Novel Review: Scratchman

We’re back, with another Doctor Who novel review! Stepping out of the New Adventures series for a moment, today we’re looking at a more recent, and more unique, novel: 2019’s Scratchman, written by Tom Baker himself!

…Well, not exactly. Baker is certainly credited as the author; and along with Ian Marter, he wrote the original movie treatment from which the novel is adapted. (In some sources, Marter gets a credit on the novel as well.) But the actual writing was handled by James Goss, and he deserves credit as well, so I’m acknowledging him here.

Cover of the print novel

However, Baker did do the reading of the novel; and it’s for that reason that this time, I chose the Audible audiobook version. I’ll go ahead and say, you should too; if you want to experience this novel, do yourself a favor and pick up the audio. Tom is clearly having the time of his life, and it shows; you won’t be disappointed.

This novel features the Fourth Doctor, along with companions Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan (placing it sometime early in the Fourth Doctor’s era—we’ll try to get a better placement later). Further, it’s told in the first person perspective, by the Doctor himself. And so, let’s get started!

Novel print back cover

SPOILERS AHEAD! A brief summary begins here, and contains spoilers. If you want to avoid them, skip down to the line divider, below. However, be aware that some minor spoilers may happen in the later remarks as well.

The Fourth Doctor is on trial. The Time Lords have summoned him to Gallifrey to account for his recent actions; and this time, they aren’t playing around. He is accused of interfering in universal affairs—a rather broad charge, and that’s the point, isn’t it? The penalty, should they find him guilty, is to be wiped from existence—but the Doctor isn’t going to roll over and die. Instead, he’s come to teach the Time Lords a lesson in fear—and to do that, he’s going to tell them the story of his recent encounter with the Devil himself: Scratchman.

The Doctor, Sarah, and Harry arrive on an island somewhere off the coast of Scotland (or is it? It’s suggested, but not confirmed), in a recent but unconfirmed year. It seems like a nice place for a break; but as usual, something is very wrong here. It doesn’t take long for the Doctor and his friends to find that strange living scarecrows have infested the island, and are slowly killing the villagers. Or…are they? It soon becomes apparent that they aren’t killing the locals; they’re transforming them into more scarecrows!

The travelers gather the remaining locals into the village church. The Doctor deduces that a virus is the vector for this strange plague, and that the scarecrows spread the virus by touch; but if he can keep them from getting infected, and can destroy the scarecrows, he can stop it. To the latter end, he constructs a machine that will create an evolutionarily targeted breed of moths, which will devour the scarecrows’ outer shells, killing them. He sends Harry out for parts, and sends Sarah to the TARDIS to retrieve an Artron power pack for the device. Harry is infected while out, though he doesn’t realize it. Sarah accidentally allows a scarecrow into the TARDIS; she confronts and defeats it, but not before it infects her—and what’s more, it infects the TARDIS itself. Along the way, the Doctor himself is infected, though he is able to resist it longer.

A battle in the churchyard leads to the deaths of the remaining locals; although the moths do the job, it’s too late, and the scarecrows capture the Doctor and his friends. They take them to the beach, where they are confronted by the power behind the scarecrows: The Cybermen. However, the Doctor figures out that the Cybermen aren’t the problem here; they, too, are tools. Some other power has gifted them with the scarecrow virus, promising them an easy army; that power now has what it truly wants: The Doctor. It appears on the beach in the form of a humanoid at a distance, as the Cybermen leave the scene and walk into the ocean. The figure tells the Doctor to come to him, and turns Harry and Sarah into scarecrows.

The Doctor lands the TARDIS in a strange volcanic world; as soon as he exits, the TARDIS is consumed by vines. He meets a taxi driver named Charon, who takes him on a drive to meet the ruler of this land. The Doctor has already forgotten much, including his own identity and mission; Charon says this is normal here in the land of the dead, and that it will come back to him eventually. Along the way they suffer an attack from the Cyberleader from the island, who apparently is now also dead. Charon drops him near a castle floating in the sky, which the Doctor enters. He suffers another attack on his identity, but refuses to believe he is dead; the memory of Sarah and Harry returns to him and strengthens him. He finds them in a strange ballroom, dancing among a crowd; but this all serves to try to convince him he is dead, and therefore no longer the Doctor. He sees Harry and Sarah leave with a young man, purportedly his next self; and he begins to lose heart. However he meets a young blonde woman—his Thirteenth self, though he doesn’t know it—who distracts and frees him from the influence of the place.

The Doctor then meets the local ruler, Scratchman, who is ostensibly the Devil himself—which makes this place Hell. Scratchman offers to return the Doctor to his own universe and place, if the Doctor will open the way for Scratch to follow—after all, he claims he has made this a better realm, and claims that, much like the Doctor, he would like to do the same in the Doctor’s universe. The Doctor refuses, leaving a battle between them as the only alternative. He recovers Harry and Sarah, but they find themselves battling Scratchman on a huge game board, which is defined by Harry’s memories and thoughts. The Doctor forces a stalemate before Scratchman tries to change the rules. He loses Harry; but Harry makes his way inside the castle, and sabotages the engines that keep it afloat. The Doctor nearly dies in the crash, but is rescued by the Cyberleader; it tells him that its own form of Hell is being forced to do good deeds, and feel the emotions thereof. It states it will not do so again, and then disappears.

The Doctor now knows Scratch’s secret: He feeds on dreams and feelings and memories. The engines were powered by the consumption of the dreams of those trapped in this world; but that source of power is running out. Scratch begins to consume the world itself in an effort to destroy the Doctor; he creates replicas of many creatures the Doctor has faced and defeated, and sends them after the Doctor. He also creates scarecrow replicas of the Doctor’s previous three incarnations, to judge and dishearten the Doctor. The Doctor and his friends meet up with the islanders who died as scarecrows; the islanders know they’re doomed, but they choose to go down fighting, and stand against the army of monsters, allowing the Doctor to make it back to Scratch’s office in the ruins. Scratch reveals that what he really wants—the thing he believes will give him true power over the Doctor—is to know what the Doctor is afraid of. The Doctor tells him (although we, the readers, are not told). Whatever it is, Scratch is overwhelmed by it, and falls into fear himself. He flees from the remains of the monster army, before falling into a chasm to escape them. Quiet falls over the remains of Hell, and the three travelers—the only survivors—find the TARDIS, now restored, and return to their own universe.

Back at the trial, the Time Lords are unhappy with the outcome; but as the Doctor did save the universe again, and sealed the rift to Scratchman’s universe, they have no grounds to convict him. The Doctor concludes his lesson to them by telling them that what Scratchman wanted was not truly the Doctor’s fear, but rather, the Time Lords’ fear. He tells them they are afraid of change; and tells them to take action when the universe is under threat. He then walks out of the courtroom.

Later, while taking a much-belated break, the Doctor talks with Sarah about her experiences in the infected TARDIS, and about the future, and the knowledge of it. He meets briefly with the Thirteenth Doctor again, and talks about their own mutual future. He ends, much later, with a reading of a note from Sarah Jane, who is no longer with him.


I’m going to change up my usual order of things, and list continuity references now, rather than at the end. There’s a method to my madness, so bear with me:

Continuity references: The Doctor has previously been tried (The War Games), and will be again, several times. He mentions the Master’s doomsday weapon (Colony in Space). He mentions several recent encounters: professors (Robot), giant wasps (The Ark in Space), “militant potatoes” i.e. Sontarans (The Sontaran Experiment), mad scientists (Genesis of the Daleks), shapeshifters i.e. Zygons (Terror of the Zygons), and androids (The Android Invasion). Sarah Jane has her own mentions: her aunt Lavinia (The Time Warrior, later in A Girl’s Best Friend), a space station (The Ark in Space), a minefield (Genesis of the Daleks), a mummy (Pyramids of Mars), an android duplicate (The Android Invasion), a stuffed owl (The Hand of Fear), a garden centre (A Girl’s Best Friend–Sarah is seeing possible futures at this point), an exploding school (School Reunion) and a young boy (Luke, Invasion of the Bane et al.). She believes, erroneously, that the Jigsaw Room floor is a tile trap (Death to the DaleksThe Pyramids of Mars). The Doctor mentions the Loch Ness Monster (Terror of the Zygons) and thinks about the Daemons (The Daemons). Scratchman pulls several monsters from the Doctor’s memories: Giant spiders (Planet of the Spiders), Macra (The Macra Terror), Mechonoids (described but not named; The Chase), a giant robot (Robot), giant maggots (The Green Death), brains in jars (The Keys of Marinus), and a metal city of Daleks (described but not named; The Daleks).


Audiobook cover

How many times has the Doctor met the devil?

It’s a good question! And admittedly, one that’s difficult to pin down. A statement that repeatedly comes up in Doctor Who is that Earth’s history of belief in the devil has been greatly influenced by outsiders. The Daemons from the planet Daemos are once source (The Daemons), as were the Demoniacs (Mean Streets). The Greek immortal Hades called himself Satan (Deadly Reunion), as did Sutekh (Pyramids of Mars). The Beast claimed to be Satan, and certainly looked the part (The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit). (This information taken from the TARDIS wiki, not assembled by me.)

And here we meet another candidate, Scratchman. This being comes from outside our universe, from a related realm that poses itself as the Land of the Dead. It’s actually unclear whether Scratchman originated there, or whether he came from somewhere else; the Doctor makes it clear that Scratchman’s rule had a definite beginning, and Scratch himself doesn’t deny it.

