Short Story: Chasing Humanity

A few years ago, Big Finish Productions–which produces the many wonderful Doctor Who and other audio dramas I review over at The Time Lord Archives–unexpectedly lost one of its own to illness: Paul Spragg, a man who wore enough hats that just giving him a proper title is all but impossible.  In tribute to him, Big Finish conducts an annual competition in which participants contribute short stories in the classic era of Doctor Who (that is, between the First Doctor and the Eighth Doctor’s appearance in The Night of the Doctor).  The winning entry is then produced as a “Short Trip” audio drama.  (For a great example, you can download last year’s winning entry, Joshua Wanisko’s Forever Fallen, here.)  I didn’t become aware of the contest in time to participate last year; but this year I made a submission, and…

…I didn’t win.  Oh well.  There were hundreds of entries, so that’s no surprise.  Still, I was surprised to have received a response; the contest rules make it clear that there will be no correspondence (unless, of course, you’re the winner).  I’ve jokingly said that it’s the most polite rejection letter I’ve ever received.  There’s some truth to that, though–and as the letter indicated, the story was well received.

At any rate, the winner has not been announced yet, so I can’t shed any light on that.  You’ll find out at the same time I do, if you’re interested in Big Finish’s work (which I highly recommend).  What I can do is post my entry here, for your reading pleasure (I hope!).  I’ve also posted it on The Time Lord Archives.  This Third Doctor story is titled Chasing Humanity, and takes place during season nine of the classic television series, between The Sea Devils and The Mutants.  (I feel I should mention that the Third Doctor was a rare choice among the entries; according to Big Finish, most entries were for the Seventh and Eighth Doctors, with only a scattering of the others.)  For those who keep track of such things, it’s about 5700 words in this draft.

Third Doctor and Jo Grant

Chasing Humanity

It was only a hotel lobby; but from the way the Doctor looked at it, one would think it was a battlefield. His lips were a thin line, and his eyes, though alert as ever, were narrowed. Jo Grant caught the look, and took his arm. “Come on, Doctor, it’s not that bad. At least try to enjoy yourself!” She paused and looked around. “I should think this symposium would be your type of thing. What was it the Brigadier said?” She lowered her voice and assumed a haughty accent. “It’s the peak of military technology at stake here, Doctor! Who better to send than you, my scientific advisor?”

The Doctor arched an eyebrow at her. “Very talented, Jo. You’ve missed your calling; it’s a pity you were born too late for vaudeville.” His scowl deepened, and he started into the room, drawing her in his wake.

Jo sniffed. “Well then. If that’s the way you’re going to be, perhaps the Brigadier was right. He also said that it would do you good to get out and, you know, interact with people. Spend a little less time in the laboratory.”

“The Brigadier employs me specifically for what I do in the laboratory.” He steered her around the worst of the crowd.

“Yes, and that’s exactly why we’re here. You have a lecture to make regarding that work.” Specifically, he was to speak on the progress made in the field of emotional manipulation in the wake of last year’s tragedy at Stangmoor Prison. The lecture was to concern the efficacy of suppression of emotions in battlefield soldiers. However, that was tomorrow night; and Jo wasn’t sure how she was going to make it through the next twenty-four hours with the Doctor.

“Yes, well…” the Doctor muttered. “I suppose we’ll have some dinner, then. Where is Sergeant Benton?”

“He’s checking in with security and discussing the security arrangements for the symposium. Doctor, this is unlike you–you already knew where he was. Won’t you at least try to relax?”

The Doctor, of course, did no such thing. At dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, he became increasingly more dour, and even grew short with the waitstaff. The situation was not helped by an encounter with one nervous waitress; glancing around as she crossed the room, she failed to see the Doctor, and stumbled, dumping a tray of canapes into his lap. Fortunately, there was no great mess; but the Doctor’s unkind glare sent the mortified waitress scurrying back to the kitchens the moment the wreckage was collected.

The Doctor’s mood brightened, however, when they were joined by a short, bearded man in a tweed jacket. “Doctor! So good to see you here! I was quite surprised to see your name on the agenda–care if I join you?”

“Absolutely! Come, sit down!” Suddenly the Doctor was effusive. “Geoffrey, this is my assistant, Miss Jo Grant. Jo, this is Doctor Geoffrey Chambers. Geoffrey is a geologist with Oxford. We met some time ago, when he took a temporary assignment with UNIT in the wake of Project Inferno.”

“Yes, quite interesting, it was,” Chambers said. “I understand that Ms. Shaw has returned to Cambridge since then? A pity; I was hoping to see her here. Ah, well, we can’t have it all, I suppose… Miss Grant, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance! I will say, if you can keep up with this man, you are an extraordinary individual. So tell me, Doctor, what can we look forward to from your presentation?”

***

In the kitchen, the waitress dropped her tray into a dish bin, and ran out the back door to the alley behind the hotel, ignoring the shouts of the head chef. Shaking, she leaned against the wall, catching her breath. That had been a close call; and she began to wonder, not for the first time, if she could really make this work. Humans were never quite what she expected… still, there was little to be done about it, and less in the way of options. She lifted the hem of her blouse, exposing a square, yellow box on a tight belt around her waist. She regarded the box, which had a thin crack across its surface; she made a minute adjustment to a slide switch on the top, and then covered it again. Setting her nerves, she returned to the kitchen.

***

Jo was beginning to think that not even the chatty Doctor Chambers could lift the Doctor’s spirits for long. As dinner progressed, his scowl, and its attendant rudeness, returned; until finally Jo kicked him beneath the table. “Doctor!” she hissed. “Show a little dignity, please!”

The Doctor set down his napkin and pushed back from the table. “Jo, my dear, I am the very image of dignity. It’s this function that is undignified by its very nature!” He stood up. “Geoffrey, it’s been a pleasure, and I hope to catch up with you again during our stay. In the meantime, if you’ll excuse me…”

Whatever Chambers might have said was interrupted by an odd sight: the waitress who had dropped her tray came running out of the kitchen and past their table, heading for the door. “Well,” Jo commented, “at least I’M not the only one having a bad night.”

***

The chef met the waitress as she came in the door. “I’m so sorry,” she murmured, “I don’t know what happened to me out there, but it won’t happen again, I swear.”

“Just see that it doesn’t,” he said. “We are not some diner on the corner, you know. We have a reputation to maintain! I’ll not have you making us all look foolish, and especially in front of these military types. If we weren’t in the middle of this conference, you would be out the door already! Do you understand?”

She nodded and started to walk away. He scowled and grabbed her hand. “Don’t walk away when I’m talking to you! You still have work to do!”

She yanked back her hand. “No, I don’t. It’s six o’clock, and my shift is over. Just leave me alone!” She turned and ran out into the dining room; as the door swung shut, the chef saw her narrowly miss bumping into the same man on whom she had dumped the canapes. Scowling again, he shook his fist in her direction… and then winced. He opened his hand, and saw that the palm was red and covered in blisters. Now, how had that happened?

***

Sergeant Benton was no happier than Jo to share the Doctor’s company; but as the lone representative of UNIT’s armed service, the role of bodyguard fell to him. Not, of course, that there should be a need for a bodyguard here; but UNIT was not in the habit of taking chances. The trio sat in the audience of a lecture on new techniques in small arms production, as near the exit as the Doctor could manage. The Doctor spent the bulk of the lecture muttering irritated remarks about the subject matter, while Benton and Jo exchanged longsuffering looks behind his back. Only when the Doctor’s comments began to draw the attention of others in the audience was Benton able to get him to subside.

“Sergeant Benton, if we must endure this interminable lecture, we should at least be treated to accurate interpretations of the data!” the Doctor insisted, not for the first time. “If I wanted to engage in half-baked theories, I would find a coffee shop and take up the social sciences. This is supposed to be a scientific symposium!”

“Doctor, please,” Benton said, and raised a hand to forestall interruption. “Your mind might be centuries ahead of us mere mortals, but bear with us while we get there. You’ll have your chance tomorrow night, won’t you?” The Doctor gave him a withering look, but Benton pressed on. “People are starting to stare. The Brigadier won’t be happy with me if I let you get yourself ejected from a seminar. So, please, settle down and just… be in the audience, alright?”

The Doctor drew in a long breath, gave a half-hearted smile, and then nodded. “You’re right, Sergeant, of course. I will attempt to…rein in my temper. Such as it–” He stopped, and cocked his head. “Hmm?”

“What?” Jo spoke up from his other side.

“Shh.” He raised a finger. “Listen.”

Behind them, two security guards stood at the door, one to each side. Over the low drone of the lecture, voices could be heard from their walkie-talkies. “There’s something going on in the kitchens,” Benton murmured for Jo’s benefit. “They’re being cautious about what they say, but it sounds serious.” At that moment, one of the guards turned and rushed out the door.

“Well,” Jo said, “I hope everything will be alri–oh, no,” she said. Benton pulled his gaze back from the door, and saw what Jo was seeing: a speculative look of interest on the Doctor’s face. “No, Doctor! It’s not our problem!”

