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.

Audio Drama Review: The Oseidon Adventure

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

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

Oseidon Adventure 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oseidon Adventure 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oseidon Adventure 3

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

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

The Oseidon Adventure

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Audio Drama Review: Trail of the White Worm

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

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

Trail of the White Worm 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trail of the White Worm 2

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trail of the White Worm 3

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

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

Trail of the White Worm

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Audio Drama Review: Energy of the Daleks

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Energy of the Daleks, the fourth entry in series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. This audio drama was written and directed by Big Finish producer Nicholas Briggs, and stars Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and Louise Jameson as Leela. Let’s get started!

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

Energy of the Daleks 1

An astronaut named Damien Stephens is about to make a spacewalk from his shuttle to a base on the moon—but his vitals are not right. Nevertheless he plunges ahead.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Leela are preparing to land in 21st-century London.  Leela has dressed for the occasion, at the Doctor’s direction, but the TARDIS’s sensors indicate something is not right about their destination.  The Doctor lands them in the year 2025; for once they are noticed immediately, but the first observer they encounter is surprisingly nonplussed.  The man indicates that a protest is about to take place, however, intriguing the Doctor, who takes Leela to watch.  Aboard the moonbase, Stephens arrives and meets crew members Lydia Harding and Kevin Winston, who have made some minor adjustments to the control systems.  Stephens is noticeably tired, and asks for his quarters to rest before the system’s test run.  As he sleeps, he hears strange, mechanized voices in his head. Lydia and Kevin discuss Stephens’ strange behavior, and Lydia persuades Kevin to illegally access the security camera in Stephens’ quarters so they can monitor his health.  They find him thrashing and mumbling in his sleep—“I must obey!”.  The system mysteriously shuts off.  Stephens finds himself transported back to his office in GlobeSphere Corporation’s headquarters, where he is confronted by Daleks.  Shortly afterward, Lydia finds Stephens in his quarters, refreshed and ready to begin the test.

The Doctor and Leela find the protest, which includes thousands of people, all of whom are protesting the treachery of “Globesphere”, the GlobeSphere Corporation. The sight of a large holographic screen makes the Doctor realizes he has landed in the wrong time again; he was aiming for 2015, but has brought them to 2025.  He locates an access terminal for the holographic internet; it doesn’t recognize him at first, but he uses his sonic screwdriver to gain access.  He researches GlobeSphere, and learns that the date is 30 January 2025.  The Earth, it seems, is in the grip of an energy crisis—but GlobeSphere, under Damien Stephens’ leadership, intends to solve it.  The Doctor is distracted by an announcement from the protest—one Jack Coulson is about to take the stage.  Coulson’s speech takes place in front of the National Gallery, which now has a huge energy receiver on its roof.  Coulson’s speech is primarily economic, decrying the increased prices that are projected to accompany the transition to GlobeSphere’s new energy source, and the shortages that will result in the meantime, which may cause many deaths.  Just before the crowd can become a mob, a private security force arrives to disperse the crowd, and the crowd turns to conflict, forcing the Doctor and Leela to separate.  Leela is arrested by one of the security officers, whom she finds she is unable to hurt despite her best efforts.  The Doctor, meanwhile, locates Coulson and shows him an energy reading coming from the National Gallery; he escorts Coulson away from the scene.

Leela is taken for processing, but she is unable to answer her captor’s questions, and finds that he behaves as though drugged. The man uses soundwaves to temporarily incapacitate her.  A security scan reveals that she is a time traveler; and the men—the Robomen, to be precise—report it to the Daleks.  She is taken before the Daleks, who use a cerebral probe on her to gain more information.  They question her about her time travel and history; but she is mostly able to resist at first.  However, she is unable to avoid revealing that she is with the Doctor.  Meanwhile, the Doctor talks with Coulson about his history with Stephens; they used to be partners, until Stephens abruptly went off on his own to found GlobeSphere.  Stephens’ advancements are brilliant, but perhaps too brilliant; in their past, Coulson was the intelligent one, while Stephens was the radical.  Further, Stephens gave up his radicalism when he founded GlobeSphere.  A news dispatch reveals that the protest has been dispersed.  The Doctor decides to infiltrate GlobeSphere in search of Leela and the source of the anomalous readings.  He gets Coulson inside the National Gallery via a WWII-era evacuation tunnel.  He determines the energy readings are anomalously high for this era; and Coulson tells him the first test of the system is expected to start at any time.  At the same time, the Daleks detect their entry, and conclude the Doctor is on the scene.

The test of the energy transmission system commences. On Earth, the Doctor hears the Daleks announce his presence to their troops in the building, and he realizes the energy readings are consistent with a Dalek timeship.  On the moon, Kevin realizes the energy levels are far too high, much higher than anticipated; but Stephens assures them it is according to plan.  Kevin and Lydia are not convinced; and suddenly a transmission comes through.  The Daleks congratulate Stephens on doing well, and announce the beginning of the destruction of the human race.

Coulson is shocked to learn a little of the alien origins of the Daleks; but there is no time to discuss it. The Doctor and Coulson witness the Robomen guards, and the Doctor concludes that the timeship is small, with perhaps half a dozen Daleks.  He realizes, as well, that Leela must have been interrogated, and will be inside the timeship.  Coulson has little choice but to go with him; but first, the Doctor borrows Coulson’s “little TV” (a smartphone or datapad, presumably).  Inside the timeship, the Daleks release Leela from her bonds.  She insults them, and insists that the Doctor will defeat them; but they decide to have her robotized.  They have the Robomen place her in the robotizing unit for conversion. She is at first able to resist the control wave, but the Robomen increase the power accordingly.

On the moon, the test ends, and Lydia and Kevin question Stephens about the high energy levels; at that level, and worldwide, they would be a hundred times the amount of energy needed by humanity. However, Stephens has set the controls to maximum, and started the countdown.  In the National Gallery, the Doctor encounters some Robomen, and uses the television device to overload the microwave control signal, disabling them.  He and Coulson disguise themselves in the Robomen uniforms and make their way to the chamber where Leela is imprisoned, encountering more Robomen along the way; it seems Leela is causing trouble with the robotizing process.  The Doctor again uses the TV device to disrupt the control wave, and frees Leela from the machine, introducing her to Jack.  He discovers a Janis thorn in the back of a dead Roboman; the Doctor scolds Leela for using them, but not harshly, as the Robomen are mostly dead already.    The Doctor searches for the energy source, and finds it is close by, about a hundred yards away.  However, a Dalek enters the room and catches them; the Doctor, Leela, and Jack get the Dalek into the robotizing unit and activate the machine at full power.  The Dalek becomes briefly compliant under the effect of the machine, and the Doctor interrogates it.  It reveals the Daleks are there to use the solar energy—focused from the moon—to destroy humanity.  It reveals a teleport (transmat unit) nearby, connecting to the moonbase.  The machine overloads and explodes, disabling the Dalek.

The Doctor, Leela, and Coulson hide from the Daleks in Stephens’ office; the Doctor reveals that the transmat unit is in the office—specifically, built into Stephens’ chair. As the Daleks break in, the Doctor activates the unit, teleporting the three of them away.  They arrive on the moonbase, in Stephens’ bed; Stephens is also there, but unconscious.  The Doctor disables the transmat, preventing the Daleks from following.  However, before he can do anything else, Kevin and Lydia discover their presence and take them into custody. Lydia recognizes Jack, giving the Doctor an opportunity to explain; he accurately describes the current situation. On Earth, the Daleks take their ship and set course for the moon to exterminate the Doctor.  En route, they send a signal to reactivate Stephens.  As Stephens awakens, the Doctor reveals that Stephens is a high-functioning Roboman.  Stephens recognizes the Doctor, lending credence to the Doctor’s explanation; this makes Kevin hesitate at obeying Stephens’ order to kill the Doctor.  Jack tries to get through to Stephens, but is unsuccessful, and the man runs from the room to obey his Dalek orders.  As the others follow, Kevin gets a message from the control center of the base, stating that the Daleks have arrived—and moments later, the control center crew are exterminated.  Shaken, Kevin leads the Doctor and the others to the energy transfer controls, where Stephens is accelerating the process.  Kevin and Lydia evacuate the rest of the crew while the Doctor deals with Stephens.  Leela convinces the Doctor to let Jack talk to Stephens again, as she knows it is possible to resist the Robomen control wave.

Jack distracts Stephens while the Doctor examines the layout of the transfer system. Jack successfully breaks through to Stephens’ buried emotions, but he is unable as yet to stop him from his work.  Meanwhile the Daleks are advancing on the transfer control room.  The Doctor realizes that the system, when fully active, will put a force field around the Earth; but why?  Stephens manages to reveal the Dalek plan:  the overpowered energy source will counteract gravity, expelling the moon from orbit, and thus causing massive meteorological changes that will exterminate humanity.  The Daleks arrive at that moment, and confirm this; they state that the controls are locked, but the Doctor insists on trying to stop the plan anyway.  Meanwhile, Leela can hear the sound of the Dalek timeship nearby.  The Daleks can’t fire on the Doctor, for fear of destroying the controls.  Stephens tells the Doctor to access the power grid of the directional controls, and the Daleks immediately exterminate them.  They threaten to kill Leela to get the Doctor to stop, and he is forced to do so.  The countdown reaches zero, and the transfer begins.  Exultant, the Daleks explain that they came back in time to ensure the extinction of humanity before their many future battles with the Daleks.  The Doctor orders his friends to cover their ears, and he activates the same sonic wave he used on the Robomen, disrupting the Daleks’ concentration and impairing their vision.  The Daleks retreat, still confident they have won.  The Doctor reveals that yes, the beam will still fire.