Scratch’s claim to being the devil is pretty good, as compared to some of the others. The dead really do appear to go to his realm (or at least some of them; this isn’t the only afterlife we’ve ever seen); while there, the Doctor meets the dead villagers that he previously encountered in life, and both he and they seem convinced that the villagers are both real and dead. Even more convincingly to me, the Doctor never denies that Scratch is exactly what he says he is; in fact the Doctor supports that claim, treats him as though he is in fact the Devil, and even later warns the Time Lords that they should fear Scratchman. When the Time Lords mock him for this, he doubles down. Is Scratch truly the devil? It’s up to the reader in the end; but the Doctor himself seems to think so, at least to the limit that he acknowledges that the devil could be real at all.

The Doctor purports to give the Time Lords a lesson in fear; indeed, all the interludes set during the trial are themed around various aspects of fear. The overall lesson seems to be that fear is a tool, and if you can’t overcome it, someone will use it. That lesson cuts in two directions; the Doctor urges the Time Lords to overcome their own fear of change and inactivity so that it can’t be used against them, and so that they don’t fail in their responsibilities to the universe; but at the same time, it’s clear that he overcomes his own fear. He does this not by denying it, but by embracing it and using it to motivate himself. We’re never told exactly what the Doctor fears, but it must be something great indeed, if in the end it drives even his enemy to extremity. (The novel doesn’t take the easy way out here; it would be so simple to say that “The Doctor fears losing his friends” or something sentimental like that, but the book explicitly avoids that option—rather, he makes it clear that he loves his friends, and that love is a potent force for good.)


Now, a bit of theorizing. Let’s think about when this story takes place. Based on the list of continuity references above, it’s clear that this story happens near the end of Harry’s travels with the Doctor. In fact, his last televised adventure, The Android Invasion, has already taken place; but the next story, The Brain of Morbius, does not feature Harry, and gets no mention here, implying this story takes place immediately between those two adventures. (There are mentions of later episodes, but they are explicitly images of possible futures, not memories of things already past.) I think that the Doctor’s “lesson” to the Time Lords here is specifically a reaction to the events of Genesis of the Daleks. The Doctor has always considered the Time Lords to be stagnant, standoffish, and set in their ways, qualities he abhors. I think that when they began to interfere by proxy, during his third life, he grew frustrated with their efforts to use him to do things they themselves considered beneath them; and I think this came to a head in Genesis, where he finally refused to comply. Thus he comes here and lectures them about their habit of ignoring their responsibility to the universe, because even in sending him out to do their dirty work, they’ve been refusing to get involved themselves—using him as an “out”, as it were.

But: remember that there’s also a popular theory that the events of Genesis constituted the opening blow of the Time War. My addition: What if the reason the Time Lords began to fight the war directly, is because of the Doctor’s speech here? What if he prompted them to take direct action—and in typical Time Lord fashion, they screwed it up, and started a war they couldn’t win? Essentially, the Doctor called them cowards and dared them to do it. A lesson in fear, indeed! Or at least it’s frightening to think of in hindsight.


The highlight of the story is the perspective. The first person perspective is a unique addition to this story; and with the Fourth Doctor as a narrator, it becomes an interesting look into his thoughts. He’s conceited, there’s no doubt about that; but when coupled with his obvious love for life and sense of humor, it comes across as charming rather than arrogant. This is the Doctor in his youth; I’ve long suggested that given Time Lord lifespans, the fourth incarnation is the Doctor’s adolescent period, where he’s rebellious and wild, but also still has much to learn. This story seems to bear that out. He’s not the jaded and cunning Doctor of future incarnations; he’s sarcastic but not cynical, and even in some ways naïve. It’s refreshing, but it’s not the view of the Doctor that we would get through companion eyes.

Overall: What a fun story! It’s not the most serious adventure out there, though neither is it absurd, despite the premise; it’s just serious enough. And that’s a good place for a Fourth Doctor adventure to be. It’s also highly sentimental; one gets the impression it’s Tom Baker’s memorial to Ian Marter and Elizabeth Sladen, both of whom are referenced fondly, both in and out of character. If you have the opportunity, check it out, and enjoy the trip.


Next time: Well, this isn’t part of a series, and standalone novels are rare among my reviews, so…we’ll see? I may cover the Nest Cottage trilogy; for anyone interested, you can obtain the entire set for one price on Audible, or if you have an Audible membership, for one credit. Regardless, whatever we cover, see you there!

Doctor Who: Scratchman may be purchased in print form from Amazon and other booksellers, and in audio form from Audible and other audio distributors.

The TARDIS wiki’s treatment of the novel may be found here.

Seasons of War Mini-Review 44: Rise/Risen: A Coda

Concluding 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 is over.

Part One: The man who was of late a warrior–the Warrior—stands at the console. Memories burn and fade in his mind. The taste of tea; an art gallery. He remembers, but he doesn’t. Three men and a woman—no, two; one of them both familiar and not. Three men? Two? Or only one? Old memories flood back, as well—a long-ago moment of theft of a TARDIS. Words at random, Earth words. A rose. A moment—no, a Moment.

Words spill from his tongue, at first in…French? Is he French this time? No, that makes no sense, though it would be quite a change indeed. His accent. Something northern this time.

The biggest change of all: He is young. Very young. After so many years of old age, it’s only right. The change in body, in sensations, is too much. It always is. What’s with these new ears?

Suddenly it all roars back to him. The barn. The Moment. The end of it all. It’s too much to bear, and he collapses as, roaring in, here comes everything.

Part Two: The TARDIS hangs and spins in the time vortex, battered by the winds of time. It tumbles toward a nearby world, on a collision course. Its pilot lies unconscious on the floor, defending himself in the only way possible from the onslaught of horrible memories, the terrible past (now Time Locked away, but the memories stay). As he comes to, he examines it all in his mind: the War, the Daleks, the Time Lords, Gallifrey, the madness…so many names he has worn in his rush to be anything but himself: the Warrior, the Postman, the Foreman, the Man in the Bandolier, the Prisoner…

He remembers it all: the death of his Eighth body on Karn, the end of the Doctor. The Chronosmiths and the Eight Minute War. The return of Rassilon, the lives and deaths of Jenny Shirt and Cinder, the Fall of Arcadia… and under (over?) it all, a fading memory of a man in a bow tie, and one in sand shoes…

He hesitates a moment only, before admitting it to himself. HE pressed the button. He used the Moment, and killed every last one of them—Daleks and Time Lords alike.

He is awake now. He moves to the console, pressing buttons, setting things right, stabilizing his ship.

Part Three: The newborn Doctor wanders the corridors of his ancient TARDIS, probing at the remaining hole in his memories. He cannot remember how he got here. From the Moment to the TARDIS…shouldn’t he have burned with Gallifrey? It was certainly what he intended. He had no wish to survive.

This TARDIS…now it is home for certain. It is the only home he has left. As he strides through its passages, it too shakes off the War. It rebuilds itself, changes, transforms…and as it does, the Doctor does the same. The Warrior falls away, and the Doctor blossoms—“like a rose”, he hears in his mind. He remembers them all—and he remembers ending them.

“Fantastic,” he calls out, new vowels bitter and ironic echo and reverberate. “I wiped them out, watched them burn then popped-off in my TARDIS and had a cuppa!” And with that, he laughs, perhaps for the first time in a long time.

Still, he can’t fill the hole in his memory. Words float back, indicating something might be different from what he recalls, but they are gone again at once. But… the War, the Last Great Time War, is over. “No more,” he says. “I am the Doctor again…”

He visits the wardrobe for the first time in years. He drops his old jacket to the floor, drops the bandolier with it. His sonic screwdriver rolls across the floor to fetch up against a crate. Atop that crate lies a simple, black leather jacket. That will work…keep things simple. He changes quickly, discarding the Warrior’s clothes, not paying much attention to what he chooses, and putting the new jacket over it all. The sonic, he leaves lying on the floor—he’ll soon make a new one, with fewer memories attached.

As he finishes, the Cloister Bell tolls. It may signal danger, but it gives order to his world. He is needed…somewhere. He runs back through his regenerating TARDIS, toward the console room.

He finds that this room, too, is changing—and what worse time? It burns and melts, its roundels falling and disappearing, coral spearing up through its floor to strike the ceiling. “Not now! Just give me this moment!”

The screen is active. It focuses in on Earth, London, 2005. There is a signal there. Nestene? Did the Consciousness survive? Its world burned, too…he’d been unable to help. Perhaps now he could set that right. The Nestene will be wanting the Earth. Perhaps today he can save two races.

His ship is burning. He himself is newly transformed. And yet, he knows two things for sure:

“The Earth’s in danger,” he says. “And I’m the Doctor.”

As he throws the dematerialisation switch, and swoops toward a planet he never expected to see again, he can’t help but be excited. The Doctor has returned. “Fantastic,” he says. “Absolutely fantastic!”

After the Horde of Travesties, beyond the Nightmare Childe,

When a rose caught in a Moment,

Bloomed ferocious genocide.

The Warrior fades and weakens, loosens heavy bandolier,

Forgets his day as the doctor,

Now the Doctor, again, is near.

Rise Risen 1

There are only a few things I regret about The Day of the Doctor. One is that the past-Doctor actors didn’t get to make an appearance, with the exception of Tom Baker as the Curator (The Five-ish Doctors Reboot notwithstanding). The others are tied together: I regret that Christopher Eccleston declined to appear (although, if he had, we might not have had the War Doctor at all, and might not be having this conversation!), and I regret that the War Doctor’s regeneration scene was cut short out of deference to Eccleston. That last is particularly notable; it’s no surprise that numerous fans have recut the video to show a more complete transformation into the Ninth Doctor. This story also sets out to address that gap, by giving us the newly-regenerated Ninth Doctor from the moment immediately after regeneration (as he still has the taste of the tea he drank in the under-gallery in his mouth) to the moment when he heads for Earth to initiate the events of Rose.