“Jo is right, Doctor,” Benton said. “Let security handle it, whatever it is.”

“Handle what?” the Doctor said. “I, for one,” he said, standing up, “could do with a bit of refreshment. Care to join me?” He pushed past Jo and strode out the door. Jo and Benton exchanged looks of resignation, and followed.

***

A circle of the conference’s security guards stood near the ovens in the kitchen. A second circle–more of an arc, really–surrounded them, composed of the kitchen staff, and a third arc –the wait staff– stood near the opposite walls. The atmosphere was one of confusion, dismay, and distress. The Doctor strode in as though he owned the place, cape flaring dramatically, and slipped deftly through the outer arcs to the inner circle. “Gentleman,” he said, “what do we know so far?”

As one, the guards looked at him incredulously; and then something curious happened, something which Jo was coming to regard as standard procedure for the Doctor: as one, they nodded, and began to explain. She had seen this happen on several occasions, and it never ceased to amaze her; the Doctor would step into a situation armed with nothing but an air of confidence, and people simply… accepted him, as though he belonged there. It was not new, but it remained exceptional.

One guard took the lead. “This is,” he said, gesturing down at the body on the floor, “or rather, it was, the head chef, a Mister Richard Farley. He was perfectly fine, as far as anyone can tell, right up to the moment he fell out on this spot. No one saw anything, and nothing strange has been reported. One of the other chefs made some attempt to revive him, but there was nothing to be done.”

“A heart attack?” Jo suggested.

The guard was about to answer, but the Doctor beat him to it. “No, I don’t think so.” He knelt down and turned the body over.

Jo gave an involuntary gasp. “But… he’s… he’s burned!” Every visible inch of skin was covered in mottled red burns.

“Yes,” the Doctor murmured. “Third degree burns, at that. But there’s something curious about it. Sergeant, what do you notice about this man’s condition?”

Benton knelt down beside him to examine the body. He frowned at the extent of the damage– and then his eyes widened. “His clothes aren’t charred. These burns are fresh, and some of them have to have bled, but–”

“Yes,” the Doctor agreed. “If he had these burns prior to his shift, well, he wouldn’t be here. And he wasn’t dressed after the burns, either; if he had been, there would be much more in the way of bloodstains. No, he was wearing these clothes when it happened– but they aren’t burned at all.” He straightened and returned to the guard. “And you say that no one saw this happen?”

“That’s right,” the guard said. “He’d been working, giving orders, just like always; and then suddenly, he was dead on the floor.” He shrugged. “We assumed it was an equipment accident.”

“An equipment–” Benton began, and then stopped. “There’s no way that this could have been the result of any of the equipment in this kitchen.”

“Then what do you think it was?” the guard said. His tone had gone cool. “Listen, this hotel is full of representatives from every military and scientific establishment in Europe. We will not allow any kind of scandal to interrupt the conference. In a few days, we can go back and revisit the situation, but for now, this is an accident. And that is what we’re going to tell the police when they arrive.”

The Doctor gave him an even stare. “I see.” At that moment a commotion could be heard in the lobby. “Well, then, we’ll leave you to it. It sounds like they’re arriving now. Jo, Sergeant, come along.” He turned and strode out through the dining room, carefully taking the entrance furthest from the incoming policemen.

“Are we just going to let it go?” Jo said, tugging him to a halt in the corridor. “Doctor! You know that was no accident!”

“Of course it wasn’t,” the Doctor agreed. “The question is, what was it?”

“Well…” She faltered. “I don’t know. But you have an idea, don’t you?”

“Not yet,” he said. “But there is a detail we’ve overlooked. Or rather, we didn’t have time to address it. Come and see.” He led them back toward the dining room, stopping in the doorway. From here, there was a clear view into the section of kitchen where the waitstaff still stood, now gathered in a huddle. “Look at them. Do you notice anything strange about them?”

Jo got it this time. “They’re all red in the face! Like they were–”

“Sunburned, yes,” the Doctor said. “But it’s late, and the sun has been down for a few hours. And why would all of the staff, who don’t come and go together, have the same burns? Except, of course, for the head chef, who certainly got the worst of it. No,” the Doctor declared, “there’s more at work here, and I want to know what it is.”

***

The next morning’s breakfast brought no answers; but it provided more questions. “The kitchen staff is short this morning,” Jo said as she joined the Doctor and Benton at the table. “Four workers called in. Doctor, what do you make of that?”

“I’m not ready to make assumptions yet,” the Doctor replied. “Though I suspect–”

“Doctor,” Benton interrupted. “People get sick all the time. Maybe it’s a virus. We should probably wash our hands once in awhile, but I don’t see how this could connect to what happened last night. Or even more likely, they just called in because of the trauma.” He glanced at Jo, who shrugged.

“It makes sense to me,” she said. “Though I trust the Doctor’s hunches, when he has them.”

“Well, it’s not going to matter this morning,” Benton said before the Doctor could recover the conversation. “Doctor, you’re due to participate in a panel discussion in ten minutes. Look, I know you aren’t happy about it, but the Brigadier said–”

“No, no, it’s quite alright,” the Doctor said. “I’m looking forward to it, actually. Besides, the tedium will give me time to mull over our situation.” He smiled at them, and got up and left the table.

“Was that sarcasm?” Benton said. “Or was he being serious?”

Jo tossed her napkin onto the table. “Oh, who can tell with him?”

***

An hour into the panel discussion, Jo struggled to stay awake. She found these events more difficult than the lectures; at least those gave interesting new information. This was just debate, and she could get her fill of that in the UNIT offices. The Doctor seemed to be enjoying his part; but here in the audience, the heat and the droning were making her drowsy. Finally, she whispered to Benton and excused herself, and headed for the washroom to freshen up.

***

In the kitchen, the waitress’s hands shook as she listened to her coworkers talking about the death of the head chef. It simply wasn’t going to work, she feared. If the local authorities turned their investigative eyes on this place, soon enough they would begin to look into the staff, and then… well, her cover was good enough to get her the job, but she doubted it would stand up to real scrutiny. Perhaps it was time to move on.

The problem was that she would need a new form. It would be best to change now, before slipping out of the hotel; if anyone saw one of the staff leaving when she should be working, they might become suspicious, and she wanted no trail to lead to her. She might not have committed a crime, but she certainly would be a person of interest. That presented a problem, however; it had taken her weeks to prepare this form, using composite features from several individuals. There was no time for that now; she would have to simply copy someone. Well, there was no time like the present–even her world had that cliché–and so she excused herself and headed to the washroom.

***

The washroom door opened as Jo reached for it on her way out. “Oh, sorry,” she said, “I didn’t see you there–” The rest of her words were cut off. The door closed on the sounds of a brief struggle, and then there was silence.

***

Doctor Geoffrey Chambers stepped out of a conference room and into the lobby. If only there had been time to say goodbye to his friend, the Doctor…ah, but here was an answer! “Oh, Miss Grant, it’s so good to see you!” he called out, and stopped the young woman with a touch. She gave him a glance that, had he noticed it, would have been taken as bewilderment; but she stopped. He paid no mind, and kept talking. “I was hoping to say goodbye to the Doctor, but I see from the schedule that he’s occupied at the moment. I wonder if you could convey my greetings to him? You see, I have to leave early– my daughter is, well, expecting– I received a call that the baby is on the way… she’ll be expecting me at the hospital eventually, you see–”

The young woman was caught off guard by the torrent of speech, but she managed a nod. “I’ll– I’ll let him know, yes.”

He gave her an effusive smile, and then unexpectedly embraced her. “Splendid!” Abruptly, he realized what he was doing, and pulled back. “Oh… er… well, you must forgive me and my scattered brain today. It’s been quite the pleasure to meet you, Miss Grant! Do take care of the Doctor, please. Ah, if you’ll excuse me, I must gather my things.” He turned and made his way to the elevators.

Jo gave the man a final, long look, and then turned to complete her own exit. She made it ten paces before she was interrupted again, this time by the Doctor and Benton as they exited the panel discussion. “Ah, Jo, there you are!” Benton said. “Ready for lunch?”

“Lunch? Oh… I, ah…” she stammered, but the Doctor took her arm. “Oh, well, that won’t be… necessary…” she trailed off as he started toward the dining room.

“Nonsense, Jo,” he said, “we’ll all do better with a good meal. And then we can begin to look into last night’s events.” At his side, Jo stiffened, but he didn’t seem to notice. She glanced away, but Benton was on her other side. There was nothing for it but to go along.

Jo said little during the meal, and only picked at her food. Finally the Doctor stood up, and Benton followed suit; Jo did likewise. At the door of the dining room, the Doctor stopped her. “Jo, are you feeling alright? You look unwell.”

A way out! Suppressing a smile of relief, Jo glanced up at him and quickly shook her head. “I– I think I’d better go lie down. Headache,” she added by way of apology.