As the Daleks prepare to leave, they discover that the beam has been redirected at the timeship’s power source. The ship explodes, destroying the Daleks and damaging the base.  The Doctor tells the others what he has done, and credits Stephens with the final clue that allowed him to redirect the beam.  Jack mourns Stephens’ death, and the Doctor admits that he does not know if Stephens could have survived had he not been exterminated.  He reflects that there is a lesson to be learned from Stephens’ desire for a shortcut to the future.  He sets to repairing the transmat for return to Earth.

Energy of the Daleks 2

It’s that time again: the Daleks make their first appearance in the Fourth Doctor Adventures! It’s not a bad Dalek story, either, serving as Leela’s first encounter with them. It’s very much in the classic mold; there’s no universe-sized threat here, but the destruction of Earth is at stake. The moonbase seen here—operated by energy research company GlobeSphere Corporation—is suggestive of the titular facility from the Second Doctor serial The Moonbase, but it can’t be the same, as that serial’s base was established in or around the year 2050, some 25 years after this story. Still, it indicates that the world’s space programs are well underway, and humanity is taking its first tentative steps outward from Earth.

We don’t delve very deeply into the science at stake here. The energy source being channeled to Earth is suggested to be solar, reflected by and collected on the moon; but it begs the question of why the moon is needed—wouldn’t it be more efficient to collect sunlight directly on Earth? Nor is the plan to negate the Earth’s gravity well explained—in fact, it hardly gets a breath’s mention in the dialogue. There’s no time to worry about it, however, because this story moves at what passes for breakneck speed in the Fourth Doctor era—the entire story, with the exception of GlobeSphere CEO and lead scientist Damien Stephens’ arrival and nap at the moonbase, probably covers no more than two or three hours.

The Robomen, first seen in The Dalek Invasion of Earth (and again in The Mutant Phase), appear here. We learn that they are controlled by a microwave carrier wave, and that this can be disrupted by certain sonic frequencies; as well, it can be resisted by a strong mind, with mixed results. We get a glimpse of the process by which humans are converted into Robomen, but it is interrupted before completion. Robomen have appeared in different forms in various stories; this story is the chronologically earliest appearance, but it’s not the earliest development of the technique, as the Daleks here are from an unspecified point in the future. Unlike the Dalek Invasion of Earth Robomen, the ones seen here can visibly pass for normal humans in a crowd, leading me to suspect that they are the later and more advanced version seen in the audio dramas The Human Factor and Project Infinity (which I have not yet covered). If this is the case, it would place these Daleks as originating after the year 4162, as noted in The Human Factor. Interestingly, Davros and Skaro get no mention here (a first for the Fourth Doctor’s adventures with the Daleks); you can interpret that as you may wish with regard to the Daleks.

Although it’s not the first story of the series, this is the first recorded; and as such it’s Tom Baker’s first appearance for Big Finish, as he does not routinely appear in the Main Range. He’s clearly enjoying himself, and his performance here is similar to the BBC Audio Fourth Doctor Adventures (Hornet’s Nest, Demon Quest, Serpent Crest), which were recorded around the same time (2009-late 2011). As well, this is a better story for Leela, and the usual air of condescension between the two characters is greatly toned down. Susan Jameson doesn’t get a lot of dialogue here—Leela’s part is more minimal than in some of the other entries in the series—but she carries it well, getting at least a few good, humorous lines:

Coulson: Are you as barking mad as the Doctor?

Leela: I do not “bark.”

Coulson: …Oh. Right, then.

The supporting actors are good here, especially Mark Benton in the role of protest leader Jack Coulson. There’s an appearance by Dan Starkey, who is better known as the Sontaran Strax; here he plays a Roboman and also moonbase crewmember Kevin Winston.

Continuity references: Leela is still carrying and occasionally using Janis thorns (The Face of Evil, et al); here she uses them ineffectively on the Robomen, whom the Doctor states are nearly dead anyway. She mentions her previous visit to London (The Talons of Weng-Chiang), and refers to the police as “Blue Guards” (many stories, but beginning in Talons). The Daleks refer to various human defeats of the Daleks in the future, which may include The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Daleks’ Master Plan, and many others, though it’s not specified. 2025 in London is a busy time for the Doctor, as he will reappear there in his seventh incarnation in Project: Destiny, and again in Black and White.

Overall, my impression of this story is that it’s very believable. I read in another summary that it seems Nicholas Briggs intended to evoke the Baker era, “with union protests, energy crises and general civil unrest”. That may well be, but in a similar fashion, it’s fitting for today’s world as we approach 2025—less than a decade away as I write this! We have a renewed focus on solar energy, research being made into wireless energy transfer, talk in recent years (here in America, at least) about returning to the moon, an internet that is on the verge of adapting to holographic technology, portable devices that can serve as televisions (among many other functions), and widespread protest movements. It’s not so farfetched to imagine this world arriving soon, sans Daleks and Time Lords of course. But there’s hope to be had, both in the real world and in this story, and the Doctor, as always, embraces that fact. This story doesn’t try to play the fear angle for the Daleks, instead focusing on the threat angle; and it works. The result is a good story, and possibly the highlight of the series (two-part finale pending).

Energy of the Daleks 3

Next time: We’ll get to the aforementioned two-part finale—and revisit another old foe—in Trail of the White Worm! See you there.

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

Energy of the Daleks

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Audio Drama Review: The Wrath of the Iceni (take two!)

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Wrath of the Iceni, the third entry in series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Written by John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley, this story is a notable and rare Fourth Doctor historical. I’ve reviewed it before, but it was only the second audio review I posted, and I hadn’t really worked out a format yet; nor did I have much background as to the audios from which to work. We’ve come a long way since then, and so I’ve decided to post a new review here, in the midst of series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures; but you can still read the original review here if you are interested. Let’s get started!

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

Wrath of the Iceni 1

The TARDIS materializes in a vacant field. The Doctor and Leela emerge and head toward a nearby wood.  The Doctor declines Leela’s suggestion that they return to the TARDIS, and explains that he intends this journey to be a part of her education; he wishes to track her ancestry via the local natives and gain information for her.  Nearby in the wood, two Romans are tracked down by the local warrior queen, Boudica of the Iceni tribe.  The Romans discover her, and kill her horse before threatening her.  They are interrupted by the Doctor and Leela, and Leela takes arms to assist Boudica; Boudica takes advantage of the situation to kill the two Romans.  She introduces herself; when the Doctor learns her identity, he changes his mind and tries to persuade Leela to return to the TARDIS.

Leela refuses, and Boudica supports her in it. To thank Leela for her loyalty, Boudica takes them back to her tribe’s encampment and offers them shelter and food.  When they at last obtain some privacy, Leela asks the Doctor why he was suddenly anxious to leave.  He explains the era in which they have landed: seventeen years ago, the Romans invaded the land that will one day be England, and bought off several local tribal rulers in order to ensure a peaceful conquest.  Boudica’s husband, Prasutagus, was one of those rulers; in his will he divided his domain between the Roman Empire and his own daughters.  The Emperor, Nero, disregarded the will and claimed the entire kingdom; when Boudica raised objections, her daughters were taken and publicly raped, and she herself was flogged.  Now—if the Doctor has correctly pinpointed the date, and he is certain he has—Boudica is preparing to lead her tribe in an attack on the nearest Roman town.  History records that her campaign will end in a massacre of her tribe.

Leela insists that they must prevent the deaths of the Iceni, but the Doctor explains that history has fixed these events, and they cannot be changed. Leela doesn’t understand; they are here, now, and the events have not yet happened, and therefore she believes they can and should be changed.  When the Doctor insists, she refuses to listen; instead she goes to Boudica and offers her loyalty and assistance.

The Doctor, meanwhile, is approached by a servant girl named Bragnar. Having overheard his conversation, she believes him to be a seer; now, she wants him to save her tribe.  He explains that he cannot, as they are destined to fail; but perhaps he can save her.  To that end, he decides to take her to the TARDIS, and also to recover Leela if he can.  However, their conspiracy is overheard, and Boudica is informed.  She takes this as a sign of betrayal, despite Leela’s insistence on the Doctor’s good faith.  She heads into the forest on horseback with Leela, and intercepts the Doctor and Bragnar.  Boudica threatens to kill them, but is stopped by Leela, who insists that the Doctor can see the future; she explains that he has predicted that tomorrow’s battle will end in destruction.  Boudica decides to let him live; but she holds the Doctor and Bragnar prisoner instead, planning to extort from him the information she needs to win the battle.

Boudica and Leela overlook the targeted Roman town, Camulodunum; Boudica is confident it can be overrun. She insists that the Doctor can be made to give her more information.

