Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Shadow of the Scourge

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Main Range #13, Shadow of the Scourge, featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and professor Bernice Summerfield. Let’s get started!

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

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August 15, 2000: The Pinehill Crest Hotel in Kent is hosting three different conventions. A New Age spiritualist group is meeting under the guidance of channeler (and fraud) Annie Carpenter. At the other end of the spectrum, a scientific convention is in progress, featuring an experiment in time travel, hosted by Michael Pembroke. And, oddly, a cross-stitch convention fills a third suite. Brian and Mary Hughes, of Hughes Avionics, are in attendance; Brian is attending the science convention, and Mary the séances. Mary invites Brian to join her, seeking a common interest; he does so, but is skeptical, and ends up in a confrontation with Annie. Both Brian and Annie are shocked, however, when a strange presence does possess them—and leaves a pentagram mark on their right hands…

The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Ace, and Benny to the hotel. The Doctor has called the police regarding a body; but he made the call too early, before the body is actually present. It arrives on a lift, and the Doctor avoids the police and checks the trio into the hotel in Benny’s name. He sends Ace to the time experiment and Benny to the séance. At the experiment, Ace speaks with the creator of the experiment, Michael Pembroke, and witnesses Brian Hughes—who represents a sizeable investment—tampering with the machine. Hughes locks it into a program that is creating an accelerating time-space curve. Ace also finds that everyone has been locked into the hotel. The Doctor, also investigating, finds that there are “663 attendees, more or less”—or, obviously, 666. He also finds that a pentagram mark is on the hand of the dead body, who was a homeless man called Old Will. Benny meets Annie Carpenter and Mary Hughes, and learns some of their background; she deduces that Annie is pregnant, and notes the mark on her hand. As the séance begins again, the alien presence comes through, and inhabits Annie—and also Brian and the dead man—and transforms them into insectile aliens: the Scourge. Three scourge are present: the Leader, the Demi-Leader, and the Bridgehead. The Doctor meets the leader in the foyer, and offers documents: a full surrender of the planet Earth.

The Scourge recognizes the Doctor as a Time Lord. They seem to be wary of the Time Lords; for some reason, they need the permission of the Time Lords to invade Earth. As they hammer out details of the treaty, Ace tries to help Pembroke shut off the machine, which has created the gateway that allowed the Scourge to materialize fully; but he cannot shut it off. Benny arrives and compares notes with Ace; Ace says that the Doctor is pretending to side with the Scourge while he works on defeating them. Meanwhile, the Demi-leader has snuck off and begun killing individuals. The Doctor negotiates with the Bridgehead, as his “payment”, he wants an implant which the Scourge generally use for torture of humans, but which will allow the Doctor to travel the multiverse via his mind only. They have met the Doctor before, as he dreamed on the astral plane; they know he often tries to trap his enemies, but are placated when he says that he typically does that to enemies who are much less intelligent than him.

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The Doctor arrives and confers with Benny, Ace, and Michael; he sends them to wait in his room (#666, incidentally) while he gathers the Scourge together. He credits the Scourge with much of Earth’s religious dogma, including demons, and says that their voices resonate at a tone that humans cannot resist obeying. He also says they have taken the hotel outside of 3D space and into a fractional universe. He intends to “overfeed” the Scourge with human fear and panic—which is their source of sustenance—and then destroy them as they materialize. As part of the plot, he has put a canister of pacification gas in the air system, to be released at the moment of full materialization—thus sedating the humans and cutting off the “food supply”—and at the same time he will cut off Michael’s machine, closing the gate and destroying the Scourge.

However, the Scourge have outwitted him in one regard. Instead of general panic, they are using just one person: Mary. They summon her and give her visions of hell, at the same time killing her with radiation. Her terror as she dies is overwhelming, giving them everything they need to bring their army through to this dimension. Further, owing to their distrust of the Doctor, they have preemptively found and defused his traps; the gas canister is empty, and modifications which he made to Pembroke’s machine have been counteracted. Then, his defeat is finalized: As the Scourge army arrives, the mark of the Scourge appears on the Doctor’s hand, and he begins to transform.

The Doctor puts himself into a trance, halting his bodily functions and pausing the transformation. Seeing that they still have a chance, Ace gets Gary—the organizer of the cross-stitch convention, who is trapped with them—to box her ears, rupturing her eardrums and deafening her, with the assurance that the TARDIS’s medical bay can fix her; it’s painful, but works, and keeps her from being controlled by the voices of the Scourge. They go to find and kill the Scourge leaders. They find the Bridgehead searching for the Doctor—having sensed that his transformation was stalled—while the Demi-Leader spreads more panic to force materialization.

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The Doctor is alert inside his mind, having trapped the Scourge soldier that was trying to possess him—but he has trapped himself in the process. He battles the creature inside his mind.

Ace finds that a portion of the pacification gas remains in the canister. She attacks the Bridgehead, which used to be Annie, and overpowers it; the gas allows Annie to reassert herself and regain control. She is horrified at the changes to her body, but works past it to help them. They take her to the Doctor. She proves to be less a fraud than she thought; she does in fact have some psychic ability, which is what made her available to the Scourge in the first place. When she touches the Doctor, he is able to speak through her. He sends Ace to the TARDIS, and draws Benny into his mind to help him; Benny’s body becomes comatose. However the connection breaks before he can give Ace further instructions. Ace and Michael leave for the TARDIS, unaware that the Leader has also detected it—its power is trapping the hotel in this universe—and is headed there too. Gary is left in charge of Annie, with the gas canister.

Gary hides Benny’s physical form. However, he runs out of pacification gas, and loses control of Annie. The Bridgehead reasserts control. It orders Gary to choke himself to death, and leaves him to die; it leaves the Doctor’s body untouched as well, as it believes the Doctor will soon fully transform.

Inside the Doctor’s mind, Benny finds that it’s not just the TARDIS holding them in the fractional universe; it’s the Doctor. When he trapped the Scourge soldier here, he trapped them all, as they are a hive mind of sorts. She witnesses his past selves, and even a possible future self: the Eighth Doctor (with whom Benny is quite taken). She tries to help him, but ends up feeding his despair, which in turn feeds the Scourge. The Doctor gives in, and loses control completely.

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On the roof, Ace and Michael are trapped between the Leader and Demi-Leader. The Leader tries to get Ace to kill herself, but she can’t hear it; she wounds the Leader. It then orders Michael to throw her off the building.

The Doctor, however, isn’t dead. He let go purposely, so that he could join the Scourge group mind—and now he uses that connection to speak through Michael to Ace. He tells Ace to pretend to fight, and in the process gets her closer to the TARDIS—and she gets herself and Michael inside. Inside the console room, Ace’s ears are healed; the Doctor, in a moment of foresight, had redirected the medical bay’s nanites to the console room. The Doctor uses Michael to direct Ace to remove some safeties from the TARDIS; the fractional universe has certain peculiarities that can be exploited by changing its relative dimensions, and the TARDIS will now do that, giving them an advantage.

Benny returns to her own body, and saves Gary from killing himself. They locate the Bridgehead; at the same time, the TARDIS arrives, warping local space and knocking the Bridgehead unconscious. They help Ace bring it aboard; the TARDIS’s systems and nanites free Annie from the Bridgehead’s control again. The Doctor tells them to get everyone to the foyer; with the alterations to the dimension, they are now equal to the Scourge, and can no longer be controlled by voice. He releases Michael. Ace and the others head for the foyer; but Benny takes Annie back to the Doctor, and has Annie put her back in his mind.

The Leader and Demi-Leader have been partially blinded, as they now cannot control time and space. Still, they are determined to physically fight the humans—and they can still inspire despair. In the physical world, Annie inspires the others to hold on; in the Doctor’s mind, Benny does the same for him. The Doctor overcomes the Scourge in his mind, and they return to their bodies. In the foyer, Gary leads the others to confess their sins and weaknesses to each other, thus removing the Scourge’s ability to use those secrets to inspire despair; he himself is guilty of stealing a large sum of money from the convention funds. The Leader and Demi-Leader grow weaker, and Ace attacks them. She is captured, but the Doctor arrives to help. He confronts the Scourge, and shows them humanity’s other side: hope in the face of despair. He reveals Annie’s pregnancy to Michael, who is—unknown to him—the father (having had an affair with Annie); this adds Michael’s hope to everyone else’s. With their power cut off, the Scourge army has already been banished back to its original dimension. The Doctor offers mercy to the Leader and the Demi-Leader; they refuse. The Doctor speaks to the Demi-Leader’s host, Brian, and gives him peace with his words; the Demi-Leader cannot hold on, and is banished. The Leader’s host, the dead homeless man, cannot be reached; but the Doctor dispels the fear of him among the hotel guests, which was what allowed the Leader to hold on, and the Leader is banished as well. The fractional universe breaks up, returning the hotel to Earth…and it is over.

In the aftermath, Brian wrestles with depression regarding the deaths that he feels he caused. The Doctor acknowledges that even he can’t save everyone; he will bear the guilt along with Brian. He assures Brian that, though Mary is dead, Brian will go on, and marry again, and the Doctor will visit him to remind him of this. However, he tells Ace and Benny afterward that he doesn’t really know that; he just has faith. Michael, meanwhile, plans to tell his wife the truth about his affair, and divorce her to move in with Annie—not a happy ending, but an honest one, perhaps. Gary discovers that he has been officially forgiven by the convention’s committee; he will be separated from the financial aspects, and must pay back his theft, but he will keep his job. Hope, it seems, has won the day.

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I’ll admit to struggling with this audio, not because it was bad—it wasn’t—but because it assumes a fair bit of background that I simply don’t have. In a first for the main range, it is placed less within the television or Big Finish continuity and more within that of the Virgin New Adventures (VNA) novel series; in fact, it occurs between the novels All-Consuming Fire and Blood Harvest. I am aware that Bernice Summerfield has an extensive history of her own, both with and without the Doctor; but this is my first encounter with her, as I have read none of the relevant novels, and have heard none of her audios. Consequently, anything I may say regarding that aspect of continuity is drawn directly from the TARDIS wiki, the Doctor Who reference guide, and the Discontinuity guide. Also in regard to that placement, the Doctor and Ace as represented here are a later version than that found in the television series and the preceding audios; it’s not as noticeable with the Doctor, but Ace has clearly been through much. The aforementioned guides make reference to her time in Spacefleet; even her costume on the cover illustration is that of Spacefleet.

References to other stories are thin on the ground, and mostly refer to VNA stories. Bernice makes reference to Love and War, when she first met the Doctor. Ace’s spacefleet career (spanning multiple stories) is referenced within the audio when she uses a Spacefleet tool to open the lift doors. Bernice also mentions that Ace has once been inside the Doctor’s mind; this is a reference to the early VNA novel, Timewyrm: Revelation, by Paul Cornell, who also wrote this audio. Humans with psychic abilities are a minor recurring theme in the main range so far, appearing first in Phantasmagoria and again in Winter for the Adept; it also appears in various episodes, both past and future. The Eighth Doctor’s appearance as a potential future incarnation—and more specifically, Bernice’s murmur of appreciation for him—is a nod to her eventual romantic feelings for him in the VNA The Dying Days.

Perhaps my biggest complaint about this audio—such as it may be considered a complaint—is the use again of an extradimensional force that wants to invade. It’s a trope that is used very commonly throughout Doctor Who, and sometimes in creative ways; but here, it’s a bit much, given that we had a similar situation in Winter for the Adept, just three stories ago, and in a modified form in The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, one story prior to that. I suppose it would be unfair of me to say that there are only so many possible versions of this trope; this is a very creative franchise, after all; but it’s still possible to overuse it. Another negative for me is that this story comes across as sloppy, chiefly because it tries to do to much. The Scourge are at one point implied to be the source of demonic manifestations in human history, but this is mostly abandoned as the story goes on, along with most of the demonic imagery. The time experiment is quite underused; the Doctor abandons the plan to stop the machine, and in fact it’s never really stated what became of the machine (which should still be running, and dangerous even without the Scourge). It’s never really clear whether the Scourge are actually killing people, or whether they are manipulating their bodies for possession.

On the plus side: This story is a decent introduction to Bernice Summerfield. We get a glimpse of her in action, without needing to know her backstory, as the references are subtle. It’s a bit disconcerting for someone unfamiliar with her to just see that she is suddenly there as a companion, with no introduction; but that’s a minor thing, and hardly unheard of even in the television series (Melanie Bush, anyone?) There’s just enough hint of her past with the Doctor to make me want to look further (which is something I intend to do anyway, though I don’t know when). It’s also a good story for Ace, who—despite her additional history—is still the same character we know and love. She’s matured a bit; I think that early Ace would never have been able to willingly injure herself for the sake of winning the fight as she does here. As for the Doctor, he’s a bit wearier, a bit more pessimistic than we have seen him—but still holding on and holding out. I’ve often been of the opinion that the Seventh Doctor grows increasingly more troubled and tired as he ages toward his regeneration; I feel that this is supported by his characterization in Lungbarrow, the penultimate VNA novel, which carries us to almost immediately prior to his regeneration in the television movie. This story seems to reflect that, although he hasn’t fully given up hope—and of course he has more adventures between now and then. As always, he’s a fascinating and complex character, more so than nearly any other incarnation.