“Oh, alright,” Benton said, “We’ll take a look around and try to piece together what we can about last night–” Jo gave him a startled look before she could stop herself–”but first, we’ll walk you to your room. Right, Doctor?”

“Oh, no, that won’t be–”

“Absolutely, Sergeant!” the Doctor overrode her. “Truth be told, Jo, I must admit I was rather rude to you last night. If you’ll allow me, I’ll make it up to you in courtesy now.” He was already starting toward the elevators. Irritated, she followed, with Benton bringing up the rear.

***

The Doctor and Benton saw Jo into her room, and heard the lock click before turning away. “She’s acting odd, isn’t she?” Benton said as they made their way down the hall.

“Quite. But she isn’t the only one acting strangely in this hotel… nevertheless, she should feel better after a nap.” They rounded the corner toward the elevators. “I would think– eh, what’s this?”

Ahead, a small crowd consisting of the concierge, two security guards, and a housekeeper had gathered around an open door. A third guard poked his head out of the doorway as the Doctor and Benton approached. “Call for a doctor!” he instructed the concierge.

“I’m a doctor,” the Doctor interjected as they reached the crowd. “What’s going on?” The concierge gave him an odd look–too much good fortune, perhaps, that a doctor would already be on hand–but he allowed them in. “The front desk received a call from this room, asking for help,” he said. “He sounded as though he was in pain.”

“Indeed he was,” the Doctor said as he knelt. There, on the floor, lay Doctor Geoffrey Chambers, who was covered head to foot in severe burns, burns which left his suit and tie untouched. Unlike the unfortunate head chef, he was still breathing.

“Geoffrey,” the Doctor said gently, then more forcefully: “Doctor Chambers! Can you hear me?”

Chambers’ eyes opened, revealing bloodshot whites and darting irises. “D-Doctor? Is that you? Oh, what’s happened to me?”

“Lie still, Geoffrey. We’ll get an ambulance.” He motioned to the concierge, who nodded and went for the room phone. “Geoffrey, I need you to tell me what happened to you. How did you get these burns?”

“They… they just… erupted, all over me. Very quick. So… painful. Doctor, I… I’m dying. And my… grandchild… I won’t see…”

The man was slipping away. “Geoffrey,” the Doctor said, “who have you seen in the last hour? Who did you see last?”

Chambers looked puzzled. “Why… the last… it was your lovely assistant, Miss… Miss Grant.” He exhaled then, a final breath that lasted too long, and was gone.

The Doctor exchanged a dark look with Benton. “The ambulance can see to Doctor Chambers. Sergeant, I think we’d better get back to Jo. Come on!” They leaped to their feet and ran from the room, leaving the startled staff behind.

“What’s going on, Doctor?” Benton said as they ran. “And why Jo?”

“Because,” the Doctor said as they reached Jo’s door, “I fear Miss Grant is not herself at the moment. Listen, I don’t have time to explain it now; we’ll save it for later.” He pulled a short, silver rod–his sonic screwdriver–from his pocket, and aimed its circular head at the door. The screwdriver buzzed, and the lock clicked open. Benton threw the door open, and they burst inside.

Jo was nowhere to be seen. The window on the far side of the room stood open, curtains blowing in the breeze from the alley below. They ran to the window and leaned out. Two window ledges over, a fire escape snaked down the back of the building; Jo Grant was making her way down the iron stairs. Already she was nearly at the bottom. “Sergeant Benton,” the Doctor said, “go downstairs and find Jo, the real Jo. If I’m right, you’ll find her somewhere in the building, unconscious. I’ll retrieve the imposter. Go!” Not waiting for an answer, he climbed out the window.

***

Benton searched the lower floors with military efficiency. Storerooms, offices, conference rooms, lecture hall– all proved empty. He stopped by the front desk, fists on his hips, and looked around, pondering. If she was nowhere to be found down here, that meant searching the guest rooms… which would take time and manpower that he didn’t have. There had to be something he’d overlooked.

A thought occurred to him. Deliberately, he set aside his own thoughts, and tried to put himself in Jo’s shoes. She had to have been taken during the panel discussion, when she left the room… where would she have gone? When he realized the obvious answer, he kicked himself, and then turned and ran for the ladies’ room. Fifteen seconds later, in a locked stall at the back, he found a very disgruntled Jo Grant, wearing a waitress uniform and just beginning to awaken. Her face, he noticed, was red with what appeared to be a sunburn.

***

By the time the Doctor reached the bottom of the fire escape, the woman who wore Jo’s face had reached the open end of the alley. He pounded after her, calling out Jo’s name– for he didn’t know what else to call her– but to no avail. She gave him a single look, and turned left onto the crowded sidewalk.

He was in better shape than his appearance would suggest, and he narrowed the gap; but it wasn’t going to be enough. Soon she would reach a more crowded public plaza ahead, and there he would lose her. He poured on as much speed as he could muster– and then skidded to a halt. Just ahead of her, a fire hydrant stood on the sidewalk. It was a dirty trick, perhaps, but any port in a storm…

At the carefully-aimed buzzing of the sonic screwdriver, the cap popped off of the hydrant; and then, as the woman passed, the valve spun. A torrent of water knocked her from her feet, leaving her dazed in the street.

The Doctor caught up as she began to pick herself up. He shut off the water, and turned his attention to her… and saw that ripples were spreading across her skin, like waves in a pond. “Careful now,” he said, “let me help you.” He pulled off his cape and draped it over her, careful not to touch her directly, and then helped her to her feet. “Come on, let’s get you back to the hotel.”

“No!” She started to pull away, but his grip on her arm through the cape stopped her.

“My dear,” he said, “I assure you I am not trying to harm you–but in a matter of moments, everyone on this street will see you in your true form. I can’t say I know what that will be, but I suggest you may want to prevent that outcome. If you’ll come with me, I can help you.”

She looked as though she still intended to bolt– until another ripple ran across her form. Finally she nodded, and started walking with him.

***

The ripples were coming faster as the Doctor and the woman entered the lobby. Benton and Jo waited in chairs near the dining room; they leaped to their feet as the bedraggled duo entered. “Doctor!” Jo shouted. “What– What’s going on here? Who is she?”

“Patience, Jo, we haven’t time to talk just yet. If the two of you will come with me…” Still leading the soaked imposter, he escorted them into the kitchen, and quickly sent the staff out. “A minute or two, that’s all I need,” he said, “and you can all get back to work.”

When they were alone, the Doctor stepped back from the woman. “Jo, Sergeant Benton, allow me to introduce Lorana Sitel, of the Charidzi people. Lorana, you should turn it off now, I think. You’re safe here.” The woman nodded, and reached to a box hanging from her– or rather, Jo’s– belt. Her form rippled again, and changed, flowing like water from head to foot. Where a perfect duplicate of Jo Grant had stood, there was now a much taller figure, taller than Benton or the Doctor, slender and willowy, with a high forehead and a bald skull. Her skin glinted in shades of blue and silver, and– most strikingly– she had four eyes, two on each side of her face, each pair aligned vertically. Her fingers were long and bore more joints than human fingers, but had no nails. She still wore Jo’s clothes, but ill-fittingly on her long frame.

“A… shapeshifter?” Benton murmured.

“Quite. Lorana, would you care to explain why you’re here on Earth? If it isn’t too painful, please,” he added gently.

She nodded. “My planet is a lot like your Earth. We have some technology that exceeds yours, but culturally, we’re not that different.” Her voice–which was similar to that she had used in her waitress form, but with a reedy lilt–became wistful. “I am nothing special. On my planet, I was perfectly happy. I was… what would you call it… a travel agent? I arranged holidays for people. I had a husband, and two children. My life was quiet.” She paused. “And then, my family were lost. They were coming to visit me for a meal one day while I worked, and their vehicle lost control and struck another. The other driver survived… my family did not. I was suddenly alone.”

“The Charidzi,” the Doctor said, “have an empathic power. They sense the emotions of others. It’s not as invasive as telepathy, but it can still be overwhelming at times. It may sound strange, but as a result, sympathy is not a strong trait for the Charidzi. After all, it’s hard to be sympathetic when you feel every pain, every awkwardness, every moment of judgment.”

“I couldn’t take it,” Lorana said. “I couldn’t stand watching them all look at me, and feel the things they were feeling, and not be able to stop it. So, I left. I scheduled a trip for myself, to several planets. And when I reached yours, I decided it would be a good place to disappear.”

“But, what about the deaths?” Jo said.

“The Charidzi are not biological shapeshifters,” the Doctor said. “It is not a natural ability, but a technological one. It takes advantages of some unique genetic traits, and allows them to change form.” He indicated the device Lorana still held. “The power source of that device emits an unusual form of radiation, which also is found in the light of the Charidzi sun. The Charidzi are quite immune to its effects; their bodies soak it up without harm. Humans are not so fortunate. And as you can see, Lorana’s device is damaged. She was not aware of the risk, of course; it’s quite harmless to her Charidzi DNA, even in human form. Unfortunately, she’s been emitting a low dose of radiation to everyone around her.”

