Seasons of War Mini-Review 32: The Man in the Bandolier

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

Seasons of War cover

For those of us who do not have a copy of the Seasons of War anthology (or for anyone who would be interested!), the selection I’m examining today, The Man in the Bandolier, can be heard in audio form on Soundcloud at this link, read by Sean Connolly and Wink Taylor. Happy listening!

The second poem in the anthology, The Man in the Bandolier tells the end of a story. In this piece, we find that the Time War has come to Earth at long last, specifically, to the Sahara desert. The War Doctor stumbles into a bunker of Gallifreyan soldiers who have entrenched themselves against the Daleks. They don’t recognize him, and in fact take him for an arms smuggler—a snap judgment not helped by his own heatstricken ravings. When he recovers, he is as compelling as always; but he does not bring them good news. He knows what comes of this day; and he knows that if the soldiers triumph, it will set in motion events that bring about the downfall of Earth. Grim though it may be, these soldiers must die in battle. Stricken, but compelled by his words, the soldier/narrator lets him go. The War Doctor—the Man in the Bandolier—brokers a cease-fire, knowing in advance that it is hollow; and when the Daleks break it, and bring their saucers down to finish off the soldiers, the old man’s words are confirmed. Only the narrator survives to tell the story of the Man in the Bandolier.

One of the most confounding aspects of the Time War is Earth’s ignorance of it. How is it that a War in all of time and space could miss Earth, a world that has proven to be pivotal on so many occasions? For most of the anthology, the War Doctor struggles to keep Earth hidden away; we saw this as far back as Crowsnest Past, the first entry after the regeneration on Karn. His defenses fail, and he rebuilds them. In the previous entry, Always Face the Curtain with a Bow, the significance of Earth, and the means by which it was hidden, were among the secrets the Daleks wanted to extract from the Doctor; so it’s clear that attention is starting to focus on this hidden world. In this story, we don’t know how the War came to Earth, but it clearly has. So, why don’t humans remember it? Possibly it’s just like any other alien invasion; humanity has an endless capacity to forget, a topic upon which the Doctor has remarked many times. More likely, I think, the Time Lock on the War separated out the various timelines that were damaged or destroyed by the War, allowing the universe to continue mostly without knowledge of the War. It’s not perfect; numerous times in the revived television series, we see that some races know of the War. Still, their knowledge is usually incomplete or reduced to the status of legend. They remember the Time Lords, but they don’t know why they vanished. I think the version of Earth we see in the revived series is a timeline that was spared the touch of the War in any direct sense. Perhaps, within the Time Lock, other versions still exist…

I said before that poetry is not my strong suit, and I don’t feel qualified to judge it. I will say, however, that this poem conveys all the right emotions: shock, weariness, horror, dread, and even a form of respectfulness. I am unaware of whether the author was ever a soldier, but the characterization he gives to the narrator seems legitimate to me. Overall, it’s certainly moving, and adds a new layer to the grit and terror of the Time War—very literally bringing it home.

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Man in the Bandolier was written by Barnaby Eaton-Jones, the owner of publisher Chinbeard Books, which produced and distributed the Seasons of War anthology. Next time: We’ll stay on Earth a little longer for a story that quickly goes from quirky to sentimental, in Storage Wars, by Paul Driscoll. 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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Seasons of War Mini-Review 31: Always Face the Curtain with a Bow

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

Seasons of War cover

The War Doctor awakens in a furnished bedroom. He is missing his sonic screwdriver and TARDIS key, and nothing else except for the memory of how he got there. He checks the area for Daleks; finds none, even outside the window. Everything seems almost too calm, too normal—until a man comes in the door, greets him jauntily, and shoots him dead. One bullet through each heart, and one through the throat.

The next morning, he awakens similarly, and goes through the same routine; but before the newcomer arrives, the War Doctor gets a sense that he has done this before. A time loop? Perhaps. When the man arrives, he assures the Doctor that he won’t shoot him this time—a clear confirmation that the Doctor isn’t imagining it. Instead, he invites him down to the garden for breakfast. At a table outside, he offers tea, and introduces himself as the Colonel. Despite the oddity of the circumstances, they share the meal, and talk about the Doctor’s rejection of his title. The Colonel is Gallifreyan, or was, at least; he is something more or less than the Time Lords now—something unique. He is held together, it seems, with Dalek technology; they pieced him back together after an encounter with a trap-laden timeline. He must obey them, or they will turn off the static field that keeps him alive. He admits to having had some hero worship for the Doctor during his time in the War, but insists he only fought because he had to. Nevertheless, he insists, the War is over for the Doctor. The Doctor is unperturbed; he has escaped prisons before, and he will escape this one, even without his TARDIS or sonic screwdriver. The Colonel is not convinced; this place is a pocket dimension cut off from the rest of the universe, “set adrift in the Cataracts of Non-Existence at the end of the universe. Beyond Time Lord technology to detect. At the limits of even Dalek science. We’re trapped here, just you and me. Forever.” Still, he offers the Doctor freedom…if he will betray Gallifrey, and Rassilon, and even the long-hidden Earth. When the Doctor refuses, the exercise is at an end…and the poison in the tea kicks in, reducing him to a cloud of atoms displaced in time.

The next morning, the ordeal repeats. This time, carnivorous rabbits swarm and devour him. After this, he determines to go on the offensive.

The next day, a piano falls on him (or rather, a second piano, after he successfully dodges the first one).

The days—and the deaths—continue, day upon week upon month upon year upon century. The deaths become more and more inventive. A pie filled with acid, delivered to the face. Mind-eating penguins. A sudden volcanic eruption. A sudden failure of gravity. Beaten to death by pensioners. Reality television (!). A confused brontosaurus. Sentient, hungry books. The list went on. Even killing himself doesn’t break the pattern, though he gives it a try. He is ripped apart by a gorilla (and a pink one, at that). Eaten by a plant. Killed by his own, suddenly-independent second heart. Struck by a bowl of petunias (with his last thought being “Oh no, not again”—Adams fans, here’s your moment!). Death upon death, until they become mundane.

One day he unexpectedly develops a cramp in his leg that blossoms into pain. He is left with a limp that persists through all the days that follow. Even this place, though powerful, was not perfect. The pain galvanizes him, keeps him going.

Another day, the Colonel tells him this will be their last conversation. The Daleks believe the contact is keeping the Doctor sane. That day, he dies from an electric joy buzzer in the Colonel’s palm.

As the decades pass, a strange thing happens: it is the Colonel who wears down. His inventiveness disappears. He is reduced to a regular pattern: death by shooting, death by stabbing. Over and over, it continues. He begins to weep as time loses meaning for him. The awfulness of the Daleks’ design becomes apparent: it is not only the Doctor who is suffering here.

Suddenly, it ends.

A Time Lady and a Gallifreyan soldier teleport onto the grounds. They quickly find that a regeneration suppression field is in place…and one life form shows, inside the house. They find the man—the Colonel—staring into space inside the house, and capture him easily. And yet, something still isn’t right. The Time Lady, a longtime veteran of the War, searches the house. She bursts in on the Doctor, who has just awakened; he is quite taken aback to find that it isn’t his tormentor. Instead, this woman believes she knows him. She checks her database…and it gives her an impossible answer. And yet it can’t be the Doctor. The Doctor, she tells him, died on Reyella, where the Daleks faked an offer of peace, then destroyed the planet. He is flattered, but lets it go; how, he wants to know, is Gallifrey? She surprises him again when she chides him for his ego; Gallifrey wouldn’t fall without him in a few short days. All his suffering, it seems, has been compressed into a small slice of time. And then, she takes him home—or rather, to her ship.

In the morning, he goes to the detention cells and greets an old…friend? Enemy? After so many years (so few days?), it’s hard to say. Naturally the Colonel expects the Doctor to kill him. It seems he has learned nothing, however; all those days, all those deaths, the Doctor was fighting even as he died. He was fighting, not for his own freedom, but for the Colonel. Not every war is fought with weapons; and when death is simply a nap, there’s no cause in perpetuating the violence.

The man doesn’t get it. He simply stares.

The Time Lords plan to put the man on trial, and to interrogate him. The Doctor refuses to testify. He has talked to the man for years, and learned nothing of strategic value. The Time Lords will not relent. Is this what Gallifrey has become? Without mercy or compassion, what are they? The Time Lady who rescued him grudgingly agrees to relay his request for clemency on the Colonel to the Castellan. However, when the Doctor is out of hearing, she contacts the Castellan, and tells him that the Doctor has returned—and that she has an enemy agent that requires a Mind Probe.

***

I love to see things which set this war apart as a Time War. Certainly there will be traditional battles, in space and on various worlds; but any war can have those. No, it’s the manipulation of time that makes this war different. Sometimes it happens on a macroscopic scale; we’ve long since established the idea that parts of the war were fought by changing the timeline, again and again. What existed may not, and what was destroyed might be brought back. The combatants aren’t just superpowers, but temporal superpowers. However, sometimes things happen on a smaller scale; and that provides an amazing array of possibilities as well. Here, we have the Doctor suffering torture by an endlessly looping day in which he is quite comfortable, right up to the moment that he is killed. It’s millennia of life and death, packed into what proves in the end to be only a few days. It’s enough to drive anyone mad…unless, that is, you’re the Doctor.

It’s almost impossible now to read this story without comparing it to the penultimate episode of the 2015 television series, Heaven Sent. That story—which has justifiably garnered many accolades—finds the Doctor trapped in his own confession dial. That strange realm, much like the one pictured here, proves to be a temporally transcendent place of repeated torture and death, with only a single adversary that is destined to kill the Doctor every time. Like the confession dial, this realm exists to elicit a confession of sorts from the Doctor; the Daleks want the secrets of Gallifrey’s defenses. Unlike the confession dial, the Doctor isn’t faced with a growing collection of his own remains; but like it, he begins every day afresh, with memories that aren’t complete, but aren’t missing entirely either. Like Heaven Sent, this story begins with a rumor of his death (although we don’t know that until later). Similarly, the entire situation is a trap, a setup. Like Heaven Sent, the Doctor doesn’t appear to age during his centuries in the environment, although he does pick up a limp that stays with him for the rest of this lifetime. The similarities are, in fact, eerie; and it would be tempting to believe that one is based on the other. I don’t believe that to be the case; the time frame of the release of this story (early 2015) and that episode (November 2015) doesn’t allow this story to have mimicked that one. Though it’s possible that the episode stole ideas from this story, I find that supremely unlikely; and it would take a terrible level of dishonesty to steal intellectual property from a charity work.