Overall, it’s a good story, but one for which I felt unprepared. It will be interesting to see if the main range continues to explore this part of the Seventh Doctor’s life; if so, I may have to brush up on my VNA knowledge. Still worth a listen—I haven’t found many audios that aren’t—and a fan of the VNAs will appreciate this more than I did. Unfortunately, due to my own lack of knowledge, I have to rank it lower than perhaps it deserves, when compared to the preceding main range audios. Perhaps I’ll check it out again later, when I’ve caught up more.

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Next time: On Thursday we’ll look at Babblesphere, the Fourth Doctor’s contribution to Destiny of the Doctor; and then we’ll return to the main range for The Holy Terror, starring the Sixth Doctor and another unexpected (and new to me) companion: Frobisher, the shapeshifter. See you there!

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

Shadow of the Scourge

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Vengeance of the Stones

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! We’re continuing our look at the eleven-volume Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Today we’re listening to the Third Doctor’s contribution to the series:  Vengeance of the Stones, written by Andrew Smith and read by Richard Franklin (aka Mike Yates of UNIT) and Trevor Littledale. Let’s get started!

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

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I’m going to ask in advance that you take it easy on me with any misspellings or other manglings of names of the aliens and objects involved. My usual sources came up dry when I tried to research before writing this post; although entries exist for this story, they’re badly in need of completion.

Offscreen, there’s an indeterminate gap between Inferno, Liz Shaw’s final story as companion, and Terror of the Autons, Jo Grant’s first. This story falls squarely into that gap, as the Doctor has no companion (unless you count the Brigadier). It’s also narratively significant, in that it gives us the Doctor’s first encounter with Lieutenant (later Captain) Mike Yates, and recounts how Mike joined UNIT. It opens with the disappearance of an RAF fighter and its pilot on a training mission over the coast of Scotland. As the story told by the pilot’s trainer is rather…unusual…UNIT is called in, and the Doctor comes along for the ride (literally, as he brings his roadster Bessie with him). There they meet local army lieutenant Mike Yates, who is seconded to UNIT for the duration due to his knowledge of the area; it’s the region in which he grew up. Mike leads them to investigate the many stone circles in the area; in doing so, they find the missing pilot—but shortly thereafter, the pilot enters one of the circles, and dies, apparently due to an energy discharge.

Stumped for leads, the Doctor chooses to take another plane and retrace the pilot’s flight plan under similar circumstances; unknown to him, the Brigadier follows behind in a helicopter. The Brigadier’s caution is rewarded; the Doctor sees many of the stone circles light up with power, and then a massive ball of power is released, streaking into space—and wrecking his jet in the process. He crashes safely into the ocean, and is rescued.

After some further investigation, Mike returns to one of the circles. He is immediately incapacitated, and is taken prisoner. His captors are aliens from a planet named Theris; only a few of them remain. In the course of painfully interrogating him, they reveal that they came to Earth a few thousand years earlier on a survey mission for natural resources; they were attacked by the local barbarians, and several of their number were killed. The remaining aliens were forced into stasis for the sake of their survival; but recent roadwork disturbed their stasis pods, awakening them. Now they want revenge for what they considered an act of war. It was they who built the stone circles, as data collection and transmission points; they have an affinity for igneous rock. They can harness the power of such rock using the Therocite stone that is native to their own world.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and the Brigadier are searching the area of Mike’s disappearance. They discover a dilapidated shed; but oddly, they feel a strong urge to ignore it. The Doctor determines that the shed has a perception filter, which diverts attention; he pushes through it and opens the shed, and finds the now-gutted remains of the missing jet. Applying the same logic regarding the perception filter, they search the area again, and notice a house that they previously couldn’t see. They take a squad of soldiers in, and find Mike being interrogated. Despite the Doctor’s attempts at diplomacy, a battle erupts, and one of the aliens is killed; their leader teleports them and Mike out of the house.

Before moving on, the Doctor receives a message via a telephone recording…and it appears to be from his future self. (Context tells us that it is the Eleventh Doctor, but the Third Doctor would not know which incarnation it is.) He learns that, despite the Brigadier’s desire to end the encounter by force, the Doctor must somehow save the therocite from destruction—and he must not tell the Brigadier ahead of time, as that would force his hand.

The Doctor determines that, given the affinity for rock, the teleport took the aliens to one of the circles. UNIT quickly locates them, and the Doctor and the Brigadier race to the scene. They discover that the vengeful aliens now only wish to kill everyone on Earth; they have already sent a distress signal to their homeworld. However, the Doctor informs them that, sadly, their world has ceased to exist during their long sleep. In the end, he is forced to stop their plan by grounding out the therocite, and returning its power to the Earth from which it was taken; the last of the aliens dies in the encounter.

Mike Yates is requested by the Brigadier to join UNIT full-time, and granted a promotion to Captain in the process. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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It was interesting to me to get Mike’s origin story; he’s arguably the least involved of the major UNIT characters in the Third Doctor’s era, but still a decent guy. Too bad about the betrayal later on (if you’ve watched that era of the classic series, you know exactly what I mean). Still, I love an origin story, and this one is not bad. As well, Richard Franklin proves to be a competent reader; although it’s not as convincing as Frazer Hines, he does an admirable job capturing the Third Doctor’s voice and mannerisms. I found myself wishing a bit that Liz Shaw had been along for the ride; but then, she’s one of my favorite companions.

The only thing about this story that felt out of place was the Doctor’s flight in one of the military jets. I suppose it’s within his skill set—he later pilots a microplane, and also the Fifth Doctor would later pilot a spaceship (admittedly to a crash, but that was intentional), so it’s not unbelievable—but it seems far-fetched that the Brigadier would allow it. I expected from the title that this story would be something akin to The Stones of Blood, but it isn’t, although those stories do have some common elements. Stones of Blood was by no means the best of its season, but was definitely intriguing, as the stones themselves were alive. Here, there’s none of that; but the stones are just as dangerous.

This story rehashes some themes that became common in the classic era, and especially with the Third Doctor. For one, the Doctor tries to negotiate and save the villains, but UNIT pulls the trigger, resulting in extermination; the Silurians would understand, and probably try to kill us for it. For another, there’s the recurring theme—more common with later Doctors—of a planet that was destroyed while its last survivors slept. For a third, there’s the very common situation in which an alien force misunderstands humans, and vice versa, resulting in bloodshed.

As I’ve noted with a few previous dramas, there’s nothing groundbreaking here. It’s a plot that would have been perfectly acceptable onscreen in its corresponding era, and doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary. But, again, that’s not a flaw. It’s well done, and that’s what matters, especially in the Third Doctor era. If the First Doctor is your cranky old grandfather, and the Second is your mad uncle, the Third is your paternalistic, friendly uncle; and thus a little familiarity goes a long way. In that sense, this story excels. (I guess that metaphor would make the Fourth Doctor the crazy cousin that no one brings up in polite company…?)

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Next time: We return to the main range for The Shadow of the Scourge; and the Fourth Doctor and Romana deal with the networked insanity to be found in the Babblesphere! See you there.

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

Vengeance of the Stones

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Spare Parts

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today, we’re taking a detour from our regular schedule, and listening to Spare Parts, number thirty-four in the main range of audios. Here, we’ll get a look at the origin of one of Doctor Who’s most iconic villains: the Cybermen! Let’s get started!

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

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Somewhere, an explorer named Donald Philpott steps onto a planet’s surface, the first in many years to do so. It’s a moment of victory—and suddenly turns to disaster.

The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa land the TARDIS in a curious place. It appears to be London or a similar city, circa 1950s…but London never had a roof of stone over its collective heads. Further, the TARDIS’s systems indicate they are in deep space, near a dangerous formation called the Cherrybowl Nebula. Space is unstable and deadly in the area, but that’s not the strangest part: This planet doesn’t seem tied to any star.

The Doctor, showing uncharacteristic anxiety, wants to leave right away. Nyssa, however, wants to explore, and so he reluctantly gives her half an hour, and goes out on his own as well. Nyssa meets a woman named Yvonne Hartley, along with her father; Mr. Hartley is injured, and Nyssa believes him to be dead—no pulse can be found—but he proves to be mostly unharmed. They quickly take her home with them, as a curfew has arrived. Meanwhile, the Doctor meets one Thomas Dodd, and finds that he has an unusual business: he deals in human organs and limbs. Transplants are common here, in both natural and artificial—or cybernetic—parts. Dodd confirms what the Doctor has feared: this planet, a rogue world wandering the stars, is called Mondas—a name the Doctor knows well, for it is the homeworld of the Cybermen. They are interrupted by a cyber-augmented policeman on a similarly augmented horse; the Doctor creates a distraction, allowing them to escape.

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Nyssa has her own brush with the authorities in the form of Sisterman Constant, a sort of public nurse, who comes to the Hartleys’ apartment. Nyssa has no identity papers, making Constant suspicious; Constant leaves, but calls in about Nyssa’s presence. She also reports Yvonne as a possible conscript, or “call-up”, for the work crews in the city. Nyssa meets Frank, Yvonne’s younger brother, and also learns that cybernetic animals are as common as cybernetic people; the replacement of parts with cybernetic substitutes is very common, and many people are in ill enough health to require such replacement. She also witnesses a disturbance in the street, and sees that a neighbor is carried off by police.

The Doctor also sees the disturbance, and realizes that something illicit is happening during the night. He and Dodd make their way to an abandoned church tower to observe, and find that bodies are being exhumed and taken from a graveyard by the augmented police. They are caught by a policeman, who dies in the struggle; they flee, but the Doctor causes the church bell to ring, rousing the people in the neighborhood to see what is going on. He resolves to that if he can’t change this future, he will help the people try to change it themselves.

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Mr. Hartley reveals his own enhancement: a chest unit that keeps his heart beating. It needs repairs, which Nyssa provides. Nyssa is forced to flee when the police—summoned by Constant—arrive; Yvonne gives her a gift: her old pet, an augmented creature called a Cybermat. She meets the Doctor at the TARDIS, but refuses to leave; she wants to change the Cybermen’s history, though the Doctor says it can’t be done. Unknown to them, the Committee—the cybernetic gestalt which controls the city—has already become aware of them, and ordered their elimination.

Nyssa argues with the Doctor, and brings up the death of Adric. They are diverted, however, by the presence of the Cybermat; it chews into the TARDIS console, seeking the power source, until it fries itself—but the damage is done. The Doctor leaves Nyssa to begin repairs, and goes out, and sees that the police have stopped the bells and dispersed the crowd.

Constant has returned to the Committee’s palace. There, a Doctorman—the chief researcher under the committee—named Christine Allan is drinking away her frustrations. She has had problems with augmenting—converting, really; she calls it processing—the work crews, and the Committee is demanding a pace that prevents revision of the process. Hearing Constant’s story, she sends Cybermats to observe the visitors. The Committee then summons her, and demands more processing subjects.

In the morning, Frank goes in search of Nyssa, and finds the Doctor near the TARDIS. The Doctor sends him inside to speak with Nyssa, and then leaves to find Dodd. Inside, Frank gets over his astonishment at the TARDIS, and helps Nyssa with the repairs; he explains that Cybermats are attracted to power sources. It proves true; a horde of them are observed trying to break into the TARDIS—and Frank left the outer door open…Nyssa routes the power into the shell of the TARDIS to fry them all. Afterward, Nyssa and Frank return to his apartment, where they discover that the Committee has announced its plan to convert everyone.

Constant meets with Allan, and learns, to her horror, that the Committee will soon process everyone, turning them all into the latest iteration: the Cybermen. Allan, thoroughly drunk, goes out to find the Doctor and interrogate him, having seen him via her Cybermats. Along the way, she passes Yvonne’s work group, which is about to be processed. Meanwhile, the Committee learns that Mondas is approaching the nebula—and its catastrophic instability—sooner than anticipated. They call the leader of the work crews, the fully-converted Zheng, back to the city to deal with the problems going on.

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The Doctor asks Dodd to help him get to the Committee; but Dodd traps him in a freezer instead, reasoning that he is healthy and will make a good source of organs. He is rescued by Allan, who takes him along with Dodd for use in experimentation. They are interrupted by a blackout, and the roof of the cavern begins to cave in.

Yvonne’s group is not fully processed when the blackout happens, and she has wandered off. The rest are confused and demanding to be told their purpose; but they are already aware that they must protect the Committee. Allan persuades them that she must restart the palace generators, and she is accompanied there. The Doctor and Dodd infiltrate the palace, and find that enough Cyberman frames have been constructed to convert the entire population. Dodd flees, later to be captured and converted. The Doctor rescues Allan from her escort, but is nearly killed when gold leaf—a common weakness of later Cybermen—doesn’t work on this one; Allan activates a kill switch on the Cyberman to stop it, and goes with the Doctor to the generators.

Outside, it’s getting darker and colder, as the city is exposed to the surface by the broken roof. A Cyberman breaks into the Hartleys’ apartment; they are horrified to find it is Yvonne. She doesn’t remember them; but when the Doctor gets the power back on, she suffers a seizure from too many signals, and dies.

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The Doctor is forced to manually activate the generators. Zheng arrives, and sends Constant for processing. He reveals that the Cybermen were created for only one purpose: to activate and control a large propulsion system on the surface, which will save Mondas from the nebula by rerouting the planet’s trajectory. The final breaker on the generators is jammed; Zheng activates the power early, electrocuting the Doctor and seemingly killing him. The Committee decides to put Zheng in charge instead of Allan. However, the Doctor is still alive, and recovering; Allan marvels at this, and persuades Zheng that she must examine him, as he may represent new possibilities for the Cybermen. Initial scans show that he has a discrete lobe in his brain which can handle bodily functions unaided, allowing the rest of the brain to devote to cognitive capabilities; this pattern can be useful in the next generation of Cybermen, and may solve the problems Allan has been facing. To his horror, the Doctor realizes that the Cybermen of the future will owe their existence to him.