The Doctor and Bragnar are tied up in a tent at Boudica’s orders, and lamenting their situation. Bragnar doesn’t wish anyone dead; she just wishes for peace.  Boudica returns and checks in with the guard, Caedmon, regarding the progress of the situation; he wants to torture the Doctor, but Boudica again forbids it.  Instead, she intends to use Bragnar to get the Doctor to speak.  Inside the tent, Bragnar has grown tired of the Doctor’s banter, when Boudica and Leela arrive; Leela has him untied, but Boudica keeps Bragnar bound.  Boudica demands answers about his prophecy of destruction, and how the Iceni will be defeated.  When he won’t elaborate, Boudica says she will find her own omens…in Bragnar’s entrails.

The Doctor gives in to save Bragnar’s life. He explains that Camulodunum is sparsely guarded, but that it is a decoy; though the attack there will be successful, Governor Paulinus is laying a trap for the Iceni, with his armies held to the north.  When the city is taken, he will return and hem in the Iceni inside the city, then destroy them.  Satisfied, she leaves him in the tent, bound again, and orders a reinforcement of her army’s rear guard; she orders the army to prepare to ride.  Leela is appalled that she won’t release him, but she insists she has many battles to fight, and will make him serve her for all of them.

Leela returns and confronts the Doctor, but leaves him in the tent. She insists that Boudica is a good woman, and declares that she will ride with the army.  To Caedmon’s satisfaction, she tells the Doctor that he must stay and give up his old life and serve as Boudica insists.  However, when Leela leaves with Caedmon, the Doctor tells Bragnar that it’s not what she said, but what she did—and what she did, was slip him her knife.  The Doctor laboriously cuts his own bonds, then Bragnar’s; he comments that Leela was really telling him to abandon her, not his own life.

The army gathers near the Romans encampment, and prepares to charge, though Leela expresses her doubts. Boudica gives a speech to rally her troops, and leads the charge.  The armies engage, and the battle begins.

The Doctor and Bragnar locate a pair of horses, and hurry toward Camulodunum; Bragnar is alarmed, but the Doctor insists he is going to rescue Leela, despite what she asked of him. Meanwhile, Leela is becoming more and more distraught at Boudica’s bloodthirst; she is ashamed to see the Iceni killing the aged, sick, women, and even those who had surrendered.  Boudica orders her troops to destroy the city’s temple and the final survivors inside, which include British slaves—Leela protests, as Boudica plans to kill them as well.  Leela confronts Boudica, and insists that the woman is fighting not for her country, but for revenge.  She declares that the Doctor was right—Boudica is not a good woman, and her battle is wrong.  She reveals that she released the Doctor, which Boudica takes as a betrayal.  Boudica attacks Leela, declaring that she has “scarce fought an equal”.

The Doctor and Bragnar arrive in the last of the battle, where they meet with Caedmon, who chases after them. Caedmon kills the Doctor’s horse; the Doctor sends Bragnar away for her safety, and confronts Caedmon.  Caedmon intends to defy Boudica’s order and kill the Doctor, blaming it on the Romans; but Bragnar doubles back and attacks Caedmon, unintentionally killing him.  They set off again to search for Leela.

Leela and Boudica are still battling, as the Doctor arrives. Boudica manages to strike her while she is distracted, but she is not badly hurt.  She orders the Doctor not to interfere; and moments later, she gets the advantage.  She refuses to kill Boudica, instead leaving her behind.  Boudica is undeterred; she refuses to consider herself defeated, and continues the larger battle.

On the road back toward the TARDIS, Leela and Bragnar discuss the battle. The Doctor admits that he didn’t tell Boudica the truth; there was no army coming from the north, and no defeat today.  Instead, it was a Roman massacre that took place, just as history had recorded.  However, in the future, Boudica will go on to fight other battles, which will lead to her ultimate defeat—not today, but on a day to come, when her pride and arrogance will leave her own army hemmed in to be slaughtered.  Leela admits that she may no longer have the stomach for slaughter, leading the Doctor to comment that her education may be progressing after all.  At the TARDIS, the Doctor explains how Boudica dies: facing death in battle, she kills her daughters, then poisons herself.  Violence brings its own end, it seems.  As the TARDIS departs, the Doctor considers that Leela has had enough education for now; it’s time for something different.

Years hence, Bragnar passes on her story to her own daughters as the sole survivor of her tribe.

Wrath of the Iceni 4

Historicals may have become rare in Doctor Who over the years, but at least they’re familiar, for the most part. Perhaps in part because of the programme’s origins in children’s television, it tends to stick to well-known parts of history. This one, however, covers a corner of history which I knew nothing about, and indeed had never heard of prior to my first time listening. That probably says more about the difference between American and British education than it does about Doctor Who; but still, it came as a rare surprise to me.

For any other American fans like me, who may not be familiar with the particulars of distant eras of British history, the titular Iceni were a British Celtic tribe, with this story—and presumably much of their history—ending around AD 60 or 61. Boudica was queen of the Iceni by necessity; her husband, Prasutagus, ruled the tribe, but of necessity become a partially independent ally of the invading Romans some seventeen years earlier. He intended for his daughters to rule after him and continue the alliance; but after his death the territory of the Iceni was claimed fully by Rome. Boudica protested, and was subsequently flogged; her daughters were publicly raped. Boudica then led the Iceni and some of their allies in revolt against the Romans, destroying Camulodunum (modern Colchester, according to Wikipedia) before moving on to Londinium (modern London), and in the process killing about eighty thousand Romans. However, they were eventually defeated by the Romans and practically wiped out, with Boudica either committing suicide or dying of illness (there is some debate). This story takes place in the earliest days of her campaign, just before and during the attack on Camulodunum. The Doctor and Leela fall in with Boudica quite by accident, but Leela is taken with her warrior ways, and chooses to help Boudica’s cause. The Doctor, meanwhile, knows how history plays out, and knows that helping the Iceni is futile; nevertheless, his knowledge slips out, and he is held prisoner as a seer. Toward the end, Leela realizes her mistake, but is in too deep to back off; therefore the Doctor, upon escaping, is forced to rescue her. He tells Boudica what she wants to hear, but cleverly hides the ultimate outcome, causing her to commit to her original plan without changing history. In the end, Leela cannot save the Iceni, but with the Doctor’s help, she saves one person—a woman named Bragnar, who survives to tell the story to her own daughters.

Over five decades, we’ve seen nearly every possible take on the idea that history cannot be changed. This episode is nothing new; it’s just very tragic. Then again, history itself is often tragic; and this story, at least, reports it as accurately as can be done when adding the Doctor to a story. We don’t watch or listen to these stories in order to see how the Doctor changes things; we listen to them to see the clever lengths to which he must go to prevent changing things. In that regard, this story is very reminiscent of The Fires of Pompeii with the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble; the Doctor would find it exceedingly simple to change things, but that change would most likely have catastrophic repercussions throughout the future. Therefore he has to work at not changing anything; and his task is made that much harder by a companion who wants more than anything to save everyone. The only answer that will allow him to maintain his identity as the Doctor, and yet preserve history (even with its tragedies!) is to do what he does in both stories: save someone.

As a reminder, this is still very early in Leela’s story. As far as can be told, this is only her seventh adventure with the Doctor. Thus he is still on his quest to educate her about her own species’ history. Boudica’s era is familiar territory to Leela, as she is also of a “savage” tribal background; therefore the Doctor is far less condescending toward her here than in most stories, because he knows he is surrounded by people just like her, who won’t put up with it (or understand it, probably). He does take the opportunity to give her the lesson about history being unchangeable, although without the level of technical detail he gives to more technically advanced companions. This is truly Leela’s story, not the Doctor’s, even though the screen time is about equally split between them; for the first time, she is the confident one, and she makes her own decisions. She may be wrong in the end, but seeing her take charge is practically majestic; and even the Doctor seems to acknowledge that.

Continuity References: Leela expressly says that history can be changed, despite what the Doctor says; this is a reference to The Foe From the Future, which, though an audio, is set immediately before The Talons of Weng-Chiang (and notably was originally written to be the series 14 finale, but was not produced). The Doctor’s observation (regarding Bragnar) that one person is unlikely to make a difference is also a reference to that story. He hates Morris dancers, which nearly killed him in The Daemons. He makes reference to the Morovanian Museum, and Leela mentions Reginald Harcourt (The Renaissance Man). He mentions his earliest encounter with Houdini (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and the extinction of the dodo (The Last Dodo–Doctor Who has a story for everything). A few future references are noteworthy, although I usually try to avoid them until we reach the stories involved and can look back: Leela claims her name has no meaning, contradicting several future audios (notably, The Catalyst); The Tenth Doctor and Donna will meet Boudica again in The Lonely Computer; the Doctor plans a trip to the 21st century (the next entry, Energy of the Daleks). Iris Wildthyme claims to have been at the siege of Colchester (or Camulodunum in this case; The Elixir of Doom). Boudica and the Iceni get a mention in Byzantium!.