“The sunburned faces,” Jo said.

“Yes, Jo, including your own. But this type of radiation can be communicated through touch, as well, assuming the one doing the touching has absorbed enough of it. Lorana, I am going to guess that you touched the head chef last night, didn’t you?”

“He touched me,” she said. “He grabbed my hand after I dropped my tray on you. I’m… I’m sorry about that.”

“No matter there,” the Doctor said. “Unfortunately you had no way to know what would happen to him. Nor did you know what would happen to Professor Chambers. I am going to guess that he accosted you when you were trying to get away. And the reason you were fleeing is because you feared suspicion in the wake of the first death. Am I right so far?” She nodded.

“I didn’t know,” she murmured. “I never meant to hurt anyone. I came here to not be hurt. When I’m in human form, my empathic sense is dulled. It seemed safe.”

“And so it is.” The Doctor straightened. “The question, though, is what to do with you now? We can’t have you running around exposing people to radiation. As it turns out, I too am not of this world; and I imagine my people could get you home. But that would be to return you to veritable torture. A dilemma, eh?”

“Doctor,” Jo said. “There could be another way.”

***

Jo and Benton sat in the audience, listening to the Doctor’s lecture. “What do you think, Jo?” Benton said quietly. “Did we make the right choice? More importantly, I suppose: Did Lorana?”

Jo gave it a moment’s thought. “I think she did. And I think we did too.”

“Well,” Benton said, “now that the Doctor repaired her transformation device, she won’t have to worry about hurting anyone. On the other hand, I suppose she’ll have to learn to be human.”

“Well, she was already on her way to that,” Jo said. “Besides, that’s not such a bad goal, is it? To be human?”

“Not at all.” Benton pointed to the stage. “When do you think our resident alien will understand that?”

“Sergeant Benton,” Jo said, “if there is one thing the Doctor will never be, it is human.” She said it with a smile, though.

Onstage, the Doctor was beginning to wrap up his presentation. “While the research indicates that full emotional suppression is possible,” he said, “I feel obligated to recommend against its use, in soldiers, or in any other profession. In addition to the long-term risks that I’ve already noted, I’ll simply say in conclusion that emotions are a vital part of what makes a person human. Of course too much, in the wrong place and time, can be a hazard–as some of you may well know.” For a moment, he caught Jo’s eye. “We must of course have every aspect of ourselves in its proper context. But, regardless of the effect on our performance, to eliminate our emotions would make us something less than we are– and far less than what we should be.”

In the audience, Jo turned to Benton with a smile. “Maybe,” she said, “he’s learning something after all.”

Third Doctor party

Advertisements

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Trouble In Paradise

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 Sixth Doctor’s contribution to the series:  Trouble in Paradise, read by Nicola Bryant and Cameron Stewart, and written by Nev Fountain. Let’s get started!

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

trouble-in-paradise-1

This episode differs from its predecessors right from the start. Rather than finding it incidentally and later, we get an appearance by the Eleventh Doctor right at the outset, as he uses the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits and viewscreen to contact the Sixth Doctor and Peri Brown. He makes it clear that he is a future incarnation of the Doctor (with Peri at first reflecting that he is what she would expect from the Doctor’s son, if he had one), and compliments his previous self; and then he makes a request. He wants the Sixth Doctor to obtain an omniparadox, a most dangerous item. After he leaves, the Sixth Doctor explains that an omniparadox is a sort of power cell, created by the conflict between two versions of time, much as nuclear power is created by smashing atoms together. The omniparadox, however, possesses energies that, if misapplied, can destroy the universe.

The Doctor constructs a device to track the signal of an omniparadox; it does so by mimicking the signal to create a resonance. Tracking, they land aboard a ship—not a spaceship, but a sailing ship—and find the paradox hovering above the TARDIS. However, they are quickly captured by a most unlikely man and his crew, and find that they are in the presence of the famed Christopher Columbus, aboard the Santa Maria; and he has just sighted land. He assumes they are natives of the island he has discovered, and that they have somehow come aboard to worship the invading Europeans. (The fact that he can converse with them without trouble seems to be lost on him.) The misunderstandings are interrupted, however, when it is revealed that a man on board is dying—and claims to have seen the devil.

Unfortunately, Peri has seen it too, albeit briefly. The Doctor gives her the TARDIS key to fetch a medical kit; and en route, she sees a demonic creature in the shadows for a moment. The Doctor determines that the man is dying of tuberculosis; he has the ability to cure him, but refuses to do so, as introducing modern medicine to the year 1492 could be disastrous. Enraged at him, Peri runs off through the hold where the TARDIS is parked, stopping only to throw the key at the Doctor.

Moments later, we find that Peri—intending to just stand at the prow and think—has fallen overboard. The Doctor panics, and tries to enter the TARDIS to save her, but cannot find the key. He is diverted, however, when he sees that the omniparadox is now gone; and shortly thereafter, the universe begins to unravel, violently. The Doctor realizes that something has caused the paradox to be removed, which means that the Eleventh Doctor’s mission in the future will fail, bringing about this destruction; but he stabilizes the situation briefly with his tracking unit, using its false signal to “trick” the universe into stability. It will not last, however, and he has about an hour before things fall apart. Columbus, having had his beliefs challenged repeatedly, now believes the Doctor is a wizard, and orders him to find the key and fix the situation; if he does not do so in twenty minutes, Columbus will cut off his hands, a punishment that history attests he used often on the native populations.

Peri, meanwhile, is not dead. She finds herself washed up on the shore—and is immediately captured by natives who are under the control of a monster. The monster is the devilish figure she saw; it confronts her, and reveals itself to be the Herd Leader of the Bovine race, a race of intelligent buffalo. Once they ruled the continent, and the primitive humans worshipped them; but then the herd leader was trapped in ice. Without its mind, the herd regressed into common buffalo, and were hunted to extinction. In the future, when the herd leader thawed out, he found he had no herd to lead. Adopting time travel technology which had since been developed by humans, he traveled back to conduct experiments which would save his people. He believes that Peri and the Doctor were sent to stop him.

The Doctor determines that a goat in the hold has eaten the key. However, he retains a psychic connection to it; and he is able to telepathically connect it to the TARDIS despite the goat (and much to the goat’s alarm) and get the door to unlock. With Columbus in tow, he determines that Peri is alive, and travels to her location; unknown to him, Columbus—now convinced the Doctor is a superior explorer—plans to kill him out of jealousy.

Arriving at the Herd Leader’s time machine, they learn its plan. It was the herd leader that led Columbus to the new world—Columbus being an incompetent navigator on his own—in hopes that the Europeans will exterminate the native Americans, thus preventing them from exterminating the Bovine herd. In that way he can return to the future and resume his place as herd leader. They are shocked to see another Herd Leader appear and interrupt, however; or rather, the same one, but older. The second leader says he is from the future, and has come to stop the experiment, because it will be a failure—the Europeans, too, will hunt and control the Bovine. The Doctor uses this opportunity to surreptitiously remove the time element from the machine. Warned by Peri, he dodges out of the way as Columbus tries to kill him with a sword; Columbus misses and destroys the time element by accident. The second herd leader vanishes, being unable to have time-traveled without the machine; the first is forced to flee. After removing the time machine, the Doctor, Peri, and Columbus return to the ship.

Columbus is forced to acknowledge that the Doctor and Peri are not natives after all; this does not change his plans, but he debates recording these events. He sends his men ashore to hunt down and kill the herd leader, convincing them it is not a devil, but an animal. The Doctor sees that the omniparadox has returned, and collects it; he theorizes that it disappeared because of the likelihood of Peri’s death. Without her to warn him of Columbus’s strike, the timeline would have been vastly different; and it was the collision of the timelines of the two herd leaders that created the paradox in the first place. Having a final change of heart, he cures the man with tuberculosis, and then they depart.

trouble-in-paradise-2

Dating this story is easy; the date is clearly given as October 12, 1492. Dating the point of origin of the herd leader is a little harder; however, as he states he gets his time travel technology from the humans of the future, it is likely at least the 50th century. In fact, I would place it definitively in that century, as time travel exists, but not in the more compact and refined form of a vortex manipulator, which is known to exist by the 51st century; the machine here is apparently bulkier, and involves a time element large enough to be struck with a sword. From the Doctor and Peri’s point of view, this episode must occur prior to the past-time events seen Trial of a Time Lord, part two, Mindwarp, as that episode involves Peri’s death (later overturned, I know, but their travels here are clearly prior to that occasion). I would further suggest that it is at about the midpoint of their time together; Peri is not the frightened child she was for most of their early adventures, but neither is she fully her calm, collected self. Still, it’s hard to be precise.

Continuing the tradition started by Carole Ann Ford in Hunters of Earth, Nicola Bryant proves to be a versatile voice actor, doing an excellent job of catching the Sixth Doctor’s mannerisms and speech habits. Her take on the Eleventh Doctor is not as convincing, though still effective. I had never heard her speak without the affected American accent she uses for Peri; and now, hearing the contrast between her reading voice and Peri’s voice, I realize she’s incredibly skilled at this type of work. It would be very easy to assume that two different voice actors were involved. Cameron Stewart displays similar skill; he voices Columbus and the herd leader, two very different voices.