Some fans may take issue with the idea that Rose occurs so soon after regeneration. Certainly it’s been debated often—did the Ninth Doctor have adventures prior to meeting Rose Tyler? I think that that was certainly the implication, as there’s the famous scene where he looks in Jackie Tyler’s mirror as though he had never seen his own face before. It is a bit undermined by a scene later in Series One in which the Doctor was seen alone at several historic events, including the JFK assassination and the eruption of Krakatoa. Stories in other media have taken the stance that he spent some time without companions before meeting Rose; but the subject is still open for debate. I’ve always been a fan of the idea that Rose is truly his first adventure in this body, and that the historical scenes are later in his personal timeline (as it’s simple enough to get separated from Rose long enough for a photo to be snapped even if she is present for the adventure). With this story, it’s great to see the connection between The Day of the Doctor and Rose, even if the Doctor himself can’t see it (due to his memory being altered by the out-of-sync timelines among his selves.)

The thing that stands out to me most in this final story is the idea that it’s not over. Oh, the Time War is over, there’s no question of that; but the Doctor’s story is not over. It would have been very easy to look at the Time War and its resolution as the end-all of events in the Doctor’s life—after all, how do you top something like that? Simply put: you don’t try to top it, you just move on. The Doctor does exactly that here: he begins to alternately lose and push away his memories, and he looks toward the future. New body, new clothes, new sonic screwdriver (soon anyway), new TARDIS interior…and it is most definitely time for a change! He’ll have the lingering guilt to deal with, of course, but we know it will work out for him in the end. In the meantime, he gets to go and be fantastic.

We’ve reached the end of the anthology, and for a time, we can let the War Doctor rest. There’s one item left to cover; we’ll be looking at the Seasons of War short film next, and then we’ll put this series on hold until December, when The Horde of Travesties and A History of the Time War picks up the War Doctor’s story again. I hope everyone has enjoyed this series.

Some time ago, someone asked what materials are new to the final edition of the anthology. As per the editor, the stories titled Life During Wartime, Reflections, and today’s entry, Rise/Risen: A Coda, are all new. Additionally, all incidental art by Simon Brett, the opening endorsement by Steven Moffat (“Seasons Of War. At last: the John Hurt era continues. Those sixteen years off the air are fixed now!” – Steven Moffat, January 2017. Located on page 11 of the final edition.), and the illustrations by Raine Stryminski (pages 6 and 8, for anyone who has the final edition) of the young and old War Doctors, are all new.

Rise/Risen: A Coda was written by Declan May, with art by Simon A. Brett. Next time: the Seasons of War short film, written and directed by Andy Robinson, with additional information from The Director’s Tale, also by Andy Robinson.

risen proof

If you would like to get started with Seasons of War, there is a limited-time opportunity open right now to obtain the ebook version of the anthology, for a few more days only I checked just prior to posting, and saw that the ebook orders closed yesterday. My apologies. However there is currently an auction open for two signed copies (first and second editions in one prize package) along with some other special items. Also, pre-orders have been re-opened for The Horde of Travesties and A History of the Time War for one more day only! I will include links to both at the end of this post. As these are unofficial, charity projects, sales are limited, and no volumes are guaranteed to be released again. I am not affiliated with either project; I’m simply promoting them because I found the first one to be excellent, and expect the others to continue as such.

To pre-order The Horde of Travesties and A History of the Time War, please visit this link for information and payment options. This opportunity has been re-opened ONLY until Saturday, 07/15/17.

Another volume in the series, War Crimes: Dispatches and Testimonies from the Dark Side of the Time War, is also available for pre-order at this link.

Other volumes (Corsair, Gallifrey, and Regenerations) have been announced, and pre-order dates will be forthcoming.

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Seasons of War Mini-Review 43: Prologue – The Horde of Travesties

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

Here at the end, we return to the beginning. The young War Doctor, strong and energetic and ready for the fight, watches an evacuation. Three hundred and fifty thousand refugees, fleeing on retrofitted WarpSpinner life pods into the stars from an unnamed world. The Daleks may get them; there’s a chance of that. Still, many—most, even—will escape. A job as well done as can be in these troubled times. The Doctor puts it behind him, and returns to his TARDIS.

He muses over his lifetime—this incarnation’s lifetime. Already he isn’t sure how long it has been since his regeneration—his transformation–on Karn, though it has likely only been months. It was a necessary change, even aside from his then-impending death. His incarnation, though strong and capable and resourceful in so many ways, was too weak, too Doctorish, for this war. So, the cruelty of Karn-augmented regeneration burned away the Doctor, with his promise and his healing, and left a Warrior in his place. The Doctor had a thousand years or so, and it was a good life; but something new is needed now.

He’d gone to Earth first. Not only for training in the arts of war, but to shield this planet for which he still felt a sentimental protectiveness. Knowing he could not do it alone, he sought out an ancient Gallifreyan sect from before the days of Rassilon, the Chronosmiths: thirteen men and women in possession of powerful abilities for manipulation of time. Divesting themselves of the future of Gallifrey, they had long ago hidden themselves away here, on Earth, and now dwelt in a crumbling hotel in Barcelona. The once-Doctor barters with them, though he has little to offer. He asks them to hide the Earth, with all its history, future, and timelines, from the combatants of the War. The Chronosmiths decline to choose sides, but in the end, they agree to his request, knowing that they too need a safe place to hide—or a safer place, at least. Still, their assistance comes at a price. Their arts are fueled by temporal energy—minutes, hours, days skimmed from lives. A project of this magnitude will take not days, but years, centuries even. No one has more time to give up than a Time Lord—and none have more life in their time than the Doctor.

He consents. He screams in pain as years are stripped from him—not forward, from his remaining life, but backward, from life already lived. His adventures, his stories, are shuffled. Some are stripped away. Some are retold. His age rolls backwards—a thousand years, nine hundred and thirty-two, seven hundred and fifty, four hundred. It is enough. The Earth is as safe as they can make it. The defense is not perfect—some will stumble in, and there will still be incursions. From the greater path of the War, Earth is shielded and hidden. As the Warrior reflects, it’ll do for now.

Later, a TARDIS tears through space and time. Its Victorian parlor of a console room has been tossed about and torn up. Its young-yet-old pilot sits and thinks as he touches the bandolier across his chest. Later, much later—hundreds of years later, from his perspective—the now-aged Warrior stands in a transformed console room, with roundels on its walls and cables dangling from its ceiling, and he sets course for home. On his lips are two words that have become soberly dear to him only recently, with the death of a friend: “No more.”

His TARDIS slams to a halt, still floating in the time vortex. He is thrown to the floor. As he scrambles to right himself, a voice calls his name: ”Doctor.” He knows this voice, from somewhere long ago. He answers; denies that that is his name. The voice insists that that is the only name by which it has known this Time Lord.

The doors open, and despite the vortex outside, thirteen figures walk in and surround the War Doctor. They are deformed and twisted, predatory and bloody, scarred and wounded; and yet he knows them. They are—or were–the Chronosmiths.

They make room for another figure. A man the Doctor recognizes, wearing a pair of spectacles and a machinery-bedecked uniform (the Doctor may not know the term “steampunk”, but it would be appropriate here). And the Doctor knows him.

“The War Lord!” says the Doctor, staggering back against his console. “But that’s impossible…”

Impossible or not, the War Lord is here. He has been watching for a long time—and now he has come to claim the Doctor. He will have the Doctor’s military mind at his side; for he has done a horrendous thing.

He has unleashed the Horde of Travesties.

The Time War was nearly over, but now, it has only just begun.

The Horde of Travesties sonic

Forty-three entries ago, I noted that this anthology deliberately put something backward: its epilogue came first. Now, here at the end, we at last get the prologue. It’s no mistake, and it’s no misplacement, because this prologue begins at the end. Engines of War, with the death of Cinder, has passed, and the War Doctor has declared “No More”. He flies for Gallifrey to collect the Moment and end the War. As he does, we take a look back at the beginning, when the newly-regenerated War Doctor sought out the thirteen Chronosmiths on Earth and employed their help to protect Earth from the War. Centuries later, as he prepares for the end, that seed reaches terrible fruition, as the War Lord reveals that he has taken the Chronosmiths and transformed them, unleashing the Horde of Travesties.

The obvious cliffhanger at the end of this story was intended to lead directly into Volume 2 of the anthology series. That volume has since been cancelled, but the cliffhanger has not been abandoned; the recently announced novel, The Horde of Travesties and History of the Time War, will pick up where this story leaves off. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, pre-orders for that volume have closed, although I posted regarding them at the time; however, when the novel is released in December 2017, I’ll cover it here. (It’s worth mentioning that other volumes, not necessarily sequential, are also being planned; I hope to cover those as well, and to post their availability as their pre-order dates arrive.) We have covered the entire span of the War Doctor’s life, from Karn to the Moment; therefore I think it’s safe to assume—and in keeping with this story’s status as “prologue”—that we’ll be dipping back into the Time War in the upcoming novel, rather than cramming in a new story at the end.

I am intrigued by the introduction of the War Lord here, and I think he’s a fitting addition to this story. The character only has one in-universe appearance to date, in The War Games, where he was sentenced to dissolution at the end. Presumably, he escaped that fate. (He also has a few alternate-universe appearances, in The Light at the End and Exile.) Let’s not confuse him with his ally the War Chief, who is a Time Lord; I point this out because this appearance wouldn’t be so unusual if we were dealing with the War Chief, but with the War Lord acting (presumably) unaided, it becomes impressive indeed. As well, the Chronosmiths have been interesting characters in all their appearances; we don’t know much about them yet, and I am excited to learn more in the upcoming novel. Presumably they are the core—if not the entirety—of the aforementioned Horde of Travesties, but we have much still to discover. Their names prior to transformation are given as follows: Wigs, Rags, Hynchcliffe, Sheepskin, Plunder, the Baronessa, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, Spinach, Thruber, Myopapa, and the Cigarette Crow. Given that “Hynchcliffe” is a clear reference to former Doctor Whoproducer Philip Hinchcliffe, I imagine there are other references and/or jokes hidden here, but I don’t have enough information to puzzle them out (so feel free to pick at it in the comments!).

