis? So… we’re, what? Going to prevent the paradox?”

Tegan turned on him. “YOU stay out of this!” she shouted. “You’ve done enough already!”

“Nooo….” the Doctor groaned. “No, he’s… he’s right. Have to stop… but mustn’t… first law!” He collapsed back from the effort.

“The First Law of Time,” Adric said without opening his eyes. He was visibly sweating from the effort of maintaining his calculations. “But… we’ve already broken the First Law! Or rather, Turlough did. He gave the Logopolitans knowledge of their own futures. That’s what caused this.”

“Paradoxes…” the Doctor muttered. “One problem… at a time. Fix!”

Nyssa looked at the others, doubt in her eyes. “I don’t know what he’s suggesting! If we interfere here, we’ll be breaking the First Law again. Won’t that create another paradox?”

“I don’t know,” Tegan said. “But we have to do something!”

“What is the First Law?” Turlough said.

Nyssa gave him an annoyed look, but then realized that he hadn’t been with them long enough to hear it explained. “It’s a law that the Time Lords enforce for the sake of keeping time intact and preventing paradoxes. It says that they mustn’t meet themselves out of order, or meet other Time Lords out of order, or pass on information about the future that has the same effect. It’s that last part that you broke on the Doctor’s behalf by telling the Logopolitans about the Master.” She paused, seeing a strange look on his face. “What?”

Turlough stepped toward the console, thinking. “Time Lords can’t meet out of order, or pass on information.”

“That’s what she said,” Tegan said.

“Adric,” he said, “when have we arrived?”

Adric didn’t have to check the console; he could feel it through his grip on the TARDIS. “About five minutes before you talked to the Logopolitans. If we’re going to do something, it has to be now.”

“Turlough, what are you thinking?” Nyssa demanded.

“I’m thinking,” he said, “that he’s a Time Lord… but I’m not.” Suddenly he slapped the switch that opened the inner doors; and he bolted out, leaving them stunned behind him.

It was Tegan who recovered first. “Come on! I know what he’s going to do. We have to catch him!” She ran for the door. Nyssa glanced at the Doctor, then Adric, and jumped up to run after her.


“Adric,” the Doctor moaned. His voice was more like that of his fourth incarnation now, though his body was more like the fifth. “Adric, can… can you hear me?”

“I’m here, Doctor,” Adric called. “I… I can’t spare the energy to come to you. Too busy concentrating.”

“Adric, you have to… to trust me… do what I say. Ahhh!” He gasped and bent double, then regathered his strength to continue. “The Bl… the Black Guardian… won’t let them… interfere. You… you have to stop him.”

“What? Me?! How?” Adric said. “I can’t–”

“You’re the… the only one… who can,” the Doctor managed. “Block Transfer… it works in… all dimensions… at once. It’s… it’s the only thing that can… can hold him!”

Adric knew it was true. “That makes sense, but… Doctor, if I let go of the TARDIS, it will come apart! And I can’t do both!”

“Trust me! Not all… at once. There will be… a little time… just enough. Do it, Adric… now!”

Adric nodded, and closed his eyes again.


Turlough raced through the narrow streets. Nyssa and Tegan pounded after him. Had they known where he was going, they would have tried to intercept him; but only he knew where he had met the Logopolitans. They narrowed the gap, but it wouldn’t be enough.

He came to a halt as a green swirl formed in the air ahead of him… and the Black Guardian stepped into the street. “Back to play the hero, Turlough? I can’t allow that. You’re too much the villain!” He raised a hand, power swirling around it–and walls of what appeared to be glass appeared around him, trapping him. “What? Impossible! No power in your possession could… Adric,” he said, realizing. “Fool boy! I’ll–”

“No time for that now,“ Turlough said as Tegan and Nyssa rounded the corner behind him. He darted past the imprisoned Guardian, and raced toward the next intersection. At the same moment, another version of Turlough stepped from an angled passageway into the intersection, facing away, and headed down the opposite street. “Just have to catch–”

He didn’t get to finish, as the combined weight of Tegan and Nyssa piled on top of him, driving him to the ground. “Let me go!” he managed. “It’s about to happen! I have to stop him!”

“You can’t!” Nyssa said. “The First Law–”

“It can’t get any worse!” Turlough said. “At least we’ll cure this paradox! It’ll buy us time, and maybe the Doctor or the Time Lords can figure out the rest!” Suddenly the street shook beneath them. A glance back revealed the Black Guardian, surrounded in a nimbus of darkness that thundered against the walls of his prison. He was pouring everything into his attempt to break free–and the city felt his rage. Stones fell from the nearby walls.

“And what were you going to do to him?” Tegan demanded.

“The same thing you did to me!” he grunted. “Tackle him! Stop him from talking to them! Anything!”

Exhausted at last, they released him and fell back on the ground. “Turlough,” Nyssa said, “you can’t do that either!”

“Why not?” he demanded.

“Even if you’re right about the paradox,” she said, “you can’t touch your other self. Remember the Brigadier, on Mawdryn’s ship? The… oh, what did the Doctor call it?” “The Blinovitch Limitation Effect,” Tegan said.

“Right! If you touch your other self, there will be a temporal energy discharge. With time so fragile already, it might be catastrophic! We can’t risk it!

“Then you take him! You already know you can!” He jumped up and started running again as the street shook again, more violently this time. Nodding, they climbed to their feet and ran after him.

They made it only a half dozen paces, before an unearthly screech sounded behind them, and the street shook with its greatest tremor yet. The building to their left collapsed in a roar, filling the street, cutting them off from Turlough. They could just see over the rubble pile; but as they tried to climb, it shifted, sending them back to the ground. “Damn that guardian!” Tegan shouted. “Turlough, do… something! Just don’t touch him! Go!”

He gave them a final look, and ran.


Turlough stopped at the end of the street, where it made an L-turn to the left. Just around the corner, he caught a glimpse of himself, standing in front of the building out of which the two Logopolitans would shortly come. It was only a few paces… but what to do?

Behind him, another building fell in an explosion of dust and stone. His other self looked back; Turlough ducked aside, avoiding being seen. Perhaps the explosion would scare his past self away… but, no such luck.

“Turlough!” a voice called behind him. He turned… and saw the Black Guardian, near the previous intersection. He was still encased in the computational walls, but as Turlough watched, the Guardian flickered and vanished, and reappeared ten paces closer, dragging his prison with him. “It’s too late, boy! Even now they come. You can’t undo this paradox!”

Turlough stared at him for a long moment. “I’m through serving you,” he said. “The Doctor is a thousand times the man you’ll ever be. I trust him to know what’s best for the universe, and for Logopolis, and… and for me. I won’t do what you want again.” He paused. “Or even the first time!” Darting back toward the intersection, he snatched up a fist-sized, jagged rock from the rubble of the fallen building, and stepped around the corner toward his other self.

“No!” the Black Guardian shouted.

“Goodbye,” Turlough said through clenched teeth. Then he drew back his arm, and hurled the stone at his other self.

He had one final moment of clarity, in which he saw the Black Guardian vanish in a scream of rage and a burst of flame. Then the stone struck the back of his other self’s head, and everything went dark again.


Tegan’s head swam as the world coalesced around her. She couldn’t recall passing out, but she saw that Nyssa was waking up as well. What had happened?

Rubble still filled the streets, but the Black Guardian was nowhere to be seen. Nor was Turlough; but from the direction of the TARDIS, a figure in cricketing clothes picked his way around the stones and came toward them. Adric trailed behind him.

“Doctor,” Tegan said, “you’re back to normal!”

“Quite,” he said. “And it’s a good thing, too. As much as I enjoyed being my old self–well, when I was him–one must always look forward, not backward.” He offered a hand to each of them in turn, lifting them to their feet. “And I daresay the Logopolitans will agree. They just saw us off, you know–the past version of us, that is. Since we’ve managed to tear down part of their city, they’ll be glad to see this ‘us’ gone as well.”

“That’s a bit unfair,” Tegan said. “This was the Guardian’s work, not ours.”

“True,” he said, “and a nasty bit of work it was, too.” He glanced back at Adric. “But, thanks to Adric here, it was not as nasty as it could have been. A job well done, Adric.”

“So, what happened, exactly?” Nyssa said. “And where’s Turlough?”

“Well,” the Doctor said, “I think Adric can answer that better than I can. After all, by way of his battle with the Guardian, he was here, after a fashion.” He nodded at Adric.

“It’s…” Adric started, then paused. “Well, maybe we’d better look. I want to be sure of what I saw.” He led the way over the rubble, and past a second pile further down the street, to an L-turn. Rounding the corner, he stopped. “I was afraid of that.”

Nyssa made the turn, and stopped short. “Oh. Oh, no.”

Tegan came after her, with the Doctor following. When she saw what awaited them, she stopped, and made as if to speak, then closed her mouth. Finally she said, “So that’s how he fixed it.”

Ahead of them, Turlough–the past version of him–lay still on the ground. Blood pooled around his head, and stained a large, jagged rock beside him. Of the present version of Turlough, there was no sign. “Yes,” the Doctor said gently, “it seems our Turlough sacrificed himself to stop the former Turlough from doing the Black Guardian’s task.” He paused. “Quite noble of him, wouldn’t you say? I think we all underestimated him.” At his side, Tegan nodded, and wiped her eyes with her sleeve.

“Doctor…” Nyssa said. “I know it was all in the moment, and we all barely had time to think, but… couldn’t he have talked to himself, or something? We didn’t let him tackle himself, because of the energy discharge–”

“Which was the right decision,” the Doctor said. He closed his eyes and concentrated. “A paradox, you understand, is a closed time loop. It repeats itself, ad infinitum. This paradox has been transformed into an open loop by Turlough’s sacrifice. It circles back on itself only once, and then rejoins the normal flow of time. It’s hard for me to feel the flow of that loop, now that we’re on the other side of it, but… I sense that it could have worked out no other way.” He looked at each of them in turn. “Turlough instinctively grasped something that there was no time to explain. You see, Time seeks to close paradoxes. It can’t tolerate them, as a rule. And also as a rule, violations of the first Law of Time tend to create paradoxes. There are some exceptions, but that’s what generally happens. I tried to warn all of you not to violate the first law. That could have created a second paradox on top of the first, and time would have come apart catastrophically here. If Turlough had talked to himself, it would have created such a violation. Similarly, if he had touched his other self, the discharge of temporal energy would have torn time apart, as you rightly assumed. The only safe course was to take action that didn’t pass knowledge to his past self… and that’s what he did. Rather violently, I’m afraid, but I hardly see that he had any alternative.” He fixed both women with a stare. “And lest you go to blaming yourselves, remember that had you communicated with past Turlough, it would also have transmitted information, and been a violation of the first law.”

“So, why did this not cause another paradox?” Adric said. “I mean, if Turlough prevented himself from telling the Logopolitans, then the events that led us to come and stop him never would have happened. We shouldn’t exist here, now.”

“Yes, well… remember that I said that time seeks to close paradoxes–or open them, as the case may be. In doing so, it can’t tolerate a violation of the first law–but it can tolerate violations of lesser laws. Our being here, as relics from a timeline that ceased to exist with the opening of the loop, is a violation of one of those lesser laws; but time is quite happy to put up with it, in order to correct the greater paradox. The only concession is that the present version of Turlough ceased to exist. Well, and also, the moment of correction to the timeline was a bit much for the two of you, being outside the TARDIS as you were. That’s why you passed out.”

“You make it sound like time is alive,” Tegan said.

“Hmm… I suppose after a fashion, it is,” the Doctor mused. “At the very least, it’s non-linear… and it holds mysteries that even the Time Lords have yet to uncover.” He clapped a hand on her shoulder, and turned her toward the TARDIS. “Let’s be going, then.”


The Doctor held the TARDIS door for Nyssa and Tegan. “We’ll swing around and collect Turlough’s body before the Logopolitans move it,” he called after them. “He deserves a proper burial… but not here, where it might risk more paradoxes.”

As Adric made to step inside, the Doctor stopped him. “Adric… what do you think? Do you still want to construct a CVE? Return to E-Space?”

Adric dropped his eyes for a moment. “I think,” he said, “that the things I wanted have caused us enough trouble for now.” He paused. “Maybe someday, when we can be sure the Black Guardian won’t try to interfere. But not today.” He ducked past the Doctor, and inside.

The Doctor watched him go, and smiled. “Good answer.” Then he stepped inside, and closed the door… and with a familiar groan, the TARDIS slipped away.

Prose Review: Defending Earth Charity Anthology: Sarah Jane & The Bristolian Vault, by Sophie Iles

We’re back, with another Doctor Who charity anthology review! Today we’re nearing the end of our tour of the Sarah Jane Smith anthology, Defending Earth. You can catch up on previous posts via the links at the bottom of this post. Today we’re continuing the “Family” portion of the anthology with entry number thirteen of fifteen: Sarah Jane & The Bristolian Vault by anthology artist Sophie Iles. 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. Note that sales for this anthology have now closed, but you can still find a link at the end of the post for the Cancer Research Center, which the anthology supported.

Defending Earth (Cover)

Everything ends eventually; and all children must grow up.

Clyde Langer is no exception. Preparing for university—or more to the point, for getting into university—is possibly the most nerve-wracking thing he’s ever done, and that’s up against facing alien threats ever day! Fortunately, he has Rani Chandra to talk him down, and Sarah Jane Smith to escort him to campus visits. The university they’re visiting today may not be his first choice; but he hears they have a good art program, and he keeps an open mind.

Traffic makes them late, and so they miss the first opportunity for a tour. With time suddenly on their hands, Clyde and Sarah decide to sit in on a rather popular physics lecture—so popular, in fact, that there are warnings to arrive early, despite the lecture hall holding three hundred seats! It’s worth it, though; the tall, grey-haired professor with the Scottish burr in his speech is a captivating speaker, deftly weaving Shakespeare and astronomy and physics into a single speech that is more like a tale, and is utterly engrossing. At the end, there is applause—and Sarah Jane is convinced she’s met this man before. But, where?