Overall: It’s worth noting that this is the first pure historical for the fourth Doctor in any performance medium (and possibly still the only—I haven’t looked ahead at later series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, but we’ll find out as we get there). While it’s fairly straightforward—as I said, there are no great surprises here—that’s all it needs to be, being the first historical for him. The conflict between Leela and the Doctor is not new, and isn’t going away anytime soon—all in all, they are a bit of a one-note duo—but it’s done well here, and this story does more than any other I’ve encountered to make Leela’s point and make it sympathetic. Her way of life is valid; it’s just not always applicable. She’s a moral and noble and valiant character, and all of those strengths get showcased here; she just happens to be lacking a piece of relevant knowledge about history. It proves to be a hard and bitter lesson for her, but learn it she does.

Wrath of the Iceni 3

Next time: Energy of the Daleks! See you there.

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

The Wrath of the Iceni

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Audio Drama Review: The Renaissance Man

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re continuing series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. Today we’re listening to the second installment, The Renaissance Man, written by Justin Richards and directed by Ken Bentley. Let’s get started!

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

renaissance man 1

A medieval history scholar is showing a fellow scholar around a castle.  He is struck down suddenly by a severe headache.

The Doctor is talking to Leela about the TARDIS’s gravitic drift compensator when they arrive at the Morovanian Museum on Morovania Minor, for the opening of the Renaissance exhibit—but they land in the wrong place, at a medieval-styled village near the museum.  They meet a dog, and the woman chasing it off—Professor Hilda Lutterthwaite, a renowned lepidopterist.  After mystifying Leela with her intellectual area of interest, she departs abruptly to the nearby museum.

The Doctor and Leela proceed to the museum, where they meet Reginald Harcout, his daughter Lizzie Harcourt, Christopher Manners, the maid, Beryl, and the butler, Jephson.  Reginald invites them to join in for tea, then to view the collection—“a collection of…everything”, as Reginald puts it.  Viewing the collection, Leela thinks something is wrong; she and the Doctor note spaces where things seem to have been removed.  Leela goes to see the armory, while Reginald takes the Doctor to view paintings.  From the paintings, they proceed to the library.

Manners and Lizzie take note of Leela’s proficiency and knowledge of weapons.  They are interrupted by Lutterthwaite, who is talking about her life’s work being gone.  Leela goes to find the Doctor, and Manners and Lizzie go to find Jephson.  The Doctor is in the library, where he is left alone; he notes that none of the books are older than fifty years.  Leela finds him and takes him to help Lutterthwaite; along the way, he is struck with a severe toothache.  He pushes the pain away, but they hear a gunshot from the armory; they find that Lutterthwaite has shot herself.  Christopher and Lizzie arrive, and the Doctor suggests checking the cameras; but Christopher and Lizzie cannot see the camera on the wall.

Paintings which were missing are now present.  Also, in the library, other items have appeared, including text in books which previously wasn’t there.  The Doctor notes that some of the information is incorrect, based on statements he himself made which were misunderstood.  At that time, the police arrive to view the body.

The officer that arrives…is *Inspector* Reginald Harcourt, accompanied by Sergeant Jephson.  The Doctor and Leela are stunned; why are these people now appearing in a different identity than that which they’ve already displayed, and acting as though they don’t recognize the Doctor and Leela?

The officers state that this is the third such incident this week.  However, Leela notices a door that wasn’t there before, and she and the Doctor take it.  Inside is a brand new room, filled with butterfly samples, including the one that Lutterthwaite was following.  Harcourt comes in, and claims ownership of the room; when the Doctor asks him about being a policeman, he calls it a hobby.  After some tense discussion, he calls for Jephson to arrest them; Leela knocks him down, and they escape.  Jephson chases them through the grounds and into the wood, accompanied by Manners, who is now a constable.  The Doctor and Leela elude the officers, who comment that they are heading toward ‘the castle”, but Leela slips away from the Doctor.

Leela finds a man in distress, who begs her for help.  (His voice identifies him as the afflicted man from the opening teaser.)  He says that if the others catch her, they will “take everything”.  He claims to be the doctor—but not the same Doctor—and is disoriented.  Meanwhile, he Doctor finds the castle, and meets Beryl there.  He doubles back and finds Leela and the other doctor, whom he recognizes as medieval scholar Dr. Henry Carnforth.  As they compare notes, the Doctor realizes that Harcourt and his associates are stealing the knowledge from the minds of those around them, including Lutterthwaite and Carnforth.  Suddenly, Leela realizes she is losing her memory of how to track their location—she too is being affected.  The Doctor realizes that calling this section a “Renaissance” section is a misnomer; “Renaissance” represents a new era of knowledge, and the museum’s systems are creating just that, by taking the knowledge from those on site.  However, where it should be making copies, it is taking the original data from the minds of those affected…and any number of scholars, great minds who can change the course of history, will soon be here.  The man who could control this system would become supremely knowledgeable—a true “Renaissance Man”.  However, he would also be extremely dangerous.  The Doctor assures Carnforth that his own mind is protected, and he leads them to the TARDIS.

At the TARDIS, he plans to tap into the museum systems and reverse the effects.  However, they are ambushed by Harcourt and Jephson.  Jephson assures him that nothing has gone wrong with the systems, however; and Harcourt says they will be arrested for the murder of Carnforth.  Carnforth is still alive…but Harcourt shoots him immediately, and arrests them.

Leela draws a knife, but the Doctor makes her give it up to Jephson.  Harcourt takes them back to his office at a local police station, where Lizzie is typing a report, and Beryl is serving as well.  Harcourt says that here, they collect people; he displays a book full of life stories of thousands of people.  Leela notes that the book seems to go on no matter how many pages you turn.  Jephson insists that the book includes everyone from this period, but the Doctor gives him another name, which is not in the book, causing consternation; the Doctor feeds them a long and colorful story about the unknown man.  Elsewhere, Manning and Lizzie now seem to have morphed into a surgeon and nurse; Manning comments that the Doctor is uncooperative, and orders preparation for surgery.

The Doctor gets a phone call from the dog they encountered upon arrival.  It makes no sense, but the Doctor concludes that this artificial reality is unraveling.  He argues that they should not take the knowledge from the arriving scholars, when they can have a copy instead.  Harcourt insists it doesn’t work as well as anticipated.  He states that they intend to continue accumulating knowledge, for the sake of what he can accomplish with it.  Manning arrives and takes the Doctor for surgery, as his knowledge can’t be removed the normal way.  Leela attacks Manning and frees the Doctor, and they run.

In a new room, they encounter a room full of bottled drinks; outside are a number of Spitfire planes.  Manners and Lizzie arrives, now having morphed into a pilot and a plane deliverywoman.  The Doctor discovers that despite appearances, they do remember their other identities, but they are not supposed to show it.  Harcourt arrives outside as the squadron’s wing commander, and the Doctor and Leela exit, leaving Manners and Lizzie to fret over what is happening to them; but their memories are beginning to clear.

Outside, the Doctor and Leela must run from a group of Messerschmidts; it seems Harcourt would rather kill the Doctor than let him escape.  They escape into another building, where Leela finds herself alone; Beryl—now appearing as a secretary—meets her and identifies the place as Harcourt International.  She refers her to the twelfth floor for a meeting with the Doctor.  On the twelfth floor, Beryl appears again, and this time indicates that the Doctor in question is Harcourt.  Leela grapples with her, and pushes her through a window; she tries to pull Beryl back up, but the woman falls, apparently to her death.  However, Leela goes down and finds that she is alive, though badly damaged.

The Doctor has found himself in a Western saloon.  He is confronted by Manners and Lizzie, now in Western guise; they claim not to know him, but they call him Doctor.  He calls them on it.  He insists they are not real, but are based on archetypes through history.  With his sonic screwdriver, he demonstrates that they are just empty shells.  Harcourt arrives in the guise of a marshal, and orders Manners to arrest him; but Manners won’t, now that he knows the truth.  Harcourt summons Jephson instead, but Leela arrives instead; she has incapacitated Jephson and taken his gun, as well as her knife.

The Doctor says they are heading for the TARDIS, and leaves with Leela.  Outside, he changes course, and they head for the manor house instead.  Harcourt and Jephson are going there themselves, with Lizzie , Manning, and the damaged Beryl.  When the Doctor and Leela arrive, Harcourt tells the Doctor he is already taking the Doctor’s knowledge, bit by bit; but the Doctor assures him he has bitten off more than he can chew. [There is a break in the audio here, with static?] The Doctor assures Harcourt that the human brain cannot absorb the scale of information in question here; a separate storage system is needed—a library.  To prove his point, he quizzes Harcourt on random facts.  Harcourt gets the questions right, but the Doctor uses this to reveal that Harcourt isn’t the real “Renaissance Man”…he is the library.  The Doctor makes the point that love, emotion, experience—these are just as important as knowledge.  He is contradicted, however, by Jephson—who is the Renaissance Man.  The Doctor reveals that he had planted the information for one of his questions, which wasn’t real at all; when Harcourt was able to produce an answer, it was a clue to the truth about him.  Other statements he has made have also been false.  These errors in the data have had a “butterfly effect” in the database—and now the projections around them, the library and the rest of the building, the entire world of the museum—are coming apart.  Harcourt rejects Jephson’s plea for help as the manor begins to collapse.

Leela has recovered her tracking skills; and amid the destruction, she flees with the Doctor back to the TARDIS.  It’s just in time; the academics will be arriving soon.