In part, this story seems to be designed to address some of the controversy about the Doctor’s age. The popular consensus is that the Doctor doesn’t know how old he is, and makes it up whenever it comes up, as his stated ages conflict with each other quite often. Also, allegedly at some point he started counting from the beginning again. This story tries to reconcile those issues by peeling away centuries—six of them, more or less—from his age, giving him a new age of 400 when he visits the Chronosmiths after Karn. While this does make statements by the revived series Doctors make more sense, it’s not the most satisfying answer, and can be taken or left as one wishes. My thought is that removing those years would remove his actions during those years—but would NOT remove the problems he dealt with, and thus would increase the chaos in the universe substantially. Still, the plot device of using stolen bits of time to power certain endeavours is ingenious (though credit goes to Faction Paradox for doing it first). At any rate, I can accept this matter of the Doctor’s age for now, because—as I’ve pointed out before—the time lock on Gallifrey seems to seal away most of the effects of the war and its altered timelines, meaning that in the post-war universe, things could mostly be restored to the way they were before, with some notable exceptions. He could get those years back, in other words.

Overall: a quick, but excellent story, with the promise of good things to come. I’m looking forward to continuing it in the upcoming novel! In the meantime, we have, for all practical purposes, reached the end of the War Doctor’s story. We have one more story to cover, which is the last of three stories that are new to the final edition of the anthology, and which will pick up immediately after The Day of the Doctor. We’ll then conclude with a look at the short film associated with the anthology; and then we’ll put this project on hiatus until December, when the next volume launches.

Prologue – The Horde of Travesties was written by Declan May. Next time: Rise/Risen: A Coda, also by Declan May. See you there!

War Lord Seasons of War

The War Lord.  Artist unknown.

 

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 42: The Moments In Between

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 Moments In Between takes place during the events of Engines of War, at an unspecified point between chapter seventeen—where Cinder is seen to acquire one of former companion Sam Jones’ Greenpeace t-shirts, which she wears in this story—and chapter nineteen, where the Doctor and Cinder retrieve Borusa, the possibility engine, who is not present on the TARDIS in this story.

The War Doctor’s latest companion, Cinder, finds him in the TARDIS console room. He and his machine seem equally tired, and she can’t blame them; how long have they been fighting this war, anyway? Even her little part has dragged on for years. She knows how it can bleed people dry. She interrupts his concentration and asks if he has bad news (and of course he does; when is it ever good news anymore?). He’s diverted for a moment, however, when she comments offhandedly that it’s been a very long time since she heard good news, or saw something beautiful. That, he decides, is one tragedy too many for today; and so he leads her further into the TARDIS.

With a shrug, Cinder did as he said. “Where are we going?”

“To see something beautiful,” he said.

The TARDIS itself is beautiful enough, in its own way. The Doctor leads her through galleries of paintings, past flowing fountaiins, and even through an ancient wood and a field of flowers. How there can be nature inside the TARDIS, she doesn’t know, but she lets it pass for now. And yet, none of this is his destination. After an hour of walking, he leads her to a bright corridor, paved in irregular flagstones, lit with lanterns strung from cables like an alley in some lost-but-exotic city. On each side of the corridor are a variety of doors. She is surprised to learn that everything she has seen is still not what he meant when he said “something beautiful”; his goal, it seems, is behind these doors. He points her to the nearest one and tells her to look inside.

She pulls the weathered oak door—a church door, she thinks—open.

Inside, she is stunned to find an ancient landscape. Giant ferns wave in the breeze under the light of twin stars. Another planet—altogether too close—can be seen in the sky, bracketed by pink clouds. Strange creatures inhabit the puddles at her feet. This, the Doctor explains, is the Sense Sphere, the home of the Sensorites, at the moment of its birth—the moment that race came into existence. It’s complicated, though he tries to explain; the planet is both here and not. This is no holograph, but the moment itself, snatched from reality in the moment before its destruction. Why? He names any number of reasons: Preservation, freedom, a second chance, a personal rebellion. And there is more.

Door after door, the Doctor walks Cinder through moment upon moment that he has taken from the fabric of the universe. Cinder sees a Menoptra take wing. She sees the Nestene Consciousness awaken for the first time. She sees a Sarkovian Death March. The list goes on, and she knows she could go on forever. Finally she sits down and asks the Doctor the question that springs to mind: “You did all of this?”

The answer is unexpected. No, he tells her, he doesn’t do this. He simply found it here one day. It’s the TARDIS who does it; the TARDIS takes it upon herself, in the moments in between all the fighting and running, to capture these moments before they are lost forever. It’s not his reasons that matter, but hers; it’s her rebellion, because she hates the war, hates even the concept of it. When he mentioned a second chance, it was what she, the TARDIS, was hoping for. These moments may be the seeds that restore the universe one day. And Cinder agrees; it is beautiful.

There’s more, though. The Doctor points her attention to a small door, one that looks suspiciously like a homestead door on Cinder’s own world of Moldox. She could stay here; the TARDIS would allow it, as it seems to like her. She could avoid the fighting. She deserves it, or so the Doctor tells her. And tempting it is, she admits to herself.

But, no. Not while the Daleks remain. Not while people continue to die. She can’t be simply part of the TARDIS’s collection while there is a universe burning, a universe to save. She may not have to go on; but neither does the Doctor, and yet he does it anyway. So will she. After all, the new door, the Moldox door, will keep; she’ll be back soon enough. Won’t she?

I’ve previously reviewed the novel Engines of War, which serves as a parent work to this story; you can read my review here. I’ve often wondered if this story was a deleted scene from that novel, or if it was written separately. It’s a little difficult to fit it into the published version of the novel’s text; one can mostly point out where it should fit, as I did at the beginning of this entry, but the text isn’t written with any gap that would accommodate it. Regardless, it’s a good and sentimental story; and with that novel’s placement almost immediately (as far as we can tell) before The Day of the Doctor, this is very likely the Doctor’s last chance to, well, be the Doctor before he uses the Moment. Spoilers for anyone who has not read the novel: it’s Cinder’s death shortly after this scene that prompts his famous declaration of “No More”, leading him to use the Moment and end the War. That death also turns the ending of this story, and Cinder’s promise to return, into a melancholy bit of foreshadowing, which would be lost on anyone who has not read the novel first.

Although her time with the Doctor is brief (and, unlike other short-term companions, bracketed in such a way that it would be very difficult or even impossible to give her more adventures), Cinder is a companion of whom I’ve grown fond. She is very much a NuWho companion; she is far from the screaming damsel that so many classic series companions were. If you’ll allow me a bit of creative retconning, one might even argue that she is the template for NuWho companions; the powerful impact she has on the Doctor in this one short adventure, which takes place very shortly before his regeneration, sets the tone for the kind of female companions he seeks out for centuries to come. Still, her story as a whole is tragic: born and raised on a Dalek-occupied world, lost her family and friends at a young age, pulled into the resistance, spent her life killing Daleks, and then died after a single trip with the Doctor. It’s a level of grimness that is appropriate for a Time War companion; but it only highlights the need for a story like this one. Put simply, Cinder deserves to catch a break for once.

As much as this is Cinder’s story, it’s also the TARDIS’s. NuWho, of course, established that the TARDIS is a character as much as the Doctor; classic Doctors treated it like it was alive, but that was just an affectation, where the revived series canonized the ship’s sentience. (I am aware that other media took that route much earlier; I’m thinking specifically of the television series here.) Further, we’ve seen in stories like The Name of the Doctor that the TARDIS has strong opinions and the power to express them. I like the fact that the TARDIS is essentially a pacifist; she believes in standing up for what is right, but she hates the fighting. (We had an earlier hint of this in Fall, when the Doctor told the Brigadier that he was forced to deactivate the telepathic circuits in order to circumvent the TARDIS’s disapproval of his destinations.) I very much like the idea that, in a time of war, she rebels by saving peace and beauty. While I don’t see any indication that she must actually use these “seeds”—it appears that the sealing away of the War is sufficient to restore the timelines—it’s a beautiful idea. In the process, we get references to several stories from long ago, including The Sensorites, The Web Planet, and several stories involving the Nestene Consciousness.

We have one more story to cover within the Time War itself; but chronologically, we’ve reached the end of the War, as the next story takes place much earlier in the War Doctor’s timeline. It’s been a long ride, but a good one, and soon the War Doctor can rest. I recommend reading Engines of War for the sake of context, and then wrapping up the War Doctor era with The Day of the Doctor. Thanks for following along!

The Moments In Between was written by George Mann, with art by Paul Hanley; at the artist’s request, I am unable to include the art here, but below I have included a related piece which can be found on his DeviantArt page. Next time: Prologue – The Horde of Travesties, by Declan May. See you there!

Forged in fire

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 41: The Beach

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

Tom is a university student in Australia. This week, along with a few fellow students, he has accompanied his professor, one Professor Skellern, to a private retreat at a secluded beach, a retreat that the Professor makes every year on the same dates, although no one has ever thought to ask him why. It’s all going well, until this morning, when Tom spots a strange man—and a strange blue box—on the mostly-private beach.

The man only seems more odd when Tom approaches him. He watches the ocean, and grows annoyed when interrupted, but only mildly so; at the suggestion that he has come to watch the whales in the Pacific, he spouts the most amazing nonsense about whales among the stars. Tom is sure he’s mad, until the name of Professor Skellern comes up; and suddenly the man reveals that he knows far more than anticipated about the professor. When Professor Skellern arrives at the beach, things become truly strange. Did Tom just see the professor’s eyes change? He wants to investigate further, but he finds himself unable to move, his feet tied up in some preternatural seaweed that paralyzes him in place. And as he watches, the professor points to the water—which begins to split like the Red Sea.