This story departs from the established structure significantly. In the previous stories, the Eleventh Doctor took advantage of adventures that were already under way for his past incarnations, using those situations to obtain what he needs. Here, he is the reason for this mission in the first place; but given the seriousness of an omniparadox—as an object the Doctor would not ordinarily seek out—I think that’s a fair strategy. We get a bit of the occasionally-recurring theme of whether it’s okay to change history here; Peri is in favor, the Doctor is not, but in the end she gets her way. As it turns out, however, the change they make is minor; he cures the sailor with tuberculosis, but doesn’t leave any indication of how it was done.

This has been my least favorite story in this series so far. Although I like the Sixth Doctor, and his audios are usually very good, I’ve always felt that Peri is the weakest of his companions. Rather, I should say, it isn’t that Peri is weak; it’s that I think she is not a good match with Six. Had she been able to stay with Five, they would have done much better together. Still, none of that is to say that this is a bad story; I think it’s weakened in part by Peri’s presence, and also by having its focus primarily on the larger story arc rather than the local story, but I think neither of those things ruin it completely. As part of this series, it’s still vital, and still worth a listen.

trouble-in-paradise-3

Next time: We join the Seventh Doctor and Ace on Tarsus Six in Shockwave! See you there.

All stories 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.

Trouble In Paradise

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: The Mutant Phase

With Christmas behind us, we’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Main Range #15, The Mutant Phase, starring the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton). Let’s get started!

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

mutant-phase-1

At an unknown time in the future, a starship is conducting a survey when it is attacked by a swarm of over a hundred billion strange creatures, flying so tightly that they appear to be a single organism. The ship is knocked off course; its commander, Ganatus, and scientist Ptolem find that they are near–and possibly crashing on–the planet Skaro, home of the Daleks.

Elsewhere–or rather, elsewhen–and aboard the TARDIS, Nyssa repairs the proximity alarm, only for it to go off. The Fifth Doctor tries to evade, but finds that they have been captured by a time corridor in the vortex. They escape by “bouncing off” the corridor; in the process, the Doctor notices a strange ripple in time, a “bump” in the timestream. They land in a cornfield in Kansas. Emerging from the TARDIS, Nyssa is stung by a large wasp, but defers getting any treatment. They are then interrupted by what seems to be a spaceship passing overhead; another soon follows. They find a body in a field, which has been shot; it bears marks of technological implants, which have since be removed. The Doctor determines that the year is 2157 (actually 2158, as it turns out, but who’s counting?), and immediately insists that they leave. Meanwhile, Ptolem and Ganatus are also on Earth–but not in the same time period–and report that the Doctor has been located in 2158. Ptolem advises waiting, however; the Doctor won’t stay long, if history is correct.

Returning to the TARDIS, the Doctor and Nyssa are intercepted by a strange man, one with implants like those that had been removed from the body. The man–or Roboman, rather–calls for backup. A spaceship arrives, and the Doctor recognizes it: It is a Dalek saucer. A Dalek emerges, showing signs of battle damage, but doesn’t recognize the Doctor. They break for the TARDIS and escape; the Doctor tells Nyssa, who didn’t recognize the Daleks, about his history with them–he knows them, but in this time period, they do not yet know him. He previously encountered them on Earth, a few years after 2157, during the end of the Dalek invasion of Earth. But now they have another problem: having dematerialized, they are caught in the time corridor again. They can’t escape via time; but they can alter their spacial coordinates, landing somewhere afield of wherever the corridor takes them–and it’s as well, because wherever they land, there will be Daleks there. No one else has the ability to create these time corridors.

Ganatus reports to the Daleks that the Doctor has not arrived in the right place. The Daleks intend to find him.

Upon landing, the Doctor and Nyssa find themselves underground. They are taken in by two humans, Dolores and Albert, who offhandedly mention the “Thals”, piquing the Doctor’s interest–after all, the Thals are the other race from Skaro, and ancient enemies of the Daleks and their predecessors, the Kaleds. Albert admits the Thals have helped the humans on Earth, of whom there are only a few left; but he doesn’t know much about them, and indeed, they appear to be mostly serving their own interests. However, thirty years prior to this time, there was a disaster on Earth, which led to the depopulation of the planet. Dolores takes the Doctor to see a scientist, Professor Hendryk, while Albert tends Nyssa’s arm.

The Daleks have decided to return to Skaro. However, one of them loses control, and breaks open, revealing that it has further mutated and is now deadly to the other Daleks. The Daleks try to kill it, but Ptolem stops them, and takes it for study, placing it in containment.

Albert slips away briefly, and Nyssa finds him reporting their presence to someone–the Daleks, she assumes. Her arm still untreated, she goes to find the Doctor. The Doctor, meanwhile, meets with Hendryk and compares notes. Hendryk does not know about the Daleks–revealing that their invasion was centuries ago–and shows him one of the mutated creatures, similar to the one being viewed by Ptolem and Ganatus in the future, but dead. He describes how a swarm of them came to Earth and drew all the life out of the planet, but then died suddenly and without any known cause.

On Skaro, a crisis is happening. The numbers of mutated Daleks are increasing rapidly, and they are assaulting the Dalek defenses. Soon they will break through. A squad is dispatched through the time corridor to Earth to claim the Doctor, whose presence has been located.Ptolem and Ganatus are sent with the squad. Nyssa, meanwhile, finds Dolores, who doesn’t comprehend about Albert; but she takes her to the Doctor and Hendryk. They immediately head for the TARDIS. Albert finds them, and turns them over to the Daleks. Albert and Hendryk are killed by the Daleks; the Daleks also kill Dolores and threaten Nyssa, persuading the Doctor to surrender.

Ptolem and Ganatus, it turns out, are Thals, and have allied with the Daleks to eliminate the mutant creatures. They tell the Doctor about the mutants, into which the Daleks are developing; the creatures have the potential to end all life, everywhere. Only on Earth, thirty years ago, did they ever die out, and no one knows why. It’s the Thal base where they are analyzing the captive mutant; and they and the Daleks want the Doctor to help them. However, the creature escapes, destroying the base and everyone in it. The Doctor, Nyssa, Ptolem, Ganatus, and the last few Daleks escape into the TARDIS. The TARDIS, with everyone in it, rides the time corridor to Skaro…

mutant-phase-2

The Doctor is taken before the Dalek Emperor, who insists on his help. After much debate, he concludes that, as bad as the Daleks are, the mutant creatures are worse; and he agrees to help. Meanwhile, Ptolem examines Nyssa’s arm, and finds a strange thing: Insect eggs in the wound, which share some DNA with the mutant creatures. He extracts them, and treats her wound, and takes the eggs for research. He reaches the same conclusion the Daleks have reached: the mutant phase originated in 2158 on Earth. It spread from the first affected Dalek, because the Daleks routinely undergo genetic extraction, which is used to breed the next generation of Daleks. The Daleks need the Doctor because they lack the power to go back far enough to change the events of 2158.

It is the final moments for Skaro. The creatures are breaking into the Dalek city. The Doctor, Nyssa, Ptolem, and Ganatus flee in the TARDIS, back to 2158, as the Emperor destroys Skaro rather than let it fall to the creatures. Unexpectedly, Ganatus collapses. In flight, the Doctor tries to sleep, and Nyssa does some research. However, Ptolem has a secret–and unknown to him, Ganatus does too…Nyssa determines from records what killed the mutants on Earth, but before she can discuss it with the Doctor, Ganatus awakens, and the cloister bell sounds. The time corridor is collapsing around them…the Doctor breaks them free of the corridor, and lands, and finds that they are in the exact spot where the TARDIS landed the first time, in Kansas, 2158. They watch on the monitor as their earlier selves are accosted by first the Roboman, then the damaged Dalek. The earlier version of the TARDIS had dispersed itself via the Hostile Action Displacement System; realizing their earlier selves are about to walk in on them, the Doctor dematerializes, allowing the earlier TARDIS to return, preserving events. Nyssa explains that a pesticide, GK-50, killed off the creatures in the future. The wasp that stung her had been made aggressive by exposure to genetically modified crops; the same wasps also penetrated the damaged Dalek’s casing, making it patient zero for the mutated DNA. It must be stopped. They go after it; but first, they synthesize some GK-50, although Ptolem doubts it will work this early in the mutation’s history. As they leave, the Doctor and Nyssa feel a temporal distortion–the beginning of a dangerous paradox.

Ganatus grabs the injector of GK-50 and threatens to kill the Doctor with it. He reveals that he is not Ganatus anymore; the Emperor, on Skaro, implanted him with its own memories, essentially making him a copy of the Emperor. He forces the Doctor to track down the damaged Dalek, and thus ensure Dalek survival and victory; the Doctor refuses. They are captured by a patrol, and taken to the local Dalek base.