In the TARDIS, the Doctor and Leela discuss the value of knowledge, and how it is not worth more than even one life.  He assures her that the museum’s systems will have fully reset, returning everyone to their original condition—but as the academics arrive, the Renaissance section is empty.  The scholars are not put off; they decide it is a metaphor for learning, which no one can fully grasp.

renaissance man 2

With every audio involving the Fourth Doctor and Leela, I feel a little more conflicted, and this entry is no exception. The Fourth Doctor is excellent, and Leela has the potential to be—I’ve always liked her as a companion. Still, with every additional story, the My Fair Lady vibe becomes a little stronger, and it’s reaching awkward proportions here. I realize that I’m projecting real-world values onto a fictional story, but it’s difficult to stop, apparently. In this story, Leela fawns over the Doctor to a point of near-worship. The Doctor isn’t much better, as he continues to be condescending; he comments on his own “impeccable style”, then says about Leela: “I’m still working on HER style.” I tried to justify it in my mind by reasoning that this story is still very early in their relationship—just four stories after her first appearance in The Face of Evil–but it’s still awkward.

With that out of the way, it’s an otherwise entertaining story. The rapid changes in setting and in the identity of the characters makes it reminiscent of stories such as The Mind Robber, and that’s not a bad thing. The twist—that the victims’ memories and knowledge are being stolen out of their minds—was not well hidden; I picked up on it right away; but that’s not a hindrance, because the real question here is, what are they going to DO about it? The Fourth Doctor always represented a good balance of action and debate, and this story uses both. He and Leela spend a good deal of time running and fighting, but then the story is resolved through debate, as the Doctor uses verbal trickery to confound Harcourt and Jephson and put an end to the scheme. There’s a good amount of humor, as well (Leela: “He has the eyes of a killer!” Doctor: “As well as the gun.”), even if it tends to the absurd, e.g. when the dog makes a phone call. The absurd is perfectly appropriate here, as it represents the failure of the environment the villains have created—when reality breaks down, of COURSE a dog can call you on the telephone, why not? That’s really the beauty of this story: It’s fast-paced, and (like so many equally fast-paced Eighth Doctor stories) sometimes that means letting the details fall apart; but here, it’s okay if the details fall apart. You EXPECT that they will do that, because you establish early that you’re in the realm of the absurd.

This is another short adventure, not in running time, but with regard to in-universe time. The Doctor and Leela are at the museum for perhaps two or three hours, certainly no more. The same was true in the preceding story, Destination: Nerva, and it’s very possible that the Doctor and Leela have been going non-stop since The Talons of Weng-Chiang. I wonder sometimes about the passage of time within the TARDIS, and between adventures—do the characters sleep? Do they take time out for meals? Of course they do—the classic series established very early that the characters at least sleep and eat on board—but sometimes it’s interesting to think about how long they carry on at one time, when adventures run together, as in this case. Being a companion of the Doctor is a hard life in more ways than one.

The voice acting is on point here. It’s difficult enough for one actor to play multiple characters, as happens in a few instances here; it’s so much more difficult when actors also have to play multiple versions of the same character. Ian McNeice (Harcourt), Gareth Armstrong (Jephson), Anthony Howell (Manners), and Daisy Ashford (Lizzie) all do this very successfully here, while Laura Molyneux plays the dual roles of Beryl and Lutterthwaite. I had a little trouble identifying characters early on, but it wasn’t because the acting was inferior, so much as that the dialogue didn’t identify the characters very well at first. Soon, though, that oversight is corrected, and the cast put in fantastic performances.

References here are mostly to other Leela stories. She mentions visiting London in 1889, and firing a revolver at a dragon (both from The Talons of Weng-Chiang), and mentions that Xoanon (The Face of Evil) used cameras to watch the Tesh. She also mentions crushing baby Hordas (Horda? Not sure of the correct plural) with her hands, another Face of Evil reference. She calls policemen “Blue Guards”, as she does in several stories (Talons again, also The Foe from the Future). The Doctor says he has felt the pain of having a tooth pulled, but “not with these teeth”, which is a reference to The Gunfighters, where the first Doctor had a tooth pulled (by Doc Holliday, no less!). He also comments that he needs to “reverse the polarity* on the museum’s knowledge-stealing system, a reference to too many stories to count, but especially in the Third Doctor era.

So: A great story, if a bit awkward at points, and a fantastic way to continue the season! If the series continues in this vein, we’ll be in good hands. As this story is (as of the time of writing) available for free on Spotify, there’s no good reason not to check it out.

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Next time: I have previously reviewed the next entry, The Wrath of the Iceni; but as it was a very early attempt for me–only the second audio drama I reviewed here–I hadn’t yet found a format I like, and so I’m going to cover it again. With quite a few audios behind me now, I expect some changed opinions; but we’ll see. You can read the previous review here if you like. See you there.

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

The Renaissance Man

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Audio Drama Review: Destination: Nerva

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Last week, we wrapped up series two of the Eighth Doctor Adventures; and earlier this week, we finished the Eighth Doctor’s second “season” of the Main Range. This week, we begin something (sort of) new, as we look at series one of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. Today we’ll begin with Destination: Nerva, picking up immediately after the classic serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Let’s get started!

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

Destination Nerva 1

Leaving London and the company of Henry Gordon Jago and George Litefoot, the Doctor and Leela barely have time to dematerialize before the TARDIS receives an alien distress call…from the year 1895?!  They follow the signal to a house in England, where a battle has taken place.  Human and alien dead can be found; the Doctor identifies the aliens as Drellerans—and they were not the aggressors.  He also finds a Drelleran stardrive, which is faulty and therefore potentially deadly.  They flee in the TARDIS and try to track the drive to the ship it belongs to, but the drive’s effect on the TARDIS nearly knocks them off course.

They arrive on a transport ship, the Chandler, some centuries in the future.  The ship is carrying a construction crew to a space station under construction…and the Doctor is thrilled to discover that the station is Nerva Beacon, which he has visited before (here called Nerva Dock).  With Leela, he has a brief run-in with the crew’s foreman and shop steward, Jim Hooley, who decides they are new workers.  The Chandler is forced to divert to a different airlock, as their expected lock is unexpectedly occupied by a space pod from another ship called the Aeolus.  Upon arrival, he orders the Doctor and Leela into spacesuits and onto the station hull with the rest of the work crew.

The Aeolus pod is of Drelleran design, as is its parent ship; but it’s a human aboard, one Sergeant Henry McMullan.  He enters the airlock without authorization, and demands to be let in.  Chief Technician Laura Craske calls her acting supervisor, Dr. Alison Foster for permission to let him in.  Foster realizes something is not right, and declines, but her signal is cut off, and Laura lets Henry in.  He shakes her hand, and she suddenly becomes compliant to him.  She takes him to the Control Center, and introduces him to the station commander, Commodore Giles Moreau; Moreau declines to shake his hand.  Moreau orders McMullan to medical quarantine as per standard procedure, but is interrupted by a system fault alert.  Elsewhere, Hooley has escorted the Doctor and Leela back inside, and called for security; security arrives in the form of a hovering, robotic Drudger, and takes them (using mild force) to the Control Center.  Hooley returns to the hull.  Moreau, meanwhile, traces the fault to the airlock where the pod is docked.  McMullan tries to control the situation, and appears to mesmerize Leela, but the Doctor breaks her free of it.  McMullan wants to shake hands with everyone, but Leela realizes he is not what he seems.  Moreau orders the Drudger to arrest them all, but it collapses in system failure.  Laura, meanwhile, becomes suddenly weak and incoherent.  On the hull, Hooley is behaving similarly to Laura; Foster orders him back inside.

The Doctor realizes McMullan is wearing the same uniform under his spacesuit as the dead soldiers they saw in 1895.  He realizes the Aeolus is a Drelleran ship, and confronts McMullan about stealing it.  A proximity alert sounds; the Aeolus has arrived, and will soon dock.  Henry, it seems, is an advance troop, carrying some kind of fast-moving infection that affects not only people, but the station systems; it is carried on the skin, in the form of a separate, independently-acting epidermis; the Doctor dubs it an “Epiderm”.  Laura quickly becomes a similarly-mutated creature.  The commander of the Aeolus, Lord Jack Corrigan, contacts them.  The Doctor, Leela, and the Commodore are forced to run.

Corrigan communicates with the Epiderms forming on the station, and says he and the crew will join them for the final unification of humankind.

As the Aeolus docks, the Doctor warns the others not to let the creatures touch them.  Hooley enters the airlock, but the inner door won’t secure.  He insists something is wrong with him, and Foster tries to intervene—but she is stopped just short of touching him by the Doctor and the Commodore.  Hooley dies while they argue, and Foster is outraged; Leela is forced to hold her back.  She sees Hooley begin to transform, and she flees with the others.  Elsewhere, Corrigan comes aboard, and meets a security team—and absorbs them into the Epiderm entity.  The Doctor’s group flees to the Chandler, but Moreau is touched by one of the creatures as the airlock closes; unknown to anyone, he is infected.  They cast off from the station, breaking the airlock in the process.  The Doctor sees, to his delight,  that Nerva is orbiting Jupiter, as he once guessed.