The Committee faces a conundrum. If they do not repair the roof, the people will die; but if they divert resources from the propulsion system to effect repairs, the planet may be destroyed. To resolve it, they order that everyone remaining be processed into Cybermen. Nyssa is brought to the palace, only to see Zheng start the full scan on the Doctor. The Committee finds itself divided with regard to the Doctor’s usefulness; realizing that division is their greatest problem, they eliminate their individuality and combine their minds into one, and become the first Cyber-Planner.

When the scanner opens, a new Cyberman is revealed; Nyssa believes it is the Doctor. However, it is Dodd, having been converted according to the new template based on the Doctor. The Doctor is still alive. The Doctor and Nyssa borrow wine from Allan, who is now despondent at the end result of her work, and use it to contaminate the Cyber-Planner’s nutrient feed. Allan goes to warn the Cyber-Planner, and meets Zheng on the way; he says that the propulsion system must be activated right away.

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Nyssa, Frank, and Allan are all captured and taken to the processing lines, but the Doctor succeeds in contaminating the Cyber-Planner’s nutrient feed. It becomes irrational, pulling power from the propulsion system to protect itself. The Doctor reconnects with Hartley; together they create an energy pulse that attracts a horde of Cybermats to the Cyber-Planner, disorienting it and allowing Zheng to divert power back to the propulsion system. Mondas is redirected away from the Nebula, and the Cyber-Planner shuts down; Zheng, critically injured, appears to die as well.

In the aftermath, the Doctor and Nyssa help Allan formulate a plan to reverse some aspects of the processing, making the Cybermen potentially more human. It will not prevent their existence, but may alter the course of their history for the better. However, after the TARDIS departs, Allan finds that Zheng has not died as she thought…and processing will continue, against her will, until every Mondan is a Cyberman. Meanwhile, the planet hurtles through space on a new course, one that will take it back to the solar system from which it came, and to a confrontation with the First Doctor…and the planet Earth.

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This story was written by Marc Platt, author of the Seventh Doctor serial Ghost Light, and also of the famous (or possibly infamous?) New Adventures novel, Lungbarrow. I’ve opted to review it here, out of order for the main range, because it serves as the inspiration for the Series Two episodes Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel.  While it’s often been suggested that the revived television series sometimes steals ideas from Big Finish’s audios, this was a more overt usage: Marc Platt received both credit and payment for the use of his concepts.

The television episodes, which I reviewed yesterday, gave us the origin of the new series version of the Cybermen, via an alternate-universe corporation called Cybus Industries. This story, in contrast, gives us the origin of the original Cybermen in the normal Doctor Who universe, sometimes referred to as N-Space. We’ve known since Season Four’s The Tenth Planet—the final story for the First Doctor—that the Cybermen originated with Earth’s twin planet, known as Mondas; and that Mondas was ejected from its orbit in the distant past and sent careening through the cosmos as a rogue planet, before eventually returning. Mondas is an interesting subject in its own right; it is not just a twin of Earth in the sense of sharing an orbit (though it did indeed share an orbit before its ejection), but indeed, it is identical to Earth, having matching continents and oceans, as can be seen in The Tenth Planet. It is also populated by people who are, for every practical purpose, human; they call themselves such, and are biologically the same as Earth humans. It has never been established how these oddities came to be. In fact, Mondasian (and I use that word for lack of any clear direction; “Mondan” may also be correct) society is parallel to Earth to an incredible degree, to the point that even words and mannerisms are seen to be the same (to a degree that exceeds that of TARDIS translation). However, the Mondans are technically more advanced; the Doctor comments as much here, and says that the cultural level—equivalent to the 1950s—is a result of deliberate repression by the Committee.

Early drafts of the television episodes reflected a dying Earth (though this was abandoned in the final release); accordingly, Mondas is a dying world. The city seen here is alleged to be the last city on the planet, and its population is estimated at about three thousand. The surface is uninhabitable; even Cybermen only have a nineteen percent survival rate on the surface. Still, this is to be expected on a rogue planet; in its own way, Pete’s Earth, on the television series is more of an anomaly. The Doctor in that episode claims that there are no Time Lords in that universe; and yet he and the Time Lords have affected the development of N-Space Earth so much that the alternate version should be radically different, if it exists at all. Fortunately, this audio corrects that a bit: if the Cybermen exist partly because of the Doctor, then his absence in Pete’s universe may have caused them to never exist, which explains why they didn’t conquer Earth in 1980, long before the events of the episode. But we’re getting far afield here.

This audio is stated by Big Finish to occur between Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity; and indeed it must, as with all stories that only include Nyssa. Tegan exited the TARDIS in Time Flight and returned in Arc of Infinity; Nyssa was never alone with the Doctor again, as Turlough joined the crew before Nyssa exited in Terminus. Adric, as the audio mentions, was already dead; the Doctor admits that he never properly stopped to mourn his death.

These Cybermen differ from their later versions in several ways. They do not suffer the weakness to gold, as the Doctor discovers; I can only assume that the modified respiratory system is a later innovation, though it seems like a step backward here. Before the Doctor is scanned, the Cybermen suffer frequent organ failures, miscoordination, and programming errors; his bioscans provide the solution to these problems. Cybermen are seen here in various stages of conversion; it was not a one-time development, and the Doctor sarcastically comments at one point that it began with cosmetic surgeries. Interestingly, Torchwood will later reveal a partially-converted Cyberman, of the Cybus variant, which is at odds with the conversion process we see in The Age of Steel.

In addition to the obvious links to various Cyberman stories (The Tenth Planet, The Tomb of the Cybermen, Revenge of the Cybermen, Earthshock, Attack of the Cybermen, Silver Nemesis), there’s a considerable amount of reference to The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis. Nyssa talks at length about her lost world and family, even elaborating on Trakenite holidays and festivals. She makes an oblique reference to the Master, saying that her father “went away”; in reality, Tremas’s body was stolen by the Master, and maintained until at least *Survival, and possibly all the way to his death in the television movie. In the other direction, future episodes of the revived series will make reference to this story; the Mondasian Cybermen will eventually merge with the Cybus variant, and a Cyber-Planner (though not the same one in any case) will appear in Nightmare in Silver, as well as several audios: The Girl Who Never Was; Legend of the Cybermen; Last of the Cybermen; and the Cyberman range of audios.

Some technical details: This is a long story, clocking in at more than a half hour per part, with a total running time of about two and a quarter hours. Each part has been given an individual title, much like the early seasons of the classic series: “Surfacing”; “Necessary Force”; “Popping the Seals”; and “Shelter”.

This is a haunting story to which to listen; personally, I find it more so than Genesis of the Daleks, to which it might be compared. While the Kaleds and the Mondasian humans are equally victimized, the Kaleds were at the end of a horrific and long-lasting war, which makes them harder to sympathize with. The humans here, however, just want to live; and they are truly deluded about how to go about it. As well, there’s no individual to blame here, unlike the alternate universe’s John Lumic, who can easily be compared to Davros (they even both require a life-support chair). Perhaps it’s simply that the Cybermen have caused so much emotional misery—not least of all, the death of Adric, whom many fans still mourn—or perhaps it’s that they are simply so much like us to begin with; but either way, this story is full of both dread and sorrow at what they become.

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Next time: Back to the normal schedule, we’ll be looking at Destiny of the Doctor: Vengeance of the Stones, followed by Main Range #13, The Shadow of the Scourge! See you there.

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

Spare Parts

Enter the Cybermen: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Two, Part Three

I usually post these on Fridays, but I’m deviating this week for the sake of another post to be made. We’ll be back on schedule next week.

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Last time, we reviewed Series Two’s School Reunion and The Girl in the Fireplace, which reintroduced some old friends, and gave us a new look at the progress of time. Today, we’re checking out three episodes: The two-part story Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel, and also The Idiot’s Lantern. We’ll also look at the related TARDISodes, mini-episodes which accompany each episode of Series Two. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes!

TARDISode 05 gives us something exciting: a transmission via internet from an unknown person to a radical group called the Preachers. It orders the Preachers to take down a man named John Lumic before the project he is heading can be finalized.

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Rise of the Cybermen opens with the aforementioned John Lumic, a wheelchair-bound mad scientist in bad health (there’s really no other fitting description). A scientist on his staff, Dr. Kendrick, reports to Lumic about a robotic form, declaring it to be alive; but then Kendrick says that if it is life, they must report to the authorities in Geneva. Lumic orders the robot to kill Kendrick; then, he departs for Great Britain.

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The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey are in the TARDIS, reminiscing about a past adventure, and generally making Mickey feel left out. Something goes wrong with the TARDIS, and it lands violently, then loses all power. The Doctor declares it dead, and says they have fallen into another universe. The TARDIS draws power from the universe, but this alternate universe is incompatible, like diesel in a gasoline engine. He is shocked, then, when Mickey finds that they are in London. It’s not the same, though; there are zeppelins in the sky, and everyone wears strange electronic pods—earpods—in their ears. Rose discovers that her father, Pete, is still alive in this universe; but the Doctor warns her not to meet with him.

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Pete Tyler, as it turns out, works for John Lumic; his own health-drink company was bought out by Lumic’s Cybus Industries. As such his star has risen, and he is acquainted with the President of Great Britain (yes, president—different universe), who will be attending Jackie Tyler’s 40th birthday party that night. In the meantime, Lumic meets with the President, promoting his system of “upgrading” humanity (i.e. the robotic forms seen earlier), but is rejected.

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The Doctor finds a single remaining power crystal in the TARDIS, and literally breathes new life into it (using regeneration energy—he claims to have given up ten years of life). In 24 hours, it will be able to power the TARDIS enough to go home. Mickey takes advantage of the situation and runs off to explore. Rose, meanwhile, taps into the local internet—which is run by Cybus—and learns that everyone gets daily downloads straight into their brains via the earpods, which are also a Cybus product, and practically ubiquitous. She also researches her parents, and finds out about Cybus, and about Jackie’s party. Now intrigued, the Doctor takes her to infiltrate it.

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Mickey visits his grandmother, who in his own world is deceased (he is otherwise an orphan). She recognizes him, but calls him “Ricky”. He is abducted by two people in a blue van, who also mistake him for his counterpart in this universe, Ricky. They take him to meet the real Ricky, who is their leader after the loss of their previous leader. They prove to be a resistance group called the Preachers, which is opposing Cybus’s plans, although they don’t know exactly what those plans are. They do know that Cybus—via a dummy company called International Electromatics—has been abducting the homeless; they have an informant inside Cybus. And tonight, they will be crashing the party to try to get to Lumic.

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Rose and the Doctor have infiltrated the party, and Rose has unsuccessfully conversed with both Pete and Jackie, whose marriage is on the rocks. They are interrupted when a group of the robots crash the party, kill the president and others, and begin rounding up the guests. The guests will be converted into robot forms themselves. The Doctor, Rose, and Pete escape, and meet up with Mickey and the Preachers, but are intercepted by the robots, whom the Doctor recognizes: they are Cybermen.

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TARDISODE 06 flashes back briefly, to show John Lumic issuing an order for his Cybermen to commence upgrading of the entire population.

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The Age of Steel picks up immediately from the cliffhanger. The Doctor uses the power from the TARDIS power crystal to destroy the Cybermen detaining them, and the group escapes. This won’t stop the crystal from recharging, but will set it back by four hours. In the Preachers’ van, the group compares notes; the Doctor explains about the Cybermen, which originated from another source in his universe—a parallel evolution of sorts. Pete wants to rescue Jackie, but can’t. He also reveals that he is the mole that has been giving information to the Preachers. The Doctor declares that the Cybermen will be stopped tonight. Lumic has a cyberconversion factory inside the former Battersea Power Station. There, he broadcasts a signal which will initiate cyberconversion of all of London. It won’t require force—the earpods will take control of their users and cause them to come to the factory. Jackie is among the victims.

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The Doctor’s group splits up to escape. Mickey and Ricky run together, but are cornered by Cybermen, and Ricky is killed. Eventually, the group meets again outside the factory and sees the crowds entering for conversion. Rose suggests removing the earpods, but the Doctor declines; it will kill the users.

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Inside the factory, Lumic’s chief assistant, Crane, has removed his earpods before the signal. Lumic questions him, and he claims a malfunction, but it is only a ruse to get close to Lumic. He damages the life support systems on Lumic’s chair, sending him into shock. The Cybermen kill Crane, and then take Lumic—against his will—to be converted.

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The group splits up again to infiltrate the factory. Rose and Pete go in the front door, disguised as earpod victims, to find Jackie. The Doctor and Mrs. Moore, one of the Preachers, go in through the cooling tunnels beneath to try to sabotage the conversions. Jake, the remaining Preacher, is sent to Lumic’s zeppelin to cut off the signal broadcast. Mickey once again is ignored by the Doctor; but this time he refuses to stay behind and be “the tin dog”. He chooses to go with Jake.