My head canon for this story is that the Daleks have, at some point, laid hands (or plungers, as it were) on a confession dial—perhaps the Colonel’s? We don’t know that all confession dials behave internally as the Doctor’s did, but it’s a safe guess that they all are capable of it. The Daleks would have then augmented and adapted the technology to create the looped environment we see here. The Colonel, tied as he is to the Dalek systems, could serve the function filled by the Veil in Heaven Sent; and this would make their request for the secrets of Gallifrey a part of the workings of the environment, in the same way as the confessions in the televised episode. The “dial” would know when the Doctor is truthfully giving the required answers, and upon doing so, it would release him from the environment as promised. Of course, the Daleks would be ready to recapture him immediately; but what’s a little betrayal between old enemies?

Overall: This is a tense story, as it is designed to be, but like Heaven Sent, there’s a bit of poetry to it. It also contains a fair measure of the wry (and sometimes gallows) humor for which the War Doctor is famous; in addition to his frequent quips, there’s the increasingly more insane list of kill methods. (The Douglas Adams/Hitchhiker’s Guide reference is a nice touch, too.) In the end, it pushes us a bit closer to, well, the end, as the Doctor grows more frustrated with the Time Lords.

John Hurt Tribute photo

Always Face the Curtain with a Bow was written by Jon Arnold. Next time: We’ll look at some actual poetry from the owner of anthology publisher Chinbeard Books, Barnaby Eaton-Jones, in The Man in the Bandolier. 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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Seasons of War Mini-Review 30: Fall

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

Seasons of War cover

Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart is a retired man. That’s nothing new—he’s been retired before—but time continues to move, and he spends his days at the Oakleaf Residential Home for Retired Soldiers. There are worse lives; and he is not alone here. And sometimes, an old friend comes to visit—a friend who once called himself the Doctor.

Today, the Doctor comes for the last time. He comes not to reminisce, but to enlist. The Time War is encroaching even on Earth, and he needs the help of the man he once knew as the Brigadier. He speaks of a Krynoid pod on Earth—Krynoids, carnivorous plant life which the two old soldiers once fought. This pod, the Doctor has seen, will burn across the universe and change the course of the Time War—change it, that is, for the worse, unless they can stop it. While they talk, the nursing home explodes.

Or rather, it tries. The building, however, is the former headquarters of a certain international task force, and it is bombproof; it creaks and catches fire in places, but stands. Its residents are mostly former employees of said task force, and are not entirely unprepared for this possibility. The Doctor and the Brigadier, along with his current nurse and aide, Corporal Butterworth, prepare to leave; but first, the Brigadier sounds a special alarm which he had had installed for just such a time as this. Old habits, and all that. Soon, fifteen more residents are gathered. The Doctor quickly tells them about the Krynoid pod, and how it has been augmented by the Daleks; it now admits a telepathic control signal over perhaps twenty surrounding miles, taking control of the British Army units in the area. The Brigadier is unperturbed; he has his own army here, old soldiers every one—and further, they are armed, having a good supply of weapons hidden in the building (not to mention a helicopter on the grounds—old habits really do die hard). Further, this building—being former UNIT territory—has an escape tunnel. The Brigadier sets two men to guard the entrance, and the rest of the group moves out. It may be a sacrifice for the two guards; but they are prepared.

The group reaches the helicopter, and Butterworth—a capable pilot—preps it. The Doctor, as per his own old habits, has built a detector for the Krynoid pod, but they’ll have to be airborne for it to work. He expects the pod has been recovered by regular Army soldiers, and as it turns out, there is a military base nearby, at Dervenham. The base contains an underground atomic shelter that is the perfect hiding place for a germinating Krynoid. As they fly, the Brigadier muses on his age and failing health…until the chopper is shot down with an electromagnetic pulse.

He suddenly finds himself, and the Doctor, safe on the ground, some distance away. The Doctor explains that he had a time ring in case of emergencies, but its power was almost exhausted. It could only carry two of them; Butterworth, unfortunately, did not make it, and the Brigadier briefly mourns her death. But, they cannot stop now—and they are almost on top of the pod. The entrance to the shelter is in sight. However, as they run for the pillbox, mind-controlled soldiers are approaching. The Doctor makes some adjustments to his detector, and turns it into a jamming device for the telepathic signal; the soldiers are left frozen in place, but it won’t last long. As they reach the entrance, the soldiers begin to advance again.

They are rescued by more of Alistair’s recruits from the nursing home…in a tank. (Apparently this place DOES have everything.) Captain Morris, still in his dressing gown, leads the charge, and his men are armed with tranquilizer guns so as not to harm the mind-controlled soldiers. The Doctor and the Brigadier make their way down into the earth.

The shelter is not of Earth, after all. It is alien; and the Doctor recognizes the technology as Time Lord. The Krynoid pod, clearly modified, is there. And finally, the man who once called himself Doctor—but no more, as he tells the Brigadier—explains what he needs.

He is a warrior now, and learned from the great warriors of Earth’s history—Genghis Khan, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Sun Tzu—how to triumph at all costs. This is his apology, such as it is; for there will be costs today. The Krynoid pod hasn’t germinated because its telepathic powers are strongest at this stage; when it bonds with another being, initiating its next phase, it goes dormant for the sake of the transformation. The Brigadier is already dying, slowly but surely; he doesn’t have much life left, though he doesn’t say how much. The Doctor wants him to bond with the Krynoid. He has altered its perceptions so that it won’t know its host is old instead of young, and won’t reject him. Its growth will be slowed, its powers curtailed—and when Alistair dies, it will die with him. There will be no pain, and Alistair will not die any faster, but this is, in a manner of speaking, the final stamp on his decree of death. Mercifully, he will not be controlled by the creature—there won’t be time for that. Consider it, then, a last mission to save the world.

The Brigadier nods, and—old soldier to the end—offers himself.

Later, Captain Morris dies, succumbing to his long battle with lung cancer. The Brigadier is not sad. The man had a final chance at purpose, at victory—and what could be more worthy?

Some men and women aren’t supposed to die slowly in a nursing home. Some are fated to have one last ‘hurrah’.

The Brigadier thinks of this, and thinks of the Krynoid invading his body—though it will not succeed—as his own last days tick away. Most of all, he thinks of the Doctor, and the adventures they had; and he knows there is something of his old friend left in the Warrior, who does not return again. It is his last thought before the end comes, too, for him.

Whenever the question of “favorite companions” arises—and in this fandom, it often does—the Brigadier is always in my top five. He’s extraordinary among the Doctor’s many companions and allies, in that when they come and go, he remains (or at least, he did, right up until actor Nicholas Courtney’s death). It would be hard to overstate how much of the structure of the Doctor Who universe we owe to this character; UNIT, for better or worse, has been a pillar of the series for decades, and simply would not exist without the strength of Courtney’s portrayal of the Brigadier. Like Leela, the Brigadier is one of those characters of whom the concept of a Time War demands an appearance, and it surprises me that no licensed media took the opportunity. Perhaps they would have, at least in print, if not for the untimely death of Sir John Hurt. Still, an old soldier meeting the Warrior? Yes, please! I’m thrilled that Seasons of War took up the challenge.

The Brigadier’s death has been referenced on the television series in Death in Heaven, and explained in some other media, with conflicting versions of the end of his life. This story is partly in keeping with the account of Death In Heaven, though it certainly conflicts with some other sources. (However, see below for one notable contradiction.) Personally, I like this version; I can’t think of a more fitting end. To have gone out in battle would seem cheap, for such an enduring character (and would contradict suggestions as far back as Battlefield that the Brigadier would die peacefully in bed). This way, he dies in well-deserved rest, but his death still matters, and still has a far-reaching effect on the War and the universe.

There are references here to a number of UNIT stories: fighting Cybermen (The Invasion), the original Krynoids (The Seeds of Doom), Project Inferno (Inferno), the Stahlman affair (The Mind of Evil), Satanists in Wiltshire (The Daemons), peace conferences (also The Mind of Evil), and “That business in Scotland” (Terror of the Zygons). The Doctor makes mention of several offscreen adventures during the early days of this incarnation, in which he visited famous warriors of Earth’s history for training in the arts of war—it seems regeneration will give you the body and the mindset, but not the particular skills. He does mention that the Brigadier was partly his inspiration for this choice. He also mentions that the TARDIS is not in favour of many of his actions during the War, and that consequently he has been obligated to disconnect the telepathic circuits in order to get to where he needs to go. The Brigadier comments at one point that the Doctor looks a bit like Don Quixote, a nod to The Ingenious Gentleman. It’s also worth mentioning that the story does contradict with Death in Heaven in one regard, though not in this story itself, but in a reference found in the previous story, Reflections. That story mentions that the Doctor was diverting from his intended destination of Earth in the 1990s, indicating the events seen here. However, Death In Heaven places the Brigadier’s death in 2011, concurrent with Nicholas Courtney’s real-world death. It’s still possible, I suppose; we’re not told how long the Brigadier lives after accepting the Krynoid. I do find it hard to believe it’s another decade or more, but I acknowledge the possibility.

Overall: This is an incredibly emotional story. It’s hard to say goodbye to an old friend, even when their exit is just right. If you’re looking for sentimental tears, you’ve come to the right place—but you’ll leave satisfied, as well. That’s as good an ending as we could wish for.