A coffin, or rather, a coffinlike structure, sits on the now-bare seafloor. Through its translucent surface can be seen a body. The professor and the strange man both decline to explain, but Tom has at least grasped that this isn’t really the professor; maybe it’s the newly-sprouted gills that gave it away, one can’t be sure. He witnesses as the two argue; it seems the strange man somehow gave the professor-creature an extra decade of life, but now the debt has come due. The stranger makes his explanation, and Tom realizes that it is for his, Tom’s, benefit as much as for the creature’s. He explains that there is a massive, nearly-eternal war out among the stars…and he is about to end it at last. He knows now how to do so, though there will be a price to pay. In the meantime, there are loose ends to tie up, and Professor Skellern is one of them.

The coffin opens, and Professor Skellern—the real Professor Skellern—climbs out. For him, it’s only been moments, though in the world, ten years have passed. This is what the strange old man—the Warrior—gave him, though the reason remains to be seen. As Tom watches, the professor-creature transforms into a wondrous, humanoid, fishlike being with rainbow scales.

The creature explains that his world was annihilated in the Time War, and quite by accident, he himself survived when the Warrior’s TARDIS materialized around his ship. The laws of time were broken in the process, and thus the Warrior was able to save him, but only temporarily. He struck a deal for more years for the creature, but at the end, when the Warrior is about to end the War, he must return him to the place and time from which he took him. Meanwhile, the professor—an old friend of the Warrior from the time when he called himself the Doctor—was dying of a disease with no cure. The solution, then, was to allow them to change places for a time. Now, both of them, it seems, will go to their deaths. The creature, though perhaps bitter about it, accepts his fate and enters the coffin, thanking Professor Skellern for the time and the opportunity. The waves return over it as it prepares for transport.

When the coffin vanishes, Tom is freed. He hurries to catch the Warrior at the blue police box. To his surprise, the Warrior gives him an envelope:

“When I’m gone,” said the old man, “give it to Professor Skellern with my…gratitude.” He smiled. “Once upon a time, in a different life, he thought me a savior, a strong man, someone who fought for the underdog. This war has changed me in more ways than one. My morals have become…scrambled, and are very shortly going to get worse. I want him to remember me as I once was.”

The box vanishes, carrying the stranger—and the coffin in the ocean—with it.

Tom gives the envelope to Professor Skellern. Inside he finds a photo of Skellern and a younger man—clearly the Eighth Doctor, though Tom would not know that—bearing an inscription: “This man is gone forever, please remember him and live his ideals.” Despite this, Skellern is quite sure the Doctor—having become something else entirely—has let him down.

And yet, as Tom sees, there is something else inside the envelope: a newspaper clipping. It bears news of a cure for a certain disease, a recently-approved cure…for the disease that is killing Skellern. This, it seems, is what the bargain was really about: one being, the last of his race, obtained ten more years of life…and another had his life restored to him.

As they leave the beach, Tom ponders these events. This man, this Warrior, this Doctor…Tom is glad he doesn’t know him as Skellern once did. And yet, he thinks, he will return here…in case one day the Warrior does the same.

It’s nearly over now, and the Doctor knows it as well. He has made his decision, and made such peace with it as can be had, though that’s little enough. All that remains is to tie up the loose ends, as he says here. We as an audience won’t get to see all of those ends—and there is room there for more stories, should anyone be so inclined—but we get this one, and that’s enough for now.

It’s a little difficult to place this story, other than to say it is near the end of the War. It’s especially hard to do so, given that the next story—and I’m spoiling things a bit by saying so—takes place in the middle of George Mann’s novel Engines of War. Still, my personal opinion is that this story should properly take place after that novel; it’s during the events of the novel that the War Doctor makes his famous “No More” declaration, which I take to be synonymous with his decision to use the Moment. We’ve seen before that he’s already been pointed toward the Omega Arsenal, though I am unsure if he’s actually aware of the Moment at this point. He makes that choice after the death of his companion Cinder, and then—like the Tenth Doctor after him—makes his rounds, tying up loose ends and saying goodbye. (I suspected at first that Professor Skellern might be a character pulled from a past adventure, but I could find no indication of it; it seems to be another of the many adventures that happened “off-screen”.)

Other than that, the story is fairly standard fare, though I don’t mean that as an insult. Rather, I simply mean that nothing revolutionary happens here—we learn nothing new about the War, or the War Doctor, given that we’ve known for a long time where he’s headed. Instead, this is simply a good, clever story, and one with a happy ending despite the pall that hangs over it from the impending Moment. Happy endings are in short supply these days, and we’ll have no more until it’s over. I like that ending, though; in just a moment’s time, it changes the Doctor from a calloused, tired old man to a last-minute, ingenious hero again. Doctor Who has always been fantastic for those endings, and this one is a nice, and even sentimental, touch.

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Beach was written by Gary Russell. Next time: The Moments in Between, by George Mann. 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 40: Doctor Death

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

After all this time, it’s come down to this: The War Doctor has gone mad.

Or at least, he wonders if he has. After all, it’s not often he finds himself sitting on top of his own Police Box, wondering how he’ll get out of this situation…with the box buried to its upper edges in mud. It would be nice if, for once, he could rescue himself.

He thinks back to the battle from which he recently escaped. He won—of course—with the settlement saved; but in the course of leaving, his TARDIS was struck by an explosion, and careened off onto another world. THIS world, with its mud. He’s tired, he admits; this war has worn him down, until he’s only a shadow of the optimistic, cheerful mastermind he once was. Adding insult to injury, as he leaves his TARDIS, he finds it sinking into the mud. He climbs atop it as the door slips beneath the surface, and surveys his desolate landing area.

Something approaches across the mud flat. It’s distant, a small black blob, but it is definitely coming toward him. He reaches for his Dalek-eyestalk telescope, but remembers he left it in the now-inaccessible TARDIS. He finds himself talking to himself about the approaching spectre. Is it a mirage? And does talking to himself mean he’s crazy now? At least the sinking has stopped, much help that may be. Wait! The figure…

…is Death.

Well, of course it is. It’s long overdue, isn’t it? Maybe seeing Death personified is the true first sign of madness, followed by mirages and—possibly—talking to oneself. Never mind that! Death approaches! Black robe, scythe—very traditional, this version of Death. The Doctor hails him, but receives, of course, no answer. Well, he must have better things to do. He certainly had them earlier that day.

In a flashback, the Doctor cradles the girl with the purple hair. She is dying. It was only a glancing shot that took her, but that is all that was required. He knows he shouldn’t have brought her, and he apologizes. In end, she tells him it’s not her fault, though he is sure it is. They saved the planet, and all those people, but here, he can’t save her. She knows, and she accepts it. In the moment before her death, she chides him gently; she’s only known him a year, and in that time the man she calls Mr. Foreman got so old, so fast. The fact that he has known her for hundreds of years is irrelevant now.

“Sleep on. Jenny Shirt,” he said to the purple haired girl he had known for several hundred years, holding her close. “For I have rocked many like you to sleep and yet, I cannot sleep myself. Not yet. Not ever. I shall not sleep.”

And Jenny Shirt died.

As Death—with a capital “D”—approaches, the Doctor hails him again. Above, this planet’s three suns are sinking, and the Doctor wants to know if they will outlast him. Will his end be soon? He may get away. He always does. Does that make him lucky? Would Death call him that? Or would Death call him anything at all? He doesn’t deserve a name, and doesn’t have the energy to explain it anymore. The War has taken that from him, too.

He remembers another time, a little eariler than Jenny’s death. He visited an ambassador in a high tower. He’s been sent to kill this man who stands between his people and the Daleks—this man who fools himself into thinking he has done what he must, while instead he has betrayed his people. The Doctor makes no move, no reply; he only watches. It is the one thing the ambassador cannot handle. His own guilt bubbles out of him in his words, until at last, overcome, he leaps from the window to the ground beneath.

Mission complete—and all the worse for it—the Doctor leaves the Ambassador’s quarters.

Death has drawn close over the last several hours. During those hours, the Doctor has had his own time of confession, for this silent, relentless march is the one thing he cannot endure. He explains himself, cajoles, confesses. Now, as the suns finally set, and Death becomes dim before him, he falls silent for a moment.

With the red eyes of Death facing him under the cowl, he explodes in fear, and frustration, and abject self-vindication. He shouts that he never claimed to be right; he only acted to help where he could. There is no right in this War, only doing what one can. That cold reality has stripped his sense of purpose, and without it…why does he fight? He is too exhausted to know. And yet, even he, the Doctor, can’t cheat death forever. He is ready for it…he wants to sleep without hearing screams.

Death raises its scythe, and the Doctor closes his eyes in anticipation. He only wishes that he had not let everyone down—friends, allies, the universe. He wishes he had not failed.

A mechanical voice cuts through his silence. “Protocol #72. Search and locate. Attempt acquisition of machine.” And with that, Death’s scythe falls…scooping the mud away from the TARDIS in an increasing blur.

Death, it seems, is not here today. The Doctor recognizes as much, and gets an unexpected reply. “Recognition approved. Unit 5 deployed. Approximately 22 minutes until pick-up. You have been saved.”

The Doctor wonders if that’s really true. That depends, I suppose, on your definition of salvation.

I would like to look at this story, appropriately titled Doctor Death, from the limited view of the Time War. Instead, I have to admit that it’s much more applicable to Doctor Who as a whole, and that’s the thing that springs to mind.

The problem with any television series (and I know that Doctor Who is far more than television these days, but bear with me) is that it begs for an ending. I’m not suggesting that it needs an ending now, and I’m not suggesting that all series get an ending, but simply that we want resolution sometime. If our favorite shows must end, then let them end well! We can all think of a series that let things dangle at the end, and it’s frustrating every time. Lost, The X-Files, Twin Peaks (though those latter two have enjoyed some success in revival—although The X-Filesrevival still left things hanging!)—those are older examples, but you get the idea. So, what does one do with a series like Doctor Who?