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Mrs. Moore tells the Doctor her real name—Angela Price—and that she has a family. She once worked for Cybus, but saw plans for the upgrades, and fled, hunted by Lumic. She joined the Preachers to fight back. The Doctor reveals that the Cybermen have emotion suppression technology; otherwise they may go insane at what has been done to them. He realizes that they can be defeated by overriding the suppression and releasing their emotions; this requires a code, however. They are then confronted by Cybermen, and nearly escape; but Moore is killed, and the Doctor is apprehended. The Cybermen detect his Time Lord physiology, and take him Cybercontrol to be examined. Pete and Rose are also apprehended; but the Cyberman that captures them is revealed to be Jackie, now converted. She takes them to Cybercontrol.

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Lumic is revealed to be the new Cyber Controller. Meanwhile, Mickey and Jake successfully cut off the transmission, allowing the unconverted humans to escape. Lumic is undeterred; he has factories around the world, and will force conversion on everyone. The Doctor is aware that Mickey is watching by monitor, and makes a monologue that contains clues obvious to Mickey; Mickey takes the hint and breaks into Lumic’s computer, and finds the code that will unlock the emotion suppression. He sends it to Rose’s phone, and the Doctor activates it, destroying all the Cybermen in the area. The factory is damaged in the process, and set afire. The group flees to the roof and up a rope ladder to the zeppelin; but Lumic follows them. The Doctor gives Pete—the last in line—his sonic screwdriver; Pete uses it to break the ropes, sending Lumic falling to his death.

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Later, with the TARDIS temporarily restored, Rose tries to persuade Pete to join them, but he refuses, and rejects her as his daughter. Mickey also chooses to stay. He has found purpose here—there are more Cybermen to be destroyed—and his grandmother is alive as well. Rose no longer needs him, as she has given her heart to the Doctor. The Doctor warns him that they can’t return for him; the hole in the universes must be repaired when they leave. He leaves Rose’s phone with Mickey, for the code in its memory.

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On the original Earth, the TARDIS materializes in Jackie’s apartment, and Rose reunites with her mother. In the alternate universe, Mickey promises Jake that he is not Ricky, and won’t try to be him; but will remember him by fighting in his name. They leave for Paris, where another cyber-factory waits.

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I can’t overstate the importance of this story to the new series. First, it reintroduces the Cybermen to the series, much as Dalek and Bad Wolf did with the Daleks in Series One. These aren’t your father’s Cybermen, though; the original Cybermen came from the planet Mondas (and later Telos), the rogue twin of Earth, as far back as the First Doctor’s The Tenth Planet. Interestingly, we will see later that the Cybus Cybermen, once established in the main universe (or N-Space, to borrow the classic series terminology), will eventually encounter and merge with the Mondasian Cybermen, yielding the version we see in Nightmare in Silver. These Cybermen lack the oft-exploited breathing apparatus of the classic series; their primary weakness is in their emotional suppression. Mondasian Cybermen share this feature (as seen as far back as The Invasion), but it is much more emphasized here. The use of electricity as a literal hand weapon dates back to Tomb of the Cybermen. As well, International Electromatics is a reference to The Invasion, where a company of the same name was used by the Cybermen; it is unclear whether this is the same company, or just a reference for the audience.

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Second, this story sets the groundwork for Rose’s eventual departure. I won’t say too much, as we’re approaching that story soon; but this is not the last we’ve seen of Pete Tyler or his universe. It also sets the groundwork for every Cybermen story for the next several seasons, as all future appearances are either Cybus Cybermen or the hybrid version I mentioned earlier. Interestingly, it’s not actually the first we’ve seen of them in the new series; a Mondasian Cyberman head was seen in Henry Van Statten’s museum in Dalek, and Rose comments on it here.

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This is Mickey’s goodbye story, as he chooses to stay behind. It’s the fulfillment of his character growth from the whiny coward of Rose, to a strong and capable man and—dare I say it?—warrior. When next we see him, he will be an accomplished hero. It’s unfortunate that he was never able to get respect from the Doctor—he certainly deserves it—but this is a good route for him, and a great exit. (It’s also the culmination of the running “Ricky” joke from Series One—turns out he really is Ricky, in a sense.)

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Torchwood gets not one, but two references, implying it exists in Pete’s world as well. That’s odd, as there are no Time Lords, and Torchwood was (in N-Space, anyway) established in response to the Doctor. On the subject of Time Lords, the Doctor states that travel between universes was once possible, but that with the death of the Time Lords, the walls of the universes closed, and now it is mostly impossible. This is also the first story since Black Orchid to feature no extraterrestrial elements other than the Doctor and the TARDIS, given that the Cybermen here originate on Earth. There’s also a reference to The Five Doctors; the Doctor refers to approaching the factory “above, between, below”, which is a reference to the nursery rhyme about the Tomb of Rassilon in that story. The Doctor asks if he has the right to destroy the Cybermen, echoing a similar dilemma with the Daleks in Genesis of the Daleks; there’s a further similarity with that story as well, in that John Lumic very much resembles Davros, with regard to his physical condition and his goals.

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This story was directly inspired by a Big Finish main range story: Spare Parts, #34 in the main range, written by Marc Platt (author of Ghost Light and the novel Lungbarrow). That’s not to say the ideas were stolen, however; Platt was paid a fee for the reuse of his concepts. That story covers the origin of the Mondasian Cybermen in N-Space; and I think it’s worth a look in comparison with this episode. Therefore, my plan is to review that audio drama tomorrow, with an eye toward comparing the two.

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TARDISode 07 shows us an elderly woman, whose face is stolen by a strange energy from her television. In the episode, she will be revealed to be Mrs. Connolly’s mother. The Idiot’s Lantern takes us to London, 1953, the day before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. A brief flashback introduces us to Mr. Magpie, owner of Magpie Electricals, a failing electronic shop that specializes in televisions. Mr. Magpie is attacked by an energy from the television; it seems to be alive.

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The Doctor and Rose, expecting to land in New York for the Ed Sullivan show, instead find themselves in London. They witness a blanket-wrapped person being swept into a car by several men in black. They follow the car, but lose it at an apparent dead end, leaving them bewildered. Meanwhile, Mr. Magpie is seen in his shop, and is unharmed; but the announcer on the screen is speaking to him, saying her time has come.

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The Doctor and Rose pose as royal inspectors, and return to the home of the Connollys, neighbors of the kidnapped person. Mr. Connolly is something of a bully, and verbally assaults the Doctor; the Doctor outmatches him, and forces Mr. Connolly to allow him to see the old woman in the attic—who has no face. They are interrupted when the men in black return and force their way in, stealing the woman away. The Doctor chases them, and this time finds his way into the place where they have gone; inside, there are a large number of faceless people locked in a cage. He is suddenly captured by the men in black, who are police investigators.

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Rose has seen something strange from the Connollys’ television. Mr. Connolly ejects her from the house, but not before she sees the Magpie label on the television. She goes to Mr. Magpie’s shop and confronts him; but he allows her to be captured, and her face stolen, by the thing in the television, which calls itself “the Wire”. It feeds on brainwaves; the face theft is a side effect.

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The inspectors question the Doctor, who turns the interview around and convinces them that he can help. However, Rose is brought in at that time; the Doctor swears to get to the bottom of it. They return to the Connollys’ house, where Mr. Connolly’s son, Tommy, reveals that his grandmother was watching television when her face was stolen. They go to Magpie’s shop, and find him absent. The Doctor finds a bank of televisions, which display the missing faces. Magpie returns, and the Wire appears; it states it was executed by the people of its world, but survived in this energy form. Now, it wants to absorb enough mental energy to reconstitute its body—and the televised coronation will give it the opportunity, courtesy of the altered televisions that Magpie has been selling at discount prices. It tries to absorb the Doctor, Inspector Bishop, and Tommy, but flees when it detects the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver; it realizes he is also an alien, with superior technology. However, it absorbed Bishop before fleeing.

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Magpie transfers the Wire to the television broadcast antenna at Alexandra Palace, so that it can absorb all the coronation viewers. The Doctor hastily assembles a device that can stop it, but he must get there. At the antenna, he climbs its tower, and confronts the Wire; it has already killed Magpie. With Tommy’s help, he traps the wire on a Betamax cassette tape (which is thirty years ahead of its time). With the Wire defeated, its victims are freed and restored.

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The Doctor tells Rose he intends to record over the tape, ending the Wire forever. Meanwhile, Mrs. Connolly has had enough abuse; she reveals that her mother, rather than her husband, owns the house, and kicks him out. However, Rose encourages Tommy to forgive his father and go to him; if the boy can save the world, perhaps he can save his father, too.

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While this story is usually not rated highly—and indeed, it’s not particularly great; I’d call it average at best—it does establish some concepts that will be revisited. The idea of wirelessly absorbing people will be used to greater effect in The Bells of Saint John, where the true villain is the Great Intelligence. Magpie Electricals will long survive its founder, appearing in a great number of stories, such as The Magician’s Apprentice; Before the Flood; The Runaway Bride; Day of the Moon; The Sound of Drums; Voyage of the Damned; The Beast Below; and the audio story Hunters of Earth, as well as The Sarah Jane Adventures. In fact, it becomes something of an inside joke for the crew, as the Magpie label appears in ever more unlikely places.

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We have a secondary villain in Mr. Magpie, though it can be argued he’s more victim than villain. More interestingly, there’s a tertiary villain in Mr. Connolly. While he himself is a rather sad figure, he does give us the prominent “I AM TALKING!” line, which will be used to far greater effect by the Eleventh Doctor in The Pandorica Opens.

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Overall, not a great episode, but not terrible, either. My main complaint is that there’s no logical reason that the faceless people should be restored when the Wire is defeated; it would be akin to having the Absorbaloff from the upcoming (and much-maligned) Love and Monsters regurgitate its victims upon death. Still, it’s a decent story with a fair bit of human interest.

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Next time: Tomorrow, I’ll post a review for Spare Parts (out of order, but relevant). Next week, we’ll look at two of my favorite episodes: The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit; and if there’s time, we’ll check out the aforementioned Love and Monsters! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

TARDISode 05

Rise of the Cybermen

TARDISode 06

The Age of Steel

TARDISode 07

The Idiot’s Lantern

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: The Fires of Vulcan

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Fires of Vulcan, the twelfth in the Main Range of audios, featuring Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor and Bonnie Langford as Melanie Bush. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t listened to this audio!

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An archaeological dig in Italy has turned up something strange—so strange, in fact, that UNIT, under the command of Captain Muriel Frost, has been called in. But how did a certain—and very familiar—blue police box wind up buried in the ruins of Pompeii?

The TARDIS has landed, but with an odd fault: it won’t tell the Doctor where or when it has materialized. Upon exiting, the Doctor and Mel meet a slave, Tibernus, who takes them for emissaries of the goddess Isis. He tells them it is the twenty-third of August; and the Doctor makes a sudden realization: it is the year 79 AD, and they have landed in Pompeii—and it’s volcano day!

Or, almost. Mount Vesuvius will erupt tomorrow, in fact, at mid-day. The Doctor, preoccupied, lets Mel decide whether to leave or stay; she opts to take a look around. In the city, her odd clothes attract the attention of the decurione Popidius Celsinus, of the city’s municipal court. He is intrigued by the rumor that they are messengers of Isis, as that goddess is his patron. Meanwhile, Tibernus reports to his owner, Eumachia, who is also displeased with the news.

The travelers quickly make new—and not altogether good—acquaintances. The Doctor meets, and subsequently (by exposing his cheating at dice) offends, a disgraced gladiator named Murranus, who thereafter swears revenge on him. Mel meets another slave, a brothel slave named Aglae. Both are interrupted by an earthquake. Mel is disturbed to find that the locals dismiss the quakes as the displeasure of the gods; they refuse to accept any actual danger. However, there’s a problem: the TARDIS is gone, buried beneath a building that collapsed in the quake. Unable to dig it out on their own, the Doctor and Mel are now trapped. The Doctor is strangely unsurprised; finally he tells Mel that he expected this, as he knows that the TARDIS, in the year 1980, will be dug from the ruins of Pompeii. He has encountered this before, in his fifth life, courtesy of UNIT; and now the time has come.

Mel refuses to accept defeat, and promises to solve their situation. She goes to seek help, while the Doctor returns to the inn—owned by a woman named Valeria—where he humiliated Murranus, who is now thankfully not present. Elsewhere, Eumachia meets with Celsinus, and tries to get him to help her expose the Doctor and Mel as impostors. She also buys some of Aglae’s time at the brothel, and questions her, then beats her. Mel interrupts and stops her, but Eumachia is not deterred. Later, Celsinus invites Mel to dinner; she accepts, knowing that he has the means to get help in digging out the TARDIS. The Doctor joins her there, as does Eumachia. The dinner goes badly, and ends in an argument; however, the Doctor has come to his senses now, and vows to do what he can to save himself and Mel, though he knows he is fighting time and paradox itself to do so. In the meantime, he tells Mel to leave the city so that she will survive if he runs out of time. However, Eumachia brings a squad of guards and has Mel arrested, on (admittedly false) charges of theft.

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During the night, the Doctor realizes he has overlooked something both obvious and important. He drafts Aglae to help him rescue Mel. Meanwhile, Celsinus visits Mel in the local gaol. She admits that she lied about being a messenger of Isis, but denies the theft. After some debate, he decides that she is probably innocent, and that he was manipulated by Eumachia; he determines to have her freed—and it should only take a few days…Mel, dismayed, sends him away. She barely has hours, let alone days. The Doctor meets him on the way out, however, and hypnotizes him—along with the guard on duty—and frees Mel. Aglae will take her out of the city, and the Doctor will search for the TARDIS; he realizes that the building that collapsed was excavated much earlier than 1980, meaning it is not the location where the TARDIS was found. The TARDIS, therefore, has been moved.

