We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Human Resources, parts one and two, episode six and season finale of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, season one! (Alright, technically it’s episodes seven and eight, as Blood of the Daleks and Human Resources consist of two parts each, but who’s counting?) Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama!
Picking up right where we left off in No More Lies, Lucie Miller wakes up at a table in an office building. She is met by a woman whom she feels she recognizes; but her memory is not serving her. Audiences will recognize her as the Headhunter, who captured Lucie at the end of the preceding story. Lucie does not, however; and she is escorted to her desk for her first day on the job at Hulbert Logistics, the job for which she applied at the beginning of this season. She is paired with another recent hire, Karen, who applied at the same time as Lucie, but was hired earlier. Everything seems normal at this data entry position; but Lucie can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong.
The Doctor is furiously trying to get the TARDIS going so he can rescue Lucie; but he finds that the Time Lords have fitted it with isomorphic controls…and keyed them to Lucie. He can’t go anywhere without her. He is interrupted by a Time Lord named Straxus, who informs him that the Time Lords are sending him to recover Lucie—but because they feel they can’t trust him, they are withholding the TARDIS. Instead, Straxus gives him a time ring, which transports him out. In return, he promises repairs for the TARDIS and removal of the isomorphic controls, and also promises that the Time Lords will make other arrangements for Lucie.
Lucie finds that she can’t leave the building; in fact, no one can, not even by breaking out. She returns to her desk, only to find that she’s been seconded to another, higher-ranked staff member. She reports to him, and finds that it is the Doctor, using his John Smith alias; as her memory returns, he fills her in on the situation, and says wryly that while wandering around, he met another staff member and quite inadvertently found himself employed with an office. He, too, has seen that escape is impossible. Meanwhile, he’s been summoned to a planning meeting, so he sends Lucie back to her desk. Behind the scenes, the company’s owner, the eponymous Todd Hulbert, is meeting with a current client about the terms of service.
The Doctor attends the meeting, and determines that the company, while seeming to be a standard office, is actually engaging in hi-tech warfare, complete with heavy weaponry. He makes further contact with the office supervisor, working his way toward the heart of the situation. Meanwhile, Lucie and Karen continue working, with Karen letting Lucie use her computer password to speed things along; and Lucie begins to get an occasional, strange sensation of multiplicity about herself. She meets up with the Doctor again briefly, then returns, only to find Karen in the process of being fired for a trivial mistake. She joins the argument, and gets herself fired as well; and the two are ejected from the building. They find themselves on an alien world, and discover that the office is actually an enormous war robot, which is coordinating with others like itself on a massive battlefield. She calls the Doctor, and sends him a photo of the robot for proof; she tells him not to come after her, as he won’t be able to get back in. They then seek cover.
The Doctor meets his supervisor, Jerry, again, and asks to have Lucie replaced as she was just fired. This nets him directions to Human Resources, on the ground floor (“to make sure they’ve crossed all the i’s and dotted all the t’s”). He finds the area locked up, and breaks in, but is caught by the supervisor. They find a dimensional corridor inside, which transports the Doctor elsewhere, to another building(Jerry remains behind, returning to his own office). Inside, he finds himself at Hulbert’s office. Hulbert explains that he acquired the business a year ago (it having been established by an alien whom Hulbert eventually deposed), and found that the best way to crew his battle robots was to brainwash ordinary office workers into doing the work—hence, Lucie, who was acquired in exactly that manner. He uses the dimensional corridors to bring them here or to other robots from Earth. He had sent the Headhunter to recover Lucie when she disappeared during transport, believing she had been poached by a rival; he wouldn’t care, except that examination of her might reveal his techniques. He recognizes the Doctor as extraterrestrial, and tries to recruit him as a client; the Doctor plays along, positing an invasion of Gallifrey, of which Hulbert has never heard. Hulbert ends the meeting due to an impending meeting for other potential clients—overlooking the world on which the robots are currently fighting—and invites the Doctor along.
Outside, Karen and Lucie are picked up by a man named Malcolm in a small ship; Karen recognizes him as her former boss, who was fired before Jerry was promoted. He tells them about the brainwashing, and that no one ever leaves the robots. He lays the blame at Hulbert’s feet. Lucie learns that the weapons used by Malcolm and other refugees were taken from the other side in the war, who are losing.
The Doctor and Hulbert arrive at the viewing platform for the meeting, and the Doctor learns that the now-devastated world is the planet Lonsis. He listens to the presentation briefly, then suddenly reveals that he has decided he doesn’t like Hulbert’s operation…and has taken down the defenses, allowing the other side to invade.
The Headhunter goes in pursuit of Lucie, to protect her investment. She is almost immediately captured by Malcolm.