Ptolem tells Nyssa of his own secret. He has secretly developed a retrovirus that will wipe out all Daleks. If deployed here and now, in two generations no Daleks will exist. Nyssa begs him not to use it; this moment in history is already damaged and fragile, and any major change to history here can destroy everything. He is adamant, however.

mutant-phase-3

Against all odds, the copied Emperor gets the local Daleks to give him a hearing, and tries to warn them about the Doctor’s future interference with the Dalek Invasion (apparently not aware, however, that this is a later version of the Doctor, and exterminating him here will not prevent the presence of the First Doctor in that future year). However, the Doctor tells him that he is the reason for the paradox that may come to pass; by coming back in time, he will ensure the Daleks get the pesticide too early for it to be of any use, and thus he will doom them, setting his own course. If he had not come, the Daleks would have detected the wasp DNA in the damaged Dalek on their own, and extracted it, thus preventing the rise of the mutated creatures. Ptolem tries to use his retrovirus, but the Emperor makes the first move, destroying the pesticide. A wave of time distortion immediately passes through as the paradox is resolved, and suddenly, Ptolem and the Emperor vanish–events in their proper order would never have caused them to come here, after all. The Doctor and Nyssa escape in the TARDIS.

Safely back in the vortex, and free of the time corridor, the Doctor explains the outcome to Nyssa. He muses that the universe is safe because the Daleks, for once, followed his advice–and maybe that means there’s hope for them.

mutant-phase-4

This is a noteworthy story, largely because it didn’t originate with Big Finish. Rather, the core story comes from an audio drama of the same title, produced by Audio Visuals, which in many ways was the (admittedly unofficial) predecessor to Big Finish Productions. Nicholas Briggs wrote both versions. It has been adapted to some degree to fit in with the main range–notably, Nyssa mentions the events of The Land of the Dead. This story is also considered to be part of the Dalek Empire arc, the third story in that series. With all of that said, you wouldn’t know there was any difference; it’s done in similar fashion to the preceding audios, and fits well with regard to continuity. As with previous Fifth Doctor/Nyssa audios, it must occur between Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity, as Nyssa is the only companion present.

There’s a good deal of obfuscation here with regard to the time periods involved, mostly for the sake of suspense; but it has the effect of making it hard to keep track. Three time periods are actually involved: 2158 (mistakenly cited by the Doctor as 2157, but later corrected), nine years before the events of The Dalek Invasion of Earth; 4253, in which the future scenes on Earth take place, and which occurs thirty years after the sudden death of the mutant phase creature on Earth; and an unidentified point in the further future, in which all the Skaro scenes take place. The story is utterly self-contained, in that its events only occur because the Daleks force the Doctor to become involved, and the events resolve themselves–indeed, vanish completely from history–when the Doctor is removed from the equation at the end. Along the way, we get some good throwbacks to The Dalek Invasion of Earth; the Robomen appear again, and we get a mention of the Dalek plan to drill out the Earth’s core and install a hyperdrive. This story occurs largely in America (accompanied by some truly atrocious Midwestern accents), which makes it clear that the invasion really was worldwide, a fact that one could overlook in Dalek Invasion.

Nyssa is well-played here as always; I like her character, given that she really doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses. I’ve often said that she’s an intellectual match for the Doctor, and she shows it here, in repairing the TARDIS and researching the pesticide. She’s no match for the Doctor’s pride, unfortunately; he’s more than a little patronising to her, refusing to trust her with certain information, and reacting badly to her repairs on the TARDIS. The Doctor is at his most frustrating here, although I don’t mean that as a complaint; it’s vital to the story, in that he’s intentionally concealing information from those who should not have it. It’s clear here that he feels like events are getting away from him–and indeed, they are; it’s only at the last second that things are set right. Otherwise, characterization is not so great here; Hendryk is a Russian caricature, Ganatus is really nobody at all until the Emperor manifests in him, Ptolem is interesting but nothing new, and everyone else…well, mostly they get killed before they can be anything, really. Truly, the most interesting character here is the Dalek Emperor; we learn that he is the same Emperor that ordered the Dalek Invasion of Earth, two thousand years prior, reinforcing the idea that Daleks are very long-lived. He’s also implied to be the same Emperor seen in The Evil of the Daleks, although I am not sure where that story fits into chronology. Most interestingly of all, he deviates from usual Dalek behavior when he accepts the Doctor’s word and destroys the pesticide; it’s a far cry from the Emperor seen in The Parting of the Ways, which believed itself a god. I could get used to this portrayal; I suppose I’ll have to listen to Dalek Empire to continue his story.

Some other references: The Hostile Action Displacement System (HADS) first appeared in The Krotons; strangely, the version seen here is more akin to the Hostile Action Dispersal System seen in NuWho, which cause the TARDIS to disperse into the local area rather than actually relocate. Nyssa refers to Adric’s death, as seen in Earthshock. Strangely, the First Doctor is not directly referenced, but the Doctor mentions him tongue-in-cheek when he comments that he and the Emperor have both had a face-lift.

Overall, it’s a great story, and my only dislike is that it was hard to follow the times and locations involved. Of course, that’s by design; but still, it’s annoying at best. It’s a great additioin to the main range, and sets the groundwork for much of the Dalek Empire series. For fans of the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, it’s a must-listen.

mutant-phase-5

Next time: On Thursday we’ll continue our look at the Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor; and on Monday, we’ll get a look at the Eighth Doctor’s first Main Range appearance in Storm Warning! See you there.

All audio dramas 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.

The Mutant Phase

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: The Holy Terror

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re looking at Main Range #14, The Holy Terror, starring Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, and Robert Jezek as comic-strip companion Frobisher, the shapeshifting penguin private investigator. (Now THERE’s a sentence that could only exist in Doctor Who!) It’s my first encounter with Frobisher, as well as his first appearance in Big Finish. Let’s get started!

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

holy-terror-1

The story cold-opens on an imperial drama: God-Emperor Pepin VI (the empire is not named, only its leaders) has died, and his son, Pepin VII, is succeeding to the throne. Of course, there can only be one true god, which means that if Pepin VII is god, his father must have been a false god—making everyone who worshipped him a heretic and worthy of death. Unfortunately, that includes everyone. The fallen emperor’s wife, Empress Berengaria, is arrested and taken to the dungeons. On the way, she meets her second son, the bastard Childeric, who wants to depose and usurp his brother. He’s come to gloat, but there’s just one problem: Berengaria doesn’t care. In fact, she’s bored and disappointed by the whole situation.

The Empire isn’t the only place with problems. Frobisher has been playing with the TARDIS’s dimensional stabilizers, which govern its internal geometry; the Doctor finds him in the bath, and scolds him for it. It’s irrelevant now, though; the TARDIS is acting up anyway. The Doctor and Frobisher can’t figure it out; against all odds, it seems the TARDIS is just…miffed. It may not be able to speak, but it gets its point across: It’s tired of being taken for granted, and now it’s going to take them where IT wants to go.

Pepin VII is met by his high priest, Clovis, and his royal scribe, Tacitus. Tacitus has a unique job: he records the emperor’s deeds and words, producing scriptures—a new bible for a new god. It’s too bad that the new god-to-be is so nervous… After the meeting, Clovis meets Childeric, and agrees to help him depose Pepin—after all, it’s traditional! With the time of the coronation—when Pepin will ascend to godhood—at hand, everyone gathers in the throne room, with crowds watching. Clovis crowns Pepin, who doesn’t feel any different. He performs the accompanying miracles, which are—to any outside observer—just cheap tricks. Pepin can’t handle the charade anymore, and declares he is not actually a god; Childeric steps in to try to take the throne, leaving Pepin at the mercy of the crowd. He is saved, however, when a real miracle happens: the arrival of the TARDIS.

The scanner at first reveals only a white void outside, but then resolves into the throne room scene. Frobisher comes out, with the Doctor following…and they are immediately proclaimed as heavenly messengers. Pepin’s deity is confirmed, against his protests—protests which, I should add, offend his wife, Livilla, whose life is also on the line. The Doctor and Frobisher help Pepin to his rooms to rest. Meanwhile, Clovis meets with Childeric to work on his plans. Pepin and Tacitus are beginning to explain history to the Doctor and Frobisher; but Pepin’s guard captain bursts in and shoots him (with a gun. In a medieval setting. Just go with it.) Pepin is unharmed. He confirms the guard captain’s faith and sends him away…then reveals that the gun was stocked with blanks. After all, why waste live ammunition on a god, anyway? Besides, the assassination is a ritual, like everything else—just tradition, as in the ancient texts. The Doctor decides he’d better see the texts.