Moreau sends a distress signal to the nearby supply ship from whence the Chandler originated, and requests a quarantine of Nerva, but is unsuccessful, as Jack blocks the signal.  Jack tries to entice them back, and explains how he took the Aeolus in the nineteenth century and used it to try to build a British empire in the stars.  The group discovers that the supply ship is already infected.  With nowhere to go, Leela suggests using the TARDIS to get to Earth, but the Doctor thinks it won’t work—and it becomes moot, as Moreau transforms and blocks their way to the TARDIS.  The Doctor locates spacesuits and gets himself, Leela, and Foster onto the hull.  Outside, they see a huge ship coming—a Drelleran ship, centuries more advanced than the Aeolus.  It teleports them aboard.

Two Drellerans meet them.  They show the group a video of Jack’s initial conquest of a Drelleran expedition, and explain how he conquered the peaceful Drelleran society afterward.  They explain that, in revolt, the Drellerans unleashed a virus which creates the Epiderm creatures.  The infected Jack was compelled to return to Earth and infect the rest of humanity; it’s sheer chance that he landed on Nerva first.  The Doctor argues that humanity has matured since then; Foster and Leela convince them of his trustworthiness.  However, they have made up their minds, and they infect the trio with the virus.  They then return them to the station, where the Epiderms wait.

When the Epiderm tries to merge with them, it begins to die.  They realize they were infected with not the virus, but a cure.  It spreads rapidly, and all over the station, people begin to recover and awaken.  The exceptions are Jack and his crew; having used stolen Drelleran technology to extend their lives, they now cannot handle reversion to normal, and they die.  The Doctor encourages Foster to take the opportunity to develop a serum against the Epiderm virus, because Moreau is still infected—and not only that, but his infection of the Chandler is separating them from the TARDIS.

Later, with the TARDIS recovered, Leela and the Doctor discuss their travels.  He asks where she wants to go, and she takes him up on his previous offer to teach her about the universe.  With that, they depart.

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Cast and crew of Destination: Nerva

 

To be honest, I was under the impression that Big Finish had been doing Fourth Doctor adventures long before 2012, when this story was published. I don’t mind being wrong, however; and they’ve gone to great lengths to put plenty of Fourth Doctor material on the market since then. This story is a decent opener, though it feels very short. It begins, as I said, minutes after the end of The Talons of Weng-Chiang, as evidenced by the fact that the Doctor and Leela are still wearing the same clothes; and naturally, it references that story several times. Tom Baker’s age doesn’t show at all here; he puts in a great performance, as does Louise Jameson.

My usual criticism of the Fourth Doctor/Leela team still applies here, unfortunately: They have a very strange relationship, and it wouldn’t be such a stretch to refer to it as a master/slave relationship, or better, master/pet. I will grudgingly admit that it fits in with the established chronology in that sense; Talons is a very early story for Leela, and this one follows immediately after, so their relationship has had no time to grow. I wish I could say it gets better with time, but I don’t think it does, or at least not enough. Leela does get some character growth in other materials after leaving the Doctor’s company on Gallifrey, so there’s that. Here, she is very obsequious toward him, practically fawning over him when speaking to Dr. Foster; it makes for the only really awkward moment in the story.

Nerva Beacon, or Nerva Dock as it is known here, is a good location for stories, and I don’t mind revisiting it, especially as it’s already been established as surviving for thousands of years. The Doctor makes some reference to his previous visits (The Ark in Space through Revenge of the Cybermen, covering almost all of season twelve), but not in any great detail, which is appropriate for the rushed action of the story. (I say “rushed” in a good sense; it’s hectic for the characters, who are racing against time to escape the Epiderms.) Ironically enough, the Doctor doesn’t really do much to solve this crisis, other than a few moments of trying to persuade the Drellerans; it’s they who save the station crew, by administering the cure. That’s a strange turn for the normally proactive Fourth Doctor and the combative Leela, but it’s okay once in a while.

Most of the continuity references seen here are, naturally, from The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It’s worth mentioning that that serial’s Jago and Litefoot, mentioned again here, will eventually have their own audio series, and will appear in a few other Doctor Who audios as well (The Justice of Jalxar, Voyage to Venus, possibly others). The Drudgers, the station’s hovering security robots, originate in the Audio Visuals audio productions; for Big Finish, they first appeared in The Sirens of Time, and reappeared in Invasion of the Daleks (Dalek Empire I), as well as a Bernice Sumerfield novel (Benny and Louise). The Doctor mentions that he once knew a butler named Butler (The Foe from the Future). As well, there are the previously-mentioned references to season twelve.

Overall, there’s not much to complain about, other than the general relationship between the Doctor and Leela. It’s a quick story with no real loose ends, and no overarching story arc (at least, as far as I can tell at this point). It’s fun to listen to, and doesn’t require much investment of time or energy. Not a bad start to what I hope is a good series.

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Next time: The Renaissance Man! See you there.

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

Destination: Nerva

Next

Audio Drama Review: Sepulchre

We’re back, with another BBC Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re looking at Demon Quest part five, Sepulchre, starring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, Richard Franklin as Mike Yates, Susan Jameson as Mrs. Wibbsey, and Nigel Anthony as the Demon. It’s the conclusion of the Demon story arc…let’s get started!

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

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At Nest Cottage, the Doctor continues to search for a way to recover the missing Mrs. Wibbsey, who was taken by the Demon at the end of Starfall.  Mike Yates makes dinner, oblivious to the two messages on the Doctor’s modified (and temporal) answering machine.  One of the messages is Mrs. Wibbsey; she claims she is in an old mansion with obscured windows, and she asks the Doctor to use the TARDIS to home in on her.  She has a confession to make; there was a fifth trinket in the bag from the church sale, which she never told the Doctor.  The trinket is a golden half-heart pendant, the mate to the one found inside the meteor (Starfall), and it is in her room.  It’s stamped with “CHRE”, the mate to the other’s “SEPUL”.  Joining the two activates it as a device; it displays time-space coordinates.

The coordinates take them in the TARDIS (which is now fully repaired) to the drawing room of a large, old mansion: Sepulchre.  It’s located somewhere other than England; the paintings on the wall are of another dimension.  Mrs. Wibbsey finds them, and is annoyed; she’s been there three weeks, due to time slippage (or so the Doctor says).  She points out that the TARDIS is gone, which it is.  Oddly, she seems to be working in the house, just as she does for the Doctor at Nest Cottage.  The Doctor expresses some regret for removing her from her original life (Hornet’s Nest).  She returns and says that she will show them to their rooms; the Doctor offers her the completed pendant back, and subtly hypnotizes her with it.  She admits that she doesn’t know why she hid the pendant, or what is going on; but she shakes off the trance, and leads them through the house.  She says they will meet the owner, but not tonight.

In his room, Yates notes that there is complete darkness outside, with not even stars visible.  He finds himself locked in.  The Doctor comes in, using his sonic screwdriver to unlock the door, and breaks the window; they are in space, but with some type of protective layer of nothingness.  He concludes that no one would be able to see in from outside, either—something is being concealed.  They explore the house, and find a door with green light coming from beneath.  The Doctor goes in alone for a time; when he comes out, he has a collection of components in his pockets.  The room is the dematerialization chamber as seen in previous installments; and for the Doctor, it has deepened the mystery.  They return to the parlor, and the Doctor says they are right on the edge of the universe.

The Doctor has his messaging machine with him; he remembers the second message and checks it.  It’s from a former dancer named Ernestina Stott [note: a prominent character from the preceding arc, Hornet’s Nest], and she has done some research for him.  She says the Cromer Palace of Curios—Mrs. Wibbsey’s former place of employment in the 1930s—suddenly burned down at 2:00 AM on April 14, 1940.  Mike leaves him brooding in the parlor, and goes to find the TARDIS.  He encounters Mrs. Wibbsey, who is quite despairing; she suddenly changes her demeanour, and declares that the Demon is with the Doctor.  Mike rushes her back to the parlor, where he finds the Demon facing the Doctor.

It seems it’s not a dangerous situation, however, and the Doctor is enthusiastic, calling the Demon their host.  They discuss their previous encounters; the Demon calls it a long game to get the Doctor there.  He admits that he is serving someone else.  The Doctor gives the TARDIS key to Mike before returning to the Demon.  The Demon says the Doctor will soon transcend and become a new order of being.

The Demon transforms the room into a flaming pit, and tells the Doctor he is headed for his own tomb.  Mike objects; he is aware of future regenerations, and says the Doctor can’t die here, but the Doctor says that those things haven’t happened for him.  The Demon says the Doctor will give up the secrets of time and space before he dies.  He beckons the Doctor into the flames; and to Mike’s shock, the Doctor steps in, and vanishes, with the Demon.

Mrs. Wibbsey acts strangely, trying to get the TARDIS key from Mike; she claims to know where the TARDIS is, and has to get away.  She nearly overpowers him, until green flames burst from her; she denies it’s her doing it, but the flames engulf them both, and carry them away.  They find themselves in a cavern of green stone, with the flames on the ceiling.  Ahead, they can see the Doctor, high on a ledge, entombed in an open, coffinlike structure, and covered with electronic connections.  Mike climbs up, but is beset by a fear of heights.  They are interrupted by the buzz of hornets approaching.