In the 1980s, we faced this very question. Cancellation happened, and it was all that could be done just to put a nice closing monologue over the final episode. Wrapping things up was never an option. We’re glad of that now, of course, because it allowed for the existence of, well, everything that’s happened since then, but it was awkward at the time. Now, we’ve faced a situation where the Doctor has reached the end of his regeneration cycle (something the writers who created the concept must surely never have expected to reach), and he was due to die—and we plucked him out of the jaws of death. Again, I’m glad, because Doctor Who is far from over. In fact, you could argue that a show about a time traveller can never properly be over, because you can always plug in new stories in the middle. It happens all the time.

Still, one day, Doctor Who’s star is going to fade again (and I don’t mean Peter Capaldi!). It may be thirty years down the road, but it will happen. What happens then? Do we leave the Doctor hanging forever? Or do we, at last, give him a proper, noble ending? In other words, do we let the Doctor die? That’s the only surefire way to actually make an end of this show, of course; we’re dealing with a show where death is usually just a formality. As long as there is regeneration, the show must go on! Even if not on television. No, it will take a final, declarative death to lay the Doctor’s story to rest.

The War Doctor’s weariness is by no means the same thing, coming as it does from the Time War; but in this one instance, he is in fact standing in for the audience. That’s a role that usually goes to the companion, but this story is current companion Jenny Shirt’s death story, and she’s hardly an adequate audience surrogate in that moment. In fact, her death is brief and hasty and not at all built up, so as to put a final note on the horror of the Time War—we’ve had several adventures with her, and yet all her hopefulness and cheerfulness and success is cut down in an instant, almost by chance. We’ll miss her, and honor her, but it’s the Doctor who fills the surrogate role here. And the Doctor is tired. He has multitudes of timelines, hundreds of battles, tragedy upon tragedy, all tucked into his memory and scarring his body and mind. He’s ready for the end. We, the audience, aren’t ready yet—but with hundreds if not thousands of stories and details and characters and plots and universes to track, one can see how we could be. If Doctor Who ever dies, it will be in part from its own mass. None of this is to say I disapprove; I love this massive shared universe and everything in it. It’s simply to say that when the end comes, it will be well-earned. (I don’t know if any of this is what the author intended, but to me it seems too much a theme to overlook.)

It’s worth noting that this is not actually the Doctor’s first encounter with Death, though he says it is. He encountered a similarly-robed personification of Death, and even danced with Death on the surface of the moon, in a very early New Adventures novel, Timewyrm: Revelation. In that story, Death was not a machine, but was another form of artificial construct, and was short-lived (an ironic statement if ever there was one).

John Hurt Tribute photo

Doctor Death was written by anthology publisher Barnaby Eaton-Jones of Chinbeard Books. Next time: The Beach by Gary Russell. 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 39: Time Enough for War

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

Time Enough for War is unique among all the entries in the Seasons of War anthology, in that it is the only story presented in comic-book or graphic-novel format. It’s not a story within the chronology of the anthology, as all others have been. Instead, it’s a somewhat surreal, metaphysical take on the War as a whole. Here, the Time Lords and the Daleks, each collectively, are portrayed as vast, supernatural titans of the metaverse—the universe and all its realities and dimensions and timelines—locked in an eternal war. That war expands until it becomes the final war, and then the only war, destroying realities and rewriting history and warping species and annihilating worlds and galaxies, until there is nothing left. We are walked through the history of the war, seeing some of its key events both upstream and downstream in time, until the end—the end of everything, when nothing remains. The titans are driven by primal urges: one to liberate and save, one to dominate and kill. And yet, there is nothing left to save, nothing left to kill.

Then, at long last, the two titans confer. Each knows the other cannot abide the one; each knows the war must continue. But, how? There can be no victory for either side. They are stalemated! And so, they concoct a plan: They will determine the outcome by proxy. They will, together, create an ultimate weapon. That weapon will weaponise time itself. It will have something of each titan about it—it will know how to kill, and how to heal. It will love and it will hate. It will be strong and intelligent. It will decide the outcome of the last great time war. And so, cooperating for the first and last time, they create their weapon…

…and they are stunned to see it weep.

For this weapon—this man, who once was a healer, but is now a warrior—does indeed weep, an outcome that neither of the titans foresaw. But why does he weep? Is it because he knows that reality—the entire metaverse—can only be saved by the destruction of two titans, two civilizations? Or is it because he knows that true destruction will never be possible? Perhaps even he does not know.

Proper credit is due to Simon A Brett’s artwork for this story, to which I cannot do justice in print—the greatest comparison I can make is to some of the early Adam Warlock comics, which I loved as a child (although they were long since in reprints, and the stories were far above my head at that time!). While I don’t have digital samples on hand—didn’t plan ahead far enough, unfortunately, due to a family emergency the last few days—I will say that the cover art for the anthology (seen above) is taken from one of the final panels of the story. (While at first glance that image appears to be the Eighth Doctor—a reasonable assumption for a number of reasons—the next panel confirms that it is the War Doctor wearing the Eighth Doctor’s coat, which he recovered from his own future self as far back as our fifteenth story, Loop. We won’t revisit that moment in any future stories, but very soon we must necessarily come to the point where the older War Doctor will pass that coat to his younger self in exchange for the leather coat we see in The Day of the Doctor.) As I can’t properly present the artwork here, I highly recommend that anyone interested in this anthology take the upcoming opportunity to obtain the ebook version, which will temporarily go on sale next week. (While I try not to make a habit of plugging for sales in a review—especially when the work being sold isn’t mine—in this case it’s appropriate, I think, and doubly so because the purchase window will most likely be short.)

This story makes brief mention of a number of events in the Time War. It implies that the true first strike of the war was an attempt by the Daleks to infiltrate the Time Lord High Council, and that the events of Genesis of the Daleks were a response to this. It credits the Sontarans with sabotaging peace talks and escalating the War. It mentions the Trees of Cheem and their near-destruction (or actual destruction, which would then have been rewritten at some point so as to allow for the events of The End of the World) and the corruptions of the Nestene Consciousness through the devastation of their worlds (which, in turn, is credited as the cause of the Nestene affinity for plastic). It mentions the destruction of the Animus (The Web Planet), and tells us that the Eternals at last fled the metaverse, fearing the loss of all coherent reality (perhaps explaining why they’ve never been seen post-War). It speaks of entire species being de-evolved and then evolved again into gestalt super-weapons. Here is a glimpse of the Time War as it was always promised: a war so vast, so ubiquitous with regard to timelines and their corruption, that it defies true comprehension. The comic captures the use of both time and space—and everything in them—as weapons. We only get a glancing view of the scale of the destruction, but it’s overwhelming even when glimpsed from the corner of the eye.

I thought for a long time about the implication that the Doctor is a creation of both the Daleks and the Time Lords. Of course, this story is, as I mentioned, a metaphysical take on the situation—it’s not literal, and not meant to be taken that way. Nevertheless, there’s a very real sense in which the War Doctor is a creation of both, although he is certainly all Time Lord with regard to his species. His experiences in and leading up to this incarnation have been so shaped by the Daleks that his very personality is a reaction to them—and in becoming the Warrior necessary to fight them, he had to take on some of their traits: hate, the desire to kill, the drive for victory. When merged with his own natural talents, this becomes a fearsome combination indeed, as we well know.

We are very near the end of the book now; there are only five stories left, and one of those occurs after the end of the War. (As well, at the end we’ll cover the related short film, though I haven’t counted it here.) It’s perhaps best to think of this story as a moment to pause and take a breath—a chance to lift your head and get a look around at the entire course of where we’ve been—before racing on to the end. We’ve come a long way, and we’re nearly there! If you’ve followed this far, thank you. Only a little further now!

Time Enough for War was written by Jim Mortimore and illustrated by Simon A Brett. Next time: We’ll revisit our old friend Jenny Shirt for the last time in Doctor Death, by Barnaby Eaton-Jones. 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 37: The Nightmare Child

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 last fleet of the Cybermen hangs in space, its former owners long gone. The Silver Fleet, Ferrousity, the last remnant of the purged timelines that once held lost Mondas, now lies in the hands of the Time Lords. With bastardized TARDIS technology they have turned these millions of warships into temporal dreadnoughts…and now, they launch them toward the Chimera Zone. That hellish portion of space and time, the Chimera Zone, is warped and twisted by the Daleks and the War, a persistent bubble of chaos so great that even whole worlds lose meaning, serving as bullets in the battle. And at its center sits the Nightmare Child.

It is a ship, or a station, but it is so much more. It is alive, and it should not be. It is the spawn of Reapers who erased themselves from existence, now grown and transformed and made grotesque and ghastly, frightening in its power. It is beyond time. It exists, always, with a star as its engine, and both defeat and victory orbiting it (but never at the same time). It is in all times and all timelines. It is a thing of death and destruction, the power to end time and rip it apart and bring the Time Lords to their knees. It is the last, best, most powerful weapon of the Daleks—and it must be taken, or destroyed. Billions of years in the past, most of Ferrousity fights for it; millennia in the future, remnants of the fleet seek victory. And all the while, at the heart of the Nightmare Child—in its very jaws—sits Davros.

Davros has been snatched from the ruins of timelines by the Kaled Sectoriut and brought here, though incompletely. He sits trapped in a spineglass chamber that prevents the Time Lords—via the Black Order of Rassilon and their vermin Augment Flice—from detecting him. Had they done so, perhaps the battle, or even the war, might have gone differently. Perhaps it could have been averted. Yet, here he sits, at the heart of the Nightmare Child, except when he does not. Until the Doctor—the Old Man in the Bandolier, as the long-vanished Corsair used to call him—discovers his presence.