The odd sense of déjà vu isn’t the only strange thing here, though. Sarah’s detector wristwatch picks up evidence of alien life…and a strange void in the readings, down in the maintenance sector, a spot where nothing at all can be detected. The alien readings are coming from what is clearly the odd professor’s apartments. Sarah sends Clyde there to investigate, while she goes to check out the void. First, though, she catches the professor on his way out of the lecture and speaks with him a moment. He is brusque toward her, but friendly enough; but as he quickly excuses himself, he calls Clyde by name—a name he really should not know.

Meanwhile, in the professor’s apartments, he closes and locks the door. He is accosted by his butler (as the man thinks of himself), a bald, rotund man with the odd combination of a jovial face and a determined expression. Somewhat chagrined, the professor admits that he is hiding—after all, what else do you do when confronted by your best friend?

Sarah and Clyde have a quick lunch before investigating. Clyde isn’t hungry, and tucks his sandwiches into his pack for later. The duo then splits up, and Clyde heads up to the apartments. He notes that the nametag by the professor’s door says “Smith”—there do seem to be a lot of them about, eh?—and then he eavesdrops a bit on the two men within. When he hears the professor mention Sarah by name, he bursts in.

Down in the maintenance area, Sarah finds something totally unexpected: A large vault door with complex locks. More to her shock, she finds a speaker, which allows her to speak to its interior—and get a reply from a woman with a Scottish accent.

The professor and the bald man quickly explain that Sarah is in danger. They take Clyde with them to find her—and the professor produces a blue-and-silver wand that makes a very familiar buzzing sound. To Clyde’s utter disbelief, he realizes who the professor must be; but there’s no time to discuss it. Sarah is about to do something that everyone will regret, and with the best of intentions. She is about to open the Vault.

With the help of K9 and Mr. Smith, Sarah has obtained schematics for the rather exotic Vault, and she knows what to do. She sets her sonic lipstick building to the correct pitch to open the doors. Meanwhile the woman inside continues telling her about the “crazy man” holding her captive. At last the doors rupture and fall away, and Sarah walks into the white void inside. However, when she is inside, the doors stitch themselves back together, sealing her inside. The woman lowers the light, revealing a lounge with a piano and armchairs, and explains that this is a dead zone, with no signal able to get out. There is something menacing about the woman, but she didn’t entrap Sarah; but no worry—her captor, the professor, will be along shortly to get Sarah out. That is, if the woman doesn’t kill her first.

Clyde and the others race to the Vault door—and find another figure there, one that Clyde knows well: The Trickster. The professor knows him as well, and isn’t afraid. The Trickster admits to luring Sarah into the Vault, and now he offers an agreement: The only way the professor can get Sarah out is to also release the prisoner.

Inside the Vault, the woman talks with Sarah, describing how she and her captor have baited each other across the universe and the centuries. Then she reveals that she knows Sarah’s secret: that Sarah Jane is pregnant, and hasn’t told anyone, not even her other children, Luke and Sky.

The Trickster vanishes. The landscape around them changes to bare earth, and the professor realizes that this is a representation of the future that awaits them if he accepts. They are forced to run, then, from a pair of creatures akin to wolves. Clyde uses his sandwiches to distract the wolves, allowing him, the professor, and the butler to get up to momentary safety on the ridge. There, while they catch their breath, they debate whether there is any way out of this situation, and whether the deal is straightforward. The professor insists that letting the prisoner out—letting her join forces with the Trickster—would be madness, a death sentence for countless others, as the woman loves chaos just as much as the Trickster does. Either way, though, it seems they lose.

He makes his decision.

The Trickster materializes in the Vault. Sarah recognizes him at once; and the woman has heard of him and his fellow members of the Pantheon of Discord. In turn, he knows of her, once Death’s champion, now with many names behind her. He tells Sarah of the agreement on which the professor must decide, and what it will cost. Sarah is defiant—but it is too late. The doors of the Vault are opening.

Clyde and the others make their way back to the Vault. The professor insists they will defeat the Trickster, but Clyde can tell that he feels defeated already. Nervously, he tells the professor about their last encounter with the Trickster, in which Sarah had the chance to prevent her parents’ deaths; as that would have served the Trickster’s plans, it was Sarah’s parents who decided to let themselves die as history recorded, thwarting him. It’s less than hopeful, though; the Trickster’s plan seems airtight. Nevertheless, the professor hasn’t given up hope entirely; after all, there’s Sarah Jane still to consider.

Their plans, however, crash to a halt when they see the Vault doors opening.

Sarah Jane reconnects with Clyde; but no one understands what is happening. The Trickster laughs, sure of his victory. Chaos will reign on Earth! But the Trickster hasn’t counted on the prisoner…or her refusal.

She may, as she points out, love chaos. However, she is no one’s agent but her own. The door may be open—but she refuses to walk through it. If she leaves, it will be with the permission of her jailer—and on her own terms. She refuses the agreement. The Trickster has no choice but to leave, though he does so in fury and futility.

As the group leaves, the prisoner seems amused. She insists they’ll talk over these events, soon; and the professor agrees. Saying their goodbyes, Sarah and the others leave, and the professor seals the vault behind them.

Clyde talks with the butler about the woman. She may have saved Sarah Jane, but it was almost certainly because it served her own plans. After all, she is one of the most vicious, murderous figures in history…but the professor is doing everything he can to reform her, to make her good. And he has 950 more years to do it, give or take.

Sarah Jane stands in the professor’s—no, the Doctor’s—office, confronting her old friend at last. Did he really not want her to know it was him? The sad truth is, yes, he did. After all, he wants no one to know of the Vault and its prisoner. She lectures him briefly about the danger, the precariousness, of the situation; but he insists he has it under control. It was only by the woman’s choice that things ended well. The Doctor insists, though, that he was working on a solution—and specifically one that would save Sarah. After all, the world needs her, especially for what lies ahead…but he stops himself from saying too much.

Sarah insists, in the end, that he shouldn’t carry the burden alone. He has friends to help him, anytime he needs them. Herself, UNIT, other old friends and companions…she offers to call UNIT for him, getting things started. The Doctor won’t say so, but he is grateful. In return, he assures her that her unborn daughter will be okay. Sarah doesn’t need to worry. And as she leaves, for what may be the last time—how can she know, either way? How can anyone?—she bids her old friend a fond farewell.

Iles Title Card

Of all the things in this anthology, this was the most unexpected for me. A Twelfth Doctor story? From my favorite part of his tenure? Fantastic! The author goes out of her way to avoid making it obvious from the beginning that this is a Twelfth Doctor story (or a Doctor story at all); in fact the word “Doctor” never appears. Neither do “sonic screwdriver”, “sonic sunglasses”, “Nardole”, “Missy”, “the Master”, or “Susan”, though all of the above feature in the story (Susan by way of her picture, the Master by way of explanation). The university in question is never named. Truthfullly, if one hasn’t watched series ten of Doctor Who, the entire subtext would be lost, though I think it would become obvious to any Doctor Who fan that the professor in question is the Doctor. I will say that it took me a bit to catch on; it wasn’t until the end of the Doctor’s lecture that it clicked with me. Well done!

In my watch of The Sarah Jane Adventures, I haven’t yet reached this point. Luke has gone on to his own university life, and Sky has been adopted, meaning that this story takes place at least in the fifth series, and possibly after the end of the series five. It exists to bridge the gap between The Sarah Jane Adventures and another, somewhat obscure bit of Sarah Jane’s life. There’s a prose “Short Trip” short story titled Lily, featured in the holiday anthology Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury, and written by Jackie Marshall; in this story, it’s revealed that Sarah Jane eventually has a biological daughter named Lauren, who then grows up to have a daughter of her own named Lily. From what I gather, the timing of the story makes it very likely that Sarah would be expecting Lauren at about series five of The Sarah Jane Adventures; and that’s the approach taken here. Sarah is indeed pregnant in this story, though the father of the child is never mentioned or identified. Both the Doctor and Missy are aware of the situation; the Doctor, indeed, should be aware of it, as Lily features the Fifth Doctor visiting an older Sarah Jane as she babysits Lily.

The only issue I have with the story is that the matter of Sarah’s pregnancy feels shoehorned in. While it may be the reason the author wrote the story, it undoubtedly is a difficult thing to address when the television series makes it clear that the Bannerman Road gang aren’t aware of the situation. That, in turn, makes it hard to fit into the story naturally. The author did her best, and it hardly creates a problem, but she certainly had that challenge to deal with. It’s especially difficult, given that Sarah Jane is really past the customary age to have children…not that the author created that situation, but she’s forced to deal with it. It would have been easier to explain had there been any mention of the father and his relationship with Sarah, but again, those details aren’t included, here or in Lily (as far as I can tell).

But, don’t let that stop you! This is a good story, and shouldn’t be skipped. As well, there are some minor continuity references. Reference is made to Luke having gone to university (The Nightmare Man, et al.). Sarah Jane sees Susan’s picture on the Doctor’s desk (The Pilot, et al.). Nardole mentions that the Doctor and Missy have nearly 950 more years to work out their issues (Extremis; I’m not convinced that Missy’s imprisonment began immediately prior to the Doctor’s time at the university, which in turn makes the number here a bit suspect, but I’ll concede the point for now). Clyde explains the Trickster’s last plot (The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith). Sky is mentioned as present, though not seen (Sky). Nardole mentions his “mistress” and how she sent him to the Doctor (Extremis). I should also mention that Bill Potts is absent, further confirming that this story occurs in or around 2011, long before Bill comes to the university.

Overall: We’re near the end of the anthology now, and I expect the last few stories to be a bit more sentimental (I know already that the next entry is). I very much appreciated having a decent, if short, adventure here, with characters that I love, from a period of the Doctor’s life that I love. It was quite a pleasant surprise to find this story, and I recommend it.

Next time: We have two more stories to go! The next, very short entry, is titled Full Circle (not to be confused with the classic serial of the same name), again by anthology editor M. H. Norris. 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. Please note that orders and preorders for the anthology have now closed.

The Sarah Jane Adventures may be purchased on DVD from various retailers, and may be streamed on various streaming services.

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Audio Drama Review: Master

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Master, the forty-ninth entry in the Main Range, and also the penultimate entry in the tetralogy of villain-centered audios which ends with Zagreus. Released in October 2003 (just in time for Hallowe’en!), this story was directed by Gary Russell, and features Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor and Geoffrey Beevers as the Master. Let’s get started!

Master 1

 

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

Trailer: A Doctor John Smith reads off a letter he is sending to some dear friends, inviting them to a celebratory dinner at his old and expansive manor house.

Part One: An old man awakens from a nightmare of evil voices promising death. Elsewhere, overlooking a parade and a large crowd, an assassin waits for his target. However, he is interrupted by the arrival of a strange little man, who offers him a story—and all the assassin must do is wait. The assassin begins to listen to the story:

In an imitation-Edwardian village called Perfugium, on a colony world of the same name, Dr. John Smith meets his guests at the door. They are Adjudicator/Inspector Victor Shaeffer and his wife, Jacqueline, who is a well-known philanthropist. They are met by John, and also by his maid, Jade. They talk of various local matters; but later, as Jacqueline goes in search of a kitchen knife to replace hers (which has gone missing), Victor reveals that there has been another murder. It is the latest in a series of murders of young women, mostly prostitutes, though this one was not. Victor is quite unsettled by the deaths,  They are interrupted by Jade’s cat. Meanwhile Jacqueline speaks harshly to Jade, assuming that Jade has romantic designs on John Smith. She reveals that John has amnesia, and doesn’t remember anything before his arrival here ten years earlier; she suspects an accident, perhaps fire, which would explain not only the amnesia, but the disfigurement of his face. Nevertheless Jade has no such designs. After dessert, Victor suddenly grows moody and has a brief outburst against John, which nearly turns to violence; but it passes, and the group returns to their talk. Jacqueline gives John a birthday present—a sort of primitive Ouija board. Against everyone’s better judgment, they try it out; it spells out the letters D-O-C-T-…and suddenly there is a crash of thunder, followed by two screams.

Part Two: One scream is Jacqueline; but the other is from a man outside the window. John and Victor bring him in, finding he was struck by lightning; he is incoherent at first. Meanwhile, the assassin argues briefly with the storyteller about the veracity of the story, before letting him continue. Victor and Jacqueline temporarily withdraw, letting John work on the man; the man recovers, and seems to be healing quickly. After some awkwardness, the two begin to discuss the murders, and find much common ground. The man calls himself Dr. Vaughn Sutton. They discuss the nature of evil in the heart, and whether a man can be purely evil without motive. The Doctor—for that is who Dr. Sutton really is—tells Smith about a truly evil man he once knew, called the Master. Pushing the issue, Smith reveals his own evil impulses, for which he cannot account, but which he steadfastly resists. Does this make him evil?

John is taken by a sudden fit; and a new voice speaks through his mouth, promising death to all present if the Doctor does not do what he came to do. As John revives, a book–*Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde*–falls off the bookshelf. John goes to check on the others, and the Doctor picks up the book, getting the point at once; the voice speaks again, telling him he has one more chance to keep his word, or everyone will die.

Part Three: The assassin wants to know if John Smith really is the Master, as the storyteller—who is obviously the Doctor—implies. And what other force is at work here? The Doctor resumes his story.

Jacqueline thinks the newcomer is dangerous; but regardless, some force is at work, as she slaps Jade and drives her out of the room. However, Smith tells them that the Doctor will be staying the night, as will they, due to the storm outside. They are interrupted by Jade’s scream; her cat is dead, its throat cut and its heart removed—just like the murder victims. Victor believes the killer is taunting him personally now. They gather with the Doctor, who now claims to have been attacked by books in the library—and indeed, the library is a wreck. In the midst of it all, John admits to having invited his friends over to test the alleged curse on this house—but now he regrets it, because they all seem to be in danger. John becomes convinced that the Doctor knows him from his past life, but why won’t he admit it? Smith feels something evil inside him—and he happens across Jacqueline’s missing kitchen knife. The Doctor tries to get Victor and Jacqueline to leave, but John interrupts by taking Jacqueline hostage with the knife, and demanding to know the truth. The Doctor gets him to relent by agreeing to talk—and talk he does.