It seems that many things are “just tradition”. The Emperor is always god, but always dies and is succeeded, thus proving that he wasn’t really god; his faithful and his wife are always executed. One son is always good, the other—the bastard—is always evil, and always conspires with the high priest to betray him, but they are always defeated and executed. Frobisher is stunned by it all, as is the Doctor. The texts are strange, as well; every god’s bible is full to exactly its last page, with no waste, and all are in the same writing: Tacitus’s handwriting. Meanwhile, Livilla visits Berengaria and tries to side with her to put Childeric on the throne; but Berengaria pushes her away, stating she doesn’t really want to live, and looks down on the whole situation. Furious, Livilla beats her badly.

Clovis takes the Doctor and Tacitus to Childeric, who forces them into the catacombs under the castle. He doesn’t need the Doctor, only Tacitus, but lets him observe anyway. He reveals he has a son, whom he has kept hidden from everyone except a tongueless servant, so that he will be uncorrupted by anyone and will develop into a true god. However, the moment has come years earlier than planned; therefore he will take the throne until his son is old enough to rule. Meanwhile, the crowd has become a mob, destroying statues of Pepin and threatening his life…until he admits he is no god, but claims another god is present. He presents their new god: Frobisher, the “big talking bird”!

Childeric intends to trap Tacitus with his son, so that he can chronicle his life as he has done with other gods (sans tongue, of course), until the child can take the throne. The Doctor, he intends to kill. Meanwhile, Frobisher tries to return to the TARDIS, but it has locked him out. Therefore he accepts the throne—chiefly to save his own life—and orders that Pepin not be executed for heresy. (This, of course, is highly unconventional.) He announces he will make other changes, too. Livilla goes to Childeric and curries his favor by telling him that Frobisher has been proclaimed god and emperor (Emperor penguin? Hmm). Childeric decides that he must release his son on the world ahead of schedule.

As Frobisher unsuccessfully tries to introduce parliamentary democracy, the guard captain comes in for the ritual assassination. Unfortunately, thanks to the previous criticism, he’s using live ammunition this time. Frobisher, however, is unharmed; the bullets pass through him without injury, leaving holes in the throne behind him. Now EVERYONE is confused.

holy-terror-2

Livilla, Childeric, Tacitus, Clovis, and the Doctor all return to the catacombs, and Childeric releases the child. Tacitus reacts terribly, as—unbelievably—he recognizes the child’s face. The child speaks to them—which it should not be able to do—and reveals it does in fact have godlike power. It transforms Livilla into an infant, then kills her. Its tantrum then nearly destroys the castle, causing Tacitus, Clovis, and the Doctor to flee. Tacitus claims to have killed the child, many times, but it keeps coming back—and suddenly, the Doctor knows what is going on. He returns to speak to the child.

Frobisher learns that the first statue of him is already up; it doesn’t match exactly, but it’s close. Seeing the artist’s terror, he changes his own beak to match the statue—another miracle, they assume. He learns that in previous eras, the artist could be killed for such a failure, and he pardons the artist. He announces that nobody will die for him, and is advised that a prisoner—Berengaria—already awaits execution. He goes to her; Pepin begs Frobisher to heal her injuries—and to Frobisher’s own shock, he does.

The Doctor and Childeric confront the child, which kills the tongueless servant. It just wants to kill everyone except its father, with whom it will rule; and it has no conception of a universe outside the castle. The Doctor now knows that of everyone here, only the child can harm him or Frobisher. Childeric thinks this is madness, and opens his mind to merge with the child—but the child discovers Childeric is not his father. It tears him apart. It asks the Doctor who its father is. The Doctor asks it to lower the pitch of its voice…and when it does, the voice becomes that of Tacitus.

The child is not a god; it is a trap for one man, designed to torture him. The Doctor refuses to share the information, but the child forces itself into the Doctor’s mind. It sees memories of the universe, and is terrorized by them; it believes only the castle really exists. It disappears, and the Doctor rushes to find Frobisher.

Berengaria talks with Pepin, and finally—at long last—begins to heal some of the wounds and misunderstandings in their relationship. They are interrupted by the child, which demands worship from them; Pepin tries to defend Berengaria, and is killed at once. Berengaria refuses to worship the child, and it kills her as well—which is what she wanted anyway. Meanwhile, the Doctor encounters Clovis, who wants to help—but the Doctor knows Clovis will betray him. It’s not his fault; after all, the Doctor now knows that no one here is real, except the child and its father. They were created by an uncreative man, and their personalities are stereotypical, quite against their will. He leaves Clovis behind. The child appears and kills him, and in Clovis’s final moment, he does indeed betray the Doctor—he points the child after him.

Tactitus reaches the throne room, where Frobisher waits, and hides behind the throne, ranting in terror. The child is coming, killing everyone it finds en route. The Doctor joins them there, and reveals that everyone else is dead—or rather, never existed. This place is a place of fiction—a created world, a kind of illusion. It’s dimensionally transcendent, like the TARDIS, which is why the TARDIS came here; it needed a place to recover from the damage Frobisher had done when messing with the dimensional stabilizers. The place is a prison for Tacitus, who once committed a terrible crime: he murdered his own child. The entire cycle is a fantasy in which Tacitus is prisoner, participant, and planner: he relives his son’s reality through the child, which tries to kill him, only for him to kill it. The cycle has repeated for centuries, so long that he doesn’t even remember (until now, anyway); it will go on forever if he doesn’t break the cycle.

The child arrives, and Tacitus confronts it. He admits to madness; he must have been mad, to kill the child he loved—and he did love him, and does. The child loves him too, but is compelled to kill. Tacitus has a knife, and can kill him, as he has done before; but against the Doctor’s urging, rather than drop the knife, he gives it to the child, which kills him instead. The cycle is broken, and the castle disappears.

The Doctor and Frobisher find themselves back in the white void, but with the TARDIS waiting, its damage now fully repaired. It’s a sad ending, but one from which they have learned—or so they hope. They board the TARDIS, and move on.

holy-terror-3

Everything I have to say can be summed up in one sentence: This is not your usual Big Finish. The company itself has referred to this story as a “side-step into a 2D universe”, by which they mean the reality of the Doctor Who comics. Frobisher had never appeared in the audios prior to this story, but was a semi-regular in the comics, especially the Marvel Doctor Who comics; I admit I only know the basics of those comics, and haven’t read any of them as yet, though I hope to do so. He will appear again in one more audio, The Maltese Penguin, which I hope to review at some point. For those not familiar, he’s a Whifferdill, a shapeshifting race; although they may have a base shape of their own, he doesn’t seem to be bound to it, and can choose to remain in a form at least semi-permanently. His preferred form is that of a large penguin (hence my “emperor penguin” pun). He is a private investigator by trade; his portrayal here is the stereotypical noir take on a PI, complete with faux-gangster accent, but then, that’s perfect given that this story uses stereotypes as a theme. Frobisher is a delightful character, once you accept that this is by no means a serious story.

Or, is it? It comes across as very humorous on the surface, but there’s some drama to be had underneath. It’s quite sad that the majority of the characters turn out not to be real; even though they are played for laughs, and even though they are unabashedly declared to be stereotypes from the beginning, it’s easy to become fond of them very quickly. In a way, they each become little case studies of the type of character they represent—and of course, that has bearing on real life, as we all experience these kinds of feelings at some point. Berengaria is a study in hypocrisy versus genuineness; she’s aware she’s a caricature, and she’s bored with it, and craves authenticity, even if it means dying. Pepin is a study in adequacy, or rather, inadequacy; he has so much to live up to (plus some serious daddy and mommy issues), and knows he can’t, and he’s driving himself crazy trying to escape it. Clovis is a study in temptation; he understands that it’s a part of his character, but he wants to be more and better (and unfortunately, he fails). Childeric is a study in the definition of evil; he knows that he is supposed to be evil, but he questions what that really means, and where the line is between ambition and evil. He revives the old questions of “are villains really evil, or just misunderstood?”

The story took its darkest turn for me with the revelation of the child and the reason for its existence. I am a father of three children, and the thought of a parent murdering their child never ceases to upset me. I can’t imagine what it would be like to sink to that level, and I hope I never know; I’ve had nightmares in the past about harming my child by accident, let alone on purpose. It would have been simple to portray Tacitus as a pure criminal, perhaps deluded; but instead he’s cast as insane. Sometimes that may be a stereotype in itself, but here it comes across as a mercy to him; when finally confronted with his own guilt, he’s horrified too. He’d change it if he could; he’s not a monster, just a horribly broken man. It’s almost too bad that it ended with his death; I’d like to see him have been redeemed.

There’s a significant (and yet unspoken) link between this story and the classic serial The Mind Robber. This environment isn’t declared to be the Land of Fiction from that story—in fact, I’m sure it isn’t the Land of Fiction—but it’s just like it, complete with the white void framing the internal reality. We are never given any indication of how this came about. Who imprisoned Tacitus? How long has he actually been here? Where is this in relation to the real universe? We may never know. There’s some evidence it may be on (or at least originating from) contemporary Earth; there are a number of concepts and references to Earth history, if an abridged version of it. Even the names are of European origin, and in some cases refer directly to historical figures of note.