Hulbert angrily confronts the Doctor, and the Doctor derides his operation. However, both are interrupted by the sound of marching…and the Doctor recognizes the invading adversaries: The Cybermen. He has made an awful mistake.
In Part Two, the Cybermen capture Hulbert and the Doctor, and take the Time Ring from the Doctor. The Doctor determines they are an early version of his old enemy; they have no time travel of their own, and remember the destruction of Mondas at the hands of the Doctor, but have never heard of Telos, their still-future second homeworld. They accept that he is the Doctor, but do not consider him a threat; they put him to work undoing his own sabotage. Meanwhile, they negotiate briefly with Hulbert, and then decide they don’t need him; however, as the Doctor has damaged the dimensional tunnel aboard Hulbert’s platform, they let him live so as to summon a robot which they can take over and use.
The Headhunter tells Lucie why she has been hunting her; Lucie is disappointed to learn it is not because of anything special about her, but simply to protect Hulbert’s secrets. However, Lucie decides to use the Headhunter and her ship to get back inside the robot from which she came. Meanwhile, Hulbert points out the potential clients he was meeting as the Shinx, from Shinus, a system that neighbors Lonsis; they had been planning to hire him to defend against the Cybermen should the Cybermen successfully establish themselves on Lonsis. The Cybermen promptly execute the Shinx, and Hulbert summons the nearest robot—coincidentally, the one Lucie is busy infiltrating.
On Earth, Straxus and his staff complete repairs on the TARDIS, and Straxus awaits the Doctor’s return, which is already late. The Doctor contacts Lucie and updates her on the situation, which strengthen’s Lucie’s resolve to recapture the office. He is caught in the act, but he offers the Cybermen his TARDIS—a bluff, of course—in exchange for sparing his life.
Aboard the robot, Lucie and her group overpower Jerry and lock him up, and Malcolm infiltrates the control systems. He prepares the robot for battle, but is contacted by Hulbert; Lucie informs him that the Headhunter has defected, and Malcolm ends the call. Lucie finds a strange device under the desk, and experiences another moment of multiplicity. The robot joins combat with Hulbert’s platform, and successfully overcomes it. However, Cybermen reinforcements move in to attack the robot. Meanwhile, Lucie’s group takes advantage of the platform’s vulnerability to get aboard. They rescue the Doctor and escape back to the robot; the Doctor quickly recovers the Time Ring en route. Lucie shows him the device she found, and he identifies it as a quantum crystallizer, a Time Lord device that cherry-picks favorable timelines and brings them into existence, thus determining certain outcomes. It is what has made the company so successful against the Cybermen. He takes it and Lucie via time ring back to the TARDIS for answers. Meanwhile, the Cybermen invade the robot and work their way toward the command office, killing many of the crew.
The Doctor confronts Straxus with the crystallizer. He explains that the High Council is not involved; rather it is the CIA, or Celestial Intervention Agency, which the Doctor characterizes as interventionist like him, but in a self-serving way. He admits that Lucie is also a CIA project, as she was predicted to become a dictator in the future, shaping Earth’s future in a terrible way; the CIA has been working to prevent this, and also to destroy the Cybermen via Hulbert Logistics. The two projects met here. However, Lucie is in danger of temporal instability if she is too close to the crystallizer. Therefore, the witness-protection story he had been given is not true.
As the isomorphic controls have been removed, the Doctor takes the TARDIS—with Straxus still aboard—back to the robot. Lucie snatches the Crystallizer and runs out, planning to seize control of the office; at the moment she is furious not only with the Time Lords, but with the Doctor. She meets the Headhunter, who sees the crystallizer and offers to help Lucie take revenge on the Time Lords with it.
The Doctor and Straxus find Malcolm and Karen, and make their way to the control office. Karen then experiences the same multiplicity as Lucie, and the Doctor and Straxus sense it…and the Doctor realizes that Lucie is not the potential dictator, but Karen is. As they interviewed on the same day, the Time Lords scooped up the wrong person. Straxus takes Karen back toward the TARDIS for safety, but are separated on the way. Meanwhile, the Doctor and the others intercept Lucie and the Headhunter.
The Cybermen kill Hulbert, his usefulness having ended.
As the Cybermen converge on the control office, the Doctor takes the crystallizer back. He contacts the Cybermen and warns them to surrender. Of course they do not; and as they continue fighting, the Doctor activates the crystallizer. The nearest Cybermen fall dead of systems failure. He states that it is programmed not to let the robot win, but to make the Cybermen lose. He expands its range, and all the Cybermen on the planet fall dead, their ships exploding.