He tells the story of himself and the Master as children. They were bullied by an older boy—but one day, one of them had enough. In the midst of the bullying, he killed he bully. The two boys burned the body together, but after that, the killer become more distant and angry, full of guilt, while the other went on to be a good man. One became the Doctor; the other, the Master. And John, he reveals, is the Master—though he does not remember it. Worse, the Master’s innate telepathy has projected that evil onto those around him, affecting their actions tonight. Jacqueline defends him; the Doctor offers to take them all away from here. However, they are interrupted by Jade—who reveals her true identity: Death itself.

Part Four: Jade—no, Death—mocks them all, and especially the Doctor. She quickly shares everyone’s secrets: the Doctor is here to  kill the Master; Jacqueline is in love with John; and Victor is the murderer. Victor flees the room, screaming from the revelations, and the lights go out. In the dark, Jacqueline admits that she has always loved John, and still does—but he rejects her, accepting the revelation of who he is. He cruelly dismisses her, and she leaves in tears, leaving only John and the Doctor. The Doctor says that he knows John truly loves Jacqueline, and ran her off to save her from Death. He says that the Master has been Death’s servant—her Champion—but that, ten years ago, he struck a deal with Death. For ten years, Death would release the master, allowing him a normal life, but at the end, the Doctor had to kill him. She arranged tonight to push the Doctor to do just that, perhaps in punishment for his past role as Time’s Champion. The Master urges him to do it, and hands him the kitchen knife. Meanwhile Jacqueline finds Victor in the scullery, and talks with him about whether anyone is truly too hopeless to be saved.

The Doctor refuses to kill him. Instead he realizes that John’s love for Jacqueline—which Death never anticipated—could save John from the Doctor’s deal…but only if they get to Jacqueline first. They head for the scullery. However, Death is whispering to Victor, and ultimately he kills Jacqueline. The Master shrieks in despair.

Death pauses time so she can gloat over her victory. The Master—with his true personality revealed—scoffs at Death’s influence; he is evil of his own will, regardless of her actions. However, she reveals the truth: Even the Doctor has forgotten that there was an earlier deal. It was not the Master that killed Torvic, but the Doctor. Death gave the child Doctor a choice: remember his guilt and serve her, or let it pass to his friend. The Doctor chose to let his friend serve death…and the rest is history. The innocent suffered, and the guilty forgot. However, the remnants of John Smith forgive the Doctor; after all, they were only children. Death gives John a choice: Go back and save Jacqueline by killing Victor first. However, he sees the trap: if he does so, he will become Death’s servant again, but if he does not, Jacqueline will die. John again forgives the Doctor, and chooses—and Death sends the Doctor away before he can learn the decision, as punishment for breaking their more recent deal. The story ends where it began, with the guests arriving; but John threatens Victor with death.

The assassin wants to know what he chose, but the Doctor does not know, and cannot tell him. However, the assassin knows why the Doctor is here now; he has been sent by death to fufill his bargain another way, by killing an innocent—and he is to take the place of the assassin to do it. The assassin offers him the gun, but the Doctor refuses; this again breaks his bargain. The assassin reveals himself to be Death in a new guise, and resumes Jade’s form to mock the Doctor again.  She promises to find new ways to punish him, and stalks off to kill an innocent. Meanwhile the Doctor vows to someday find and free his old friend.

Master 2

The Doctor doesn’t lack for enemies who want to compare him to themselves. There’s Davros, as we mentioned last time; the Daleks and Cybermen have done it; many others wait their turn. And of course, there’s the Doctor’s oldest friend, the Master. In this story it’s a little more on-the-nose than usual; there’s a twist near the end that reveals that the two are more alike than either of them thinks. I won’t reveal the twist, but it caught me by surprise.

We start out the story with a man named John Smith—usually one of the Doctor’s aliases, but here used (if unknowingly) by the Master. I don’t think it’s a great spoiler to say that Smith is the Master; for anyone even slightly familiar with the character (or even the title of the story!) it will be obvious almost instantly. It’s the Master who doesn’t know, and I found that fascinating. Of course, in the years since this story was released, we’ve had such an occurrence on television (Utopia, etc.), but this version takes a different view; for one, the Master didn’t put himself in this situation, and for two, unlike Professor Yana, John Smith doesn’t want to go back to being the Master.

I want to call this another character study, but that’s only on the surface. The real story here is of the relationships among the Doctor, the Master, and Death itself—that’s Death as an incarnate being, as previously portrayed in Timewyrn: Revelation and other novels. This is her first appearance in an audio, however. It’s long been established that the Doctor is Time’s Champion; here it’s confirmed that the Master is Death’s Champion. What matters is how it came about—but, that strays into spoiler territory! I will say, however, that the explanation for the Master’s life choices is quite different from (though not entirely incompatible with) the version we saw in The End of Time, regarding the drumbeats; or the version from The Sound of Drums regarding the Master’s look at the Untempered Schism. The guy really can’t catch a break.

One thing is certain: Missy was right. The Doctor really is her truest and oldest friend. Listening to this story adds considerable depth to the Twelfth Doctor stories where their friendship is discussed. (She’s still a liar with regard to him being a little girl, though; when the Doctor and Death tell a childhood story, they both refer to the Doctor and the Master with male pronouns. Score another for the Doctor not having faces prior to the Hartnell incarnation, I guess?)

At any rate, I have much greater appreciation for the Master as a person here, though he is still evil, of course. I’m also okay with the level of ambiguity with which this story end; the Doctor doesn’t know how it ends, but we can surmise the answer, because we know that the Master lives to fight another day—and we know which side he fights for.

The acting here is average for the most part; but I want to take a moment to compliment two aspects of it. First, Charlie Hayes as Jade does double duty as Death; and the transition between the two roles is just amazing. Compliments for both roles; it’s excellent work. Second, the trailer for this story is unusual; instead of clips from the story, it consists of John Smith reading out loud the letter of invitation he is preparing for his dinner guests. It’s simple and not at all scary—and yet, having an inkling of what is to come, you’ll still feel a chill. Very well done. (The trailer can be found on the story’s purchase page at the Big Finish website.)

Continuity References: The Doctor is referred to as Time’s Champion (Love and War); this is slightly expanded on, when Death reveals that she wanted the Doctor as her champion, but “someone had other plans”. The Doctor mentions Traken (The Keeper of Traken) and Duchamp 331 (Dust Breeding), where he previously encountered this version of the Master. (The Master’s history is a bit complicated, here, and there may be some contradictions with other stories, notably First Frontier, which I have not yet read.) The Doctor uses the alias “Vaughn Sutton”, which refers back to a character in Excelis Decays (although I have not listened to that audio myself yet, I found an indication that for the Doctor, it is recent). The Doctor mentions having known other Adjudicators (Original Sin, et al.). He mentions being disowned by his own family (Lungbarrow). He quotes a line from Primeval: “Exposure to evil, even the smallest amount, can corrode the soul.” Death mentions the Seventh Doctor’s mixed metaphors and playing the spoons (Time and the Rani); however she says that now he is busy destroying planets and old enemies (Remembrance of the DaleksSilver Nemesis, et al.) Death appeared personified in several previous novels (Timewyrm: RevelationLove and WarHuman NatureThe Also PeopleSo Vile a Sin), but never before in an audio drama. In fact, this entire story has several parallels with Human Nature. One of Bernice Summerfield’s books is mentioned here, though it doesn’t seem to be a reference to any particular Benny story. John Smith’s request to the Doctor to “end my life” parallels the Doctor’s conversation with an assassin in The Happiness Patrol, though that may be unintentional. And—most relevant to this tetralogy—Jade recites a version of the Zagreus poem, then wonders what put it in her head.

Overall: Not the typical Doctor/Master encounter at all! And yet, it foreshadows—quite unintentionally—the interactions of the Twelfth Doctor and Missy (and also the Simm Master from recent times) in years to come. That’s a very nice bit of serendipity there, and it’s all the better for being completely unintentional—as far as I can tell—on the parts of every writer involved. Besides that, it’s a great story, and perfect for the Hallowe’en season: Spooky old (possibly cursed) house; a series of murders; a thunderstorm, lightning, screams; Death incarnate (!); and of course, the Master—what’s not to love? I’m very glad to have heard this one.

Next time: And now, for something completely different! Finally we reach the famous and infamous fiftieth Main Range audio, Zagreus. It’s been a long time coming. 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 stories may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Master

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Audio Drama Review: The Oseidon Adventure

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Oseidon Adventure, the conclusion to the Fourth Doctor Adventures, series one. Let’s get started!

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

Oseidon Adventure 1

Immediately following the events of Trail of the White Worm, the Doctor and Leela watch as the white worm transforms into a spatial wormhole, and the Master calls his allies through.  Many tanks come through the wormhole, until the Master stops the rain, causing the procession to stop.  The tanks are occupied by Kraals of the Second Kraal Army—and they are led by Marshal Grinmal, who remembers how the Doctor destroyed the first army.  The Master offers the Doctor as a gift to the Kraals, who summon their deadly android servants.  The Doctor sends Leela away as the Androids take him down; she promises to return with allies and weapons.  The Master sends Spindleton in his own tank to recapture her.  Grinmal wants to take the Doctor back to their homeworld of Oseidon, but the Master wants to kill him now; the androids intervene and disarm the Master, taking away his staser; they then send the Doctor back through the wormhole to their chief scientist, Tyngworg.  Meanwhile, Spindleton loses Leela in the woods, and sends his helicopter to find her.  The Kraals bring the Master back to the house with Spindleton.  Grinmal negotiates with Spindleton, who wants to rule England when the Kraals conquer the rest of the world; Grinmal approves the plan, and imprisons the Master in the stables; he swears revenge.

Leela uses a horse from the stables to trample the androids guarding the Master. He tries to hypnotize her, but she slaps him, breaking the spell; she frees him, intending to make him fly the TARDIS to rescue the Doctor.  Meanwhile, Spindleton and Grinmal confer about strategy, and Spindleton wants them to attack the local village, Dark Peak, as an example to the surrounding country.  Spindleton wants to burn it, but Grinmal suggests a matter-dissolving bomb.  On Oseidon, the Doctor is restrained by Tyngworg; he jokes about having been strapped to that table before.  Tyngworg intends to drain off the Doctor’s knowledge with an analyzer device, as his predecessor once tried to do; it will take eight minutes.  Outside Spindleton’s house, Spindleton and Grinmal see Leela and the Master race by on one of Spindleton’s prize horses; Spindleton prevents Grinmal from shooting them, for fear of hurting the horse, assuming that the army will hem them in.  Grinmal dispatches the army toward Dark Peak.  Leela gets the Master to the TARDIS, but the Kraals are guarding it; therefore Leela takes Master and the horse through the wormhole to Oseidon.  Beholding the ruined landscape, the Master explains that the surface is radioactive; he suggests that the Doctor is in the nearest of the Kraals’ underground bunker.  Unknown to them, Tyngworg is monitoring the area, and overhears the plan.

The Master and Leela find the Doctor, who is disoriented and calls Leela “Tilly”; he explains about the transfer (or rather, copy) of his knowledge. Tyngworg is monitoring the cell as well, and hears the Doctor tell Leela that the Master will be dropping in on Tyngworg, and that therefore they should go there as well.  Moments later, the Master arrives, but Tyngworg is on his side; Tyngworg mentions that the Doctor in the cell is an android duplicate, which does not know it is a duplicate.  Tyngworg insists he is aware of events on Earth.  The Master tries to hypnotize him, but is unsuccessful, and finds that he himself is an android; Tyngworg is the real Master in disguise.  He sheds the disguise and destroys the duplicate.  The real Doctor is still on the table; he congratulates the Master on his success; however, the Master still intends to kill him.  First, however, he resumes Tyngworg’s voice and calls Grinmal for an update; Grinmal reports that Spindleton has delivered a slightly-eccentric ultimatum to the British government.  He also reveals that UNIT is approaching, and the Master orders him to detonate the bomb as soon as UNIT arrives, even if the ultimatum has not been answered.  When Grinmal objects, he activates an override code for the androids, ordering them to return to Dark Peak and activate the bomb.  The Doctor congratulates him again, but then says it may have been a mistake to leave him connected to the analyzer; his ongoing experiences are still being fed to the android duplicate, so that it knows everything now.  The android arrives to attack, but is shot down at once; but the Doctor is not deterred.  Instead, his duplicate had taken the opportunity to create a Tyngworg duplicate, which is even now ordering the androids to disarm the bomb and attack the Kraals.  The Master loses contact with Grinmal, but in retaliation, he orders an autodestruct of the android Tyngworg.  He then moves to attack the Doctor, but suddenly funds that again, he is an android—and as he ceases to function, the real Master has yet to be seen.  Leela rejoins the real Doctor at the behest of the duplicate—and the Doctor wonders where the real Master is, and what he is doing, as the Kraal invasion seems to be a distraction.

On Earth, UNIT is mopping up the Kraals and the androids, but they can’t find Spindleton, and astrange-colored blood trail leads into the woods. The duty officer at UNIT HQ hands the base over to the Master, and is killed for his trouble.  Spindleton and the Master infiltrate the Doctor’s old lab at UNIT, where Spindleton begins to rebel; however, the Master hypnotizes him and sends him out to join the guards.  On Oseidon, the Doctor and Leela create a new duplicate of the Master to interrogate.  The duplicate doesn’t believe he is an android, so the Doctor has him try (and fail) to hypnotize Leela; he lacks the psychic empathy field that real Time Lords possess, and therefore cannot do it.  Leela intends to melt him down, causing him to beg them to stop; the Doctor wants him to betray his original self, but he refuses.  The Doctor realizes that the wormhole is an integral part of the Master’s plan, but how?  He realizes the duplicates have the Master’s personality, but not his knowledge relevant to the current situation; therefore he looks at recently-deleted items in the Kraal computer.  He finds a file indicating that two types of harmless radiation, Z-radiation and O-radiation, can combine to create deadly ZO-radiation, which has the power of a billion neutron stars.  The Master duplicate realizes that the real Master wants this radiation to restart his regeneration cycle and become functionally immortal.  If he does so inside the wormhole, he will survive the process.  Oseidon is saturated with O-radiation; for the requisite Z-radiation, he turned to Earth, knowing that the Third Doctor once stashed a Z-radiation battery in UNIT HQ after failing to jump-start the TARDIS with it.  The android breaks free of its restraints, forcing the Doctor and Leela to run away.  The duplicate accesses the records to learn the real Master’s plan; but he finds a message from the real Master, who anticipated this possibility.  Accessing the deleted files activated a matter dissolution bomb under the lab, which will detonate in seconds.