Fall was written by Matt Barber. Next time—and by next time, I mean next week, as I’ll be on vacation for the rest of this week—we’ll look at Always Face the Curtain with a Bow, by Jon Arnold. 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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Seasons of War Mini-Review 29: Reflections

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

Seasons of War cover

The War Doctor contemplates his reflection, and muses on his life. He has aged, and with far less grace than he may have preferred. It has been a long time since he had that experience; his second and third incarnations were born old, so to speak, and had the vitality of youth encapsulated in the appearance of age. Only his first body lived long enough to age and wear thin, and he has had centuries and many lives since then. It is a most unwelcome feeling…but his life is not over yet, and there is a little left to do.

Or perhaps not—if he doesn’t survive this mission. He has come to Howth’s World at the behest of the Time Lords. He does not trust them any longer; Romana is dead, and Rassilon is in power, and they cannot be trusted any more than the Daleks. Still, this mission—to destroy a cursed mirror on a world under Gallifrey’s umbrella—is, perhaps, if one looks hard enough, something the old Doctor would have done; and the voices of his past lives in his mind reinforce this. So, here he is, standing beside a local woman named Lucia, the tavern owner who contacted the Time Lords about this artifact with forty years of history in her family—this mirror. She claims that it twists anyone who looks into it, makes them aggressive, makes them afraid; and, the War Doctor admits, perhaps there is something to it, curse or not. For he looks into it, and in his own reflection, he sees his own embrace of the warrior within, his love of the fight, of the victory. He sees his hatred of the enemy, and his own bloodthirst. He doesn’t want to face it, but it is there—and there is more. Behind himself, he sees his past lives; but they are twisted now, filled with rage and pain. His demonic second life, scarred and manic. His third, cunning and bloodthirsty. His fourth, twisted into a leering fascist. His fifth, dressed for combat, and sporting a knife. His sixth and seventh, fused together, the seventh killing the sixth while both laugh in their insanity. His eighth, wounded and dying, his jaw torn off.

It is then that Lucia reveals herself, as well. It is a trap she has set for him—not for the Time Lords, for it is they whom she serves. Rather, it is a trap for the Doctor, for all of his selves. The mirror is a Time Lord creation from the Omega Arsenal—as the reflection of his first life tells him. That worthy presence now sports hair of silver, twisted by the Cybermen against whom he once lost his life. This presence tells him that Rassilon does not trust the Doctor any longer; the War Doctor fights, but not for the aims of Rassilon. But these, these twisted reflections—they can win the war, for Rassilon, for the Time Lords Victorious. All the War Doctor must do is smash the mirror…and let them out. After all, there’s a part of him that wants it.

Later, he dwells on how our reflections may not always show what we want to see. In his wake, he leaves behind the destruction of a small room…and the tavern that held it…and the town that embraced the tavern…and a continent…and a world, Howth’s World, after he caused its sun to go supernova. After all, how else to wipe out every mirror on the planet? The people, their true selves, were gone long ago, courtesy of the Time Lords, and only the twisted reflections remained. He goes on to cover every mirror he can find in the TARDIS; there’s no sense in letting the Time Lords continue this trick. After all, it was an effective one—but they may regret that it cued him in to the Omega Arsenal. Of Lucia, he thinks only in passing—after all, involving himself with her is something the Doctor might have done, and the Doctor is not here.

This story is one of the three that were written for the final edition of the Seasons of War anthology (following Life During Wartime, and we’ll have one more at the end). It’s a matter of saving the worst for last—not worst in terms of quality, for it’s an excellent story, but worst in terms of the events of the Doctor’s life. Prior to his use of the Moment, I think it would be hard to top this story for horror. My only complaint—and I’ll go ahead and get it out of the way early—is that the statement that the Time Lords got to the people of Howth’s World long ago mitigates the seriousness of the story. If the Doctor’s destruction of the planet doesn’t cost innocent lives, then it’s not really monstrous at all, is it? But if we ignore that one line, then this story becomes monumental. The War Doctor becomes the monster we’ve always heard him say he is. This is it—this is rock bottom, and everything from here to the end is just set dressing on the way to the Moment. (It’s very good set dressing, and I certainly won’t treat any upcoming story worse for having come in the interval, but for his character development, we’ve reached his lowest point.)

There’s certainly nothing new about the concept of the Doctor facing his past selves in some sort of visitation, and this is not even the most creative rendition we’ve seen (for me, that honor goes to Timewyrm: Revelation until I find a better one). It is, however the most terrifying. We’ve seen the Doctor’s past lives be tortured; we’ve seen them interfere; we’ve even seen him give a past self control of his body for a time. We’ve never (to my admittedly-limited knowledge) seen them be evil. The story goes to great lengths to establish that this is no hallucination, and no impersonation; these beings are the Doctors, though with their evil crystallized and brought to the fore. They’re each a little Valeyard, so to speak, but with none of his grace or logic. It’s utterly terrifying.

The author deserves credit for the details here. In addition to tying this story to the larger Time War narrative (she mentions the Could-Have-Been King and his army of Meanwhiles and Never-weres, as well as the Omega Arsenal and the return of Rassilon), she gives a nod to some other aspects of Doctor Who history from various media. She portrays the Sixth and Seventh Doctors as fused together, with the Seventh killing the Sixth; this is a reference to the novel Head Games, which suggests that the as-yet-unborn Seventh Doctor brought about the death of the Sixth to prevent the creation of the Valeyard. (I should note that this is later dismissed by the Seventh Doctor in The Room With No Doors.) She also says of the First Doctor’s body that it is “the one he was born with”, but then parenthetically adds the qualifier “probably”; this is a nod to the much-debated Loom continuity, and possibly also to the debated (and sometimes discredited) possibility that the faces seen in The Brain of Morbius represent incarnations of the Doctor before the First. Karn gets another mention (The Night of the Doctor), as does Maxil, who is now a Magistrate on Gallifrey. She comments, when thinking about the Doctor’s earliest incarnations:

“…back when being old is what one did when one was young…”

This is a likely reference to the Tenth Doctor’s similar lines, stated to the Fifth Doctor, in *Time Crash*:

“Back when I first started at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important, like you do when you’re young.”

She also gives us a few new events of significance to the War, though without much explanation: “The Skein Mutiny and the subsequent purge of Gallifreyan Chronology”—an event that sounds, from its name, as though it may have to do with the establishment of the Time Lock on the War, though I’m really just speculating—as well as a battle on Skaro Moon, and an unnamed event in which the time winds of the Vortex threatened to split up Kasterborous. Tantalizing strands, indeed! Last, but far from least, there’s a reference to the Doctor being diverted from the trip he was previously taking, to Earth in the 1990s. This is a reference to the events of the next story, so I won’t spoil it now.

Overall: One couldn’t ask for a better story, and especially when we’re trying to describe the nadir of the War Doctor’s life. He has more tragedies ahead, as anyone who has read Engines of War knows, but he’s reached the bottom already. There’s a lot of sadness, and little good news, left to us after this point—but hang in there. The end is coming.

John Hurt Tribute photo

Reflections was written by Christine Grit. Next time: We’ll revisit a beloved old friend in Fall, by Matt Barber. 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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Seasons of War Mini-Review 26: Driftwood

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

Seasons of War cover

On an unnamed world, a girl named Gabrielle and her father, Rufus—of the Shaffri species—wait for a storm to pass. Years ago, a time storm snatched them from their world of Kustavul and deposited them here in hell, where the climate changes with the wind and scavengers live on the ruins of crashed ships.  Gabrielle tells her father of a prediction of the next few days, made by Azrael, a being whose mind is bound in numbers; he shrugs it off, but isn’t sure.  Azrael may be damaged and immobile inside the crashed ship they now call home, but he knows things.

In the morning, Gabrielle awakens with the sunrise, and confers with Azrael before heading out to hunt. He tells her that a new ship fell during the night—possibly of Earth origin, possibly Eternal—which she can search for useful things.  He asks for something beautiful in return.  She makes her way across the desert, until she finds the crashed ship; it’s a vessel of some celestial origin, in the shape of an ancient sailing ship, but hiding its own secrets.  A hole in its side suggests it is empty of life, its crew having been sucked out into the Vortex during its passage. Further inspection suggests it is, indeed, of the Eternals, though none survive here.  She enters…and deep inside the ship, tracking its power source, she finds a large blue box. A man—human, ostensibly, and elderly—confronts her from inside the box; and he seems alarmed to see her lamp, which consists of a small dome shielding a solar cell.  She explains that a friend gave it to her, from his own person.  The man demands to meet the friend.  Frightened, Gabrielle stomps on his foot and runs, not stopping until she returns home.

When she arrives, the man is there waiting for her, with her father.

Gabrielle warns her father not to trust him, and marvels over how he got here first, but her father says the man will be taking them home. Moreover, he has been here for an hour; Gabrielle deduces from this that he is a time traveler.  He admits to wanting to know about Azrael—and he plans to shut the creature down.  Gabrielle objects, of course, but the man gently tells her that her friend is both dangerous and deceptive.  Still resisting, she leaps through the hatch that leads to Azrael.  Azrael warns her not to fret, and explains that the visitor—of whom Azrael is already aware—is a Time Lord.  Azrael is content with the end of his time, as long as Gabrielle and her father are returned home.  At that time the visitor enters, and confronts Azrael, calling him a Dalek.  Azrael relents and pulls back from Gabrielle, giving the man—the War Doctor—time.  He examines the room, and sees an incomplete tea set, missing one cup.  With that as his cue, he opens conversation with the Dalek.  Azrael admits that he has been expecting a guest, a man of whom he dreams, not always wearing the same face.  That man will release him from his torment.  The Doctor ponders the Dalek’s words…he doesn’t seem normal.  Daleks don’t consider the details of life, only their target.  This one does.  He is malfunctioning, and won’t even repair himself; and more odd yet, he calls the man—who has not introduced himself—“Doctor”.