Mel and Aglae try to leave the city, but are caught by a gate guard. Aglae knocks out the guard, and they hide in the nearby necropolis. They are caught again by the same guard when they try to leave in the morning, and locked up again.

The Doctor returns to the inn, but Murranus—who is fortuitously drunk—is there. Murranus threatens Valeria into helping him capture the Doctor; she does so, against her will, by drugging the Doctor’s drink.

Celsinus meets with Mel again, and she tells him the whole truth. He doesn’t want to believe it; but he tells her that Eumachia has described the TARDIS, and when she confirms its detailed description, he believes her. He releases Mel and Aglae, just as another tremor strikes. Vesuvius is about to erupt.

The Doctor awakens in the local amphitheatre, where Murranus waits. He is forced to fight. At first he refuses, but Valeria comes to his defense, and he is forced to fight back to save her. He is about to be killed…when the mountain erupts.

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In the ash and darkness, the Doctor and Valeria escape; Valeria believes he must be a messenger from the gods after all, if he has power to make the mountain explode. He brushes that aside, and sends her away, warning her to flee the city.

Mel leaves Aglae with Celsinus, and makes her way to Eumachia’s house. Eumachia admits to taking the TARDIS, but refuses to reveal its location; she insists that the ongoing destruction is because of Mel. Tibernus reveals that the TARDIS is in the necropolis, but he does not know which tomb; he only has an approximate location. He refuses to flee, choosing to stay with his mistress even in the face of death. He and the other slaves will die, as will Murranus and the other gladiators, who have retreated to their barracks.

The Doctor meets up with Celsinus and Aglae, and passes Valeria to them, warning them all to flee. They do so, but lose Valeria in the crowd; history will record that she died in Pompeii. They escape the city, but their fate is unknown. Meanwhile, the Doctor finds Mel, and they make their way to the necropolis…and as the city chokes on ash and smoke, they locate the TARDIS, just in time.

The TARDIS materializes in 1980, just before the earthquake that unearths it. Mel comments on the fate of their friends, and the Doctor reflects that they may have survived; he does not know, but chooses to believe they survived until he sees proof to the contrary. She asks why they spent three days waiting in the TARDIS before leaving. The Doctor says that it is so that the ash and lava would harden around the TARDIS, forming a TARDIS-shaped cavity, into which he then materialized it in 1980. Thus the timeline is preserved, and no paradox results. They exit the TARDIS and hide just in time to see Captain Frost approaching the scene of the discovery; in a few days, they will go to UNIT and reclaim the TARDIS, and be on their way.

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This is not the Doctor’s only trip to Pompeii; the Seventh Doctor himself would one day return, accompanied by Ace, in the BBC novel The Algebra of Ice. More famously, the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble would visit Pompeii in the televised story The Fires of Pompeii; companion Jack Harkness would also mention visiting Pompeii on volcano day in The Doctor Dances. The Tenth Doctor, in fact, would be responsible for the eruption, although it’s safe to say the Pyroviles were more responsible. That story, released some years after this, makes no mention of this story; but it’s difficult to believe it was not influenced by this. Aside from the similarity in title, there is a similarity in theme, as both stories deal with the futility of fighting time, and the need to save someone regardless of the inevitability of destruction. Also, there is a running element of conflict between religious elements within the city, prevalent in both stories.

References to previous stories here are practically nonexistent, if one excludes the future references I already mentioned. UNIT gets a mention, of course, and its one named officer—Captain Muriel Frost—is a carryover from Doctor Who Magazine’s comics. The Fifth Doctor is referenced, but the adventure cited has never been seen; I suspect that the Fifth Doctor was selected for the reference only because he was commonly found on Earth in 1980, his episodes being broadcast around that time. The Doctor’s hypnotism is perhaps not a direct reference; but it is reminiscent of the Master’s ability to control minds using only his voice. A few of Mel’s character traits, such as her vegetarianism—played for a joke here, as in “Where is this ‘Vegetaria’?”—have been mentioned before. Most of the Pompeiians in the story are references to real people, whose names and/or bodies were found in the ruins. Within the television continuity, this story must occur prior to Dragonfire, when Mel leaves the TARDIS; it has been suggested to occur after Delta and the Bannermen, the preceding episode, though I found no real indication as to why that must be so.

Behind the scenes, this was Mel’s first audio; she will go on to record a number of others in multiple ranges, including Doctor Who Unbound as well as the main range. It is also Bonnie Langford’s first return to the role in seven years, since 1993’s Dimensions in Time. It’s something of a triumphant return for Mel; she gathered a lot of criticism in the classic series, but here, she is really the star of the show, much as Donna will one day be in The Fires of Pompeii. She’s still loud and opinionated—again, much like Donna—but she’s also reliable, solid, and committed to doing the right thing (and the similarities to Donna just keep mounting!). Her behavior gets her into some trouble, but that’s not surprising; really, it’s a wonder that anachronistic behavior doesn’t get more companions into trouble. While I’ve never been one of Mel’s diehard defenders—I also think she could be flakey in the television series—I also don’t dislike her; and I think this outing really does justice to her. You begin to see what it is that the Doctor sees in her, and it’s great.

Overall, this is a very solid entry for the Main Range; it doesn’t attempt anything revolutionary (although, on further reflection, it really doesn’t have a well-defined villain, instead choosing several minor villains instead—a bold move, I suppose, but one that is executed well here). It’s enjoyable, and well-paced; it neither drags nor rushes, or at least, not until the volcano erupts, at which point it’s perfectly reasonable to rush. My only regret is one that is not particular to this story; that is, it’s eventually overshadowed by its television twin, The Fires of Pompeii. In that regard, it comes across almost as a prelude to that story, in that you can imagine that the Doctor regrets not definitively saving someone here. That is a theme that will haunt him all the way to his time as the Twelfth Doctor, when he chooses the face of a Pompeiian.

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Next time: We’ll detour back to the Destiny of the Doctor series, with the Third Doctor’s Vengeance of the Stones; and then we’re back to the Main Range with The Shadow of the Scourge! See you there.

All audios featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below.  This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

The Fires of Vulcan

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Shadow of Death

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! We’re continuing our look at the eleven-volume Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Today we’re listening to the Second Doctor’s contribution to the series: Shadow of Death, read by Frazer Hines and Evie Dawnay. Let’s get started!

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

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The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe find themselves on a planet orbiting a pulsar in the year 2724. We don’t get an exact date, but we get the year, as Jamie is debating with the Doctor about his—that is, Jamie’s—age; the Doctor is teasing him about being a thousand years old. Zoe has only recently joined the TARDIS crew, while Jamie estimates he has been traveling with the Doctor for two or three years; this places the story after the events of The Wheel in Space. He later gives Zoe an explanation of the Hostile Action Displacement System (HADS); this places the story prior to The Krotons, where the HADS is used. The pulsar’s gravitational pulses are strong enough to the drag the TARDIS out of its flight, leading it to be at least temporarily stuck on the planet.

Things are not as they seem. They find themselves inside an ancient and yet oddly functional city. A quick exploration takes the travelers onto the surface, where they find several human corpses…and oddly, they seem to have been aged to death where they stand. In fact, at first they’re mistaken for statues. The Doctor and his companions are quickly captured by more humans, who prove to be part of a galactic survey expedition. Although there is mutual suspicion at first, it quickly turns to an alliance of necessity when it becomes clear that they are not alone. A shadowy being—or possibly more than one—is also roaming the corridors of the empty city; and its touch is death, in the same manner as that of the corpses on the surface.

After much misdirection and danger—both from the shadow and from the gravitational pulses—the Doctor finds himself isolated, and attempts to get to the TARDIS and escape the city, then recover his friends. However, he is stopped by an odd visitation. The Eleventh Doctor, from far in his personal future, makes psychic contact with him; he sees the Eleventh Doctor’s image and that of his psychic paper, which spells out written instructions. He must not only save himself and the others, but must also save the survey team’s work; it will be vital in the future. Resigned, he forgoes the TARDIS and returns to the control room to save the data…and is captured by the shadows.

Hours later, the Doctor rejoins Jamie and the others. He explains that the shadows are the indigenous, intelligent species of this world; he refers to them as the Quiet Ones. He explains that their world was once a rogue planet, without a star; Jamie compares them and their situation to the Cybermen of Mondas, which was also a sort of rogue planet (as seen in The Moonbase and The Tenth Planet). He states that their world was captured by the pulsar; to protect themselves, they transformed themselves into a non-corporeal form which exists at a much higher rate of time than humans. The deaths were unintentional, caused by the colliding of different time zones; they were attempting to make contact, not kill. The problem, it seems, is the noise the humans make; the Quiet Ones are highly sensitive to sound, and need a quiet environment to live. All they really wanted, it seems, was to get the humans to “keep it down”. The Doctor has brokered a truce which will allow the research to continue.

Jamie, however, realizes something is amiss. He asks why the Doctor was not killed when touched; the Doctor attributes it to his relationship with time, which is different from that of the humans. Still, he has aged a bit; and under pressure, he reveals that while Jamie and Zoe only experienced a few hours on the planet, for him, it was a few years.

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This entry is the shortest in the Destiny of the Doctor series, at just under an hour. It’s also probably the least complex plot, at least among those I have listened to thus far; technically it doesn’t even have a villain. I didn’t feel that that was a weakness here, though. It’s pretty well-executed. Frazer Hines is a fantastic voice actor, with a wide range of accents available to him; and his portrayal of the Second Doctor is utterly convincing—several times, you could believe it is Patrick Troughton. Of course, credit should go to the writer, Simon Guerrier, for that as well; it’s up to him to capture the Doctor’s phrasing, just as it’s up to the reader to capture the voice. Evie Dawnay, who plays the survey team’s Dr. Sophie Topolovic, is a bit of a Russian caricature, but she plays it well and earnestly; she reminds me of the video game character Olga Gurlukovich from the Metal Gear Solid series. My only real regret was that Wendy Padbury didn’t reprise her role as Zoe; but that’s not surprising, as she has largely withdrawn from Doctor Who in her retirement.

The Eleventh Doctor’s appearance here is more involved and explicit than in the previous story, where he was only heard on the radio. It’s never really spelled out that he is the Eleventh Doctor—something I expect is true in every story in this series save the final one—but the description is unmistakable. There are several other references to television stories, in addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned; Jamie refers to his meeting the Doctor (The Highlanders); walking on the moon (The Moonbase); the Doctor references Jamie’s comment from The Faceless One about planes being “flying beasties”; and the Doctor makes a reference to former companion Steven Taylor. Overall this series is heavy on references; that’s no surprise, given that it was written to lead up to the Fiftieth Anniversary.

I did find it interesting—and this was also true of the previous story—that this story doesn’t give away anything that wasn’t already a part of the show’s lore at this point. There’s no mention of Gallifrey or the Time Lords, for example, even when it might be obvious to do so. It’s to be expected that future adventures won’t be mentioned; but even in circumstances where knowledge that the Doctor clearly possesses—but had not revealed on television yet—would come in handy, it’s not stated. To me, that’s both inconvenient and very cool. It’s respectful of the television series; and though it may cause a bit of difficulty here, occasionally, it also prevents holes in continuity later on.

Overall I enjoyed this story, even more than the previous one. Perhaps it’s just that the Second Doctor is always a delight. Nevertheless, it says something good about everyone involved—writers, readers, characters—when a story as plain as this one (from a plot standpoint) can still be highly entertaining and interesting. This one hit all the right notes. It makes me have high hopes for the series as a whole.

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Next time: We join the Seventh Doctor and Mel in the Main Range for The Fires of Vulcan; and continuing Destiny of the Doctor, the Third Doctor and UNIT combat the Vengeance of the Stones! See you there.

All audio dramas in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below.  This and other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Shadow of Death

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: The Apocalypse Element

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Apocalypse Element, number eleven in the main range of audios—and for once, it lives up to its name! The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe have their work cut out for them this time…with a little help from a long-lost old friend. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t listened to this audio!

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The Time Lords aren’t the only race to develop time travel. In fact, twenty such races—and by default, twenty of the most powerful civilizations in the universe—are gathering on the planet Archetryx for a conference regarding time travel and its limitations. Archetryx’s monitors get a strange reading before the conference, but there is an explanation: the Monans, whose time vessels are even more highly powered than the Time Lords’ TARDISes, have arrived, and their ship’s powerful engines created a disturbance in Archetryx’s temporal defense shields. It’s done more than that, however; it has dragged in a straggler, the TARDIS occupied by the Sixth Doctor and his companion, Evelyn Smythe.

They shouldn’t be there, but they are saved from trouble by Coordinator Vansell of the Gallifreyan Celestial Intervention Agency, who declares them part of the Lord President’s entourage. Nevertheless, there’s no time to rest, because strange things are still happening.

Twenty years ago, the nearby planetoid of Etra Prime—the oldest planetoid in the known universe, coincidentally—vanished from time and space. It took with it five hundred scientists, mostly from Gallifrey, including the newly-elected Lord President Romanadvoratrelundar, Romana for short. A year later, three hundred of them reappeared on Archetryx, dead and distorted by time. To avert an accusation and a war, Archetryx agreed to host this conference, which has now come to fruition. Romana, however, is still to be found. Now, the Archetryxans detect that Etra Prime has returned—and it is on a collision course with Archetryx! And worse…it becomes clear that the Daleks are behind it.