Outside, Leela recovers the horse, and uses it to get them back through the wormhole to Earth. There they meet Captain Clarke, who is acting commander of UNIT while the Brigadier is away on business in Canada; the Doctor has him contact HQ, but he gets no response.  The Doctor realizes the Master must already be there, trying to steal the battery.  The Doctor persuades Clarke to order the convoy back to HQ; he takes Leela to recover the TARDIS and get there ahead of the soldiers.  He insists that if the Master has already succeeded, Clarke will meet him on the way back to the wormhole; the battery plays havoc with TARDIS navigation systems, forcing the Master to transport it by road.  At the TARDIS, they encounter Grinmal, who alone survived the betrayal.  Leela subdues him.  However, the Doctor hears a helicopter, and realizes that the Master is sending the battery through the wormhole in that manner.  As anyone aboard will die in the detonation, the Master can’t be there; and they only have until he arrives to recover the battery and seal the wormhole.  Grinmal realizes his world is about to be destroyed, and volunteers to help stop the Master; he takes Leela and goes to recover the battery, while the Doctor wants to find out how to seal the wormhole.  Meanwhile, Spindleton has arrived on Oseidon with one of his men and the battery; they set up in the mock village of Devesham that the Kraals use as a training center.

Using the TARDIS, the Doctor intercepts the Master, who admits to the plan. The Doctor tricks him into admitting that a temporal pulse will close the wormhole, as executable by any TARDIS.  However, the Doctor reveals that the ZO radiation cannot be controlled; he suggests that this Master as well is a duplicate, and that the real Master is waiting in orbit.  The Master draws a staser, and decides to kill the Doctor at once.  On Oseidon, Leela and Grinmal kill Spindleton’s man, and intends to recover the battery, but Spindleton reveals that it is very unstable, and will trigger if he falls on it.  He reveals his goal in the plan; the Master promised him a rebuilt country, filled with android duplicates which will obey him.  Spindleton shoots Grinmal.

The Doctor demands proof that this Master is genuine before he dies; he suggests that the real Master intentionally withheld knowledge about the uncontrollable nature of the radiation. The Master insists he is real because he can sense a Time Lord in the vicinity (a function of the psychic empathy field), whereas the Doctor doesn’t sense one.  The Doctor admits defeat.  The Master contacts Spindleton and reasserts his control over him; Leela sees this and attacks Spindleton, dragging him away from the battery.  The Master tells the Doctor he will activate the battery by remote; and he forces the Doctor toward the wormhole.  However, the android from the exploding lab comes through the wormhole, having escaped the blast with only some damage; the real Master fires on him, but staser blasts can’t hurt an android, and the duplicate captures him, leaving the remote with the Doctor.  The duplicate drags the real Master into his TARDIS, intending to force him to repair him and give him control of the TARDIS, as he now considers his android self to be the superior version of the Master.  The Doctor bids them goodbye, and takes his own TARDIS to Oseidon’s Devesham.  He finds Leela and Spindleton, and plans to take Spindleton to UNIT custody; but Spindleton intends to stay here, finding this mock village preferable to the real England.  He sends them away, but asks them to take the horse home and set it free; though it’s a magnificent horse, history reports that it was a famous stolen horse, and therefore they can’t return it to its original owners.  They depart in the TARDIS with the horse.

Oseidon Adventure 2

After a rocky start, the first series of Fourth Doctor Adventures ends strong in this story. We pick up immediately after the events of the previous entry, Trail of the White Worm, with the titular worm having transformed into a wormhole to the planet Oseidon, home of the mutated and militaristic Kraals. In typical Master fashion, what follows is a series of twists. The Kraals are known for one thing in particular; they create fantastic android duplicates which have not only the form of their victims, but also the personality. Therefore, once this story begins, it will be a long time before you know who is real and who isn’t. I won’t spoil it; but for once the twists are perfectly deployed. Once again we see the mock village of Devesham as deployed in The Android Invasion; and this time it ends up with a permanent human resident at the end (although, if he is not also an android, he may not last very long—a point that isn’t really addressed when the Doctor leaves him there).

This is a UNIT story, and as such it is hard to get a firm date. The promotional material indicates it takes place in 1979, but with the difficulty in dating UNIT stories near the end of the Brigadier’s tenure (due to contradictory statements within the classic series—the infamous “UNIT dating controversy”), it may actually have to be as early as 1975. UNIT HQ is mostly unchanged, with the Doctor’s things still in the lab. The Brigadier is still around, but is not seen here, being on assignment in Canada. The Master seen here is again the Geoffrey Beevers incarnation as seen up to The Keeper of Traken, indicating this story predates that serial, but comes after Dust Breeding. He’s at his best here, playing several conflicting versions of himself; with disguises and stasers and plots within plots, this is a story that harks back to the Master stories of the Fourth Doctor era very well, and even somewhat to the Third Doctor era.

Leela gets a better treatment here than in some of the earlier stories. I don’t mean to harp on the same point all the time, regarding the Doctor’s poor treatment of her; it’s just that it continues to be relevant! Here, however, there’s none of that for once (she does get called “Savage”, but by the Master this time, and his opinion hardly counts). She’s quite a force in this story: rescuing the Master, navigating the wormhole, freeing the Doctor, taking out the Kraal leader Grinmal, and then allying with Grinmal to recover the Z-battery, the story’s macguffin. She began the series weakly, but ends very strong, and I couldn’t approve more.

There’s one new bit of technobabble here, which adds to the lore of the series a bit: Time Lords possess a psychic empathy field, by which they recognize each other when close together, and by which the Master is able to easily mesmerize others. It’s been handwaved a bit in the past, but here it’s an integral part of the story.

References are mostly back to The Android Invasion, and I’ve covered most of them. The Doctor does refer to meeting the Master last on Gallifrey (The Deadly Assassin); and the Master’s TARDIS is in the form of a grandfather clock, which it will still be as of The Keeper of Traken.

Overall: Great story, with little to complain about. If Series Two is this good, we have something to look forward to.

Oseidon Adventure 3

Next time: I’m debating between Series Two, with the Fourth Doctor and Romana I (played by Mary Tamm before her untimely death), and another range. We’ll find out next week. 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.

The Oseidon Adventure

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Audio Drama Review: Trail of the White Worm

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, with the fifth entry, Trail of the White Worm. Written by Alan Barnes, this adventure guest stars Geoffrey Beevers. Let’s get started!

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

Trail of the White Worm 1

The Doctor and Leela land on a muddy day in England…and immediately step into the slimy mucus trail of a large worm. Moments later, it becomes clear that the creature is fleeing, as hunters with dogs and guns are following.  The hunters cut them off from the TARDIS, forcing them to hide in the high grass.  The hunters, Carswell and John, are searching for someone named Julie, and are momentarily stymied by the TARDIS—but the hunt continues.  Meanwhile, the Doctor and Leela come to the abrupt end of the mucus trail; it ends at an electric fence, and it appears the creature went over.  The Doctor wonders if they are inside or outside the barrier.  Knowing they have the scent of the trail on them, Leela borrows the Doctor’s scarf to cross the fence, planning to distract the dogs and hunters while the Doctor escapes.  She taunts the hunters, before escaping herself.  They consider chasing, but decide against—it’s 9:00 AM, and one Colonel Spindleton is about to arrive…in a tank.  Overhearing this, the Doctor confronts them, seeking answers.

At some distance, Leela meets the elusive Spindleton—or rather, his voice, as he speaks through loudspeakers. He warns her she is trespassing, and is about to wander into a minefield.  He approaches in a Chieftain tank; he directs her attention to himself, on the balcony of a nearby manor house, and demonstrates that he is controlling the tank by remote.  He uses the tank’s machine gun for target practice, narrowly missing Leela, and then orders her to run as he “brings out the big gun”.

The Doctor works his way into the confidence of the hunters, who tell him that the creature took Julie. He offers to help them, but insists on recovering Leela first.  Carswell is suspicious of him, and implies that the creature can do unusual things, but withholds the details.  They are interrupted when the dogs locate something.  Meanwhile, Leela manages to outlast the tank’s fuel; but she takes advantage of its positioning—pointing its guns toward the house—to force Spindleton to help her locate and recover the Doctor.

The dogs have not found Julie. Instead, it’s a man, dead and missing a shoe; the Doctor notes that the man is dead by molecular extraction, essentially dessicated, and that no one on Earth has that capability.  As well, the mucus trail is nowhere nearby, meaning that they are not dealing only with the creature, but with a murderer.  While viewing the body, they are met by a woman, Demesne Furze, who quickly assesses the situation and realizes that the body was killed elsewhere, then transported here.  She reveals that she has Julie in the boot of her car, much to everyone’s surprise, and lets her out.  She admits to kidnapping the girl, but says she did it to bring her home safely, as the girl was attempting to hitchhike on the highway.  Julie tells Carswell—her uncle—that she was trying to run away to London, as she feels there is nothing for her in this town, Dark Peak.  Carswell calls off the search, and they insist on taking her home—but there is still the dead man to consider, and the Doctor thinks it may be beyond the constabulary…and what about Leela?  Demesne offers to take the Doctor to Lambton Hall, Spindleton’s manor house, as it is on her way back to town.

Leela meets Spindleton at the house, and asks to call the “blue guards,” the police. Spindleton shrugs it off, and shows off his collection of hunting conquests, but he is shocked when she asks him to hunt the creature with her.  However, when she calls it a “worm”, he instantly becomes excited, and agrees to help—but insists on telling his manservant first.  He shows her to the caves beneath the house.

Demesne and the Doctor discuss the “Great White Worm” and the legends behind it, as well as Spindleton’s Swahili manservant. The legends don’t match, however, as the “wyrm” in the legends is a dragon, not a worm.  Demesne drops him at the manor house.  In the caves, Leela and Spindleton view his weapon collection; then the manservant, Mwalimu, arrives, and disarms Leela.  She notes that he is hooded and cowled; he comments that although they allow a deception about it, Spindleton is the servant, and Mwalimu is the master.  The alarm sounds as the Doctor reaches the door, and Mwalimu sends Spindleton to deal with him.  On threat of death, he places Leela by a crack in the floor; she recognizes that the weapon he carries is not of Earth, and she notes fresh blood on the floor.  He tells her it is animal blood, from beasts given as food to the worm—and the worm is coming to feast on Leela.

The worm appears—and it speaks. It refuses to serve Mwalimu, and tells Leela to let it swallow her; it insists it will not harm her, and that she has no other chance.  When she mentions the Doctor, it refers to him as its savior.  She climbs on its back instead, letting slip that she is with the Doctor, which startles Mwalimu; she slides down the creature’s back to escape, and Mwalimu orders it after her.  It leaves, but still refuses to obey.  Spindleton returns and insists he sent the Doctor away; Mwalimu is troubled, and insists the Doctor can thwart their plans.  He sends Spindleton for reinforcements.

Julie sneaks out again in the afternoon, but is caught by John near Demesne’s residence. She ignores his pleas to return, and finds a hidden doorkey, then enters the house, prompting John to follow; she gives him the key.  She admits she is there to steal any valuables she can find, intending to finance her next attempt to run away.  John refuses to help her, until she informs him that his fingerprints on the key and his bootprints on the floor are enough to link him to her petty crimes.  They are interrupted by the Doctor.  John assumes he is a policeman, but he demurs; he admits he has been looking for Leela all afternoon, and that he thinks Spindleton was lying about not knowing where she is.  As if summoned, Spindleton’s tank arrives, and hails them, telling the Doctor that they are surrounded.  A helicopter arrives as well—Spindleton’s reinforcements, a group of mercenaries.  In the confusion, Julie runs off; John finds her when she screams, and she tells him she found bodies in the cellar.  Meanwhile, Spindleton says he is after Demesne; he insists she is actually the worm.  The Doctor is incredulous, until John and Julie return, and their story adds weight to Spindleton’s.

Deeper in the caves, Leela encounters Demesne, who recognizes her from the Doctor’s description. She leads Leela out via an exit to the churchyard.  Outside, Demesne and Leela see the helicopter Demesne determines to help the Doctor.  Leela insists on helping, as the Doctor needs to know about Mwalimu.  Demesne knows about him, and says he is a Time Lord, like the Doctor; she says she can smell the vortex on them, though the comment seems lost on Leela.  Demesne transforms into the white worm.

Spindleton takes the Doctor, Julie, and John in custody, and begins marching them back to the manor house to meet Mwalimu, giving them a lecture about the social situation along the way. He refers to Mwalimu as “the Master”, though the Doctor doesn’t react to it.  The worm overtakes them, and the mercenaries fire on it, to no effect.  The Doctor confronts the worm by name as Demesne; she doesn’t deny it, and swallows the Doctor whole.  He isn’t killed, however, and finds Leela inside it as well, unharmed.  As they confer, he states that the worm is engineered, but to what purpose?  Demesne can hear them, and he questions it, guessing most of the worm’s history.  She admits its original purpose was to dig tunnels—literal “wormholes”—in spacetime.  She knows the Master wants her for that ability, but she does not know why.  She does know that creating the tunnel he desires will consumer her completely—an ouroboros of sorts.  It appeals to him to take it away from here, and says it will digest them if he does not.  He resents the blackmail, but considers it…

Spindleton returns to Mwalimu—or rather, the Master—and reports the Doctor’s death, but the Master is sure he is alive, given that the worm referred to him as its savior. He realizes what the worm must want.  He contacts unknown allies, and assures them the wormhole will be open soon.