No matter. It is time to end this.  The Doctor produces the final cup for the tea set…and while Azrael watches, he lets it fall and smash.  In reaction, the Dalek’s casing opens, exposing the screaming mutant inside.  Unexpectedly, the creature begins to go.  The Doctor chases Gabrielle and Rufus outside:

“Step back!” shouted the stranger. “I think we’ll be safer outside. I’m not actually sure what happens when a Dalek regenerates!”

As they watch from a safe distance, the crashed ship tears itself apart. The Doctor checks his sonic screwdriver, and finds that something yet lives in the wreckage.  He checks out the wreckage—and finds a naked man with ginger hair.  He gives the man his coat, and welcomes him back.

The man, Azrael, is a Time Lord as well. He was a subject in a “chameleon experiment”, an attempt to hide Time Lord operatives among the Daleks.  It was all too successful—and Azrael was the only subject to survive.  However, the War, unfortunately, is not over.  It may never be.  For now, Azrael doesn’t care; he has a new stomach, for the first time in a long time, and he could murder a cup of tea.

Various Time War allusions in the televised series and licensed works have given us hints of various strategies and weapons that were employed: the Nightmare Child, the Horde of Travesties, the Tear of Isha, the Moment, and so on. With a war of the scale that we have here, there’s always room for more; and this story gives us one that is particularly apt.  The chameleon experiment, as the Doctor calls it, hides Time Lords among the Daleks by way of mutation, and yet allows them to retain their regenerative powers as a way back to themselves.  It doesn’t seem to have been a success—the Doctor refers to it as working too well, which I take to mean that to one degree or another, the spies went native and forgot themselves.  Speculation, of course, but it seems likely.  (I should point out that there has been another Azrael in Doctor Who history, in the comic The Blood of Azrael, but this character should not be confused with that one.)

Something common (and a bit frustrating, truth be told) about the War Doctor’s stories is that they have a way of dancing around the great events of the War. This story is an example: we could be getting the actual story of the chameleon experiment, but instead we have an incidental story that, in hindsight, tells us how the experiment ended.  We see this all the time.  I want to be clear that I’m not exactly complaining about this; I have mixed feelings about it.  On the one hand, it has the effect of making our accounts of the War seem trivial—we seem to only ever see the War Doctor acting in small situations, rather than the main events, so to speak.  On the other hand, I’m not so sure I’d want those main events to be nailed down.  There’s something majestic about hearing the name “The Nightmare Child” and not knowing definitively what it looked like, or what took place there.  Doctor Who is known for spelling things out in the end; imagination is for the first half of the story, and explanation is for the second.  We get to peek behind the curtain, usually.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing that we don’t always get that in the Time War.  I certainly want more clarity than what the Doctor’s speeches in The End of Time tell us, for example; but we don’t have to have it all, and besides, it’s difficult to imagine the Doctor taking part in a space battle.  He works better on the personal level.  While we know he takes part in those battles, I have a feeling they might come across as boring if we are obligated to watch him directing troops and fleets.  I’d rather have stories like this.

There’s a common criticism that everyone looks human in Doctor Who—that truly alien species are few and far between. I think that criticism is unreasonable; we get plenty of alien species, even if there are a disproportionate number of humanlike species.  In light of that criticism, it’s worth noting that Gabrielle and Rufus are not human.  We don’t get a full description, and they seem to be of a basic bipedal shape, but they are described as having clawed fingers, and Gabrielle struggles to identify the geometry of the Doctor’s body when she is trying to step on his foot in the dark.  They are certainly aware of Earth, and their names come from human books that Rufus’s family has handed down as heirlooms, implying that they can read human text (English, presumably, but we don’t have a date for this story, so it’s hard to say.  It is at least as far ahead as the human colonisation period).

Overall, this is a satisfying story. No one dies; there’s no unhappy ending; and it’s been a while since we had a story that ended on an upbeat note.  Most won’t, of course.  A moment of hope is a good thing, though, especially as we are into the second half of the anthology now.  (If you’re keeping track, there are 45 entries if we include the related short film, which I will cover at the end; this is #26.)

Driftwood was written by anthology art director Simon A. Brett, with art also provided by Simon A. Brett. Next time: The Girl with the Purple Hair (III) by Declan May and John Davies.  See you there!

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

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 25: The Book of Dead Time

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

Seasons of War cover

Jenny Shirt sits reading on a park bench in Russell Square, when the man she calls Foreman appears. For once, he’s not looking for her; and after a moment of confused surprise, he leaps into the oak tree behind her bench. Literally into the tree; he vanishes into the trunk. Feeling the tree, Jenny finds a hidden and strangely resistant crack, and follows him in. She finds herself in the lobby of a most unlikely building: the Acholt Bocastreon, the library inside the oak tree. It’s impossible, of course; but then, she’s seen the TARDIS, and bigger on the inside is nothing new anymore. Foreman reluctantly agrees to let her come along; and she goes with him in a lift, down to a room so vast as to defy definition. The library inside is an arboretum as well; its shelves and seats are shaped from the roots of the oak above. Foreman explains that it has been here for millennia; he planted the tree (from a special acorn engineered by the Chronosmiths) a few centuries before the Romans came to what they called Londinium, and the library took a few hundred years to grow, but it has been active since. It continues to grow, as well. He explains that it holds “impossible texts from across time and space”; it keeps the books safe from the War and other horrors. It is staffed by only two people: Niamh the calligrapher, and Johannes the translator-archivist. And the Time Lord has come for a very important book, called the Temporal-Necrochronomicon—the Book of Dead Time.

The Book is a ledger of sorts, a listing of names, places, people, and the dates they occupied—history with a twist, as Foreman says. It covers all of time, and so is, in essence, the Last Record. Rather, it’s a copy of the Last Record; but the original is gone. They encounter Niamh the calligrapher, who copies the books that Foreman brings; she shows Jenny a beautiful work in progress, still budding from the tree that produces its paper. Johannes joins them, and Foreman explains what he wants. The Daleks have destroyed the original, and the Time Lords require the copy—the only one remaining. It may help win the war—and after all, no place is safe, not even this one. Besides, if he doesn’t produce the book, the Time Lords will come for it—and where the Time Lords go, the Daleks follow. Niamh and Johannes refuse, and get into an argument with Foreman (in which he calls them “vegetables”, to Jenny’s confusion). Frustrated by their decision, Foreman—or as Johannes insists on calling him, the Doctor—leaves with Jenny; but first, Niamh gives him a paper in a strange language. The Doctor calls it a fine, and promises to pay at his next visit; although, as Johannes insists, they don’t loan out books, and don’t issue fines.

In the TARDIS—which has changed since Jenny last saw it, a week ago—Jenny questions Foreman. He explains that he knows where the book is. Niamh and Johannes, he says, were the result of a Dalek experiment to create expendable frontline troops from vegetable-based sentient species. Foreman stopped them, but in the wreckage of a growth pod, he found two infants. They were dying, and so he went to the Chronosmiths and created the dimensionally-transcendent acorn that would become the library. He placed them inside it, but they were still failing to thrive—until he found that they needed, not sunlight and water, but information. He fed them on the TARDIS databanks, and when that was not enough, he established the library to continue to feed them. However, they could not leave it, and so, Foreman dropped hints among the trustworthy that knowledge could be hidden somewhere safe. But, this means they must read the books; and in reading them, the books become part of the fabric of the library, which is partly composed of memory. Therefore, Niamh and Johannes know everything that is to come—and the lengths to which Foreman will go to get the book, and protect the Earth.

Now, in Russell Square, there is no oak tree, only a blackened stump where a girl with purple hair used to sit on a bench. She does so no longer. But, one day, and for a week after, millions of burnt pages fell from the sky, curling and blackened—and now a plaque adorns the bench: “In Memory of Niamh and Johannes and Jenny Shirt”. And the library? It doesn’t exist, and perhaps never did.

The thing about monsters is that they never believe they are monsters. Of course, the Doctor, being the Doctor, makes a paradox of that; he does, in fact, call himself a monster for the things he does in the Time War. The point, however, is that these so-called monsters do what they do for a reason; and sometimes it’s hard to say whether the reason is really justifiable or not. Here, for example: it’s an age-old conundrum, but what do you do when saving many lives requires sacrificing a few? And just to add emotional weight to it, let’s say that the few are lives that you have worked hard to save in the past. This story shows us what the Doctor does: as a later incarnation says, he chooses to be “the Doctor on [a] day it was impossible to get it right.” He makes the hard choice, and takes the responsibility on himself, and saves the Earth—and considers himself a bit more monstrous in the process.

This is the first, and perhaps the only, actual story we get involving Jenny shirt, but she’s here more as a recorder than a vital character. That’s okay; the story needs to be told. Soon we’ll get back to our interludes with her, but in the meantime, it’s nice to see things from outside her mind; her behaviour around others is quite different from the way she perceives herself, and she’s a bit comical here. Still, she continues to be the compassionate companion we’ve seen her to be—a degree of consistency that is nice, given that this story is not written by the same author as her interludes. On the topic of the way that her life intersects out of order with Foreman’s (much as River Song will do in later incarnations), she remarks that the TARDIS interior is different from the way it looked a week ago. At that time, it appears to be the Eighth Doctor’s console room from the television movie, implying that this is early in her adventures with Foreman (if it were later, she would have had encounters with the older version of him, with his unique console room). When she meets him here, it seems to be the console room we see in The Day of the Doctor, which appears in many other places. (As well, she first learns here that he is a Time Lord, adding weight to the argument that this is an early adventure for her.) Meanwhile the last paragraphs, regarding the plaque on the park bench, seem to take place much later, as the implication is that Jenny is dead by that time. We will deal more with the subject of her death later.