Other references—beyond the existence of Frobisher, which links to the comics—include the Dimensional Stabilizers, which date to Planet of the Daleks at least. Gumblejacks—the fish that Frobisher is hunting (in projection form) in his first scene—were mentioned in The Two Doctors. We’ve had other references to a bath in the TARDIS, notably in the novel Lungbarrow’s early scenes, and with Leela in The Invasion of Time; if it’s actually the TARDIS pool in question, we’ve had still further references. Frobisher mentions having been an Ogron at one point; Ogrons first appeared in Day of the Daleks.

I really enjoyed this story. I kept an eye open for any dislikes, but it I didn’t find any; ordinarily my dislikes consist of things that are out of character or continuity, or perhaps portrayed badly, but as this entire story is out of character and continuity by definition, I thought it best to be pretty forgiving. Frobisher in particular is highly entertaining, and I wish he had more Big Finish material. It’s almost going to feel like a letdown when we return to more serious material next week.

holy-terror-4

Next time: On Thursday, we’ll look at Destiny of the Doctor #5, Smoke and Mirrors; also, with the Christmas holiday approaching, I will be offline for most of the weekend, and therefore I hope to post my NuWho rewatch post on Thursday instead of Friday. By the same token, I’ll be late with the next Main Range post; I hope to post on Wednesday instead of Monday next week. After that we should be back on schedule. The next Main Range post will look at #15, The Mutant Phase. See you there!

All selections 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.

The Holy Terror

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Babblesphere

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 Fourth Doctor’s contribution to the series: Babblesphere, read by Lalla Ward and Roger Parrott. Let’s get started!

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

babblesphere-1

The date is unknown, but stated by the Prolocutor to be sometime in the Earth Empire period, which is usually considered to be between 2500 and 3000 AD. (For this I had to pull out my copy of A History of the Universe, by Lance Parkin; it’s been a while—I used it extensively in my classic series rewatch, but not much in regard to the audios so far.) The Doctor and Romana II—and K9, though he is not seen—land on the world of Hephastos, which has a small human colony of about ten thousand people. Immediately before they materialize, a man staggers into the street, spouting trivia about his day…then dies suddenly, smoke pouring from his ears. Visible on his head is an electronic interface chip, wired into his brain.

Accused of murder, the Doctor and Romana are taken into custody by a hostile robot (the name of which I was completely unable to spell, so I won’t try it here). It is surprised to discover they lack interface devices, and takes the Doctor away to be fitted with one, promising Romana that she is next. While he is gone, Romana meets another prisoner, Aurelius, who explains the situation. The devices are brain links that connect every person on the colony to a central computer network, called the Babble network. At one time they were voluntary, but now they are compulsory; the central computer, the Prolocutor, controls the planet, and private thought (“clandestination”) is a crime, of which Aurelius is guilty. He has found ways to hide his thoughts from the network, and must suffer for it.

The duo escape the cell, and meet a most unlikely group of rebels: a crowd of elderly women who have managed to remove the devices, and now live beneath the notice of the Prolocutor—or so they believe, at least. Together they rescue the Doctor, who has just completed testing prior to the implantation procedure. They make their way to a subterranean control room, where they find more of the Babble network’s history—and the skeletons of its original controllers, sitting where they were when the Prolocutor killed them and seized control. They are just about to end the machine’s reign, when Aurelius turns on them.

Speaking with the voice of the Prolocutor, he tells them that he was planted in the cell by the computer to engage and then betray the Doctor and Romana, and bring them into the Babble network’s control. Although Aurelius had believed he had free thoughts, he was mistaken; his implant was only temporarily disabled, and now had been reactivated. The computer forces the Doctor and Romana to join the network, not via implant—which they will eventually have, once incorporated—but via the more primitive headsets the original operators had used.

Once connected, they find themselves inside the virtual Babblesphere, a digital world populated by the minds of everyone on the planet, endlessly spewing their thoughts to each other. The Prolocutor reveals its plan: The rebels had previously sent a distress signal, and the Empire will not ignore it. Once help is sent, they will be absorbed into the sphere, and their ships will be used to reach other worlds, until the Prolocutor controls the Empire. Unfortunately, it reveals its weakness as well: It cannot deal with the vast amounts of trivia flowing through it. What people eat, what they wear, how they feel…these things are driving it insane. To lighten the burden, it has begun to kill off the worst offenders, like the body beside the TARDIS.

This gives the Doctor a plan. While he distracts the computer, Romana rouses the masses inside the sphere and leads them to ramp up the trivia they are pouring out. Still, this is not enough to stop the computer—until the Doctor and Romana join in. With the weight of all the minutiae that a Time Lord’s long life accumulates, they begin to overcome the machine.

babblesphere-2

In the midst of this, a new voice arises—that of the Eleventh Doctor. The Fourth Doctor quickly deduces that it is a future incarnation of himself (and takes a moment to insult his relative physical youth, of course). The Eleventh Doctor tells him to save a copy of the Prolocutor’s program and send it to an artificial intelligence museum on a hard drive—and then he adds a burst of trivia of his own, driving the Prolocutor to self-destruction.

As the Babblesphere collapses, the Doctor and Romana free themselves, and the Doctor moves to save the program as requested. He gets it, and adds a little something extra—a copy of his own psyche, to keep the program company in its exile. After all, it’s not an evil mind, just lonely. Then, twenty-four hours later, with the colony experiencing a remarkable turnaround, they return to the TARDIS and go on their way.

babblesphere-3

This entry in the series is fairly simple and straightforward; but it doesn’t suffer for that. Unlike Shadow of Death, it does have a villain in the Prolocutor, but it’s a sympathetic villain; the Prolocutor isn’t motivated by evil, just loneliness and efficiency. Of course that doesn’t excuse its murders; but as it’s a program, it perhaps can be remediated. The real star of this story is the dialogue. Although Lalla Ward is a great reader, she doesn’t capture the tone of the Doctors in the way that previous readers have done; but that is more than made up for by the dialogue, which is spot on for all the major characters, including the Eleventh Doctor. You can just picture him spouting the nonsense he uses against the Prolocutor; and the Fourth Doctor’s wit is exactly right. Romana herself isn’t bad either; she’s still a great foil for the Doctor, with perfect timing and almost telepathic sync with him.

Also unlike Shadow of Death, this entry name-drops some things which would not have been known to the Fourth Doctor, by way of the Eleventh Doctor’s trivia, such as the Ood (in his list of top five enemies). Romana also references the Krafayis (from Vincent and the Doctor) and the Shakri (from The Power of Three), though this is understandable, as they are also names from Gallifreyan nursery rhymes. The Doctor also mentions that he’s familiar with meeting future incarnations of himself, a probable reference to The Five Doctors (which, if we accept the existence of the Fourth Doctor version of Shada as the point that he was kidnapped from in The Five Doctors, would have been very recent for him) or other audios which I haven’t heard yet. In fact, he oddly seems to know that the Eleventh Doctor is physically young, despite not being able to see him here—only the voice is heard.

Chronologically, this story must occur in the early part of Season 18 of the classic series. The Doctor knows Romana has a sonic screwdriver, which originated in The Horns of Nimon, the Season 17 finale (unless we count Shada, which, as I mentioned, also fits in here without any issues). The story occurs in the regular universe, and doesn’t include Adric, Tegan or Nyssa, only Romana and (by reference) K9, making it prior to Full Circle; and the Doctor says he is repairing K9, putting it close to The Leisure Hive.

I enjoyed this story more than the previous entries, though for different reasons. It felt very much like a short serial from Season 18; it was mostly isolated from any continuity issues, in that it doesn’t deal with any story arc elements other than the Eleventh Doctor’s cameo. The writing was superb, and I give credit to Jonathan Morris, the writer. It is worth a listen even apart from the rest of the series, and listening to it in context only adds depth.

babblesphere-4

Next time: We return to the main range for The Holy Terror; and the Fifth Doctor and Tegan confront the Master—with a little help from Harry Houdini—in Smoke and Mirrors! See you there.

All audios 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.

Babblesphere

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!

shadow-of-the-scourge-1

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.

shadow-of-the-scourge-2

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.

shadow-of-the-scourge-3

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.

shadow-of-the-scourge-4

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.

shadow-of-the-scourge-5

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.

shadow-of-the-scourge-6

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: 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!

spare-parts-2

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.

spare-parts-1

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.

spare-parts-3

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.

spare-parts-5

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.

spare-parts-6

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.

spare-parts-7

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.

spare-parts-8

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.

spare-parts-9

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

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!

fires-of-vulcan-1

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.

fires-of-vulcan-2

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.

fires-of-vulcan-3

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.

fires-of-vulcan-4

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.

fires-of-vulcan-5

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: 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!

apocalypse-element-1

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.

apocalypse-element-2

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.

apocalypse-element-3

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.

apocalypse-element-7

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!

apocalypse-element-5

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

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!

hunters-of-earth-1

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.

hunters-of-earth-2

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.

hunters-of-earth-3

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.

hunters-of-earth-4

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