The Doctor begins to investigate, at the behest of the current Lord President, who was raised to the post when Romana failed to return; he is also loyal to Romana, and tries to uphold her decisions. The Doctor quickly finds that the Daleks have agents among the Archetryxans, operating under mind control. They kill themselves, but not before the sensors and shields are sabotaged, letting the Daleks into the complex. Another spy also destroys an exterior wall, allowing them in, and unintentionally trapping Evelyn. Vansell, accompanied by the Archetryxan Monitor Vorna, rescue her, but can’t stop the Daleks. However, rather than attack directly, the Daleks steal the Monan time ship. It is not dimensionally transcendent like a TARDIS, and so only a few Daleks fit inside; the rest move deeper into the building and self-destruct, blocking all the delegates from escaping.

The Doctor goes to the gravity wells in the facility to effect repairs and raise the shields. He is attacked by Daleks—but not their machines. The mutants have left their casings in the zero-G environment of the wells, and are attacking personally.

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Inside Etra Prime, Romana has been a slave for twenty years. The years have weighed on her, but she retains her identity and sanity by force of will. She and another slave, a Monan engineer named Vrint, are pulled out to cannibalize the Monan ship; they are instructed to use its engines to build a temporal centrifuge. Etra Prime contains a ridiculously rare element, which, when refined, has fantastic power over space and time; the Daleks call it the Apocalypse Element. As they work they overhear the Daleks’ plans. Later, they finish the centrifuge, but sabotage it; they then use a nearby transmat to escape to Archetryx. The transmat is destroyed in Dalek crossfire. Romana takes with her a strange crystal; it a communicator of sorts, used by the Daleks to telepathically communicate with their spies, so as to avoid detection of conventional signals. It is a rare item, and the Daleks want it back, as it has another purpose—and is vital to their plan.

The Doctor escapes the Dalek mutants, and rendezvoused with Evelyn; she helps him escape, but it’s only temporary, as he must go back in. Meanwhile, the Daleks are stealing technological secrets from the various time machines (though, presumably, the TARDISes have sufficient security to resist entry). The Black Dalek leading the force also tells the delegates that attacks have been launched on their homeworlds. Evelyn volunteers to help clear the way to the ships. Vorna goes with her, and Romana joins the Doctor. The delegates also attack the Daleks. The Doctor gives back the crystal, and the Daleks evacuate, clearing the way; the delegates escape. The Doctor, Evelyn, Vorna, and an Archetryxan security agent named Trinkett escape in the TARDIS immediately before Etra Prime crashes into Archetryx, destroying both worlds and killing everyone remaining behind.

The President and Vansell arrive on Gallifrey before the Doctor. Immediately they learn of a Monan ship seeking refuge there; the President and security Captain Reldath are suspicious, but Vansell, hungry for the Monan’s time travel secrets, persuades them to allow them in. It is a ruse; the Daleks, possessing their own version of a chameleon circuit, have created an illusion of the Monan ship to hide their own ships. Now inside the transduction barriers, they invade Gallifrey.

Romana, whose presidential codes have never been revoked (unlike the Doctor’s), links to the TARDIS telepathic circuits to gain entrance to the Gallifreyan citadel. The Daleks have taken the TARDIS cradle area under the citadel, and have harvested the eyes of a dead soldier to defeat the retina scans on all the security doors. Being forced to get by the Daleks, the Doctor prepares to try his luck; but Romana offers them her presidential codes if they will spare them. It is a ruse, but they fall for it; they need the codes to take down the barriers and allow invasion en masse. She links with them telepathically to transmit the codes; but instead, she unloads twenty years of pain and hatred into their minds, stunning them and allowing her and her companions to escape. They force her out of the link, but she senses enough of their plan to get an inkling of their plans for the Element…

Reaching security control, the Doctor has Vansell erase every Gallifreyan retinal print from the Matrix, and install Evelyn’s human retinal print instead. As she is the only human around, she is now the only key to any door—and the Daleks do not have her, nor can they risk killing her. The Doctor sends her with Vansell to rally the guards. He then seals the bulkheads on the TARDIS cradles, trapping the Daleks there. Evelyn and Vansell meet up with Trinkett and Reldath, but are cut off as the Daleks burn through the wall of the cradles.

The Black Dalek learns that the Element is ready, and sends a Dalek with it to the center of the Seriphia galaxy—four times the size of the Milky Way, and heavily populated—to prepare to ignite it. The Black Dalek demands the help of the Time Lords, as the Element, once ignited, can only be controlled via time distortion—essentially, a bubble time continuum around its field of effect. Otherwise, it will quickly consume the entire universe in a massive chain reaction, ending everything. The President thinks it is bluffing—and so the Black Dalek ignites the Element in Seriphia. Now the Time Lords are forced to act to contain it.

The Doctor and his group make their way to the Eye of Harmony (or rather, its main interface in the Panipticon. He sends Evelyn and Vansell to collect power boosters, which he will need to create enough power from the Eye to contain the Element.

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The Daleks discover the Element is proceeding far faster than they predicted. They realize that they must work with the Time Lords to be able to contain it, or they will be destroyed too. They strike an uneasy bargain with the Lord President, allowing them to land at the Citadel. Evelyn and Vansell get the boosters, but Evelyn is wounded by a Dalek and temporarily paralyzed; she sends Vansell ahead, trusting that the Daleks won’t kill her, as they need her eyes. However, this undoes the president’s plan; with her in custody, the Daleks don’t need his cooperation to get inside, and they kill him. With Evelyn’s forced cooperation, the Daleks already in the citadel shut down the transduction barriers, allowing the fleet to land, and marking the fall of Gallifrey.

The Doctor and Romana use the boosters with the Eye, but it is not enough. The Black Dalek, however, via one of the communication crystals, adds the combined mental might of all the Daleks on Gallifrey to the Eye. The combined power is enough, and the Element is contained; moreover, the containment field has been modified to accelerate time within. This not only burns out the Element, but also leads to the creation of a new galaxy from the rubble—billions of stars and planets, all unoccupied…and all ripe for occupation by the Daleks. The sacrifice of the Daleks on Gallifrey, it seems, was not as altruistic as it appeared. A new Dalek Empire will soon be born.

With the president dead, Romana—who was never removed from office—is now Lady President. Evelyn’s retinal print is removed and replaced with Gallifreyan prints; but the Doctor suggests that traces of it may remain. Romana promises help to any survivors of Archetryx and the Monan homeworld, but there is nothing to be done for the dead of Seriphia. She also promises intervention against the Daleks in that galaxy, and promises to strengthen Gallifrey for the future.

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This story was a roller coaster from start to finish. As the DisContinuity Guide states, “there’s a lot going on here.” It’s most notable for two events that have major impact on continuity (and also on the future of Big Finish’s spinoffs): the return of Romana (subsequent to her original return from E-Space in the VNAs), and the establishment of the Dalek Empire. Romana will feature heavily in the Gallifrey audios, and the Dalek Empire in, well, Dalek Empire. There are some other references worth noting, as well; Evelyn’s temporary paralysis at the hands (plungers? blasters?) of the Daleks echoes a similar wounding of Ian Chesterton in The Daleks. The Daleks hollowed out a planet for a weapon in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Reldath appeared previously in The Sirens of Time. Evelyn mentions having a specialty in creating feedback loops, previously noted in The Spectre of Lanyon Moor. The Doctor mentions his presidency, most recently seen in The Five Doctors, and also in The Deadly Assassin and The Invasion of Time (coincidentally also involving a successful-but-temporary invasion of Gallifrey), but he has since been removed from office. Most interestingly, this story accounts for the use of a human retinal print in the television movie; some trace of Evelyn’s print remains. (Though occupying a human body, the Master could not open the Eye, as his eyes had been changed by his possession of the body, and possibly by remnants of the Cheetah virus from Survival.) These Daleks appear to be post-Davros-arc Daleks that did not originate with his Imperial faction, as they are led by a Black Dalek and refer to Skaro.

The Sixth Doctor is truly at his best here; the action in this story is much more like what we’d see under, say, the Tenth Doctor, with a frantic pace and lots of yelling. Evelyn takes a bit of a backseat, but that’s to be expected in a story that showcases Romana; of course Romana gets the lion’s share of the attention here, although I don’t mean to compare the two as companions. Evelyn can hold her own easily in that regard. Romana is a hard character compared to her previous appearances; she’s been shaped by her years of slavery. Twenty years may be a blink of the eye to a Time Lord, but it’s still a lot of torture and hard labor.

We’ve seen universe-threatening forces before, and the phrase “destroy the universe!” gets thrown around quite a lot. This time, though, it truly comes across as serious. The Apocalypse Element is frightening in a way that most threats can only dream about; it says something that even the Daleks are frightened of what they’ve unleashed. While they weren’t being altruistic in helping the Time Lords, the fact that they would ally themselves at all speaks volumes. The Part Three cliffhanger is quite the wicked trap: Either lower the barriers and lose Gallifrey, or keep them up and lose the universe.

I’ve been trying for some time to date Dalek stories in one specific sense: do they possess time travel or not? In this story, they are mentioned as having it, but not until near the end. Is this the moment when they acquire it? It’s curiously vague on this point. Still, they have the chance to steal technological secrets from a variety of time vessels, so I think this is a likely candidate—unless I’m contradicted later, of course. It is very like the Daleks to steal and modify the technology rather than develop it on their own. This is borne out by the fact that no Davros story in the classic area—again, unless it happens in audios I have yet to hear—involves Dalek time travel. Related: They DO possess dimensional transcendent technology, but interestingly, I think they stole that from the Time Lords at some point in the past—the Genesis Ark in Series Two would seem to indicate as much.

The Monans represent a disturbing implication. Many times in the new television series, the Doctor states that his TARDIS—being the last one—is the most powerful ship in existence. This makes sense, as it draws from the Eye of Harmony. However, the Monan ships are said to be far more powerful. That fact alone should give us pause—what is more powerful in terms of raw power than the Eye of Harmony? I’m interested to see if the Monans appear again in the audios.

My final verdict: This is a great story, one of the highlights of the early Main Range. Ordinarily I try to find some flaws, but I don’t see any here. Check it out!

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Next time: On Thursday we’ll continue the Destiny of the Doctor series with the Second Doctor’s contribution, Shadow of Death; and then we’ll return to the main range for The Fires of Vulcan, with the Seventh Doctor and Mel! See you there.

All audios in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below.  This and other selections may also be found on Spotify and Google Play.

The Apocalypse Element

Tin Dogs and Clockwork Robots: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Two, Part Two

I made my last post early; this one is late.  Although I got it written on Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holidays, I wasn’t able to get it posted that day.  My apologies; hopefully we’ll be back on schedule this week.

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Last week, we reviewed the first two episodes of Series Two: New Earth and Tooth and Claw, which took Rose Tyler and the Tenth Doctor into the past and the future, and to another world. Today, we’re looking at School Reunion, which reintroduces some old friends (and also sets up for another spinoff series), and The Girl in the Fireplace, with a new enemy! We’re also looking at the related TARDISodes, mini-episodes which accompany each episode of Series Two. Let’s get started!

As a reminder, each series in the new show tends to have considerably more stories than the classic seasons; therefore we’re splitting each series into parts of two or three episodes each for the sake of length.

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes!

School Reunion’s TARDISode, #4 in the series, finds Mickey Smith on the internet, where he’s researching strange happenings at a nearby school, Deffry Vale High School. He’s stonewalled by Torchwood’s software at one point (and again during the actual episode), but he finds enough to call Rose and the Doctor, and ask them to investigate. We end with a glimpse of one of the show’s monsters.

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The episode finds Rose and the Doctor already on scene, having infiltrated the school via some time-travel-related shenanigans a few days earlier. The Doctor, in his John Smith persona, is acting as a physics teacher, while Rose is filling in for a lunchroom attendant (and eating an exorbitant number of chips). The Doctor immediately discovers that certain students are exhibiting intelligence and knowledge—especially computational skills—far beyond the level they should have obtained.

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The headmaster, Mr. Finch, introduces the staff—including the Doctor—to a journalist who has been assigned to write a profile about him: one Sarah Jane Smith. The Doctor immediately recognizes her; she has aged since he last saw her, but is still the same to him. She doesn’t recognize him, however. Meanwhile, he discovers that a total of fourteen staff—including the headmaster and seven teachers—were recently replaced, prior to his arrival with Rose. At the same time, a child named Kenny enters the wrong maths classroom, and glimpses a batlike monster…which seems to become one of the teachers.

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Sarah Jane, being Sarah Jane, is here for more than what she says. She breaks into the school that night, unaware that the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey have done the same; the Doctor sends Mickey to investigate a rumor about the maths classroom and its odd computers. They meet, and introductions are made; immediately there is tension between Sarah Jane and Rose. Together, they then discover something horrifying: thirteen batlike creatures, asleep in a classroom. One of them awakens, unseen, and follows them out.

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Rose has discovered there is something sinister about the oil in which the food is being cooked. The Doctor says they will need to return to the TARDIS to analyze it, but Sarah Jane calls him off; she has something that will help. In her car, she reveals another old friend: K9 Mark III, now deactivated. He lived with her for years, but eventually broke down, and she lacked the parts to repair him. The Doctor does so, and K9, now reactivated, determines the oil is Krillitane oil—a byproduct of a biologically-composite race called Krillitanes. The Doctor also talks with Sarah about why he left her behind long ago; in the process, he reveals he is a Time Lord. The lone Krillitane, watching, relays all of this to Finch, who is their leader.