With Niamh and Johannes, I can’t help but be reminded of the other vegetable species we’ve seen in the revived series: the Trees from The End of the World, the Zocci from Voyage of the Damned, and the Vinvocci from The End of Time. (Hope I haven’t mixed up those last two—they would all be highly offended, I think.) Niamh and Johannes, thanks to the Daleks, are a more advanced breed, and are able to deliberately choose their form; they appear human (or perhaps Time Lord?) enough to fool Jenny at first. They’re tragic characters; they know what’s coming, right up to the hour of their death. In that, perhaps Jenny can be sympathetic; she, too, knows when she will die (or at least, she will know, later on).

Overall: Great story, though very tragic. At this point, we’re perhaps growing numb to tragedy, but that’s the point: the Doctor himself is growing weary, and we’re viewing the overall course of the War through his eyes. Soon enough, he will put an end to it all.

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Book of Dead Time was written by David Carrington. Next time: Simon A. Brett, the anthology’s art director, gives us a look at a strange world and a stranger situation with Driftwood. 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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Seasons of War Mini-Review 8: The Celephas Gift

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

Seasons of War cover

The War Doctor has just double-crossed the Sterrati, mercenaries who proved to be Dalek agents posing as allies to the rebel Luminals. They didn’t take the betrayal well, and the Time Lord finds himself running to his TARDIS to escape their ship. He is forced to kill seven of them by breaking a window onto vacuum; but in his death throes, the Sterrati captain tosses a grenade into the TARDIS console room. The explosion causes the War Doctor to make an emergency landing on an isolationist world called Muranius. He finds himself in a mine, where he is menaced by cave-dwelling, acid-venomed, spiderlike creatures; he is rescued by a regal woman named Larana, who has striking golden eyes and a gift for telepathy. She is able to pick through his mind at first, learning his former name, and revealing his slaughter of the Sterrati, before he erects mental barriers to keep her out. She decides to take him to the Muranian leader, the Custodian, where he will look upon “the Gift”. On the way to the surface, he sees that the Muranians are divided into two classes: the golden-eyed leadership, and the common menials, who are forced to work themselves to death in the mines. Upon meeting the Custodian, he argues the matter with him, calling it genocide against the menials, but the Custodian sweeps aside his concerns. He explains that, two years ago, meteorites fell from the sky; when held in the hand, the meteorites open up and emit a golden light, which suffuses the holder with a warm life force. If the holder is not found worthy, they remain normal, and become a menial, widely considered less important than even the cave creatures. If the holder is worthy, they receive the Gift; their minds are opened, and they gain the power of telepathy, and a new purpose. As a side effect and a sign, their eyes become golden. The Doctor believes this is the sign of an invasion, and that the meteorites are manipulating the Muranians; hence, the early “chosen” were all from among the ruling elite. Nevertheless, the Custodian forces him to look into one of the meteorites. Its light fills him…and withdraws. He stuns the Muranians when he explains that it looked into him, saw his true identity as the Doctor—and was afraid. The Custodian is then fully taken over, and speaks for the invaders, and reveals that the Doctor is a Time Lord, whom they fear. The Doctor identifies the invaders as the telepathic Celephas, and exposes their plan: they are using the Muranians to dig up Jenelium ore, a high-energy power source used in faster-than-light travel. Larana becomes convinced when she hears this; the Muranians do not leave their world, so why would they need the ore? The Custodian-Celephas says that it no longer matters; they are on their way to dispose of the Muranians and collect their ore. The Doctor manages to place a temporary block on Larana’s mind, breaking her link to the Celephas, just before the Custodian—and every other Chosen with him—falls dead. With Larana, he flees back to the mine, trying to get away before her temporary block breaks down, and before the Celephas arrive. A massive Celephas ship breaks atmosphere, and lizardlike Celephas warriors follow them into the mine, but are intercepted by the cave-dwelling creatures, allowing the Doctor to get Larana into the TARDIS. He cannot save her world—it was too late when the first meteorite opened—but he can save her. To remove her from the Celephas’s telepathic reach, he takes her back in time a thousand years, to a peaceful world with a welcoming species, in a time before the Celephas left their own planet. But, before leaving, he promises to destroy the Celephas fleet so that they cannot do the same to another world.

If your only exposure to the Time War was through the War Doctor audio dramas, the Engines of War novel, or The Day of the Doctor television special, it would be easy to forget that the rest of the universe goes on amidst all the fighting. Not every situation requires direct involvement by the Daleks and Time Lords; the War touches all places, all times, whether the Daleks are on hand or not. This story’s secondary villains, the Muranians, had made their society isolationist specifically to protect themselves from the War (as if refusing to move would protect one from the Daleks), and yet it came to them in the form of the War Doctor. In previous stories, he has been a tired character, stressed by the War, but we hadn’t yet seen the real effect it has on him; but here, he begins to let it slip. There’s a great, brief scene, after he is forced to kill the Sterrati but before the grenade goes off, where he finds his fist twisting with rage, and bitterly mutters “He [that is, the Sterrati captain] should have let me go.” He has to force himself to calm down. This scene is revisited later, when Larana pulls the details from his mind; it becomes clear that he is already struggling with his own motives, his justification for his actions, and already he is starting to question whether he can commit horrors and still be a good man. Interestingly, this is a very rare story where he actually uses the name “Doctor”; when the Celephas retreat from his mind, he comments:

“I could feel it in my head too. A presence, digging, breaking through any barrier I could put up. Looking into my memories, my experiences… It found me. Who I am. It found the Doctor.”
The Doctor lifted his head and stared straight at the Custodian. With his resolutely brown eyes.
“…and it was afraid!”

It’s one of the most powerful moments in the book. I was reminded of the Eleventh Doctor, who usually makes such speeches; and now we see where he gets it. Meanwhile, the plot of this story is far more reminiscent of the Fifth Doctor; I was especially reminded of Frontios, with its underground setting and slave race, and its Tractators whose abilities are not so different from the Celephas. Unfortunately, while Frontios gains its freedom, Muranius is not so lucky. Overall: The Celephas Gift is the longest entry in the anthology, at twenty-four pages; but that length allows it to feel much more like a traditional, Classic-series story, as opposed to the vignettes we’ll see often here. (Nothing against the shorter entries—they’re all very good—but I mention it to showcase the variety we have here. More on that in later posts!) The Celephas are very hate-able villains; the Muranians are tragic; and the short-lived Sterrati are just vile. Meanwhile, the Doctor is, for once, the Doctor—but with an edge. It’s a very enjoyable read.

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Celephas Gift was written by Andrew Smith (a licensed-media Doctor Who author–he gave us Adric with Season 18’s Full Circle), with art by Simon A. Brett. Next time: The Girl with the Purple Hair (I), by Declan May and John Davies. See you there!

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

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 6: The Ambassador from Wolf-Rayet 134

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

An ambassador has arrived on Gallifrey, and is not handling it well. She is no ordinary ambassador; she is from a race called the Lobopods, and she is time-sensitive. Her species’ star holds a secret in its core: a natural rift in time. For this cause her race evolved the ability to see the world line of any individual—their passage through time and space. This makes them valuable potential allies to the Time Lords—imagine a race that can tell you where and when a Dalek ship will emerge from a time jump—and further, the defenseless Lobopods need the powerful Time Lords more than the Time Lords need them. Her mission is critical, but there is one problem: to her time-sense, the Time Lords glow like supernovae, overwhelming her senses—and she is on a planet full of them. As she goes to address the War Council and its many attendants, she is overwrought by the strain, and flees the council chamber, nearly bowling over a Time Lord before passing out. She awakens in a white room that is blessedly silent and free of world lines; in front of her is the Time Lord she nearly trampled. His own world line is muted to her sense by a simple temporal shield. She explodes in rage against the wall at her own failure, working out her frustration, and then speaks with the Time Lord. He explains that the room is a Zero Room, cutting them off from the rest of the universe; and he apologizes, for he should have known better. His own world line is far more complex than most; but in his youth, when his world line wasn’t yet the spectacle it now is, he visited the ambassador’s homeworld, and learned of this weakness which is also their strength. He consoles her, and assures her she has not failed; her determination to continue in spite of everything, for the sake of her people and the universe, represents great strength rather than weakness. He promises her that Zero Rooms will be available as needed, and in return, her people will help his as promised. Revived, she says she is ready to face the War Councillors—and he tells her she already has. He is the Doctor, one of the Councillors, himself; and he welcomes her to the war.

Wolf-Rayet 1

The Ambassador meets the young War Doctor.  Art by Carolyn Edwards; used with permission.

 

The Time War is full of enormous tragedies, like the Battle of Infinite Regress that we mentioned in the last entry. One thing in which all the War Doctor materials have excelled, however, is showing how those tragedies are personal. This story exemplifies that strength. Kate Orman’s Ambassador—who is, incidentally, an alien that is far from humanoid; it resembles an oversized caterpillar or mantis shrimp—is fully aware of the risk to her species; but she is facing the war on a personal level, as well. It nearly defeats her, but she overcomes it, with a little nudge from the Doctor. His name isn’t spoken aloud here, but in the surrounding text Orman refers to him as the Doctor; this is fitting, because in the midst of the insanity of the war, he takes a moment to be the Doctor again. I’ve commented frequently that one of the strengths of this anthology is that it lives up to the promise of a man who betrayed the name of the Doctor, and I stand by that statement; but even I have to acknowledge that scenes like this are necessary. We need them in order to set up for The Day of the Doctor, in which it’s clear that the War Doctor has been the Doctor as much as it was possible to do so, in a time when it was mostly impossible. The Eighth Doctor may have said “I don’t suppose there’s a need for a doctor any more”; but sometimes, albeit briefly, there is. It’s good to know that something of the man remains inside the warrior. Also noteworthy here is the reference to “world lines” and to the Doctor’s world line being far more complex than most; this seems to be a reference to the visuals of the Doctor’s tomb in The Name of the Doctor, and that’s how I pictured it here. The “Wolf-Rayet” from the title is not the name of the ambassador’s planet or system, but rather, a description of the type of star; it indicates stars containing time rifts. The Daleks, it is revealed, have been targeting and destroying such stars in order to deprive Gallifrey of time-sensitive allies. We also get a glimpse, however short, of Gallifrey, in what constitutes a behind-the-scenes look at the war effort. It’s quite the revelation to know that the Doctor is one of the War Councillors; I had the impression his relationship with them is usually quite adversarial. Then again, there’s plenty of time for that to change; Carolyn Edwards’ attached artwork, as well as hints in the story itself, tell us that this War Doctor is still very young. Overall: this may be a small event, but it’s a compassionate one, and it gives us a look at what’s going on inside the Doctor’s mind. It’s also a nice quick look at the way that Gallifrey acquires allies in the war, and how it sometimes takes advantage of them even without meaning to do so. I should mention, as well, that author Kate Orman is a longtime writer of Doctor Who fiction, with a dozen novels and a number of short stories under her belt; this anthology did a fine job of combining unknown and well-established authors.