Mrs. Wibbsey is possessed, and has been for some time.  She is under the control of the powerful Hornets that the Doctor, Mike Yates, and Mrs. Wibbsey fought a year prior at Nest Cottage (Hornet’s Nest), and whose queen was banished in their last encounter.  They have used Mrs. Wibbsey and the Demon to bring the Doctor here.  They intend to turn him into the Atlas of All Time and Space, drawing out the Doctor’s mind—with all its knowledge and secrets—and turning it to their own ends, destroying his body in the process.  Time Lords have an innate ability to see all of time and space at once; they require this ability to recover their lost queen, and then nothing will stop them.  They begin the process, causing the Doctor to suffer.

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Mike tries to get through to Mrs. Wibbsey and get her to fight the Hornets.  She recalls the moment when they gained access to her after the Doctor’s last battle with them.  The Demon transforms the chamber into a backdrop for the Atlas, which begins to form around them.  While the Hornets and the Demon are distracted by the Atlas, Mike climbs the rest of the way to the Doctor, and yanks the Doctor out of the machine.  Mrs. Wibbsey, still under Hornet control, climbs up to stop him.  Mike, with the Doctor’s help, tries again to talk her back to sanity, but unsuccessfully.  Desperate, Mike grabs her and pushes her into the sarcophagus.  As it seizes on her instead, the Atlas blinks out.  The Doctor announces that while the machine had started to copy his mind, it hadn’t started to erase the original yet. One screen shows Mrs. Wibbsey’s perception of time and space—small, but vibrant for her, with all the places she has been.

Soon the Hornets will overcome the sarcophagus’s influence.  The Doctor confronts the Demon, and tries to persuade him to betray the Hornets.  He admits the value in it, but denies that escape is possible.  The Doctor promises him liberty if he helps, despite the Demon’s past havoc at the behest of the Hornets.  Finally he agrees; and the two of them dismantle and adapt the sarcophagus’s control console, using the components the Doctor pocketed earlier.  Meanwhile, the Hornets are starting to emerge from Mrs. Wibbsey.  Finally, the two of them are ready to begin; and vefore the Hornets can escape, they switch on the console.

The modified machine is a sort of transmat; it can send the occupants of the sarcophagus to any point in the Atlas.  However, the current Atlas is small; it’s only Mrs. Wibbsey’s perception, and limited to Earth.  The Doctor sends the Hornets—and the Sarcophagus—to a specific date and time:  April 14, 1940, 2:00 AM, in the Cromer Palace of Curios.

Mrs. Wibbsey, however, was not transported.  The Doctor rigged the machine to transport everything except sources of human DNA; therefore, she was left behind, free of the hornets.  She only remembers the recent events as a terrible dream.  They can return home; but first, the Doctor has a promise to keep: he must free the Demon.  However, the Demon is gone, with the components from the demat chamber.  The room collapses; but the trio vanishes and appears in a blank room.  With them are the demat chamber, and the TARDIS.  The Demon intends to escape, although he requires life energy to persist in this dimension.  As the chamber dematerializes, the Doctor admits that he miscalculated; they hurry into the TARDIS and head home, as the asteroid crumbles around them.

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For the most part, this conclusion to the Demon Quest arc was satisfying. My biggest complaint isn’t really a complaint; it’s more a reflection of my own listening, as I haven’t had opportunity to listen to the preceding arc, Hornet’s Nest. The reveal at the midpoint of this entry—that the hornets are the true villains—depends heavily upon that story arc. The story explains its own backstory well enough to get a basic grasp on events, but it would definitely help to have listened to Hornet’s Nest first. Likewise, I imagine the third series, Serpent Crest, follows up on the Demon’s escape and minor betrayal at the end of this story, though I haven’t listened to that arc to confirm.

This story plants us firmly back in customary Doctor Who territory. Mike Yates is the narrator this time, and he is a much better choice than the previous entry’s Buddy Hudson; Mike as a character is familiar enough with the events of the Doctor’s life to give us a decent framework. As well, we’ve had any number of stories about the Doctor being cannibalized in some way for his powers/regenerations/knowledge/etc., and this one fits right in. Once again he eludes death through the efforts of his companion(s), and once again he saves the day at the last minute with technological wizardry. It’s great stuff, if not exactly revolutionary. But then, as I’ve said many times, it’s hard to be brand-new in a series with a fifty-year history. Sometimes old favorites are a good thing.

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While it’s not exactly suspenseful, the story does have some surprises. Having read the cover blurb, I very much expected the Demon to turn out to be a reasonable character, under the control of the Hornets. Instead, he betrays the Doctor’s trust at the end, and sets himself up to be a future villain (we know he will have to kill again, at least). In that regard, he’s much like the Master, circa the Third Doctor era. I was caught off guard by Mrs. Wibbsey’s turn at mind control under the hornets; I expected she was under the minor control of the Demon, but her role turned out to be much larger. I still pity her, though; she’s at the forefront of the Doctor’s tendency to cause suffering for those around him.

Once again, we are lacking in references to stories outside this arc. It’s a very different take when compared to Big Finish’s audios, which tend to be laden with links to television episodes, novels, other audios, and even the comics. This is doubly surprising to me, as Paul Magrs has written for Doctor Who in other media and ranges, and is no stranger to such references. Still, perhaps his writing here was constrained by the publisher. There is no shortage of references within this series, however, including several references back to Hornet’s Nest. I listened and wrote the first draft of this review several weeks ago, and since then I have had opportunity to work through some of the Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures; there are some definite parallels between this series and a few of those, most notably Trail of the White Worm, and we’ll look into that when we get there (I don’t want it to be a spoiler at this point).

As for the series as a whole: I enjoyed it. It’s a take on the Doctor that we don’t often get to see, one in which he’s almost domestic. He keeps a house, and looks on Mrs. Wibbsey as a family member of sorts. As much as it’s possible to be so, this series is cozy and informal; one feels that Nest Cottage is a nice place to live (if only things wouldn’t keep going haywire). The Doctor is informal and relaxed, but he can’t really stop himself from working anyway; he’s reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes in that regard, impulsive and not quite entirely sane, but still brilliant. I don’t know if I’ll have opportunity to review the first and third arcs in this series; I seized on an opportunity to get it for free in this case; but if so, I look forward to it. If these reviews have lacked a bit of context, well, maybe I can make up for that in the future.

I’m not sure yet if I’ll continue posting on Wednesdays, as I’ve been reserving that day for unusual items like this series. In the meantime, thanks for reading!

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All BBC audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased on CD at Book Depository; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  If anyone has a link to a purchase page directly from BBC, please let me know in the comments!  I would be happy to support the producing company, but have been unable to locate this or related audios for sale on the BBC website.

Sepulchre

Previous

Audio Drama Review: Starfall

I had some unexpected appointments today, so I’m running a little behind with the next Main Range entry. Therefore, for today’s post, I’m covering the next installment of the BBC Audio Fourth Doctor Adventures, Starfall. We pick up after last week’s A Shard of Ice. On Wednesday, I’ll return to the Main Range with Dust Breeding.

We’re back, with another BBC Doctor Who audio drama review!  Today we’re continuing the Fourth Doctor Demon Quest arc, listening to part four, Starfall.   Written by Paul Magrs, this story features the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), Mrs. Wibbsey (Susan Jameson), and Mike Yates (Richard Franklin).  Let’s get started!

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

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This entry is narrated by a New Yorker named Buddy.  New York, July 11, 1976: Buddy is working a street pretzel stand, as his girlfriend, Alice Trefusis, watches from her office window.  Alice’s supervisor, the elderly and awful Mimsy Loyne, employs her as a literary secretary, helping with Loyne’s memoirs; Alice hates the job, but needs the money.  Nearby, a cult meets to perform bizarre rites.  That night, a meteor crashes into Central Park; Buddy and Alice search for it, but fail to find it.  The next day, the Doctor, Mike Yates, and Mrs. Wibbsey arrive in the TARDIS; the Doctor is almost immediately struck with an ill feeling, which he attributes to something in the atmosphere.  He notes the now-empty pretzel stand, and then they go into the park.

Buddy, meanwhile, has abandoned his post to take Alice on a walk in the park while Alice vents over her boss.  They stumble upon the meteor; Alice says it is singing to her.  She touches it and is knocked back; Buddy sees her glowing with strange golden light.  The Doctor and his companions come upon Buddy and Alice, and offer to help; but Alice fears him, and tries to get rid of him.  Suddenly, energy bolts shoot from her eyes, and she can’t control them.  Wibbsey points out that this is all in the comic, which says Alice will become a loved superhero called Ms. Starfall—indeed, Alice seems to embrace the idea, before passing out.

The Doctor carefully collects the meteor (wrapped in a coat), and Wibbsey helps Buddy take Alice back to Loyne’s apartment, with Wibbsey recognizing Loyne’s name as a once-famous actress.  Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor feels better; while analyzing the meteor, it splits open, revealing half a golden heart, which is stamped “SEPUL”—short for “Sepulchre”, presumably.  He realizes that Mrs. Wibbsey is in danger, and takes Mike to find her.  Along the way, they find the brutally-murdered body of a young man, who has been desiccated like previous victims.  At that moment the police arrive, finally alerted to the strange happenings, and—jumping to entirely the wrong conclusion—arrest them both.