Outside, the Worm expels the Doctor and Leela in the churchyard. Leela finds Demesne’s skin; the worm takes it back like clothing, and resumes human form.  She offers to take them back to the TARDIS, but the Doctor insists on dealing with the Master first.  He sends Leela to find the police and summon UNIT, giving her a string of code words.  As she goes, a thunderstorm looms; Demesne seems unusually unnerved by it.  En route to the village, Leela encounters John and Julie, who nearly make her forget the code words; Leela gives them the (now slightly altered) message, and sends them in her place, then returns to help the Doctor.  Meanwhile, Demesne insists to the Doctor that the storm is not natural.  The Master meets them, backed up by Spindleton in his tank, and demands the worm.  Leela arrives, and is shot at by Spindleton, but dodges the shell.  The Master gloats that UNIT will be too late, and reveals a device that summons the storm; he summons lightning to strike Demesne, electrocuting her and triggering her transformation, not just into the worm, but into the wormhole.  As Demesne dies, the wormhole opens.

Trail of the White Worm 2

Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor) and Michael Cochrane (Spindleton)

 

It’s always interesting when the Master pops up! This story is no exception. The villainous Time Lord has appeared in the audios before—as I write this, I just recently reviewed his first appearance in the Main Range, in Dust Breeding—but this is his first appearance in the Fourth Doctor Adventures; and as such, it takes us back into history a bit. Geoffrey Beevers plays the part, just as he did in Dust Breeding, playing the decayed version that we last saw onscreen in The Keeper of Traken. From the Doctor’s perspective, that hasn’t happened yet, as this story takes place in Leela’s tenure. We know that everything in this season must happen after The Talons of Weng-Chiang, courtesy of some definite references in the season opener; and it’s probably a safe bet that the entire season happens between Talons Horror of Fang Rock, as no mention has yet been made of any of the events of television season fifteen. As well, it seems that the stories in this season flow continuously from one to the next, with only enough gap to account for sleep and travel times.

The Master follows his old habit of using an alias that is a play on the word “master” in some way. In this case, “Mwalimu” is Swahili for “master”, or alternately “teacher”. This time however, he doesn’t bother disguising his appearance (beyond wearing robes), as he wasn’t expecting the Doctor to appear. Leela encounters him first, but as this is her first meeting with him, she doesn’t recognize him. He is a little less decayed than before; he attributes this to the Master’s absorption of energy from the Eye of Harmony during the events of The Deadly Assassin, allowing the Master to heal to some degree. From a meta perspective, this is done to account for the difference in appearance between Peter Pratt’s version of the Master as seen in The Deadly Assassin and Beevers’ version as seen in The Keeper of Traken. He’s working with accomplices here (other than Spindleton, that is), but we won’t find out who until the next entry.

The White Worm is hardly the first shape-changing, sometimes human monster we’ve had—they’re a dime a dozen in Doctor Who, including the likes of Richard Lazarus (The Lazarus Experiment), the Zygons (Terror of the Zygons, et al), various werewolves (Tooth and Claw, Loups-Garoux, et al), and many others. I think it is the first I’ve encountered, however, which is both content with its situation and basically good. The worm’s human alter-ego doesn’t want to cause any trouble; it just wants to be left alone. Of course, the Master won’t allow that. The creature uses a skin suit for concealment, much like the Slitheen (Aliens of London, et al), presumably with some form of compression as well, as the worm is big enough to swallow both the Doctor and Leela. I feel a great deal of sympathy for the Worm; it’s misunderstood more than anything else, and though the Doctor tries to save it, it meets a bad end. It’s also the victim of “Unknown Species Syndrome”, that common Doctor Who affliction wherein a creature is of artificial origin, but its original creators are unknown, dead, or otherwise absent; for comparison, see the Fearmonger (The Fearmonger), the Warp Core (Dust Breeding), the clockwork robots (The Girl in the Fireplace, although they were possibly made by humans), and many others. Whether its motives are innocent or not, it does kill to survive; the dessicated, drained bodies it leaves behind are very reminiscent of the similarly-drained bodies in the BBC Fourth Doctor audio series Demon Quest.

This is a much better story for Leela, and she gets to be the badass she was born to be. She faces down a tank, then Spindleton, then the Master, then the Worm, and comports herself well under pressure in every case, even though she really has no clue what she’s up against. It seems the best way for Leela to have a good story is to let her get separated from the Doctor…well, I suppose that didn’t work out so well in Energy of the Daleks, so maybe not. Still, she puts in a good performance here. After several Leela audios, my only issue is that she sounds considerably older than she did in her television appearances. That’s to be expected, I suppose, given Louise Jameson’s age, but then, it doesn’t seem to happen much with other Big Finish actors, who routinely play much younger characters. I can’t help picturing her at her current age, or at least somewhere in between, when I hear her in the audios. Still, she always plays the role well.

We don’t get much in the way of references here, beyond what I’ve already covered. UNIT gets a mention; the Doctor gives Leela a string of code words and sends her to call UNIT for assistance (or rather, call the authorities, and hopefully UNIT’s monitoring systems will catch the code string). Leela refers to some events of this season, most notably that she met the Romans (Wrath of the Iceni; this is another similarity between this season and Demon Quest, in which she met a Roman-era Celtic tribe and a would-be Roman emperor). Beyond that, it’s a relatively reference-free story.

Not a bad story overall; not the best of the season, either (so far, that would be Energy of the Daleks, with Wrath of the Iceni close behind). We’ll reserve final judgment until we get the season finale under our belts. It’s a fun story, and gets bonus points for the Master, even if he is a bit underused.

Trail of the White Worm 3

Next time: We’ll finish up the series with The Oseidon Adventure! 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.

Trail of the White Worm

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 19: Life During Wartime

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.

Apologies; this one is a little longer than the other mini-reviews, but that’s because there’s a lot to talk about.

Seasons of War cover

A young Gallifreyan girl, Karlen of the House of Brightshore, knows that she is different. All around her, Gallifrey suffers and groans in the throes of the Time War. Its history is written and rewritten, again and again, as the two temporal superpowers—the Daleks and the Time Lords—battle for the future and the past. People wink out of existence as their history changes, then wink back in, sometimes the same, sometimes very different. Whole areas come and go. Most people can’t track these changes, for they are part of them. Some, a rare and fortunate (unfortunate?) few, can, and Karlen is one of them. She sees these Untempered Time Rents, and remembers, and does not change with the rest of the world.

She works in a munitions factory with many other children—until he comes. She doesn’t know him, but she sense that he is a Time Lord and more, far more, a man of great import. He rages at the factory’s overseers—“Children are our future! They are every future, and we have so few to choose from!” He tells the children to flee. Most are scared of him, and refuse to move. Karlen follows him, compelled by his demeanour. She talks with him that night. She tells him of the changes she can see, and he tells her of the history of the war, and the deep weariness and pain he carries. He has fought all his life—most of it anyway—to save various worlds; but he can’t save his own home, this world that he loves, no matter how much it deserves saving. But this is why he learned—to try. Now, he wishes only to stop Rassilon, to stop the Dalek Emperor, and to bring peace—but first, he has to survive this time and place.

Karlen feels for him. He is a good man, and so weary, and she pities him. Trying to reassure him, she reaches out to touch him, but only manages to touch his coat—and yet she is suddenly assaulted with visions of the man’s past, of another life, crashing on a rocky world, a blue box, dying a Doctor, reborn as a Warrior…She sees his future as well. She sees destruction and devastation, especially here on Gallifrey. She sees a ragged barn, and an ornate box. She sees the Moment, and knows it for what it is, and what it can do. He does not have it yet, but soon will.

But there is still worse to happen here…for she isn’t the only one seeing. At thatr brief touch, the man sees something as well: he sees Karlen in a new light. Her visions of the changes to history were just a story before; now, he understands what she can do, and he wants to use it. She shrinks back from his greed, seeing him as cruel and cowardly, but when he asks for a safe path out, she has no choice but to point it out. The way that she indicates will take him to safety, avoiding the Time Rents. Before he can go, however, a Dalek Saucer appears in the sky, and bombs the nearby factory. There’s no time to save the children—but, he tells her, it doesn’t matter. They will be reborn, perhaps different, in another Time Rent. Everyone is. He leaves, and she calls out to him—first as Warrior, which he ignores, then as Doctor, which gives him pause. He explains to her that people like her are a result of the Time Lock on the War. These temporal changes have nowhere to go, because they are locked into the War, and so they rebound onto Gallifrey, creating both the Time Rents—history’s “antibodies” against the destruction of itself—and those who can see them. She thinks she understands; breaking the First Law of Time, as is happening here constantly, is a great and devastating problem, and even a touch between two of the same Time Lord could destroy things. She tries to pull him back again, and he muses that she is his “what if?” And then he is gone. Karlen is left with only confusion as she dwells on his words—and it only grows, because suddenly, she cannot remember what is true of her own history. It seems that she, too, is now subject to the Untempered Time Rents.

There’s a lot packed into this short story, and for the sake of organization I’m going to mention some references first. Very early, Karlen talks about having witnessed many events of the War, and having seen them rewritten again and again. She mentions the Fall of Arcadia (which is on the last day of the War, so make of that what you will with regard to how time plays out—the events of this story are certainly not on or after the last day); the Horde of Travesties; The Erosion of the Crevice of Memories That Will Be (Time Lord names for phenomena are so poetic); the Rupture of the Schism (presumably the Untempered Schism?); and the Emergence of the Divergence (possibly a reference to the Divergent Universe from Big Finish’s Eighth Doctor Main Range stories). The first two were already familiar from references in The End of Time; the others are new here, and it’s a shame we’ve never been able to see any of these famous events. She mentions the Daleks firing on the Capitol and the Cruciform (with the latter having been mentioned in The Sound of Drums as the event that made the Master flee the War; it’s worth noting that Engines of War has the Doctor returning from searching for the Master. The Cruciform is noted to have been destroyed on the day that Gallifrey fell, but it apparently was attacked earlier than that). She mentions worlds that have been destroyed: Polymos (the Nestene homeworld, destroyed during the Eighth Doctor’s time in the War in Natural Regression, and first referenced as such in Rose); the Zygon Waterworld (Zygor, mentioned in The Day of the Doctor as destroyed in the early days of the War); and Eve (original to this story, as far as I can tell). She mentions Pazithi Gallifreya, the planet’s moon, and states that it still exists (contrary to The Gallifrey Chronicles, but as usual, things can be rewritten—a literal theme of this story); Mount Cadon (home of the Prydonian Academy, the House of Lungbarrow, and the Hermit K’anpo Rimpoche); Mount Perdition (The Master’s childhood home, The End of Time); Lake Endeavour (original to this story, but probably located on the continent of Wild Endeavour, The Sound of Drums; here it is said to be the location of the House of Brightshore), and Olyesti (a Three Minute City of Gallifrey in an alternate universe, The Infinity Doctors, but here implied to exist in N-Space as well). The Doctor talks about why he left Gallifrey—boredom, mostly, plus the desire to see the things he had read about—and about his years in his first life as a Scrutationary Archivist (Lungbarrow). He mentions the Nightmare Child (The End of Time), which will get further discussion in later stories. He mentions his previous returns to Gallifrey, before the War, and he inadvertantly gives Karlen a vision of the events of The Night of the Doctor.

This anthology has done a notable job of balancing the various media of Doctor Who. There have been references to various audios, novels, short stories, and television episodes (I can’t account for the comics, as I have no real experience with them as yet). Of particular interest to me is its handling of the New Adventures novel series. That series is decidedly in favor of the existence of Looms, which has long been a point of contention among fans, and is the major issue with trying to incorporate the New Adventures into the rest of continuity (such as it is). This anthology gracefully regards the Looms as not real, but a rumor, a tongue-in-cheek reference that allows us to incorporate as much else as we like from the novels. It comes up again here; this story is firmly in favor of the existence of the sentient Houses such as Lungbarrow, with several references to the Houses and their locations. If anything, it goes a little too far; the Doctor makes an offhand reference to having had “millennia of study and research” before leaving Gallifrey, which doesn’t fit with his early stated ages, but would fit nicely with the idea that he had lives before his documented First.

The story ends with a curious suggestion:

Before he ran, he shook his head at me. “Fascinating. You are my What If. My path not taken.”

It seems to suggest that Karlen is a version of the Doctor from another timeline, despite being born into a different House. It seems silly at first; but note this exchange:

[The Doctor says] “The Rents are like antibodies, Gallifrey is trying to find a way to cope when two, three, or even a dozen versions of the same Time Lord co-exist in the War simultaneously.”

And he smiled again; breathlessly it had to be said. And I [Karlen] didn’t understand what he was getting at. I mean, I understood what he said, and I understood the gravity of it. If the Laws of Time were being flouted, then… well, everything could be destroyed just by two versions of the same Time Lord touching one another.

Immediately after this exchange, the Doctor stops her from touching him, as if he knows what may result. Indeed, some damage is already done; earlier she had tried to touch him, and only touched his coat, and yet her protection from the Time Rents is already being stripped away, as we see at the end as her memories change. Who knows what would have happened had she touched him directly?

There’s one final item worth mentioning here, and although it’s mentioned almost incidentally, it’s of great importance. This story tells us how the Doctor becomes aware of the Moment, and chooses to use it as his weapon to end the War. In the brief almost-contact with Karlen, both of them receive a quick vision of his future, in which the Moment and the barn in which he uses it are seen and named. This would place this story, from his perspective, after Engines of War; at the end of that novel, he determines to end the War right away, but hasn’t determined how. It fits; at the beginning of the story, he is described as old, with rheumy eyes. While the anthology mostly occurs in chronological order with regard to the War Doctor’s life, this story is out of place; but that is most likely because it is a late addition. It appears only in the final edition; it is the first of three new stories in that edition, and I imagine that the stories were distributed throughout the book rather than added to the end.