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The next day, they return to the school. The Doctor sends Sarah Jane and Rose to look more closely at the computers, and puts Mickey on sentry duty outside with K9. The Doctor goes to confront Finch. Finch reveals himself to be a Krillitane called Brother Lassar, and admits he has permanently adopted human form, unlike the others. He says that the Doctor will soon join him. Meanwhile, Sarah Jane have an argument over the Doctor, but quickly realize their foolishness, and begin to get along better.

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Lassar and the Krillitanes lock down the school with the children inside, moving to the final phase of their plan. They then devour the remaining human staff. The Doctor finds the computers are all deadlocked sealed. The Krillitanes get the students working on the computers, deciphering a strange formula that the Doctor recognizes as the Skasis Paradigm. If solved, it will grant its user godlike powers over reality, space, and time. Lassar tempts the Doctor, saying that with it he could resurrect the Time Lords. The Doctor is tempted; but Sarah Jane talks him down, and he leads Sarah Jane and Rose to try to escape.

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K9 persuades Mickey to use Sarah Jane’s car to break through the doors and into the building. He and Kenny run to get the other students out, shutting down the program. As the students flee, Mickey and Kenny meet up with Rose, Sarah Jane, the Doctor, and K9 in the cafeteria, where K9 holds off the Krillitanes, but dangerously depletes his power. The others hide in a lab. The Doctor realizes the oil is the key; the Krillitanes have evolved so much that their own oil now harms them. He gets everyone out except K9. K9 volunteers to ignite the oil, but he knows it will be a sacrifice; he will have to be close when it explodes. The Doctor says his goodbyes, calls him a good dog, and leaves. As the Krillitanes and Lassar arrive, K9 shoots the barrel of oil, detonating it and destroying the school, himself, and the Krillitanes.

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Sarah is heartbroken for K9, but she acknowledges his sacrifice. Later, at the TARDIS, the Doctor offers her the chance to travel with him again, but she declines, choosing to find her own life instead. However, Mickey asks to go instead; this time, the Doctor accepts, though Rose is not happy with it. As the TARDIS leaves, Sarah sees something left behind: A brand new K9, with the memories of the old, but updated systems. Overjoyed, she takes him home—after all, they have work ahead of them.

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I will unashamedly say that this is one of my favorite episodes of new Doctor Who. This is mainly because I’m a huge classic series fan, and Sarah Jane and K9 were some of the earliest companions I recall from my childhood; but the episode is good in its own right as well. It was one of the earliest NuWho episodes I saw (though not the first—that honor goes to the next episode), and I’ve been delighted with it ever since. It’s hard to describe the feeling of seeing old favorite characters again after so many years; I felt something similar when the Master returned (albeit in a different body) in Utopia and when the Brigadier (albeit dead, sort of) made a cameo in Death In Heaven).

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This story is littered with references, so I’ll try to be brief. Most of them come from Sarah Jane’s argument with Rose: Mummies appear in Pyramids of Mars; robots from a variety of episodes, but most notably Robot; Daleks from Genesis of the Daleks and Death to the Daleks; anti-matter monsters from Planet of Evil; dinosaurs from Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and the Loch Ness Monster from Terror of the Zygons. Rose counters with ghosts (The Unquiet Dead), Slitheen (Aliens of London/World War Three), the Dalek Emperor (The Parting of the Ways), zombies (The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances), the year five billion (The End of the World), and werewolves (Tooth and Claw). The Doctor mentions the year 5000 in connection with K9 (The Invisible Enemy), and the Sycorax ship (The Christmas Invasion). The TARDISode and the episode both show Torchwood software blocks on Mickey’s computer, a reference that will later play into the spinoff series. Sarah Jane makes reference to the car she drove in K9 and Company, the failed spinoff which established how she acquired K9. She hints at adventures that were never seen onscreen; the Doctor also says he has seen Krillitanes before, in a different form. He says he has regenerated a half dozen times since he last saw her (though some spinoff materials contradict this, as does The Five Doctors); this would naturally not include the War Doctor, whose memory he has suppressed. The Skasis Paradigm seems very similar to the Block Transfer Computations used by the Logopolitans; indeed, the techniques the students use to decode it, though executed via computer rather than by hand or verbally, seem very similar to those of the Logopolitans. Finch is aware of the Time Lords, and that the Doctor is the last, but doesn’t seem to know about the war; he still thinks of the Time Lords as peaceful and indolent, as they were before the war. K9 recognizes the Doctor despite his regenerations. There were also several tie-in websites in the real world; both Deffry Vale High School and its fictional surroundings had sites, as well as Mickey’s website, which featured tie-in material in an in-universe style. Most of all, though, this episode sets up for the eventual spinoff, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

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Some great lines: “Oh my god…I’m the tin dog!” from Mickey; this realization prompts him to take a more active role and travel with the Doctor, which will cost him soon. He gets another great line when Sarah Jane and Rose are arguing: “Oh! The Missus and the ex. Every man’s worst nightmare!” The Doctor calls K9 a good dog just before his death, and he replies with Affirmative; moments later, Finch calls him a bad dog, and he gives the same reply, smugly, I might add. Sarah Jane’s farewell speech is also an emotional moment; she tells K9 that the Doctor replaced him with a new model, and then reflects, “He does that”. The Doctor tells her earlier in the episode that the reason he left her is because humans age and die, but he never does, and he can’t watch that over and over. It’s a harsh and well-done line, but a terrible reason.

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The Girl in the Fireplace picks up shortly thereafter; Mickey comments that this is his first time traveling with the Doctor. It is the 51st Century, and the TARDIS has landed aboard a heavily-modified spaceship; but no crew are to be found. They quickly find a curious anomaly: an 18th-century French fireplace, leading…somewhere off the ship. A child appears on the other side; her name is Reinette, and she says the year is 1727, in Paris. She is surprised to see the Doctor, and more surprised when—weeks later from her perspective, but only minutes later from his—he comes through and awakens her. He finds a menacing, clockwork android under her bed; it wants to kill her, but says she is not complete yet. He tricks it into returning to the ship, then freezes it with a fire extinguisher. It soon recovers and teleports away.

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The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey begin to investigate, with the Doctor periodically returning through the fireplace. Time is moving on the other side, but very quickly, covering years in what amounts to minutes on the ship; each time, he finds that she has aged by a number of years, and is now a young woman. He learns, too, that she is not just any woman; she is Reinette Poisson, the future Madame de Pompadour, future mistress of King Louis XV and uncrowned queen of France. She is also falling for him. To her view, she has known him all her life.

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He finds that in addition to the fireplace, which allows time to progress for monitoring of Reinette’s life, there are various “time windows” on the ship, leading to different points in her life. When the droids find the correct one, they will come for her. Rose and Mickey find that the ship is riddled with human organs, serving as replacement parts. The Doctor deduces that something happened to the ship and crew; the droids are repair droids for the ship, who butchered the crew after the accident to use them as organic spare parts. They lack only one part: a brain for use as a processor. For this, they want Reinette…but why her? And why must she be a certain age?

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That age is 37. The group finds a window leading to that moment; but so do the droids, who move in to claim Reinette. The Doctor sends Rose through another window, five years earlier, to warn her; but she follows Rose back onto the ship, and is duly alarmed by what she sees and hears. She chooses to return and wait. Meanwhile the Doctor finds that the ship is 37 years old, hence the correlation in age—but still, why Reinette?

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He finds the window to the correct time closed. He can break through, but doing so will break the connection to the ship for all the windows, and will trap him there. And, because he is already part of events, he can’t use the TARDIS to infiltrate the time stream. He chooses to go anyway, using a horse that wandered aboard ship to break through, interrupting a party at which the droids are attacking. He tells them they are trapped as well, and have failed; with no purpose left to them, they deactivate.

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Later, while talking with Reinette, he admits that he chose to be stranded so as to save her. Then, she reveals that she has kept the fireplace from her childhood, and transported it to the palace in one piece. Moving it broke its link to the ship, prior to his destruction of the windows…he is able to reactivate it and return. Before he goes, he offers to take Reinette with him, and she accepts.

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He returns minutes later…but it is too late. From Reinette’s perspective, five years have passed…but history records that she died of an illness at age 42. He misses her funeral procession by five minutes. She left him a letter, though, saying goodbye, but pleading for him to return while there is time. He cannot do so.

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On the TARDIS, he severs the link between times, closing the fireplace. As the TARDIS dematerializes, we see what the Doctor never knew: a portrait of Reinette on the ship’s wall, and outside, the name “SS Madame de Pompadour” on the hull. This is why the droids considered Reinette to be the same as them; the ship was named for her.

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The TARDISode gives us a flashback to the event that damaged the ship, and shows the droids beginning to cannibalize the crew.

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This episode is the first NuWho episode I saw, though I missed the ending at the time (I was running late for something). It was great then, and I still think it’s great now, although it’s a bit of a disaster for internal continuity (seriously: That fireplace portal is absolutely inconsistent regarding the passage of time! Two minutes at the beginning equate to a few months of Reinette’s life, but at the end, an equal time equates to about five years. Also it synchronizes with Reinette’s flow of time when he is speaking through it, but only then. This sort of thing happens continually.)

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This episode is the first historical for the Tenth Doctor, although perhaps that’s overstating it, given its split time periods. It does, however, involve an actual historical character, in Madame de Pompadour, which adds some credibility. It also plays havoc with the idea that the Doctor can’t go back and change events he is part of; he says he can’t take the TARDIS back to France, but there seems to be no reason for that to be true. He can’t go back and change things already established further back in Reinette’s past, certainly, but he should be able to go to the moment of the party at the end, given that he hasn’t been there or done anything to contradict its events. Fortunately, this aspect of the “part of events” rule seems to have been discarded in later episodes. Clearly this is an episode that is better for the sake of story, but demands that you not look too deeply into the technobabble.

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Reinette’s story is a sad one; although the Doctor saves her, he loses her in the end, and more to the point, she loses him. It’s our first indication that the Tenth Doctor is far from perfect, and indeed, makes mistakes quite well, a theme that we will see come to a head in The Waters of Mars a few series down the road. Indeed, sometimes I think his entire run is setting up for that story, in small ways; in the last episode, we had him drawing a distinction between himself and humanity for Sarah Jane, setting up for his eventual “Time Lord Victorious” moment. Here as well, he calls himself “the lord of time”; it’s tongue-in-cheek now, but foreshadowing worse things to come. This is a very fallible Doctor we are dealing with.

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We are lacking in references here, perhaps making up for the glut of them in School Reunion; but Rose does reference the TARDIS translation circuits, last discussed in The Christmas Invasion, and calls the Doctor the Oncoming Storm (The Parting of the Ways). The Doctor mentions using Zeus plugs as castanets; these items appeared in The Hand of Fear, incidentally the final Sarah Jane episode of the classic series (with the exception of The Five Doctors). He mentions Cleopatra, but his encounters with her have been offscreen thus far.

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Overall, both episodes are good, and I don’t have many complaints other than the fireplace’s issues. The Clockwork droids will appear again in slightly different form in Deep Breath; the Twelfth Doctor clearly connects them to this incident. Sarah Jane and K9, as well, will soon have a spinoff, and will appear again here in crossover format. These are well worth your time.

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Next time: A two-parter gives us the return of the Cybermen in Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel; and if we make it there, we’ll also cover The Idiot’s Lantern! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

School Reunion

TARDISode 3

The Girl in the Fireplace

TARDISode 4

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Hunters of Earth

Posting early due to the Thanksgiving holiday, as I intend to spend the next two days in a turkey-induced coma.

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! This time, we’re starting something special: the eleven-volume special series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Produced during the lead-up to the Fiftieth Anniversary celebration in 2013, it’s not your average production; each drama is a small-cast audio, read by an actor from the appropriate era’s companions, plus one or two guest readers. Therefore it lacks the full-cast presence of the Main Range dramas—but I think you’ll see that this is not a deficiency. Each volume focuses on a different Doctor, First to Eleventh, with tie-ins and connections among them. Today we’re looking at the First Doctor story, Hunters of Earth, read by Carole Ann Ford (Susan Foreman) and Tam Williams. Let’s get started!

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

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This story constitutes a very early look at the Doctor and Susan; it begins on a Thursday in October 1963, placing it approximately a month before the events of An Unearthly Child. Susan is already a student at Coal Hill School, and has been for some four months; it becomes apparent that a problem with the TARDIS has left the travelers stranded on Earth longer than they intended. To that end, the Doctor is seeking parts for use in repairing the TARDIS, and Susan extracts a promise from him to get them legally. Ian and Barbara, not yet having any issues with Susan, do not figure into this story, though presumably they are present at the school. Instead, we get Colonel Rook, another teacher, who is both mysterious and menacing.

There’s an emphasis on Susan’s awkwardness and lack of social interaction here. It’s made worse by Rook’s disturbing interest in her and her origins—in fact, in a tiny bit of fanservice, he describes her as “unearthly”. Susan’s isolation makes her perhaps a little unsuspecting when another student, Cedric, shows interest in her and pulls her into his circle of friends. When, they meet, however, strange things start happening; odd radio broadcasts give Susan a piercing headache, and causes people around her to act bizarrely, even to the point of attacking her. It isn’t spelled out, but it becomes clear that Susan’s problem is related to her telepathic ability.