The Headhunter demands the device, and the Doctor gives it to her, but tells her it has burned itself out. Furious, she leaves, and he lets her go. Straxus confronts the Doctor over the CIA’s ruined plans, but he doesn’t care. He organizes Jerry and Straxus to get the remaining humans home.
Karen awakens in the Headhunter’s pod. The Headhunter takes her on as an assistant.
The Doctor and Lucie return to the TARDIS and reconcile their differences. He offers to take her home, but she chooses to stay.
After a few less exciting entries, I was pleased with this story as season finale. It’s action-packed and fast paced, and would be at home in any series of the televised new series. It brackets the season quite well, in that we begin with a Dalek two-parter and end with a Cybermen two-parter; I have read that all the Eighth Doctor Adventures seasons end similarly, with an appearance by one of the Doctor’s arch-enemies. The Cybermen are great adversaries, even though they occasionally risk becoming one-dimensional; but while their goals may be one-dimensional, their plans for accomplishing them are not. It’s a rare thing, but in this story we get the Cybermen on the defensive; they’ve already acquired Lonsis, and make it clear that they chose it after the destruction of Mondas because it was uninhabited and strategically unimportant (and therefore, a great place to replenish their numbers). They have placed tombs here, which will happen later and more famously on Telos as well. The cover art is misleading; it shows a much later variant of the Cybermen. As a result of the early placement in the Cybermen’s timeline, they are aware of the Doctor, but they don’t take him as the great threat he will later be. As this story is set in 2006—it appears to be in the same time period as No More Lies—it has only been twenty years since the destruction of Mondas, seen in The Tenth Planet.
The Headhunter arc is resolved here, and I have specifically avoided researching to see if she appears again later. Personally, I hope so; while the Headhunter herself seems like just another petty villain, there is potential in the possibly-aborted timeline of Karen, who may yet become a dictator. I can’t help thinking that her new apprenticeship may be time’s way of correcting itself and setting her back on track. (Note to Big Finish: If you haven’t gone that route already, get on with it!) There’s a bit of a joke with the Headhunter’s title; while she has certainly been portrayed as a headhunter in the sense of a bounty hunter, she’s also a headhunter in the corporate sense, an officer who acquires employees for a company, usually by poaching them from another company, but in this case by ostensibly counteracting such poaching. It’s subtle, but clever.
Other supporting characters are a bit dull. Hulbert is one-dimensional—he’s an old mercenary, with only financial interests at heart—but he plays it consistently, making it clear that he’ll sell out or double-cross anyone. Malcolm is allegedly just a refugee, but plays more like the type of freedom fighter that we have seen many times in many stories. Jerry is a bit of a parody of corporate middle-managers; it’s been suggested that he was a deliberate parody of (or perhaps tribute to) David Brent from the BBC version of The Office. Straxus is not bad as a Time Lord, given that he’s from the CIA, which is portrayed as a particularly oily and untrustworthy organization (full disclosure: although I’ve heard of the CIA often, this is the first time I’ve seen them portrayed in any performance media, so I am still unfamiliar with them to some degree).
This story has plenty of references, including a few meta-references. The TARDIS is not in a state of temporal grace anymore, which we saw onscreen in The Parting of the Ways and possibly as far back as The Invasion of Time; it doesn’t seem to have been included in the repairs made here. Isomorphic controls have been featured in many episodes. Lucie refers back to several stories from this season; she references her aunt Pat and the Tomorrow twins from Horror of Glam Rock, the Daleks from Blood of the Daleks, Phobos from the story of that name, and the Zimmermans from No More Lies. The Doctor and the Cybermen refer to Mondas and its destruction in The Tenth Planet, and the Doctor mentions Telos (Tomb of the Cybermen), though the Cybermen don’t recognize it. The Shinx originated with the Main Range audio The Condemned. Time Rings were first seen in Genesis of the Daleks, and also figure significantly into the novel Who Killed Kennedy? The Doctor’s and Lucie’s modified cell phones are probably a nod to the “universal roaming” phone provided to Rose in Series One. There’s an early meta-reference to Red Nose Day, a charity effort with which Doctor Who has a history; and in Part Two, the Doctor remarks to Lucie, “I’ll tell you later”, a reference to an oft-repeated line in the comic parody The Curse of Fatal Death.
Overall, it’s a great way to wrap up a season. I had had some concern that the Eighth Doctor Adventures would continue to trend downward, but this story restores my confidence in the range. I look forward to continuing it…
…But not immediately! Next time: we’ll continue the Main Range with Winter for the Adept; and we’ll take a break from the Eighth Doctor Adventures to pursue something new: the Fiftieth Anniversary special series, Destiny of the Doctor! See you there.
All audios in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; links to this story are below. This and many other audios may be found on Spotify and Google Play.