Overall, it’s a bit confusing, and there’s a lot to take in. However, it’s rich with references, and gives tantalizing hints not only of what is to come, but of what could have been. Coming as it does, it may be one of the very last stories of the War, possibly directly before the events of The Day of the Doctor–but we’ll see.

John Hurt Tribute photo

Life During Wartime was written by Gary Russell, a man of many Doctor Who credits—author, audio actor, director, and editor. Next time (Tuesday, due to the Memorial Day holiday in my area): Sleepwalking to Paradise, by Dan Barratt. 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: Dust Breeding

Disclaimer: As I was obligated to switch things around on Monday due to schedule conflicts, I’m posting in the Main Range today.  We’ll be back on schedule after this.  Thanks!

Disclaimer the Second:  It has come to my attention that occasionally it appears I have plagiarized my plot summaries from the TARDIS wiki and/or Reddit’s /r/Gallifrey subreddit.  I feel compelled to make it clear that I am the author of the summaries in all three locations.  I’ve simply shared my own work where I felt it was of use.

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review!  This week, we’re looking at Main Range #21, Dust Breeding, written by Mike Tucker and starring the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and published in June, 2001.  Let’s get started!

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

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In the nineteenth century, troubled painter Evard Munch hears a scream throughout all nature.  At the urging of concerned friends Skredsvig and Maggie, he puts it to canvas, producing the now-famous painting, The Scream. Far in the future, in the twenty-sixth century, a technician named Jay Binks is the last man alive at Refueling Station B on the dust world of Duchamp 331.  He calls for help, but before his message can be received, he is killed by the invading dust.

In the TARDIS’s art gallery, Ace debates with the Seventh Doctor about his habit of “rescuing”—or stealing, from her point of view—famous works of art just prior to their destruction in the disasters of history.  They are on their way to Duchamp 331 to rescue another famous work: Munch’s The Scream.  They are forced by a dust storm to land at Refueling Station B, which has been damaged by the storm.  They locate the dying Jay Binks, and take him aboard the TARDIS, where he mutters about the dust before falling unconscious.  An old friend, Bev Tarrant, is also on the planet, where her ship’s hyperdrive burned out; though she has repaired it, she can’t afford the fuel to leave.  She meets an old settler named Guthrie, one of the first on the planet, whose time has made him sympathetic, but eccentric.  When the TARDIS lands, she reunites with the Doctor and Ace, and helps them get Binks to the medical bay.

A starship, the Gallery, is en route to Duchamp 331 on a pleasure cruise.  Its proprietor, Madame Elsa Salvadori, is irritated to find a passenger has delayed departure—until she realizes it is her anonymous benefactor, Mr. Seta, who made the trip possible.  The cruise’s goal is to facilitate a fabulous art auction, crowned by the unveiling of a specially commissioned work.  The masked Mr. Seta refuses to reveal anything about himself, but Salvadori sets her servant Klemp to learn what he can.

Ace and Bev hear a strange story from Guthrie.  He tells them that a Dalek saucer crashed on Duchamp years ago, and was swallowed up by the dust that composes the whole world; the screaming of the wind is reputed to be the Daleks’ screams of madness.  The Doctor reveals that they have been advised to remain onworld until the refueling station’s destruction is investigated.  While here, they’ll visit an artist colony, affectionately called the Outhouse.  Bev goes along, hoping to sell some of her smuggled artifacts.

As it turns out, the Outhouse is the destination of the Gallery as well.  An artist named Damien has been commissioned by Salvadori for the artwork to be unveiled.  She terrifies him when she threatens him with disaster if it is not ready when she arrives…in three hours.  In the meantime, he greets the Doctor’s party, and shows them around.  While viewing the improvised art gallery, Bev gets a call indicating that Jay Binks has died; the Doctor returns to the base to conduct an autopsy, taking Bev with him as his reluctant surgical assistant.  At the Outhouse, Ace views a collection of historical artworks, and locates The Scream; she is hit by a psychic attack from the painting, crippling her with fear and pain.

On the Gallery, a security guard named Albert Bootle is checking the cargo hold, when he encounters Mr. Seta; when he states he has to report the guest’s presence, he is killed.  Klemp discovers the body, and reports it to Salvadori; the cargo is unharmed, but Seta’s crates have been tampered with.

Conducting an autopsy on Binks, the Doctor finds that he has no blood, and his body is full of dust.  The dust begins to move, and Binks’s corpse moves, shattering the window and letting in the winds and dust.

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The Doctor reverses the polarity on the air conditioning unit, sucking the dust from the room and causing Binks’ corpse to collapse.  Guthrie cleans up the area, offering Bev a light despite the dangers of smoking on a refueling station.  Bev and the Doctor retreat to a bar and confer, concluding that the attack was like a staged performance.  The Doctor suspects that the dust is being telekinetically controlled.  Aboard the Gallery, Salvadori and Klemp conceal the murder, and Salvadori meets with Mr. Seta, who subtly threatens her; but she does not take well to threats.

Ace recovers when she escapes the room with the paintings, and goes to find Damien.  She finds him in his office, monitoring Bev and the Doctor in the bar.  He insanely believes that his ongoing work of art will make him immortal, and knows that something is in The Scream; he stuns Ace and takes her back to the painting, and locks her in, exposing her to The Scream again.

The Doctor reviews the layout of the refueling stations and the Outhouse, suspecting that the destruction of station B was deliberate—but, why?  Guthrie joins the conversation, and tells the Doctor and Bev about his deceased partner Burton; Burton was killed by the dust, and all Guthrie was able to save was his lighter, which he has kept ever since.  The Duchamp Corporation ignored the death, assuming that Guthrie killed Burton, but not particularly caring; but Guthrie continues to seek answers and revenge.  However, Guthrie reveals that the Outhouse is not a recent addition; it has been there since the beginning twenty years ago, leading the Doctor to suspect he should investigate Damien.

The Doctor leaves Bev and Guthrie at the base, and takes the TARDIS to the Outhouse’s art gallery, where he is just in time to rescue Ace.  Ace believes the thing in the painting is evil; and as well, where are the other fifty people that should be living in the Outhouse?  Only Damien seems to be present.  The Doctor confronts the painting, attempting to help the being or force inside it, but it overwhelms him.

Salvadori is determined to figure out all she can about Mr. Seta, especially in light of his obvious wealth and his anonymity.  She sends Kemp with a team of guards to break open Seta’s cargo crates.  He finds that they are full of large eggs.  Seta enters the hold, and confronts Klemp; he reveals that the eggs are responsive to a device he carries.  He activates the device, and creatures burst from the eggs and kill the guards.  The creatures are the Krill, biologically-engineered monsters.  Seta takes control of Klemp, and reveals his true identity: The Time Lord known as the Master.

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Guthrie and Bev witness the arrival of the Gallery, of which there was no record in advance.  At the Outhouse, the entity in the painting assaults the Doctor and briefly takes control of him.  Babbling insanely, it explains itself to Ace; it is the Warp Core, a powerful weapon engineered to battle a great enemy.  After defeating the enemy, it destroyed and escaped its creators in disembodied form, and ultimately encountered Edvard Munch, who went insane at the contact.  Munch’s madness infected the Warp Core as well, and trapped it in the painting, where it has waited.  Now, it has been awakened, for its old enemy—the Krill—are approaching, and it will battle them again.  It releases the Doctor, who has been fighting its control, and retreats into the painting.  The Doctor and Ace go in search of Damien, who is about to make a terrible mistake.

Aboard the Gallery, Salvadori is about to unveil the masterwork—but the Krill burst in and attack.  Salvadori escapes to her cabin, but there she finds the Master, accompanied by Klemp, who is in thrall to him.  The Master gloats over her before removing his mask, revealing a horribly scarred face.  He admits that a force more potent than the Krill waits on the planet below, waiting for him to unleash it.  By threatening Klemp with death by tissue compression, he forces Salvadori to order Damien to begin his final work.

On the planet, the storms have subsided, though the sand sharks are becoming more active, as if in anticipation.  The Doctor deduces Damien’s plan:  He will release the Warp Core into the dust that composes the planet, bringing the whole world to life and making it into a deadly weapon of unimaginable power.  He sends Ace and Bev to the refueling station to evacuate the sparse population, sending them in shuttles to the Gallery in orbit.  He goes to confront Damien.  Damien is out of his mind, raving mad; but he has his orders, and he intends to become immortal through his masterpiece.  He reveals that the other artists of the Outhouse have been combined into a group mind, and he joins his to theirs, giving the Warp Core access to the fabric of the planet.

Bev and Ace take Bev’s shuttle—using stolen fuel—to the Gallery.  Unknown to them, Guthrie has hidden and stayed behind.  Moments ahead of the Warp Core’s merger with the dust, they escape to the waiting ship above.  Inside, they find the ship deserted…and then they locate the body of Frederickson, the refueling station’s commander, shredded to death.  Ace realizes the Krill are here.

Having failed to prevent the disaster, the Doctor flees in the TARDIS, materializing on the Gallery.  He heads to the ballroom—and encounters the Master.

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The Master expects that the Krill will kill Ace and Bev; but they manage to elude the first of the creatures as it escapes into space.  Its exit tears a hole in the docking bay, and the emergency bulkheads cut them off from Bev’s ship.  The Master prevents him from aiding them.  He reveals that he doesn’t intend to control the Krill; they are only here to revive the Warp Core.  He reveals that Duchamp 331 is the Warp Core’s point of origin, a formerly living world, until the Core killed it.  He admits that he previously attempted to control the Warp Core, but miscalculated its rage; the Warp Core destroyed his body, which he previously stole from Tremas of Traken, and left him in his original, decayed, Time Lord body, incapable of regenerating.  It is the Master that caused the painting to be brought here, and that caused the Outhouse to be established.  He intends to exhaust it by pitting it against the Krill, and then capture it and connect it to his TARDIS, thus controlling it.  He will then acquire a new body, and enslave the universe.

Bev and Ace encounter Salvadori, whom the Master allowed to survive.  She reveals that everyone is dead, save herself, Klemp, the Master, and three Krill (to her knowledge).  They determine to find the Doctor and escape in the TARDIS.  On the way, they see the planet below—now controlled by the Warp Core—reaching out to battle the Krill that escaped the ship.  A Krill attacks Salvadori; Bev refuses to leave her, and runs to shout at the creature, and surprisingly, it flees, allowing them to escape.

On the planet, Guthrie initiates an emergency purge of all the fuel tanks in every station.  The Warp Core confronts him, and mocks his desire for revenge against the creature.    It dismisses him and leaves, planning to kill him after the Krill, but he swears to make it regret the decision.

The Master intends to kill the Doctor now—or rather, have Klemp do it—but is interrupted by the arrival of Ace, Bev, and Salvadori.  The Doctor introduces the Master, who looks very different from his appearance at his last encounter with Ace.  However, the Warp Core’s tendrils of dust have reached the ship; and it speaks to Salvadori and the Master.  It recognizes Salvadori via Damien’s connected mind, and mocks her for her past humiliation of him.  It denies any alliance with the Master; in an attempt to win its favor, he orders Klemp to kill Salvadori.  Klemp’s loyalty to her is too strong, and he refuses; the Master grapples with him for the tissue compression eliminator, and Klemp is killed.  The Warp Core breaks in, and the Master flees to his TARDIS and escapes, while the others escape in the lift.

The Krill are between them and the TARDIS, but when Ace recounts their last encounter, the Doctor realizes it’s the dust that coats their clothes.  Though minimal, it is imbued with the Warp Core’s essence, which terrifies the Krill.  He collects the dust, and takes telepathic control of it, using it to clear their way.  Still, they can’t make it; and when the Krill break through the defense, Salvadori—who blames herself for everything—sacrifices herself to allow them to escape.

The Doctor intends to use the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits to force the Warp Core back to the planet, but the Master uses his own TARDIS’s circuits to oppose him, summoning the Core to him.  The Core resists them both, fighting for freedom rather than entrapment or enslavement.  However, Guthrie takes that moment to strike.  Having expelled all the fuel into the atmosphere, he strikes his dead partner’s lighter, setting the atmosphere alight, and triggering a destruction that rips the planet apart.

When the Doctor recovers from his battle, he learns that the planet really did have a history with the Daleks—it was a Dalekanium power core inside the planet that ignited with the atmosphere, causing the explosion.  In the conflagration, the Gallery and the Krill were destroyed, and the TARDIS was expelled into space and time.  The Master’s TARDIS, presumably, was also cast out, meaning he is free to pursue more plans.  The Warp Core is dispersed, and will cause no more harm.  Seeking rest, the Doctor takes Bev and Ace to Oslo in the twentieth century, where the painting resides in an art gallery prior to the Master’s purchase of it.  Ace suggests removing it now and changing history, but the Doctor insists the future is already written.  They realize Bev is missing, just before the gallery’s alarms go off; she’s a professional thief, after all.  Perhaps another hobby is in order.

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Man Ray’s 1920 photograph, Dust Breeding, which partially inspired this story.

 

Usually I start to listen to these audios after reading up on them a little, so that I have an idea of major points to listen for.  I didn’t do that this time, and so I was completely blindsided by the return of the Master.  I suppose I should conceal the identity of the character he turns out to be, so that it’s not a spoiler, but I will say that in hindsight it should have been obvious.  Still, I’m a huge fan of the Master, so I won’t complain; and this story came at a coincidental time, as just a few days ago I covered Utopia, which introduced the Master to the revived television series.  This story is his first appearance in the audios, and he is played here by Geoffrey Beevers, whose last appearance as the Master was twenty years earlier in The Keeper of Traken.  Interestingly, this story takes place in the Master’s timeline after his last appearance in Survival, but Beevers plays the decayed version that we last saw stealing Tremas’s body; there’s an in-universe explanation given within this story.  However, I understand that this contradicts some other appearances of the Master, including the novels First Frontier, Happy Endings, and Prime Time, some of which also contradict each other.  Perhaps if I reach those stories, we might look at some associated fan theories, but for now we’ll let it slide.