He may be the Warrior, but on this day, it’s the Doctor that leads the way.

“If Davros is within the Nightmare Child, then we ought to rescue him.”

It is not a happy message, or a popular one. Davros is mistrusted and even hated by all, even his own progeny. Confusion ripples through the Time Lord forces. Anger. Even rebellion. And yet, the battle commences. All the while, Davros sits in his prison, appearing and vanishing. He has been here, and is, and will be again, over and over, here in the very jaws of the Nightmare Child.

After a battle that defies description, the Doctor reaches his chamber. Davros himself is embattled, and the Doctor abandons his entire history of fighting this once-man, and reaches out to save him.

Davros vanishes.

He returns, and vanishes again. And again. And again.

Though the Doctor would save him, there is, simply, nothing to be done.

Perhaps if he were still the Doctor, he would find something.

For now, he simply returns to the battle.

Far back in The Stolen Earth, and again in The End of Time, I can remember being shocked at the mention of horrors of the Time War. Nothing on the list seemed more bizarre, outlandish, and frightening than the monstrosity called the Nightmare Child.

The problem with the Time War as a concept is that it promises horrors that we are not equipped to describe. Though the language is less gothic, it’s very much in the vein of Lovecraft’s “eldritch abominations”: beings that are so far outside human comprehension that they may drive the viewer mad. This is what the Time War promises; it’s wrapped up in the very names of things—“Nightmare Child”, “Horde of Travesties”, “Could-Have-Been King”, “Meanwhiles and Never-Weres”. These are the things of nightmares. It’s this phenomenon that has caused so many writers for the television to avoid digging into the Time War (and here I’m just referring to dialog; I realize the series only sparingly shows us the War). It’s well-nigh impossible to do it justice. Even this anthology, as good as it has been, has shied away from tackling the leviathans of the War, instead preferring to give us a glancing view with stories that take place on the periphery. I am in no way complaining about this, because I realize the magnitude of the task of showing us the “set pieces” of the War.

With that said, if this story’s description of the Nightmare Child is not what you expected, understand that it’s still a phenomenal attempt to tackle an impossible task. I personally liked this interpretation: it’s a structure, but with living elements that defy time itself. Throughout this anthology, the Reapers—one of the revived series’ most intriguing creations, first seen cleaning up the timeline in Father’s Day–have flitted around the edges, getting an occasional reference. Here, they take center stage, as it is a corrupted Reaper that creates the organic core of the Nightmare Child. What better way, given the Reapers’ unique properties, to create a ship (or station, possibly) that treats time like a toy? (Only slightly related: The Reapers have always reminded me of another literary monster, Stephen King’s Langoliers, in their consumption of time and space for the purpose of correcting errors. It’s a concept with endless potential for horror in any story.)

The story does appear at first glance to contradict some earlier mentions of Davros and the Nightmare Child. Davros appears to be a prisoner here, and there is no mention of his command ship, which was previously mentioned to have “flown into the jaws of the Nightmare Child” during the first year of the War. I don’t find this to be a problem; in other appearances, Davros has been both prisoner and commander at the same time. If the Doctor, prior to this story (and perhaps even before his regeneration from the Eighth Doctor), witnessed Davros’s ship flying into the Nightmare Child, that would explain how he alone of all the Time Lords knows that Davros is there, as this story establishes. Previous stories also establish that it was during that first-year incident that Davros was believed dead (having been secretly rescued by Dalek Caan). However, let’s not forget that this is a Time War, and therefore this story—though late in the game from the Doctor’s perspective—could still take place in that first year, and indeed in all years. His confrontation with Davros at the end is certainly before Caan’s rescue attempt, but we don’t know by how much. Between appearances here, he seems to age years, implying that wherever he goes, he is there for a long time—which explains why, when he flicks into being here, he seems surprised that he is in the jaws of the Nightmare Child. (This will be a factor in the next story, in which we’ll see—improbably enough—where he goes on at least one disappearance.)

The Silver Fleet, Ferrousity, has now been mentioned several times; and here we learn its final fate. With the Cybermen wiped from existence in this war-bound timeline, the fleet itself is claimed by the Time Lords, and each ship is turned into a sort of pseudo-TARDIS. It’s not surprising, but it’s yet another interesting thread binding this anthology together.

Overall: It’s not the way I imagined the Nightmare Child, but it’s just as good, or better. Any way you cut it, that thing is terrifying. Further, this story sets us up for a fun story about Davros, which we’ll cover tomorrow.

John Hurt Tribute photo

While I have used this rather excellent illustration with many posts, it is this story with which it properly belongs in the anthology.

 

The Nightmare Child was written by Declan May and illustrated by Paul Griffin (see above). Next time: For something different, we have Meals on Wheels by Paul Magrs. 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 36: The Time Lord Who Came to Tea

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 war-torn Gallifrey, near the city of Arcadia, a thirteen-year-old girl named Sophienna keeps a diary. In it she talks of many things: of her friends, who have one by one disappeared to different fates; of the crumbling sky trench (affectionately called “Bob”) that hangs above her town, Jericho, in decrepit danger; of the walled city of Arcadia, and her desire to relocate there, and her crippled father’s resistance to the idea; of the gang warfare that dominates her little town in the shadow of the War; and of her family’s trade. They are Dalek meat scavengers, a profession as horrible as it sounds. Sophienna goes into the battlefields nearby and scavenges for dead Daleks, pulling the mutant corpses from their armor and taking them home, where her father renders them down into stinking cuts of meat and foul energy drinks. Their clientele are the refugees in the ruins nearby, people who come and—sometimes grudgingly—give the last treasures of their old lives in exchange for another day’s terrible sustenance. Sophienna hates this life, but knows no other way in the face of the War—but she rejects a terrible idea, propagated by the cult-cum-terrorist group of the Puritanians, that those who eat Dalek meat become Dalek themselves in some way. It’s difficult for her to ignore the words, though, as her boyfriend, Mazal, comes from a Puritanian family; and already they keep their relationship secret.

She talks of the deadly (and illegal) Time Ball games that the older children play. Sophienna believes that the children do this to remind themselves of what victory—a distant concept—is like. She is too young, but she plays her own game, tossing stones at jars of Dalek eyes, the one part of the mutant that few people will eat. In dwelling on this, she thinks of her prize possession—a particular stone that she will not throw, one given to her now-deceased mother years ago by a man, a hero, who saved her mother’s life. She follows his adventures, as best she can, with news clippings in a scrapbook.

Suddenly there is a knock at the door—a secret knock, signifying something unusual. The face that greets her at the door…is that of her hero. He sweeps past her simply enough, with an airy “I believe I am expected for tea.” He sets the table and provides the meal, foods and teas that have not been seen in this house for a very long time. The family and the hero catch up; and the man is shaken by the news of the death of the woman he once saved, who has died in childbirth with Sophienna’s younger brother. At this he grows sad; but he grows angry at word of the stripping of Jericho’s resources and defenses, of the transfer of doctors, nurses, and warriors to Arcadia. Later he lets Sophienna show him her room, with a star hanging from the ceiling in memory of her mother. Sophienna tells him that she once named a real star for her mother—but for seven years, the sky trenches have necessarily obscured the view of the stars.

The Warrior takes Sophienna by the hand and leads her from the house. Traveling through an underground network of tunnels, and before she realizes it, in the darkness they have entered the Warrior’s TARDIS, and are traveling. When the doors open, they are standing atop the sky trench. Sophienna chokes up at seeing her mother’s star, unimpeded, for the first time in years; and as she writes this down, she finds it hard to articulate. The Warrior pleads with her to share her thoughts and experiences, to write them down and make them live on; he assures her that to him, she is the true war hero. She understands…but that is not enough. She grabs his hand and makes him look down on the ravaged landscape, and she tells him:

“You come and go, fixing things and leaving them as if they can stay mended. But even after the victory the horrors of war multiply. Mum didn’t die in war – but she died because of it. Ask yourself: what did you save her for? Every day I face a struggle to survive, to keep Father alive. The Time Lords, like distant gods, curse the kids, but what chance have we got? My school days finished when the last of our teachers fled to Arcadia – lessons in ancient Gallifreyan replaced by demonstrations of how to skin a cat. You’ve taken me on an incredible journey and for that I am truly grateful, but if you want to understand you need to walk in my shoes, follow my lead. Let me take you on the trip of your lifetime. Come and face the hostile terrain without using your TARDIS as a shortcut or hideout.”

And follow he does. Later she will reflect that it is his journey with her across the battlefields that eases the memory of her journey with him to the sky trench. She is due to pick up medical supplies for her father, and so the TARDIS lands near the medical center—and then they make the long trek on foot, under warships en route to Arcadia, under the rattled sky trenches, back to Jericho. Along the way, they forage for trade goods in the wreckage. Only in Jericho do they enter the underground network, where they encounter a band of Puritanians; but Sophienna is able to bribe her way past them, impressing her hero. She is surprised to see the Warrior is out of shape in his old age, but he presses on—and she reflects that to him, this must be like unfinished business, a debt owed to her mother.

As they approach the house, a Dalek rises from the weeds of the neighbor’s garden.

It is barely alive, but Sophienna—who has been thinking for years of how to face this—is ready. She manages to evade its now-feeble defenses, and pry off its gunstick, and beat the mutant inside to death. In the process, years of restrained anger pours out. It seems this journey has not only been cathartic for the Warrior.

He kneels beside her and whispers a lullaby, one she knows from her childhood—one that, she sees, her mother must have learned from this man. Then he carries her inside, and is off again, on his way. Before he goes, he reassures her that she is, indeed, a hero in his eyes—and her story, of what makes her strong, must live on.