In the midst of all of this, the Doctor arrives to give Susan a message; but he receives one of his own when the radio starts playing a cryptic announcement…from a future incarnation of the Doctor! He doesn’t grasp it all, but readers will recognize the message as coming from the Eleventh Doctor. The Doctor departs, heading to Magpie Electricals to purchase the parts he has been seeking. He orders the parts, and plans to come and pick them up in a few days. Unknown to him, Colonel Rook is spying on him.

Returning to the TARDIS, the Doctor is assaulted by a group of thugs; but they suddenly and unexpectedly stop and let him go. He hurries home, meeting up with Susan, and learns there is anti-alien graffiti on the junkyard wall. Someone has discovered their identities; the Doctor is now more anxious than ever to leave.

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The next day, Susan is attacked again, but again, the attack is cut short when her radio stops. A connection begins to become clear.

A few days later, Susan begins slowly to confide in Cedric. At the same time, the Doctor returns to the shop’s warehouse for the parts he needs, and is locked in. Colonel Rook reveals that he has trapped the Doctor. He confronts the Doctor about being an alien, but the Doctor denies it. Rook dismisses this, and demands the Doctor’s help in promoting Britain’s military efforts. (My British history being a bit weak, I’m not sure what war they were involved with in 1963; Rook never says, but he does speak as though the Soviet Union might be a current enemy.) Meanwhile, Susan and Cedric come under attack again, and flee in the direction of the warehouse. Cedric leads her to the warehouse, and Rook lets them in; Cedric is forced to reveal that Rook is his uncle, for whom he has been spying on Susan.

As things begin to come together, the Doctor figures out that something is causing the mob to act on tribal instinct alone; when they are attacking “aliens”, it is meant in the sense of “foreigners”, not “extraterrestrials”. The Doctor and Susan are caught up in it because they are not local; their unearthly origin is coincidental. As per the Eleventh Doctor’s cryptic message, the signal causing this behavior is being transmitted via the music on Susan’s radio; certain music, popular with the local teenagers, carries the signal. It began with the Doctor and Susan’s arrival four months ago; therefore Rook assumes they are responsible. Upon investigation, the Doctor discovers that an experimental weapon, lost in a nearby bomb site dating back to World War II, was recently unearthed and disturbed, and is causing the signal. He builds a jamming device from the parts in the warehouse; and using the radio (with a different station), he deploys the device. To buy time, Susan uses telepathy to briefly break the signal’s hold on the mob. Unable to maintain it for long, she faints…just as the jamming device takes hold.

In the aftermath, the weapon must be found and destroyed. Also destroyed is Susan’s friendship with Cedric, as she can’t forgive the way he used her. The Doctor confronts Rook with the idea that using them against their will makes him no better than his enemies; he agrees after some thought, and agrees to let them go. Leaving the warehouse, Susan has a premonition that something terrible awaits the Doctor, far in his future…and it is his destiny to face it.

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This is a fairly direct story, with no real twists and turns (its one twist—that Cedric and Rook are connected—can be seen coming a mile away). It does presuppose that the reader is at least a little familiar with the events of An Unearthly Child, even though they haven’t happened yet. It’s full of references to 1960s kitsch, but doesn’t seem too overbearing about it. It’s well tied into classic series continuity; Susan’s telepathy is explored in The Sensorites, and she reacts badly at the suggestion that they are running from someone, which will be explored further in The War Games. The overall setting is also explored in Revelation of the Daleks. Magpie Electricals, of course, is a reference to NuWho’s The Idiot’s Lantern.

I give Carole Ann Ford credit; she’s an excellent presenter, capturing the mannerisms of the First Doctor perfectly. Having already listened to further entries in this series, I will say that most of the presenters are very good; and this story gets us off to a great start. The real value here is in the presentation; if we were only looking at the events of the story, we could probably compress them down to a few minutes—these are not the most complex plots. I’ll reserve judgment about the connections and the overarching plot of the series until I’ve finished it all. I nearly missed the Eleventh Doctor’s message; the message in the next story in the series will be more obvious. Overall, this story serves chiefly as a good foundation for what is to come.

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Next time: We’re back to the Main Range with The Apocalypse Element; and then, the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe face the Shadow of Death in Destiny of the Doctor part two! See you there.

All audio dramas in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; links to this story and to the collected Destiny of the Doctor series are below.  This and many other selections may also be found on Spotify (search artist “Doctor Who”) and Google Play.

Hunters of Earth

Destiny of the Doctor

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Winter For The Adept

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week we’re listening to Winter for the Adept, the tenth in the Main Range of audios, which features the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, and serves as a sequel of sorts to the recent Land of the Dead. Let’s get started!

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

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We open on December 1963, with a diary entry by a girl named Alison Speers. She and her roommate Peril Bellamy are students at an isolated finishing school in the Swiss Alps, and they are snowed in for the holidays, having missed their chance to go home. They are accompanied by the headmistress, an odd character named Miss Tremayne, and also by her assistant, Mademoiselle Maupassant. And Peril is planning an escape—literally, by climbing down the roof to meet her lover, one Lieutenant Peter Sandoz of the mountain patrol, and elope with him.

Sandoz has already been sent by his superiors to check on the school and the girls, but en route, he meets someone: Nyssa of Traken, who has just found herself teleported from the warm TARDIS to the cold mountainside. He takes her along to the school. Arriving, they find bigger problems: Ghostly happenings are occurring, and Peril and Alison are out in the storm. Sandoz leaves to find them. As strange occurrences begin to happen, he brings them back, and announces his plans to elope with Peril; this sends Miss Tremayne into a fury of somewhat-religious rage. However, more happenings—involving moving furniture and a smashed mirror—force them to retreat to the attic…where the TARDIS appears. The shock makes Miss Tremayne faint.

The Doctor regroups with everyone, and apologizes to Nyssa; her unexpected teleportation was a side effect of an experiment in, as he calls it, “Spillage detection”. However, her story catches his attention, and he reveals—to her chagrin—that the school appears to be genuinely haunted.

While preparing to investigate, the Doctor works with the rather surly Sandoz to repair the school’s broken radio, allowing help to be summoned. As soon as he leaves the room, however, someone smashes the radio to bits. The Doctor then gathers his spillage-detection equipment from the TARDIS, though he keeps his plan mostly to himself. He begins to run experiments in the chapel; while there, he notes a picture on the wall of one Harding Wellman, a mountaineer who died in an avalanche; the picture is not the source of the psychic residue. He gives Peril some special tea to brew; and suddenly there is another psychic attack.

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Nyssa is nearly killed, but the Doctor saves her. He finds no psychic residue in the area, however. He explains that he suspects an extradimensional race called the Spillagers—not their name for themselves, but that by which the rest of the galaxy knows them—who may be trying to invade. He withholds any other details about them. He notices, though, that every manifestation is accompanied by certain out-of-place scents. He gives Peril and Alison some of the tea to calm them, and they fall into a trance; the Doctor reveals that it contained a sedative. While they are entranced, he implants a hypnotic suggestion that will make them fall asleep at his command, so that he need not use the tea again. Peril, under hypnosis, admits that she is an Adept, as her grandmother called it; the female line of her family has often manifested psychic abilities, sometimes being mistaken for witches. She has this power as well, in the form of telekinesis. However, she is not solely to blame; the Doctor realizes that Alison is also an Adept of sorts, possessing telepathy rather than telekinesis. Both are involved in the disturbances, with Alison triggering Peril—but what is triggering Alison, who is also unaware of her role?

Unfortunately, Miss Tremayne has overheard, and in her religious frenzy, she determines to kill Peril and Alison as witches. She confronts them in the kitchen, but is shot and killed by Sandoz as she tries to attack. The disturbances continue, and the Doctor opts to get to the bottom of it the old-fashioned way: with a séance.

Sandoz and Maupassant both decline to participate, for various reasons. The Doctor, Nyssa, Alison, and Peril conduct the séance, and to their surprise, they summon the spirit of Harding Wellman. The Doctor suggests that it isn’t actually him; it may be an energy being that has absorbed his memories and identity, making the idea a bit more palatable to Nyssa. Wellman discusses his death, and events thereafter; he also reveals that he had epilepsy. The Doctor puts it all together: It is a feedback loop, in which Wellman’s presence produces a scent of flowers, which triggers migraines in Alison; her powers then trigger Peril’s telekinesis, which activates Wellman’s epilepsy, which then produces outbursts of telekinetic power. Without all three of them, there are no disturbances, as the Doctor demonstrates by putting the girls to sleep.

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Still, this is not all that is happening. The Doctor and Nyssa return to the TARDIS for better equipment. He tells her that there are still the Spillagers to deal with. His equipment, he theorizes, had homed in on Spillager activity here; the teleportation sent Nyssa there, forcing the Doctor to follow, and therefore deal with it. The Spillagers are a hostile race that want to invade from another dimension; they were attracted here by the psychic activity, and now want to use the feedback loop to open a gateway through which they can bring their fleet. In fact, they have an advance scout in the school already, to open the gate.

The Doctor thinks it is Miss Tremayne—but he scans her body, and finds he is wrong. Instead, it is Maupassant. She reveals herself, and states she chose the students for the purpose of creating the feedback loop. She attacks, but the Doctor forces the trio to create a psychic disturbance, which then crushes the Spillager to death.

With her dead, they can now strike back by closing the gateway. The Doctor, Sandoz, and Peril carry the body out into the snow; it will decompose quickly. However, Sandoz pulls a gun on the Doctor, and reveals that he is a second scout—and the gateway is already open. He has been siphoning off waste energy from the disturbances to slowly open it. He contacts the Spillagers and tells them to come through. Peril is furious—Sandoz, the real Sandoz, was her lover, after all—and prepares to start a disturbance to kill him; but he shoots her. His shot causes an avalance, however, and he is buried and killed.

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The Doctor uses a special poultice from the TARDIS to save Peril, but she is too weak for the séance which will close the gate; so he makes Nyssa, with her own rudimentary psychic ability, stand in. The Spillager fleet, halfway through the gate, is crushed and destroyed by its closure.

With the crisis averted, the Doctor and Nyssa use the TARDIS to take Peril and Alison to their family homes, giving Alison a final diary entry.

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This story comes across as a bit messy in its structure, but I overlooked that for the sake of its cleverness. Every time you think you have it figured out, there’s a new twist—nothing large, but enough to keep the interest going. There are plenty of clues along the way, but they’re fairly subtle; for instance, it’s clear that Sandoz must be the one who destroyed the radio—although the Doctor doesn’t directly accuse him, only suggesting it to deflect attention from himself—but this in no way gives away that he is a second Spillager. As well, it becomes apparent early on that Peril is linked to the phenomena, but it came as quite a surprise to learn that Alison was also involved—and I in no way saw the presence of Wellman coming. The Doctor is very vague as to Wellman’s true nature; that mannerism is not uncommon for the Fifth Doctor, who likes to rely more on distraction than information when dealing with those around him. Still, it’s a curious omission for us as the audience; we usually get some decent form of explanation, but not here. Wellman may very well be a ghost; the Doctor downplays his suggestion to Nyssa that it’s really an energy being. Wellman’s fate is not mentioned at the end, but presumably he continues to haunt the school.

There are next to no references here, and the handful we do get, all come from Nyssa. She mentions Traken, as she often does; it was last seen being destroyed by entropy in Logopolis. She ties us to both the television series and the audios; she mentions the Xeraphin from the television serial Time-Flight, and the Permians and Alaska from The Land of the Dead, indicating this story takes place not long after that one. As well, it must take place between the television stories Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity, and by extension in the gap between seasons nineteen and twenty; Tegan exits the TARDIS in Time-Flight and returns (some considerable time later, from her perspective) in Arc of Infinity, and this is the only period on record when Nyssa alone traveled with the Doctor.

Andrew Cartmel is the writer of this story, and to date it is his only contribution to the Main Range of audios. As he typically writes for the Seventh Doctor and Ace, this constitutes quite a change; however I think he captured them well, especially the Fifth Doctor’s characteristic air of embarrassment (which is used strategically, I might add) and deflection. I’m a fan of Cartmel’s other work for Doctor Who, and I think this is a welcome addition. He also gets a brilliant line at one point, with the Doctor advising Sandoz that “you’ll end up cutting our throats with Occam’s Razor”, in reference to Sandoz’s insistence on the simplest and most earthly explanation for the odd phenomena.

On the downside, the Spillagers are a bit boring as an enemy, although their advance agents performed admirably. I like the idea that we don’t get a proper name for them; that is just what you would expect for a bizarre and hideous alien race that universally destroys the populations it invades. After all, why would they waste time announcing themselves and opening a dialogue? Still, it’s a bit farfetched that they would be “all evil”, so to speak; villains with more nuance are usually more interesting. They do hint at other adventures, however; their empress knows the Doctor and considers him an old enemy, but we’ve never seen any previous encounters (or at least not at this point—there may be appearances I haven’t seen, but I didn’t find any as yet).

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Next time: Having finished Season One of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, we’ll be launching into the Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor! Then, we’ll be returning to the Main Range with #11, The Apocalypse Element, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn! See you there.

All audio dramas in this series can be purchased from Big Finish; this and other selections may also be found on Spotify (search artist “Doctor Who”) and Google Play.  Link for purchase is below.

Winter for the Adept