Wolf-Rayet 2

Negotiations in the Zero Room.  Art by Carolyn Edwards; used with permission.

 

The Ambassador from Wolf-Rayet 134 was written by Kate Orman, with art by Carolyn Edwards. Next: The Amber Room, by Simon A. Brett and John Davies. See you there!

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

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For more of Carolyn Edwards’ Doctor Who and other artwork, visit her DeviantArt page, her artist blog, or her Facebook or Etsy pages.  Carolyn Edwards is also available on Twitter at this link.  Author Kate Orman currently blogs at this link.

Audio Drama Review: The Innocent

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! As many fans will already be aware, a few weeks ago, Sir John Hurt passed away at the age of 77. Renowned for many roles over his lengthy career, he was dear to the Doctor Who fandom as the War Doctor, the previously-unknown incarnation who fought in–and ended–the Last Great Time War. His later incarnations considered him the one who broke the promise; he considered himself to be only a warrior, unworthy of the name of the Doctor; but he was neither.

the-innocent-2

I had already written the upcoming review and its sequels prior to John Hurt’s death; I had been planning this series since about week four of my Destiny of the Doctor series, which I completed last week. Likewise, I had already written Tuesday’s review of Engines of War, the first War Doctor novel. It is with sadness that I acknowledge that it all suddenly became much more timely; and so I decided to go ahead with these posts as planned, and consider it a tribute to Mr. Hurt’s life and untimely death. (With that said, the content here wasn’t written as a memorial, and may not match that idea in tone–but I’ve chosen to leave it mostly unchanged from what I originally wrote.)

One more thing, and I’ll put on my moderator hat for a moment here: Our community Discord Big Finish Nights resumed last week, and currently we are listening to and discussing this series of audios. It’s a good time to join if you haven’t, as we check out the first War Doctor audios. Link is in the sidebar.

Today we’re listening to the first chapter of the War Doctor, Volume I: Only the Monstrous. This entry is titled The Innocent. Be warned; it’s a long one.  Let’s get started!

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

the-innocent-1

The Daleks are massing for what they plan to be the final assault on Gallifrey.  Massed in nearby space, they have brought their largest force yet: an entire fleet of time ships, accompanied by stealth ships.  However, the Time Lords—under the command at the moment of the manipulative Cardinal Ollistra—are ready for them.  Secretly, they have established an installation in space, and armed it with a devastating piece of equipment, ironically stolen from the Daleks themselves: a Time Destructor.  Thanks to the First Doctor’s history with the Daleks on Kembel, its effects are known: it will age the Daleks and their equipment to the point of death and destruction by advancing local time.  Unfortunately, it’s a suicide mission; the two Time Lords on the installation, Arverton and Bennus, must activate it manually, but that means it will kill them as well.  Ollistra, then, is shocked when the victory is announced…by Arverton and Bennus, in person.

According to the soldiers, they were interrupted just before activation by an incoming TARDIS.  The man who was once known as the Doctor—but has now foresworn that name—met them, and volunteered to take their place.  Sending them away in their own TARDIS, he stayed to activate the destructor himself…and died in the process.  Ollistra castigates them for this occurrence, telling them the Doctor is worth a hundred of them.

The War Doctor, though, is not dead.  Caught in the destructor’s field, he managed to enter his TARDIS and escape; his previous experience on Kembel had shown him that a Time Lord can survive it for a time, though they are harmed in the process.  He awakens on a strange, sunny world, and finds himself in the care of a young woman named Rejoice, on the planet Keska.  He immediately passes out, and sleeps for about fifty days, before awakening again.  Rejoice is alarmed by his lengthy sleep, but it appears to be an induced coma, which will help him recover from the effect of the time destructor.

Rejoice tells him that she knows nothing of the Time War, as it hasn’t touched Keska.  However, Keska has its own war, against a race called the Taalyens.  He tries to return to the TARDIS, but passes out again, and again sleeps for fifty days.  While unconscious, he dreams of his recent encounters in the war.

When he awakens, the building is under attack, being bombarded by the Taalyens.  Rejoice escorts him into the basement; he is still unclear on the nature of the war, and mentions the Daleks, but she has never heard of them.  She explains more; Rejoice’s people and the Taalyens both originate on a world called Traan, but Rejoice’s people fled oppression and came to Keska.  Now the Taalyens have tracked them here, adopting rocket technology left behind on Traan to create ships and weapons.

To Rejoice’s amazement, the TARDIS is unharmed; she had believed it destroyed.  The Doctor intends to leave and return to his own war, leaving the Keskans and the Taalyens to sort out their own problems.  However, he overhears a communication between Rejoice and her father, which indicates that the Keskans are woefully unprepared to fight the Taalyens; they have been a peaceful people until now.  Afterward, the Doctor chooses to stay and help.  He takes Rejoice via TARDIS to the governmental citadel, where the Keskan Collective—the governing body, of which Rejoice’s father is the chairman—are meeting.  They are debating non-violent options, which include surrender and the concealing of a core group of survivors, until the Doctor interrupts.

The Doctor describes the likely battle plan of the Taalyens, and concludes that it will end in genocide.  Rejoice suggests that he is only doing this to persuade them to join his larger war; he doesn’t deny that possibility, but also says that he is offering because they didn’t try to force him to help.  He then reveals that he can use the communication satellites in orbit to save them.

Thran, Rejoice’s father, says that any decision taken must be made by the collective; the Doctor chastises him for waiting.  He then enters the satellite control center, and begins to work—but then passes out again.

When the Doctor awakens, he reprograms the satellites to create a defensive shield around the planet, but he refuses to press the button to activate it; he insists that it must be the Keskans’ decision.  Then he passes out again, and has another flashback to the time destructor station.  He is only out for a few seconds this time, but Thran has still not pressed the button; his indecision and usual reliance on the collective have stayed his hand, and he refuses to do it.  Impulsively, Rejoice presses the button, activating the shield.

Thran thanks the Doctor, and offers to repay him.  He offers to celebrate and make the Doctor the guest of honor.  The Doctor declines, and tells him not to celebrate; the Doctor also refuses to give his name, which he has never given them until now.  He then goes to rest.

Elsewhere, a high-ranked Time Lord named Seratrix contacts Ollistra from his TARDIS, stating he is returning to Gallifrey.  She bids him a safe journey.  As soon as the communication ends, he and his aide are interrupted by a Dalek ship in the vortex—not a time ship, but a real-space ship which has only momentarily jumped into the vortex.  In that moment, it attacks, and knocks Seratrix’s TARDIS out of the vortex to coordinates unknown.

The Doctor remains on Keska for 134 days, during which Rejoice visits him several times (seventeen, in fact).  His recovery is proceeding well, though he thinks he is not strong enough yet to leave.  Rejoice takes pity on him for the war and for his nightmares, but he becomes angry about it.

A Time Lady appears on Keska, having located the Doctor.  She is Veklin, a servant of Cardinal Ollistra, and she has come to bring the Doctor back; he responds badly, especially when she calls him the Doctor.  He rejects her orders to return, and goes out in a boat with Rejoice to get away from Veklin.

Rejoice asks him about his refusal to be called the Doctor, and why he won’t return.  He dodges the first question, and then says that he wants to help only on his own terms—he doesn’t take orders.  He mentions his past mission to prevent the rise of the Daleks, and admits that it may have led to the Time War.  In return , Rejoice recounts some history of the Taalyen war, but admits that she had not been born yet, and doesn’t know much.  He blames himself, and calls himself a monster, to Rejoice’s horror. “War is very simple, and all you have to do to wage it is become a monster.  That’s what I am.”  He loses his temper and knocks Rejoice from the boat, but instantly regrets it, though she handles it better than she should.

The Time Lords intervene, trying to extract the Doctor back to Gallifrey.  Rejoice insists on going with him against his orders, insisting that he needs someone to help him.  He and Rejoice make it into the TARDIS, but it is not enough; Ollistra authorizes use of extra power from the Eye of Harmony, and the TARDIS is pulled back to Gallifrey.  The Doctor speculates that this indicates some desperation on the part of Ollistra, as diverting power from the Eye would weaken Gallifrey’s defenses.  Rejoice is discarded by Ollistra, and safely returned to Keska; the Doctor assures her she will be safe, and apologizes to her.  As she vanishes, she assures him he is not a monster.  Ollistra remarks on Rejoice’s faith in him, and welcomes him home.  “Home,” he says with disgust.  “You’re welcome to it.”

 

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Although this story stands fairly well on its own, it’s very obvious that it’s the first part of a longer story. The entirety of volume I, Only the Monstrous, comprises one long story involving the planet Keska; we’ll see that the later parts depend more heavily on this story and on the overarching narrative, and my reviews will adjust accordingly. In the meantime, we get a good introduction to several recurring characters, mostly Time Lords: Cardinal Ollistra, her agent Veklin, the soldiers Bennus and Arverton, the Time Lord strategist Seratrix, and of course the Keskan would-be companion Rejoice (her father also appears, but I suspect he only appears in this part of the story—time will tell). We get an overview of the war between the Keskans and the as-yet-unseen Taalyens, and a status update on the Time War.