Bev Tarrant returns, sans team this time; she was last seen in The Genocide Machine, and Ace and the Doctor recognize her, indicating that this story occurs sometime after that one.  That’s simple enough, but it does seem odd when we consider Ace; Ace is much more like her younger, televised incarnation here, in both speech patterns and behavior.  In The Genocide Machine, we saw Ace in her customary more mature form.  It’s doubly curious, because this story also takes place after the BBC Past Doctor Adventures novel Storm Harvest; I do not yet know the placement of that novel in the series, but at a minimum it is probably later in the Doctor and Ace’s timeline.  We know Dust Breeding takes place after Storm Harvest because of the Krill, which featured in that story; Ace refers to having encountered them during that story’s events.  Bev, I should mention, travels briefly with the Doctor and Ace after this story, but no media that I know of have addressed it yet; she will eventually end up in Bernice Summerfield’s orbit in The Bellotron Incident.

The Warp Core is an interesting villain, but not a particularly original one.  It’s hardly the first disembodied energy being we’ve seen, even in the Main Range; it joins the likes of the Fearmonger (The Fearmonger), Harding Wellman (Winter for the Adept), Visteen Krane (Whispers of Terror), the Wire (The Idiot’s Lantern), the Mara (Kinda, Snakedance), and many others.  The name is a bit silly, chiefly because of the ubiquitous use of the term “warp core” in Star Trek, and I wish they’d given it a little context here; but I can overlook it.  This particular disembodied monster isn’t evil so much as insane; it was created to destroy the Krill, and it did so, but then also destroyed its creators as it escaped.  Later its encounter with the fragile mind of Edvard Munch caused both Munch and the Warp Core itself to go insane.  It’s just another run-of-the-mill villain…until it’s released into the fabric of the planet, Duchamp 331, and animates the planet itself.  (I don’t usually get into real-world references much, but the title of the story and the name of the planet come from an interesting 1920 photo by Man Ray, titled Dust Breeding, which is worth a mention.  You can find the photo and some background information here.  There are also numerous references to other artists and other science fiction series—for more information, check the Discontinuity Guide entry.)

The Master is definitely old-school here; he’s still using his tissue compression eliminator, though he doesn’t mention it by name—we get this from his description of corpses shrunken to the size of toys.  He has acquired another TARDIS, having not been seen to possess one in Survival; his plan is to tether the Warp Core to the heart of his TARDIS and thus gain its considerable power.  In keeping with numerous classic Master stories, his plan is ambitious, but he underestimates his would-be ally, and is forced onto the defensive.  It’s probably something that has been implied, though I don’t recall it ever stated; but we see here that he has the same telepathic power as the Doctor, as he links with both the Doctor and his TARDIS’s telepathic circuits (“CONTACT!”).  At the end, he’s unaccounted for, and free to appear again.

For the Seventh Doctor, this is a good middle-of-the-road story.  He’s not particularly manipulative, his usual defining trait; but he’s hardly incapable as well.  We glimpse one of his hobbies here; he likes to rescue works of art before their historical destruction.  He does get defeated once here, when he fails to prevent the artist Damien from merging the Warp Core with the planet; but he makes up for it shortly thereafter.

The Daleks get a mention here, but they’re not really relevant to the story; there is a crashed Dalek ship buried in the planet, which is instrumental (though purely by chance) in the final resolution in the story.  It’s useful, but it feels a bit like a deus ex machina.  Also noteworthy: Caroline John, who previously played UNIT scientist and Third Doctor companion Liz Shaw, makes an appearance as Salvadori.  I’ve covered most of the continuity references, but there’s one more I should mention: the Doctor has a copy of the Mona Lisa in the TARDIS’s art gallery, but he tells Ace that this one has “This is a fake” written on it in felt-tip pen beneath the paint.  This refers back to a plan initiated by the Fourth Doctor in City of Death.

Overall, this is a good, solid, enjoyable story.  It’s nothing revolutionary, but it doesn’t need to be.  It re-introduces the Master, and that’s sufficient excitement for this week.  I can’t complain.

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Next time:  On Thursday, we’ll begin the first War Doctor box set, Only the Monstrous; and on Monday, we’ll return to the Main Range with the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe in Bloodtide!  See you there.

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

Dust Breeding

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Return of the Master: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Three, Part Five

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! This week, we wrap up Series Three with the revived series’ first three-part story: Utopia, The Sound of Drums, and Last of the Time Lords! We’ll say goodbye to Martha (for now), and hello to another classic villain. Let’s get started!

One quick note: Beginning next week, I’ll be changing up the format of these posts to eliminate spoilers as much as possible. (I can’t promise there won’t be any at all; that’s the nature of a review—but we’ll eliminate the plot summaries, at least.) However, I opted not to begin with this week’s post, as today’s post marks the end of Series Three, just as yesterday’s post wrapped up the Destiny of the Doctor audio series. So, for today, we’ll continue as we’ve been doing, and institute the changes on Monday. Thanks again!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not seen these episodes!

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As previously seen in Boom Town, the TARDIS returns to the Cardiff spacetime rift to refuel—a shorter process than last time, as the rift has been active. Jack Harkness runs to the TARDIS and grabs onto the outside as it dematerializes. Something goes wrong inside the ship, and it begins to hurtle toward the end of time, finally coming to rest in the year 100 trillion (or perhaps beyond)—further than the Time Lords ever dared to go. Outside, Martha and the Doctor find Jack, who is dead from his exposure to the vortex—until suddenly, he revives. After some uncomfortable reintroduction, the trio sees a man running from garish humanoids, the Futurekind. They rescue him, but are forced to abandon the TARDIS and run themselves, ending up inside the nearby, human-occupied Silo base.

Inside, they meet an elderly man called Professor Yana, and his insect-like assistant, Chantho. They are welcomed warmly, as the Doctor is also a scientist; Yana eagerly enlists him to help with the final hurdles on his work in progress. There is a massive rocket inside the Silo, with a majestic purpose: it will carry the last humans to Utopia. Yana means it literally; there is a signal coming to them across the dying stars, calling the humans to a home where, hopefully, they will find a way to survive the end of the universe. The Doctor asks a departing patrol to recover the TARDIS, and sets to work, while Martha gets to know the humans and Chantho, who is the last of her kind.

While the Doctor and Jack work on some electronics near the rocket, the TARDIS arrives, and Martha assists Yana and Chantho. He tells her his life story, and of the memories he lost before he was found by the last humans. He shows her a fob watch that was found with him; and to her horror, Martha recognizes it as a chameleon arch receptacle, much like the one the Doctor possesses. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Jack cannot die, or at least not permanently, and he goes into an irradiated chamber to make repairs needed for the rocket. He survives, but as he comes back, Martha arrives. She tells the Doctor and Jack about the fob watch, theorizing that Yana is a Time Lord in disguise, a survivor of the Time War like the Doctor. Unbeknownst to them, the comm channel is open, and Yana can hear them; and their words stir memories in him. As the Doctor gets the rocket running, and it loads up and blasts off, Yana overcomes the watch’s perception filter and opens it…and learns his true identity: the Doctor’s old friend and nemesis, the Time Lord called the Master. At that moment, Martha reminds the Doctor of the Face of Boe’s last words: You Are Not Alone…YANA.

The Master locks the lab door, with the TARDIS inside with him. He opens the front gate, allowing the Futurekind inside to ravage the base. Chantho, appalled, stands up to him, and he electrocutes her; but before she dies, she shoots him. He enters the TARDIS, taking with him the an item from Jack’s travel bag: a container that holds the Doctor’s hand which was severed by the Sycorax. Just as the Doctor, Martha, and Jack get the lab door open, he locks the door, then regenerates, becoming young again. He taunts the Doctor, then leaves in the TARDIS, leaving them to die as the Futurekind break in.

In The Sound of Drums, the Doctor, Martha, and Jack materialize on 2007 Earth, courtesy of Jack’s vortex manipulator. He reveals that the Master will be here; as the Master was leaving in the TARDIS, the Doctor used the sonic screwdriver to fuse the controls so that it can only travel between 100 trillion and 2007, give or take a year or two. Martha realizes where she has heard his voice before: he is Harold Saxon, a politician with a recent and sudden rise to power—and today, he is assuming the position of Prime Minister. They see him on television making a speech; not only is he Prime Minister, but he has married a human woman, Lucy, as well. At 10 Downing Street, the Master meets with his new cabinet, and promptly kills them all with poison gas.

Martha takes Jack and the Doctor to her apartment, and they research Saxon’s rise to power. At Downing Street, a reporter meets with Saxon’s wife, Lucy, and confronts her with evidence that Saxon is not who he seems; Lucy admits it, and is in on it. Saxon enters the room, and summons several spherical robots, which kill the reporter in dramatic fashion.

The Doctor questions Martha about what she knows about Saxon, but her answers are vague, and he catches her tapping out a four-beat rhythm with her fingers. Saxon comes on the television, and they realize he is aware of them and targeting them; they escape just ahead of an explosion in the apartment. Against the Doctor’s will, Martha calls her family, not knowing they are being monitored by Saxon’s people; they try to get her to come home. She takes the Doctor and Jack to the house, where they see Saxon’s people take her parents into custody (and later her sister as well), and shoot at them. They escape, but barely. They abandon the vehicle, and Martha calls her brother, but Saxon breaks in on the call. The Doctor talks to him, and tells him how the Time War ended; he explains how he escaped. He reveals he can track them via security cameras, and they are forced to run again.

The ball-shaped creatures are the Toclafane, and they have an agreement with the Master. It will be executed at 8:02 the next morning. Meanwhile, the Doctor explains about the Master’s insanity and broken childhood, and Martha explains about the ubiquitous Archangel cell phone network, which has implanted the four-beat drumming sound in everyone’s mind. The Master himself hears that sound, and has since childhood, and it is what has driven him mad. The Doctor alters three TARDIS keys into perception filters so that they can travel unnoticed.

The Master has announced on television that the Toclafane have made contact, and will arrive in the morning. The US president arrives and assumes control of the situation under UN authority. He relocates to UNIT’s flying aircraft carrier, the Valiant, and the Master and Lucy join him there. The Doctor, Martha, and Jack sneak aboard with the vortex manipulator. They find the TARDIS aboard, but it has been transformed into a paradox machine—a device for maintaining an otherwise-unstable paradox.

When the Toclafane arrive, they will only deal with the Master. He orders them to kill the president, and resumes control. He captures the Doctor, Jack, and Martha, having been unaffected by the perception filters. He kills Jack, with his laser screwdriver—an improvement over the sonic, allegedly—and gloats about getting to do so repeatedly. He brings in Martha’s family to watch his victory. He reveals that he funded Richard Lazarus’s experiments in aging, then engineered the technology into the screwdriver. He uses the screwdriver to age the Doctor into an old man. He activates the paradox machine, opening a massive rift to the future in the sky, and billions of Toclafane pour through; he orders them to kill one-tenth of the population. Unseen, Jack revives and gives Martha his vortex manipulator, and she teleports away.

In Last of the Time Lords, a year has passed. The Master has built a fleet of ships, and is preparing to send them out to conquer the universe. Each one has the power to create a black hole, destroying any opposition. He plans to create a new Gallifrey and a new empire, forged in his image. Earth is enslaved and largely ruined. Aboard the Valiant, the Doctor, with Martha’s family and Jack, surreptitiously stages an attack on the Master, but it fails.

Martha has walked the earth for a year, and her legend has grown. She returns to Britain and meets a man named Tom, who takes her to meet one Professor Docherty, who can help her capture a Toclafane. With difficulty, they do so, and manage to get it open; they discover that the misshapen being inside was once human. The Toclafane are the human remnants from Utopia, transformed and regressed, and totally devoted to the Master. Martha reveals she has a gun that uses four chemicals, which will kill a Time Lord and suppress his regeneration. With it she plans to kill the Master. However, Docherty betrays her presence to the Master, who has her son in custody. That night, Martha is captured by the Master, who destroys the gun; he is about to kill Martha when Tom sacrifices himself to save her. The Master reconsiders, and delays her death until the Doctor and her family can watch, as the fleet launches. He takes her back to the Valiant, and prepares for his moment of triumph.

Moments before launch, Martha laughs at him. The gun was a ruse, and the resistance was aware that Docherty would betray her; it was all a ruse to get her here, now, with the Doctor. Her year of travel was used to plant one order in the minds of the people: at the moment the fleet is activated, everyone on Earth will think one word together: “Doctor.” The Doctor, meanwhile, spent the last year attuning himself to the still-active Archangel network. The combined psychic intent of humanity, amplified by the network, sends a surge of power into the Doctor, restoring him to health and youth, and letting him deflect the Master’s attacks. He backs the Master into a corner…and embraces him, forgiving him. Meanwhile, Jack breaks free and takes some loyal soldiers to destroy the paradox machine, but the Toclafane delay him. The Master uses the vortex manipulator—taken from Martha—to teleport himself and the Doctor to Earth. He has a remote for the fleet, and will activate their black hole convertors—if he can’t have the world, no one will. The Doctor manages to teleport them back to the Valiant, just as Jack destroys the paradox machine. Instantly time reverts to the minute when the machine was activated a year earlier, leaving no casualties except the just-killed president—and no Toclafane can come through the rift except the few that were already present. Only the Valiant and those aboard are unaffected; no one on Earth will remember the year that never was.

The Doctor declares that he will take the Master in custody and be responsible for him. However, Lucy Saxon—now long since disabused of her loyalty to the Master—shoots the Master. The Doctor begs him to regenerate, but in a final moment of selfish victory, he chooses not to, and dies.

The Doctor cremates the Master, but later, an unidentified woman takes the Master’s ring from the embers of the fire. Jack explains that he will stay on Earth with Torchwood, as the Doctor cannot reverse his immortality. However, the Doctor disables the time-travel and teleport functions on the vortex manipulator, ensuring he will get in less trouble. Jack leaves the Doctor and Martha with a cryptic comment that indicates he may one day become the Face of Boe.

Finally facing her feelings for the Doctor, and that they will never be resolved, Martha chooses to stay on Earth as well, and return to her life, family, and studies. However, she leaves her phone with the Doctor, and insists that he respond if she calls him. The Doctor—who has recovered the severed hand from Jack—prepares to leave—and as he does not have his shields up, he is rattled when the TARDIS crashes…into the Titanic.