At Loyne’s apartment, Buddy at last meets Loyne, and takes Alice to her own room.  Alice awakens, and says that she feels amazing.  Loyne sees the police entering the park, and demands to talk to Buddy; Wibbsey goes to talk to her instead.  She accidentally leaves behind the comic, which is dated for today, and includes all of them, as previously described.  Alice likes the idea—and suddenly discovers she can fly.  She takes an old Hollywood Valkyrie costume from Loyne’s collection, and notes it is the same as in the comic; she puts it on, and starts exultantly using her powers, flying over the city.  Buddy looks again at the comic, and sees that the writer’s name is the same as his.  In the window, Wibbsey sees the Doctor and Mike escorted out of the park by the police.  As she prepares to go after them, Loyne orders Buddy to bring back her secretary, then leave.

Alice is using her powers to stop petty crimes and avert minor disasters.  Meanwhile, the Doctor and Mike are in a squad car; the Doctor continues to feel worse now that he is away from the TARDIS.  They discuss the Demon; the Doctor says it is “a potpourri of physiognomy and DNA”, and could be anyone around them.  They witness Alice flying around, and then watch as she lands in front of them and demands their release from the police.  When the police refuse, she disarms them, and removes the Doctor and Mike from the car.  At the apartment, Loyne gloats over the progress of the situation, shocking Mrs. Wibbsey; Loyne puts her out, with Buddy.  While exiting, they see glimpses of the Doctor, and return to the apartment in search of him—but the glimpses begin to pile up, as if there are multiples of him.  Buddy and Wibbsey hide on the stairs to watch as the figures go past, but none of them are the actual Doctor.  The figures go into the door at the top of the stairs.

Alice brings the Doctor and Mike back to the apartment through a window, landing in Loyne’s bedroom.  The Doctor feels his worst so far, and thinks he is near the epicenter of the effect.  Upstairs at the attic level, Buddy and Wibbsey listen at the door where the figures entered, hearing what sounds like ritual chanting; they peek in, and see a weird, dancelike ritual in progress.  The Doctor-like figures are dancing around the final piece of the spatial geometer, which is glowing.  The figures discover they are being watched, but they continue the chant.

The Doctor confronts Loyne, and says that he knew her in 1922, on Sunset Boulevard, when he had a different form.  Alice demands to know where Buddy is, and says she will find him; the Doctor asks her to bring back Mrs. Wibbsey as well.  When Alice leaves, Loyne changes demeanour and tries to paint Alice as her captor, and possibly the Demon, as well; she also admits to remembering the Doctor.  He does not believe her claims, though.  She claims to have heard Alice consorting with demons.  The Doctor expounds his own thoughts briefly, and then sends Mike to make tea.  While Mike is out, the Doctor admits that he never had a past acquaintance with Loyne, and therefore she is lying about remembering it—and is the Demon.  She admits it, but says that he is too weak to resist—and she needs him.

Mike returns and finds the Doctor weakened on the floor, and Loyne absent.  The Doctor insists that they must find the true epicenter of the debilitating effect.  The cultists in the attic admit to working for a mysterious boss, presumably the Demon; they say that she has ordered them to complete this ritual as the Doctor dies.  Alice arrives and breaks in to rescue Wibbsey and Buddy.  She easily overcomes the cultists, knocking them out; Wibbsey takes the opportunity to go after the spatial geometer component.  The cult leader intercepts her.  Loyne arrives and claims leadership over the cult.  The Doctor and Mike also arrive, and confront Loyne; the Doctor suddenly appears recovered, which he attributes to the interruption of the ritual.  Loyne is not dismayed; she changes to the form of the Demon, announcing that her preparations are already complete anyway.  She admits to having been all the villains of the preceding stories; she also claims to have been responsible for the meteor which gave Alice her powers.  She intends to dispose of the others as irrelevant now that she has the Doctor; the Doctor points out that they are never irrelevant, as Mike has just reclaimed the geometer component while she was distracted.  In retaliation, the Demon grabs Mrs. Wibbsey and drags her into the dematerialization chamber.  The chamber dematerializes, but not before the Demon announces that the Sepulchre is prepared for the Doctor.

The group returns to the TARDIS; the Doctor says they must go after Mrs. Wibbsey.  The Doctor tells Buddy and Alice they must stay in New York; but unfortunately, now that the Demon is gone, Alice’s powers will fade in a few hours.  Buddy is not dismayed; he plans to write a comic series about Alice, or rather, Ms. Starfall.

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This entry is timely, as it shares some similarity with the 2016 Christmas special, The Return of Doctor Mysterio.  [Full disclosure: it may not be timely by the time I get it posted; I’m writing this in mid-January 2017.]  Both concern unintentional, New York-based, Superman-like superheroes whose powers originate from mysterious stones.  Both stories exploit—and in my opinion, pay tribute to—Silver Age comic book tropes.  That’s where the similarities end, however; the two stories’ plots proceed very differently.  Personally, I like this type of story; I grew up reading old Silver Age comics, and watching the Christopher Reeves version of Superman, and I think those things are great.  This story does a great job of paying tribute to those sources, although it devolves into occasional caricature in doing so.  Buddy, for example, is a stereotypical New Yorker (though his accent is more New Jersey, I think) who would have been right at home in any parody of the early twentieth century.  (Now that I think of it, Daleks in Manhattan comes to mind…)  That would be no big deal, except that this story is set in 1976.  Mimsy Loyne is a caricature of a rich, vain, villainous former starlet; it’s perhaps understandable if she’s over the top, given that she’s actually the Demon in disguise, but it’s still very obvious.  And Alice—the titular “Ms. Starfall”, in her superhero persona—while taking quickly to her superhero role, sounds more like the traditional damsel in distress.

There are no large roles in this story, which takes place over just a span of an hour or so (excluding the meteor crash on the previous night).  Perhaps that makes it a bit more excusable that neither Mike Yates nor Mrs. Wibbsey actually does much here, but it still seems awkward in hindsight.  They do have some action at the end; Mrs. Wibbsey stands up to the cult leader, while Mike recovers the last geometer component.  Otherwise, it’s a bit dull on the action side for everyone, which is a waste in a superhero story.

The Demon’s plan here doesn’t make a lot of sense.  I understand that she needed Alice to have superpowers, because it inspired Buddy to write the comics which were then adapted to feature our main characters.  But, the book that led them here can’t be one of Buddy’s actual comics; the date of publication is the same date as the story, and that’s just not possible.  It does seem that the Demon is somehow incapable of leaving clues for the Doctor without existence; it requires humans to do this on its behalf:  Metafix the mosaic-maker in The Relics of Time, Lautrec the painter in The Demon of Paris, and Tiermann the storyteller-turned-author in A Shard of Ice.  But—getting back to Alice—it seems like a colossal oversight to give a superhero to the Doctor as an ally, when the plan is to trap the Doctor.  As well, though the Demon caused the meteor to hit the park, it could not have guaranteed that Alice—the one person close enough to the situation to suit her needs—would be the one to find and touch it.  I also was curious why the cultists were required to dress like the Doctor; if it’s for the purpose of establishing a connection to him, shouldn’t the spatial geometer be enough to accomplish that?  In general, the Demon’s plans seem to be quite convoluted, if all it wants to do is get the Doctor to Sepulchre; but I’ll reserve judgment until the end of the final chapter.

I can’t help wondering just how much of an investment the Demon makes in these trap scenarios.  In the previous installment, it was stated that the mountain lodge was actually the Demon’s dematerialization chamber in disguised form, and that it had been there for about forty years; likewise, the Demon had been in Ice Queen form that long, for most of Tiermann’s life.  Here, Mimsy Loyne had a real Hollywood career going back about fifty years at least, as corroborated by Mrs. Wibbsey.  Already that places us at about a hundred years of involvement, if we assume that the Demon was Loyne all along.

Buddy isn’t the greatest narrator.  While his accounts seem accurate enough, he wanders quite a bit, with a number of false starts and redirections.  He freely admits that he wasn’t there for most of the story, getting it instead from the other participants; at some points he has to be embellishing, given that no one in his group could have seen the things he reports.  I won’t say he breaks the immersion; but he’s definitely frustrating to follow.

With all of this, it may sound as though I disliked the story; but in the end, that’s not the case.  It’s certainly not the high point of the arc, but neither is it the low point; I would give that dubious honor to part two, The Demon of Paris (pending the last chapter, of course).  While the story has some flaws, those flaws are consistent with the Silver Age comics it seeks to emulate; those stories haven’t always aged well, and they are guilty of similar failings.  Still, there’s something nostalgic about a story in that vein, and I enjoy them, even with their flaws.  It requires a bit more suspension of belief to enjoy this story, as it doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny, but it’s worth the effort.  And as well, it’s of course necessary to get us to the final chapter.

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Next time:  We’ll wrap up Demon Quest with part five, Sepulchre!  See you there.

All BBC audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased on CD at Book Depository; this story’s purchase page is linked below.  If anyone has a link to a purchase page directly from BBC, please let me know in the comments!  I would be happy to support the producing company, but have been unable to locate this or related audios for sale on the BBC website.

Starfall

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Audio Drama Review: The Time Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Time Machine

Destiny of the Doctor

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