As is typical for events in the Time War, obtaining a precise date is impossible. We really only have one effective date for the Time War, and that is the Fall of Arcadia on the last day, as seen in The Day of the Doctor; and even that can’t effectively be matched to a date in the outside universe, let alone in Earth chronology. Everything else within the war is subjective, and I expect this to be the case with every War Doctor story. On the other hand, we do know that within Keska’s history, this story is at least a full generation after the arrival of the Keskans on the planet, as their arrival was prior to Rejoice’s birth. It’s suggested, as well, that the events on Keska are not concurrent with the use of the Time Destructor at Omega One; the Doctor seems to have escaped through time, and connecting the two time periods is an exercise in futility.

I can’t say I like Cardinal Ollistra—of course, we aren’t meant to like her—but I like her portrayal. Of all corrupt Gallifreyan politicians, she seems to be possibly the most corrupt; or perhaps “corrupt” isn’t the right word, but “opportunistic”. Certainly she is manipulative, and looks down on the Doctor even while acknowledging his worth and skill. While she isn’t evil per se, she is utterly self-centered even while serving the needs of her world; and I gather that she can be quite cruel, though we haven’t seen it yet. (I can’t help feeling there is a lot going on behind the scenes with her, so perhaps I should reserve final judgment.) She does beg the question: Where is the rest of the High Council? Where is the War Council? She is a Cardinal, as opposed to President or any military rank, and yet she exercises prerogatives that should belong to the military. It’s a curious situation.

Ollistra’s agent, Veklin, doesn’t get a very complimentary image here, although I know it improves somewhat in the next installment. She’s portrayed here as a thug, and little more, sent to bring the Doctor back to Gallifrey. She’s balanced a bit by Gallifreyan soldiers Bennus and Arverton, who are the comedic “straight men” in this story—although there’s precious little comedy to be had. They are being played by Ollistra, and it’s not clear why; the Doctor suggests that she meant them to die, and is vengeful because they did not.

Rejoice is the interesting character here, and the point of relation for the audience. If this were any other Doctor, she would be a new companion; the Doctor even says as much, commenting that “in another life…well, this would have been the start of a new adventure.” The story even baits us a bit, making it appear that she will travel with him—and then Ollistra interferes, sending her home (slight spoiler there, but it will pay off in the next installment, so don’t kill me). But Rejoice voices a very common sentiment among the Doctor’s companions: He can’t safely travel alone. He needs people—in this case, to show him that he is not the monster he thinks he is.

Although this is a Time War story, the role of the Daleks is greatly reduced. They provide a frame for the story, giving us the opening with the failed assault on Gallifrey, and the conclusion with the loss of Seratrix from the vortex. Otherwise, they only appear in the Doctor’s flashbacks. They will have a greater role in Parts Two and Three.

References to other stories are a motley collection here; being the Time War, there will be many references to past Dalek stories, and occasional references to other incidents. The elephant in the room is the Time Destructor; this was first used on Kembel in The Daleks’ Master Plan, the First Doctor serial that saw the entrance and the death of Sara Kingdom; the destructor also featured in the novel Natural Regression. The Doctor refers to the events of Genesis of the Daleks, and states that he believes it is what sparked the war, which was a common fan theory prior to this story; this is another item he uses to blame himself for the war and call himself a monster. Dalek time ships first appeared in The Chase; stealth ships appeared in the War Doctor novel Engines of War. He states that it is hard to tell the difference between Time Lords and Daleks sometimes; this harks back to the doomed Cass in The Night of the Doctor, who said the same thing to the Eighth Doctor. He repeats often that he is not to be called the Doctor, and in fact grows quite angry with those who use the name (there’s a great sound effect for his voice every time he yells about it, reminiscent of Gandalf looming over Frodo with the One Ring); this is in line with his statements in The Day of the Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor’s statements in The Name of the Doctor. Rejoice, in typical companion fashion, comments on the TARDIS being bigger on the inside; this has appeared in many episodes, most recently The Husbands of River Song, where it was the Twelfth Doctor who made the remark. Overall, the War Doctor is taken with the question of whether he is a good man; he will still be wrestling with this as the Twelfth Doctor, as late as Death in Heaven.

I am very pleased with the new theme music for the War Doctor. It’s still the traditional Doctor Who theme, of course, but set to a militaristic march tempo; as soon as you hear it, you know this is not your father’s Doctor. It’s very fitting for the war, and for the War Doctor as well; he is not a nice man anymore. He has his good moments, but he is a much harder man than in any past incarnation; only Six comes close, and I remember reflecting that this is the man that Six may have grown into, had he lived long enough. I’ll leave the question of whether he is a good man for another time; but he is a practical and pragmatic man, and he is perhaps at his most efficient and cunning, even while he keeps his personal demons at bay. The Sisterhood of Karn knew their business when they created the Elixir that brought him into being; he is definitely the right man for the job.

Some low points: I was very thrown off by the incident I mentioned above, where he passes out in the satellite control room. It’s very unclear whether he sleeps for a hundred days here, or whether Rejoice is referring to time already past. [Edit: As per some Discord discussion last week, it seems the consensus is the latter, which is good–but it’s not phrased well in the audio.] It jarred me out of immersion for a bit while I tried to piece it together. As well, there’s a scene where it appears that he’s assaulting Rejoice; the audio without video makes it hard to tell. Even as the War Doctor, I think that that is out of character for him. He may think he’s a monster, but personal cruelty is not in his bag of tricks, I think.

All in all, it’s a decent first outing for the War Doctor. When I first prepared this review, I hadn’t yet read the novel, Engines of War, which was released prior to this story; so my only point of reference for his character was The Day of the Doctor. He’s very weary in that story; here, he has not yet reached that place of giving up hope, but you can see how he is beginning to move in that direction. It’s sad, but inevitable.

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Next time: Only the Monstrous, Part Two: The Thousand Worlds! 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.  Please note, this story is only available as part of the noted box set.

The War Doctor, Volume One: Only the Monstrous

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Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Human Resources

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Human Resources, parts one and two, episode six and season finale of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, season one! (Alright, technically it’s episodes seven and eight, as Blood of the Daleks and Human Resources consist of two parts each, but who’s counting?) Let’s get started!

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

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Picking up right where we left off in No More Lies, Lucie Miller wakes up at a table in an office building. She is met by a woman whom she feels she recognizes; but her memory is not serving her. Audiences will recognize her as the Headhunter, who captured Lucie at the end of the preceding story. Lucie does not, however; and she is escorted to her desk for her first day on the job at Hulbert Logistics, the job for which she applied at the beginning of this season. She is paired with another recent hire, Karen, who applied at the same time as Lucie, but was hired earlier. Everything seems normal at this data entry position; but Lucie can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong.

The Doctor is furiously trying to get the TARDIS going so he can rescue Lucie; but he finds that the Time Lords have fitted it with isomorphic controls…and keyed them to Lucie. He can’t go anywhere without her. He is interrupted by a Time Lord named Straxus, who informs him that the Time Lords are sending him to recover Lucie—but because they feel they can’t trust him, they are withholding the TARDIS. Instead, Straxus gives him a time ring, which transports him out. In return, he promises repairs for the TARDIS and removal of the isomorphic controls, and also promises that the Time Lords will make other arrangements for Lucie.

Lucie finds that she can’t leave the building; in fact, no one can, not even by breaking out. She returns to her desk, only to find that she’s been seconded to another, higher-ranked staff member. She reports to him, and finds that it is the Doctor, using his John Smith alias; as her memory returns, he fills her in on the situation, and says wryly that while wandering around, he met another staff member and quite inadvertently found himself employed with an office. He, too, has seen that escape is impossible. Meanwhile, he’s been summoned to a planning meeting, so he sends Lucie back to her desk. Behind the scenes, the company’s owner, the eponymous Todd Hulbert, is meeting with a current client about the terms of service.

The Doctor attends the meeting, and determines that the company, while seeming to be a standard office, is actually engaging in hi-tech warfare, complete with heavy weaponry. He makes further contact with the office supervisor, working his way toward the heart of the situation. Meanwhile, Lucie and Karen continue working, with Karen letting Lucie use her computer password to speed things along; and Lucie begins to get an occasional, strange sensation of multiplicity about herself. She meets up with the Doctor again briefly, then returns, only to find Karen in the process of being fired for a trivial mistake. She joins the argument, and gets herself fired as well; and the two are ejected from the building. They find themselves on an alien world, and discover that the office is actually an enormous war robot, which is coordinating with others like itself on a massive battlefield. She calls the Doctor, and sends him a photo of the robot for proof; she tells him not to come after her, as he won’t be able to get back in. They then seek cover.

The Doctor meets his supervisor, Jerry, again, and asks to have Lucie replaced as she was just fired. This nets him directions to Human Resources, on the ground floor (“to make sure they’ve crossed all the i’s and dotted all the t’s”). He finds the area locked up, and breaks in, but is caught by the supervisor. They find a dimensional corridor inside, which transports the Doctor elsewhere, to another building(Jerry remains behind, returning to his own office). Inside, he finds himself at Hulbert’s office. Hulbert explains that he acquired the business a year ago (it having been established by an alien whom Hulbert eventually deposed), and found that the best way to crew his battle robots was to brainwash ordinary office workers into doing the work—hence, Lucie, who was acquired in exactly that manner. He uses the dimensional corridors to bring them here or to other robots from Earth. He had sent the Headhunter to recover Lucie when she disappeared during transport, believing she had been poached by a rival; he wouldn’t care, except that examination of her might reveal his techniques. He recognizes the Doctor as extraterrestrial, and tries to recruit him as a client; the Doctor plays along, positing an invasion of Gallifrey, of which Hulbert has never heard. Hulbert ends the meeting due to an impending meeting for other potential clients—overlooking the world on which the robots are currently fighting—and invites the Doctor along.