We’ve been looking at the Time War for a long time now, and it’s sad to say, but stories like this are common now—stories of loss, of misery, of jaded minds and eyes, of the futility of life in the face of war. What is not common is the perspective we see here. This story is told in first person by Sophienna, where most stories have given us the Doctor’s view. It’s eye-opening, both for him and for us. One shouldn’t be too hard on the Doctor; every war needs its leaders, its generals, its heroes, and the Doctor is all of that. He’s here to think big. He is bound to look at a war this size with a macro view of fighting it. And yet, he is still, in some way, the Doctor—even Sophienna reflects on this near the end—and is bound to lift up individuals where he can. He may desperately want to pretend that he doesn’t care, but the truth comes out, even if occasionally it requires a reminder.

Sophienna’s journey at the end, in the company of the War Doctor, is almost downplayed, despite being the climax of the story. It feels very ethereal, hazy even, less than real, which is odd given that her purpose is to show the Doctor real life. I took this as a trick of perspective. We’re still seeing things through Sophienna’s eyes here; and she doesn’t need the lesson. For her this is commonplace. She navigates the wasteland with skill and ease. It’s the Doctor who is taking it in and learning from it, but we don’t get his perspective here. That’s okay, though; let’s not forget that this is part of a larger narrative, and we will see the outcome of his experiences, the change in his way of thinking, in the future.

I should mention the sky trenches briefly. We never get a good description or depiction of them on television, or in licensed materials (as far as I know, at any rate; I should give the caveat that there are War Doctor audio dramas to which I have not yet listened). We still don’t get a full description here, but there are some things we can infer. The trenches are actual structures as opposed to force fields, and can contain soldiers and equipment (hence “trenches”, as World War I and II trenches). They hover over strategic areas to intercept incoming Daleks, and are substantial enough to block the view of the sky depending on their altitude; at the same time, they are light enough and fragile enough to crumble and break down, and they appear to lack measures to prevent people from falling off. By this point in the War, some of the trenches are abandoned, though we know from The Last Day that Arcadia’s trenches, as well as those of the Capitol, are still active.

Many times now, as we near the end of the War, we’ve gone back and forth with regard to the Doctor’s attitude. It may seem as though we’re not actually making any progress, though I’ve repeatedly said he’s taking step after step toward the Moment. The reason for this is simple: He’s wrestling with himself. He simply has not resolved the conflict within himself between Warrior and Doctor; and until he does, he’ll continue to go back and forth. Nevertheless, every swing of the pendulum brings him closer to the final swing, the one that will end the War. And perhaps, along the way, he’ll continue to do good where he can, as with a girl named Sophienna.

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Time Lord Who Came To Tea was written by Paul Driscoll. Next time: We’ll take a brief look at one of the more enigmatic references from the television series in Declan May’s The Nightmare Child! 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 35: The Thief of All Ways

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

A woman named Claudia runs from a pursuer. She has been running from him for most of her adult life—long enough that she isn’t even sure how long. He keeps coming, and he never changes, never ages. This time, she’s been running for three days, and she’s desperate for rest, but there won’t be any. In a cave, a religious site at the top of a mountain, she finds herself cornered—and at last, the man once called the Doctor captures her.

In his TARDIS, he sends her to clean up. She isn’t expecting that. He is gruff, and angry, and clearly miserable, but not evil, at least not that she can see. He has a moment of emotion when she comes out wearing an old black bomber jacket, and she changes into a long burgundy coat instead. It is clear he usually has traveling companions, but they are not here. She asks him for an explanation of his actions, and all he can say is that she is needed for the war effort. She knows of the War, and knows that he is a Time Lord; she knows this is a TARDIS; she even knows his names, the one men call him now, and the one he abandoned. In answer for her years of running, all he can say is that he gets distracted sometimes, which is no answer at all.

He takes her to Earth, though they are still in her home century, the twenty-ninth. They land in a dark and humid room, and he uses his sonic screwdriver to open a door in a wall where no door was apparent. He takes her inside. Once there, he explains that he had many opportunities to capture her, but he delayed because he had to be sure of her, even though true certainty isn’t possible. He explains that the reason he has no companions is because they would stop him from doing what he is about to do. He activates a panel, and Claudia’s mind fills with impossible images: the War, other worlds, slave races, domination. She sees order out of chaos, and can’t help thinking it is the proper way of things. It is the Dalek way, and if they win the War, it will be reality.

The Doctor explains that these are her real memories of childhood, memories he once hid from her. The childhood she remembers, with her human family in Lucerne, Switzerland, was real, but was layered over those earliest memories. She was not born, but grown, in human form but of Dalek stock. The Doctor, in another life, rescued her at the age of two and placed her with her adoptive family in Switzerland. These memories come from the Dalek hive mind, to which she was linked. She remains linked to it. And more: she was not alone. There were nine others like her. Now, in this room, she sees ten alcoves along the wall…and nine of them are filled with thin, malnourished copies of her. All are linked into the systems by wires.

The Doctor explains that he placed each clone in a separate universe—an easy thing to do, now that the walls of reality have grown thin, and the Time Lords are too busy to police the dimensions as they once did. He did this to keep them from being aware of each other, and to keep the Daleks from finding them. It was necessary, for they are nothing separately—but together, they are the triggers for the machine in this room. And what a machine it is:

More synapses connected inside Claudia’s head. The machine that surrounded them was a terraformer, buried in the mountains of Canada by Dalek infiltrators decades ago. The intention was to strike out from Earth at EarthGove alliances, causing civil war and interstellar conflict. The Daleks would step in at the alliance’s weakest moment and claim conquest of the new terraformed worlds – and be one step closer to overall victory in the Time War. There would be little point in victory over cinders, the Supreme Dalek Council reasoned, so there was logic to make every planet in the Terran solar system – and eventually the Galaxy – a habitable Dalek world.

The Doctor’s theft kept the Daleks from using this weapon, but it didn’t stop them; and they continue to churn out ships, Dalek units, and weapons faster than anyone can stop. The Doctor has no vast weapons left; but he has this one. He has brought Claudia here—like he brought all her sisters—to use it against the Daleks. Some of the clones lived very different lives. But in the end, all came, and all cooperated—though he kept them in the dark about what they were doing. He will not do that now. He must tell one of them the truth. And suddenly she remembers him, in a different life, a childhood memory that is her own rather than the hive mind. She remembers what is clearly his sixth life, a shocking man, but kind and gentle to her in her youth. She draws on the hive mind to learn all about this man, and she understands suddenly that he is still the Doctor. Though he denies it, he still cares. He sighs, and says that she would have been better off not knowing; but she denies it. The Daleks would have used her for worse things, and now she can do something right. He tries to present a jaded face toward her, but she sees through him.

Unable to face it, he pushes her into the final alcove.

As the machine claims her, and acquires its targets—its Dalek targets—he cannot face her. He knows what he has done, and how he has used her, and what will become of her—of all ten of her—when the machine runs its course and shuts down. He turns to go.

Before he does, a screen comes to life. It displays not destruction, but a phrase. ”Thank. You. Doctor.”

“You’re welcome,” he says, holding back tears, and departs.

I’ve talked a lot in this series about the accelerating pace of the Time War as we near the end, and about the changes in the Doctor as he nears the breaking point that we saw in the Engines of War novel. Most recently I’ve discussed stories such as Storage Wars and Fall, which remind the Doctor of who he was, and the ideals he has sacrificed along the way. We see some of his old compassion, his old nature, bleed through at those times.

Inevitably, though, there’s a reaction. To take a rather vague example from real life: if you or I have a particular vice we’re trying to give up, we may make some progress in that direction; but when we do, it becomes painful to continue, and we may react by relapsing. It’s easier to continue in the vice than to face the problem and continue fighting it. On a more emotionally complex level, that’s what’s happening to the Doctor in this story. He’s begun to face who he is and how he’s changed, but it’s very painful to do that; and so he relapses and once again lashes out as the monster he has been claiming to be. It’s complicated by the fact that he feels there is no choice; he claims that he has no other weapons available on the scale of the terraforming system. Nevertheless, his behavior is still a reaction to the thought of going back to his old compassionate self, considering the things he’s done in this life.

I found it interesting that the story alludes to the Sixth Doctor’s involvement. It seems there’s an interesting story we’re not being told here: How did it come to be that the Sixth Doctor was the one who (presumably) kidnapped and placed the clones? (To be fair, it doesn’t specify the Sixth Doctor, but the description—curly blonde hair and a coat like a jester—is almost certainly that incarnation.) More to the point, does that mean that the Sixth Doctor was aware of the Time War; or does it mean that this Dalek plot predated the War? Just how porous is that Time Lock, anyway? All excellent, but unanswered, questions. There are also references to several other battles between the Doctor and the Daleks as Claudia taps into the Hive Mind: Spiridon (Planet of the Daleks), Reyella (Always Face The Curtain with a Bow), Kembel (The Daleks’ Master Plan), Cloudburst (a reference for which I could find no source), and Necros (Revelation of the Daleks).

Overall: Another good, but exceedingly sad story. One begins to wonder how much more the Doctor can take; although the answer is that not much more will be required. We are nearing the end of his involvement, and the Moment is coming. (Although, with the recent announcement of the upcoming novel, The Horde of Travesties, it’s possible there’s another segment of the War here at the end that we haven’t yet seen!) It’s a good story, with a clever title, as well: “The thief of always” is a phrase usually used to denote Death, and that’s certainly a factor here, but in this case it’s also ”all ways”–and the Doctor is certainly the thief of all ways with regard to Claudia’s many lives. (Or I may be misinterpreting completely—if the author wants to set me straight, I’d be glad to hear the correct version!)

John Hurt Tribute photo

The Thief of All Ways was written by Elliot Thorpe. Next time: The Time Lord who Came to Tea, 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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