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I’m a lifelong fan of the Master, and when I learned that he would be appearing in the revived series, I was thrilled. I wasn’t disappointed when the episode aired, and Utopia has become one of my favorite episodes. Derek Jacobi’s portrayal of the elderly Master is, in a word, terrifying, even though he doesn’t do much. He’s ruthless and evil as though he has to make up for lost time, which I suppose he does. He’s very much like the classic version of the Master, especially during the Delgado years, bitter and cold and full of rage. It’s a shame that we didn’t get more time with him in the role, although I understand that he plays a different incarnation in the Big Finish audios (I haven’t reached them yet, but I am looking forward to it). John Simm gets much more flak for his portrayal, I suspect because he is the polar opposite of Jacobi, Delgado, and others. Where they are reserved, he is unleashed. In them, the insanity glows; in him, it blazes. I, for one, love both versions, though it goes against popular opinion; no one should expect one incarnation to be the same as the others, as we know from years with the Doctor. It doesn’t seem strange to me that Simm’s Master should be unhinged, capricious, or wildly cruel. He’s still the Master—still very evil, and still very much in control of the situation, even if not entirely in control of himself. It’s completely brilliant, coming and going. (We’ll deal with the other side of Simm when we get to The End of Time.)

Simm’s version of the Master is more than just a maniac, though. I talked in last week’s post about the religious metaphors in this season’s presentation of the Doctor, especially as seen in Human Nature/The Family of Blood. I stand by what I said there, and I think it was leading up to this story, where the messiah imagery is fully executed. If the Doctor’s experience with the Chameleon arch represents his death, temptation, and resurrection, then this story represents his second coming, in the form of his restoration from old age. I find it interesting that when Martha refers to the population’s thoughts about the Doctor, the Master refers to it as “prayer”. And in true messianic fashion, he chooses not to judge, but to forgive. (That’s not entirely consistent with the biblical narrative—all the parts are there, but in the wrong order—but that’s a topic for another time.) If all that is true, then the Master is the antichrist in this metaphor. I’ve mentioned in other places that “anti-“ doesn’t simply mean “against”, it also means “in place of”, and here we see both aspects. The Master is certainly against the Doctor, and even makes early attempts to kill him; but he’s also very similar to the Doctor, and would supplant him if he could. He’s young, of similar stature and physique to the Doctor, and dresses similarly (suits and ties). He has his own screwdriver. He has a fob watch like the Doctor’s. He eats Jelly Babies, a dig at the Doctor’s past lives. He even mimics the Doctor’s mannerisms; when Lucy challenges him on the success rate of the Archangel network, we get this… Lucy: “You said Archangel was 100%!” Master: <sharp intake of breath, tilting head> “Well…99…98?” It’s a mannerism and mode of speech that we’ve seen the Tenth Doctor use a dozen times or more.

In light of those points, I noticed something else here, though I doubt this was intentional. It’s long been theorized—and canonized in the VNAs—that the Leader in the Inferno universe was a version of the Doctor, who took power in Britain. I think that the Master, here, is an exploration of the same idea: What would happen if the Doctor went dark and stole power? This series wasn’t ready for a dark Doctor, something that has only been sincerely attempted once, via the Valeyard; but by substituting the Master, we can play with the idea, without committing.

This story is, naturally, the revelation of the Saxon arc that’s been playing out slowly since Love and Monsters. I won’t call it the resolution, because…spoilers for The End of Time–we’ll get there. Some recapping takes place, especially with regard to his involvement in shooting down the Racnoss Webstar. There’s also acknowledgement of Torchwood, though the team doesn’t appear here, Saxon having sent them “on a wild goose chase in the Himalayas”. We will, however, see them in Journey’s End. This story fits in the middle of an arc that really began with The Parting of the Ways, runs through Torchwood series one, and will not conclude until The End of Time, depending on your perspective. I wonder how much of that was planned in advance.

Some random observations and references: Jack knows a lot about regeneration, but I don’t recall it ever being explained to him in detail, and he has not witnessed it. The scene where the advisors are killed is reminiscent of Aliens of London with the Slitheen. The Doctor and the Master are a creepy sort of bromance, and it could only get creepier if one of them became a woman…oh wait. The Master refers to the Dalek Emperor taking control of the Crucible during the War; this will be expanded in Journey’s End. The Master’s monologue at the end of The Sound of Drums is echoed in Rassilon’s monologue (slight spoiler, sorry) at the end of The End of Time, part one. What an impossible coincidence, that the Toclafane Martha takes down should be the one child that she spoke to in the Silo! This is unintentionally a Doctor-lite episode (Last of the Time Lords), as David Tennant only actually appears at the beginning and end, with a CGI mini-Doctor in the middle. There’s a lot of foreshadowing of next season, with the recovery of the ring, and mentions of the Medusa Cascade and Agatha Christie. Lucy exists solely to mock the Doctor’s habit of taking companions; the Master even partially acknowledges this. As well, there are indications that he may have abused her during their year on the Valiant, which helps explain her betrayal at the end.

There’s more I could say, but I think that’s enough. Again, it’s one of my favorite stories, and I could go on much longer. What a way to end an excellent series!

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Next time: In addition to some format changes, we’ll look at the Time Crash mini-episode, and then we’ll examine the Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned, before launching into Series Four. See you there!

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Utopia

The Sound of Drums

Last of the Time Lords

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Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Smoke and Mirrors

Disclaimer:  In the near future, I’ll be changing the way these Doctor Who-related posts are made.  I hope to have an announcement post by tomorrow, but in the meantime, if you are following this blog via social media, you may see two of today’s post, coming from two different blogs.  That’s by design, and should only affect posts made today and tomorrow.  After that, it will return to single posting.  More on that tomorrow!

Posting a day early because I’ll be unavailable to post on Friday. Will also make my rewatch post a day early, tomorrow, for the same reason.

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! We’re continuing our look at the eleven-volume Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Today we’re listening to the Fifth Doctor’s contribution to the series:  Smoke and Mirrors, read by Janet Fielding and Tim Beckmann, and written by Steve Lyons. Let’s get started!

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

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While attempting to take Tegan to Heathrow airport for her flight attendant job, the Doctor diverts to London in the 1920s (the specific date is not given). Tegan, Nyssa and Adric are of the opinion that the Doctor has once again failed to pilot the TARDIS properly, but for once they are wrong; he has followed a psionic distress call received via the telepathic circuits. It leads them to a fairground, and an old and famous friend: Harry Houdini.

Tegan is suitably impressed, and thrilled to meet the renowned escape artist and illusionist. The reference is lost on Nyssa and Adric, but even they are caught up in his charisma; and when he knows more than he should about Tegan, they are intrigued. Houdini plays it off, however, and diverts to another matter: He has come to the fair to debunk its fortune teller, who has inexplicable abilities of her own, but he has not been able to do so. Now he wants the Doctor’s help.

Something is not right, though. Houdini seems intent on drawing information from the Doctor which he should not have, regarding his own future and the workings of the TARDIS. Before it can be addressed, however, the group is split up; Houdini and the Doctor go to check out the fortune teller, and the three companions find themselves inside the fair’s menagerie.

The Doctor and Houdini don’t find the fortune teller, but they do find something else—her crystal ball. It proves to be no ordinary prop. The Doctor recognizes it, and refers Harry back to a previous adventure they shared (in the Doctor’s first life, along with Ben Jackson and Polly Wright) in which they encountered the Ovids, beings of pure thought. The Ovids used crystal spheres to communicate and influence the world; spheres just like this one. And this one is already in use.

In the menagerie, the companions are menaced by animals that have been released from their cages, including a tiger. Adric runs, leading the tiger away from the others, giving them time to try to escape. Tegan shouts for the Doctor, but to no avail. Adric is rescued, however, by a group of fairground workers and performers; but it is short-lived, as it becomes clear that they are under some kind of mind control. They escort him to a theater on the grounds. Meanwhile, Nyssa also has an odd encounter, with a man wearing the face of her lost father: The Master. He takes hypnotic control of her, and forces her to abduct Tegan and bring her to the theater as well.

The Doctor tries to make telepathic contact with the sphere, and is successful, though it hurts him. As he is about to make progress, he is interrupted by the image and voice of a young man wearing a bow tie—the Eleventh Doctor. He tells the Fifth Doctor that he will soon be tempted to destroy the sphere, but he must not. Instead, he must return it to its rightful owners, the Ovids. At the same time, he is interrupted by Tegan’s scream, which the sphere has also picked up; he realizes that they are in danger, and he has failed to help them. The Doctor and Houdini hurry toward the theater; but Houdini stops him and takes him captive. He places the Doctor inside a crate that is intended to be used in his famous underwater escape trick, and tells him that he has met an old friend of the Doctor, who revealed to him that the Doctor has manipulated him and withheld information. It’s all a lie, of course; and the Doctor recognizes the source as the Master. Nevertheless, in an effort to persuade the Doctor to tell him more, Houdini pushes the crate into the water…and watches as the Doctor fails to escape.

On the theater’s stage, Adric is seized by the Master, but he cannot see him. In the struggle, he sees a mirror propped up on the stage, and realizes that the Master is visible in the mirror, and their reflections are struggling. It defies science, but there’s little time to think about it, as he struggles to break free. Tegan intervenes, and sees the situation, and starts to throw a chair to break the mirror; Adric shouts at her to stop, not knowing what effect it may have on him. Instead, she throws the chair at the spotlight that is trained on the mirror, creating the reflections; it breaks, and the Master vanishes.

All is not saved, though. In rage, the Master starts to use the Ovid sphere to release massive amounts of electricity through the fairground, setting things on fire and destroying buildings. Houdini catches up with the companions as they try to escape, but they are cut off. Suddenly the Doctor returns, and reveals that he picked Harry’s pockets for his lockpicking kit, using that—and his Time Lord ability to bypass respiration—to escape the trap. He had suspected Harry was not himself all along. They make their way back to the fortune teller’s booth, the Doctor explaining that the Master was never corporeally there at all; he seems to be still trapped in the collapsing dimension where they last saw him (Castrovalva). Instead he was using the sphere to exert his will remotely, and even project himself. He locates the sphere, and is tempted to destroy it—just as promised—but instead, he makes contact with it to try to soothe it and end the energy discharge. It isn’t enough, however, and Tegan joins the link, adding her own thoughts to bring the crisis to an end.

As the smoke clears, the fairground workers awaken from their trance, having no memory of the last twelve hours. Houdini convinces them they have been unwitting participants in an experimental new act, which seems to satisfy them. He again attempts to persuade the Doctor to let him see inside the TARDIS, but is gently rebuffed, and admits that it’s better to make his future than to know it. As the Doctor and companions leave, Tegan again asks to be taken to Heathrow, but the Doctor tells her they must first make a stop: To return the sphere to the Ovids.

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There is a very narrow range of episodes, all in Season 19 of the classic series, within which this story must fall. It must be after Castrovalva, as the Master is still trapped there, and before Earthshock, as Adric still lives. As well, there is no room for an extra story between Four to Doomsday and Kinda, as Nyssa is ill between those episodes. Also, the Doctor comments that he has recently lost his Sonic Screwdriver, which occurs in The Visitation; therefore the story can only occur between The Visitation and Black Orchid, or Black Orchid and Earthshock. I favor the former, because it is hinted that Houdini is the first historical character Tegan encountered with the Doctor; although Black Orchid’s noble characters are fictional, in this universe Tegan would consider them real, and therefore she has not met them yet. The Visitation is also a historical setting, but with fewer noteworthy pseudo-historical characters, and at any rate we have already established that that story is already past. I should comment that it’s rare that we can pin down an audio’s placement so exactly; usually we are left with only an approximation.

The Doctor has had past encounters with Harry Houdini, enough that they consider themselves friends. All of those appearances have been in novels, which I have not read yet. Interestingly, one of those encounters—the first, from Houdini’s perspective—was with the Eleventh Doctor, whom he pointedly does not recognize here. It’s possible, I suppose, that he was advised to play dumb when dealing with earlier incarnations. One reference in particular, to Houdini and the First Doctor’s encounter with the Ovids, has not been seen in any medium as yet, and seems to have been created specifically for this story.

Above all else, this story is about Tegan. Although she’s not the center of the action, she is definitely the central viewpoint. It serves as a bit of a redemption for her character, as Tegan was historically portrayed as a glum, fretting individual; here, she escapes that mold a bit, and becomes very happy for awhile, so much so that Nyssa even remarks on the change. She also is crucial to both defeats of the Master here, breaking the spotlight and calming the sphere. I’ll admit to ranking Tegan in the middle of the field of companions—26 out of 46—when I ranked them; but that by no means indicates that I dislike her as a companion, and in fact I always felt some pity for her, as she was surrounded by otherworldly geniuses. This story is a nice break from that, and gives her some better footing.

Janet Fielding is a decent reader, though she doesn’t try for the voices the way that some previous readers have done. It’s a fair trade-off, however, as the Fifth Doctor has fewer vocal distinctives than his predecessors. The voice actor for Houdini, Tim Beckmann, is great, and comes off as smooth and charming even when revealing Houdini’s bitterness (as caused by the Master).

The visits from the Eleventh Doctor continue to become more explicit with each passing story in the series. Again, the Doctor recognizes him as a future incarnation, and even seems to have some idea that it is the Eleventh Doctor, specifically; he makes an offhanded comment about having “another life or six” to go. Oddly, this is a completely TARDIS-free story; the crew are not seen entering, leaving, or piloting the ship. It’s a good entry—not quite as fun as Babblesphere, not quite as morbid as Vengeance of the Stones, or as technical as Shadow of Death, but still very enjoyable.

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Next time:  On Monday Tuesday Wednesday (thank you, Christmas), we’ll look at Main Range #15, The Mutant Phase; and then on Thursday, we’ll return to Destiny of the Doctor with Trouble in Paradise, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri! See you there.

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

Smoke and Mirrors

Destiny of the Doctor

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