Outside, Karen and Lucie are picked up by a man named Malcolm in a small ship; Karen recognizes him as her former boss, who was fired before Jerry was promoted. He tells them about the brainwashing, and that no one ever leaves the robots. He lays the blame at Hulbert’s feet. Lucie learns that the weapons used by Malcolm and other refugees were taken from the other side in the war, who are losing.

The Doctor and Hulbert arrive at the viewing platform for the meeting, and the Doctor learns that the now-devastated world is the planet Lonsis. He listens to the presentation briefly, then suddenly reveals that he has decided he doesn’t like Hulbert’s operation…and has taken down the defenses, allowing the other side to invade.

The Headhunter goes in pursuit of Lucie, to protect her investment. She is almost immediately captured by Malcolm.

Hulbert angrily confronts the Doctor, and the Doctor derides his operation. However, both are interrupted by the sound of marching…and the Doctor recognizes the invading adversaries: The Cybermen. He has made an awful mistake.hr-2

In Part Two, the Cybermen capture Hulbert and the Doctor, and take the Time Ring from the Doctor. The Doctor determines they are an early version of his old enemy; they have no time travel of their own, and remember the destruction of Mondas at the hands of the Doctor, but have never heard of Telos, their still-future second homeworld. They accept that he is the Doctor, but do not consider him a threat; they put him to work undoing his own sabotage. Meanwhile, they negotiate briefly with Hulbert, and then decide they don’t need him; however, as the Doctor has damaged the dimensional tunnel aboard Hulbert’s platform, they let him live so as to summon a robot which they can take over and use.

The Headhunter tells Lucie why she has been hunting her; Lucie is disappointed to learn it is not because of anything special about her, but simply to protect Hulbert’s secrets. However, Lucie decides to use the Headhunter and her ship to get back inside the robot from which she came. Meanwhile, Hulbert points out the potential clients he was meeting as the Shinx, from Shinus, a system that neighbors Lonsis; they had been planning to hire him to defend against the Cybermen should the Cybermen successfully establish themselves on Lonsis. The Cybermen promptly execute the Shinx, and Hulbert summons the nearest robot—coincidentally, the one Lucie is busy infiltrating.

On Earth, Straxus and his staff complete repairs on the TARDIS, and Straxus awaits the Doctor’s return, which is already late. The Doctor contacts Lucie and updates her on the situation, which strengthen’s Lucie’s resolve to recapture the office. He is caught in the act, but he offers the Cybermen his TARDIS—a bluff, of course—in exchange for sparing his life.

Aboard the robot, Lucie and her group overpower Jerry and lock him up, and Malcolm infiltrates the control systems. He prepares the robot for battle, but is contacted by Hulbert; Lucie informs him that the Headhunter has defected, and Malcolm ends the call. Lucie finds a strange device under the desk, and experiences another moment of multiplicity. The robot joins combat with Hulbert’s platform, and successfully overcomes it. However, Cybermen reinforcements move in to attack the robot. Meanwhile, Lucie’s group takes advantage of the platform’s vulnerability to get aboard. They rescue the Doctor and escape back to the robot; the Doctor quickly recovers the Time Ring en route. Lucie shows him the device she found, and he identifies it as a quantum crystallizer, a Time Lord device that cherry-picks favorable timelines and brings them into existence, thus determining certain outcomes. It is what has made the company so successful against the Cybermen. He takes it and Lucie via time ring back to the TARDIS for answers. Meanwhile, the Cybermen invade the robot and work their way toward the command office, killing many of the crew.

The Doctor confronts Straxus with the crystallizer. He explains that the High Council is not involved; rather it is the CIA, or Celestial Intervention Agency, which the Doctor characterizes as interventionist like him, but in a self-serving way. He admits that Lucie is also a CIA project, as she was predicted to become a dictator in the future, shaping Earth’s future in a terrible way; the CIA has been working to prevent this, and also to destroy the Cybermen via Hulbert Logistics. The two projects met here. However, Lucie is in danger of temporal instability if she is too close to the crystallizer. Therefore, the witness-protection story he had been given is not true.

As the isomorphic controls have been removed, the Doctor takes the TARDIS—with Straxus still aboard—back to the robot. Lucie snatches the Crystallizer and runs out, planning to seize control of the office; at the moment she is furious not only with the Time Lords, but with the Doctor. She meets the Headhunter, who sees the crystallizer and offers to help Lucie take revenge on the Time Lords with it.

The Doctor and Straxus find Malcolm and Karen, and make their way to the control office. Karen then experiences the same multiplicity as Lucie, and the Doctor and Straxus sense it…and the Doctor realizes that Lucie is not the potential dictator, but Karen is. As they interviewed on the same day, the Time Lords scooped up the wrong person. Straxus takes Karen back toward the TARDIS for safety, but are separated on the way. Meanwhile, the Doctor and the others intercept Lucie and the Headhunter.

The Cybermen kill Hulbert, his usefulness having ended.

As the Cybermen converge on the control office, the Doctor takes the crystallizer back. He contacts the Cybermen and warns them to surrender. Of course they do not; and as they continue fighting, the Doctor activates the crystallizer. The nearest Cybermen fall dead of systems failure. He states that it is programmed not to let the robot win, but to make the Cybermen lose. He expands its range, and all the Cybermen on the planet fall dead, their ships exploding.

The Headhunter demands the device, and the Doctor gives it to her, but tells her it has burned itself out. Furious, she leaves, and he lets her go. Straxus confronts the Doctor over the CIA’s ruined plans, but he doesn’t care. He organizes Jerry and Straxus to get the remaining humans home.

Karen awakens in the Headhunter’s pod. The Headhunter takes her on as an assistant.

The Doctor and Lucie return to the TARDIS and reconcile their differences. He offers to take her home, but she chooses to stay.

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After a few less exciting entries, I was pleased with this story as season finale. It’s action-packed and fast paced, and would be at home in any series of the televised new series. It brackets the season quite well, in that we begin with a Dalek two-parter and end with a Cybermen two-parter; I have read that all the Eighth Doctor Adventures seasons end similarly, with an appearance by one of the Doctor’s arch-enemies. The Cybermen are great adversaries, even though they occasionally risk becoming one-dimensional; but while their goals may be one-dimensional, their plans for accomplishing them are not. It’s a rare thing, but in this story we get the Cybermen on the defensive; they’ve already acquired Lonsis, and make it clear that they chose it after the destruction of Mondas because it was uninhabited and strategically unimportant (and therefore, a great place to replenish their numbers). They have placed tombs here, which will happen later and more famously on Telos as well. The cover art is misleading; it shows a much later variant of the Cybermen. As a result of the early placement in the Cybermen’s timeline, they are aware of the Doctor, but they don’t take him as the great threat he will later be. As this story is set in 2006—it appears to be in the same time period as No More Lies—it has only been twenty years since the destruction of Mondas, seen in The Tenth Planet.

The Headhunter arc is resolved here, and I have specifically avoided researching to see if she appears again later. Personally, I hope so; while the Headhunter herself seems like just another petty villain, there is potential in the possibly-aborted timeline of Karen, who may yet become a dictator. I can’t help thinking that her new apprenticeship may be time’s way of correcting itself and setting her back on track. (Note to Big Finish: If you haven’t gone that route already, get on with it!) There’s a bit of a joke with the Headhunter’s title; while she has certainly been portrayed as a headhunter in the sense of a bounty hunter, she’s also a headhunter in the corporate sense, an officer who acquires employees for a company, usually by poaching them from another company, but in this case by ostensibly counteracting such poaching. It’s subtle, but clever.

Other supporting characters are a bit dull. Hulbert is one-dimensional—he’s an old mercenary, with only financial interests at heart—but he plays it consistently, making it clear that he’ll sell out or double-cross anyone. Malcolm is allegedly just a refugee, but plays more like the type of freedom fighter that we have seen many times in many stories. Jerry is a bit of a parody of corporate middle-managers; it’s been suggested that he was a deliberate parody of (or perhaps tribute to) David Brent from the BBC version of The Office. Straxus is not bad as a Time Lord, given that he’s from the CIA, which is portrayed as a particularly oily and untrustworthy organization (full disclosure: although I’ve heard of the CIA often, this is the first time I’ve seen them portrayed in any performance media, so I am still unfamiliar with them to some degree).

This story has plenty of references, including a few meta-references. The TARDIS is not in a state of temporal grace anymore, which we saw onscreen in The Parting of the Ways and possibly as far back as The Invasion of Time; it doesn’t seem to have been included in the repairs made here. Isomorphic controls have been featured in many episodes. Lucie refers back to several stories from this season; she references her aunt Pat and the Tomorrow twins from Horror of Glam Rock, the Daleks from Blood of the Daleks, Phobos from the story of that name, and the Zimmermans from No More Lies. The Doctor and the Cybermen refer to Mondas and its destruction in The Tenth Planet, and the Doctor mentions Telos (Tomb of the Cybermen), though the Cybermen don’t recognize it. The Shinx originated with the Main Range audio The Condemned. Time Rings were first seen in Genesis of the Daleks, and also figure significantly into the novel Who Killed Kennedy? The Doctor’s and Lucie’s modified cell phones are probably a nod to the “universal roaming” phone provided to Rose in Series One. There’s an early meta-reference to Red Nose Day, a charity effort with which Doctor Who has a history; and in Part Two, the Doctor remarks to Lucie, “I’ll tell you later”, a reference to an oft-repeated line in the comic parody The Curse of Fatal Death.

Overall, it’s a great way to wrap up a season. I had had some concern that the Eighth Doctor Adventures would continue to trend downward, but this story restores my confidence in the range. I look forward to continuing it…

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…But not immediately! Next time: we’ll continue the Main Range with Winter for the Adept; and we’ll take a break from the Eighth Doctor Adventures to pursue something new: the Fiftieth Anniversary special series, Destiny of the Doctor! See you there.

All audios in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; links to this story are below.  This and many other audios may be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Human Resources, Part One

Human Resources, Part Two

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