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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