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!

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Split-Personality Demons: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series Two, Part Four

We’re back, with our New Doctor Who rewatch! Last time, we reviewed Series Two’s Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel, which reintroduced classic villains the Cybermen to the series, and The Idiot’s Lantern, which laid the groundwork for several future episodes. This week, we’re looking at another two-parter, The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit, and finishing up with one of Doctor Who’s most reviled episodes, Love and Monsters! We’ll also look at the related TARDISodes, mini-episodes which served as preview teasers. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes!

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TARDISode 08 gives us some background on the episode and its secondary villains. We see the captain of the episode’s expedition receiving his orders, which include an ancient book. The book contains a map of sorts, drawings of a black hole, and strange writing in rune-like characters. We see an alien called an Ood standing by to serve him, and hear it issue a morbid comment about a Beast rising from a pit. This is the first appearance of the Ood in the series, kicking off a loose arc that will continue all the way to the very death of the Tenth Doctor in The End of Time.

The TARDIS lands inside a sealed base on a distant planet. Rose and the Doctor are immediately disturbed when they see the words “Welcome to Hell” written on a bulkhead, underscored by strange characters that the TARDIS won’t (or can’t) translate. They are met by several Ood, and a misunderstanding briefly results, but is quickly sorted out; then they meet the crew of the station. The Doctor recognizes the Ood, but doesn’t seem to have actually encountered them before. The crew’s captain (from the TARDISode) is dead, replaced by Acting Captain Zachary Cross Flane; also present are Science Officer Ida Scott, Security Chief Jefferson, Maintenance Officer Scooti Manista, and Archaeologist Toby Zed; a few unnamed crew also appear, mostly as security guards. An earthquake briefly interrupts them; then the crew reveals that they are orbiting a planet called Krop Tor, which should not exist. It is orbiting an enormous black hole at a distance that should have seen it fall into the gravity well long ago. There is a power source below the surface, placed there by a lost civilization, which keeps it orbiting—and the humans want it. Hence they are drilling a shaft down to it.

The Doctor and Rose wants to leave, but find that the earthquake collapsed the storage area where the TARDIS was parked—it is now lost inside the planet. With no alternative, they join the crew. Meanwhile, Toby is hearing a malevolent voice; others are hearing similar things, including Rose when an Ood tells her that “The Beast will rise”. After hearing the voice, Toby finds the ancient runes all over his skin. Rose then gets a similar voice over her phone, saying “He is awake”. The Ood then start to say similar things. It is revealed that they are a low-level telepathic race; their telepathic field usually sits at a reading of Basic 5, but now it has risen to Basic 30.

Toby, now possessed, goes out onto the surface, which has no atmosphere. Covered in the symbols, and possessed by something, he breaks a window, causing Scooti to be sucked out and killed. He returns inside, just in time for another quake. The group sees Scooti floating overhead, being pulled toward the black hole; Zach enters her death into the log.

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The drill has reached the core, which seems hollow. The Ood are confined for the next phase of the mission, and the Doctor volunteers for the expedition down the shaft, along with Ida. The lift takes them down to an enormous, ornately carved cavern. Inside, they locate a large disk in the floor, which seems to be a door—but it is sealed.

The telepathic field has reached Basic 100, which should kill the Ood, but doesn’t. The Doctor asks Toby if he has translated the symbols, which are repeated on the door in the cavern. Toby’s possession manifests again, and he says they are the words of the Beast. The symbols leave his face and enter the Ood, whose eyes turn red, and they advance on the humans. Toby passes out and is dragged along. The Ood call themselves the legion of the Beast. They kill one guard via electrocution, and the others run. Underground, another quake occurs, and the door opens. The planet begins to fall toward the black hole, and the crew is backed against a sealed door, with the Ood approaching. The Doctor and Ida hear a voice proclaim “The pit is open, and I am free!”

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TARDISode 09 gives us an early scene from the expedition. An unidentified crewmember sorts the dead captain’s belongings, and finds the book with the ancient runes. It burns to ash in his hands, and then hears lines about the Beast rising. He is then found by another crewmember, possibly dying, but with a few symbols on his face. Neither person is seen in the episodes, so presumably both die offscreen.

The Satan Pit opens with the crew killing the three Ood that are advancing on them. In the control room, Zack discovers that the orbit has stabilized. The rest of the Ood continue to advance, killing another guard on the way. Some approach the control room; Zack has no weapons, only a bolt gun with a single bolt. He orders “Strategy 9”, which involves gathering everyone in a safe place, and opening all the airlocks, sucking the Ood out of the base. Accordingly, he orders the Doctor and Ida back to the station; they return to the lift. Rose saves Toby from execution, as the possession seems to have left him for the Ood. The power fails briefly, and the Beast speaks through the Ood and the displays. It claims to be the source of all devil myths, and says it was imprisoned before this universe by the Disciples of the Light; it brings up everyone’s hidden fears to try to weaken them. It breaks the ten-mile-long lift cable, stranding Ida and the Doctor and cutting off their communications, leaving them with just 55 minutes of air. With no options, they rig the cable to abseil into the pit, and the Doctor insists on going down.

With no power, Strategy 9 won’t work. Zack borrows power from the station’s rocket, and approves a plan to disable the Ood with a telepathic flare from their control monitor; but the monitor is in the Ood habitat unit. He sends the others through the airless service tunnels to get there, using emergency bulkheads to pump atmosphere into the successive sections. Along the way, they lose Jefferson when he is cut off. The Ood follow, and nearly get Toby, but he shows them that he is still possessed, and he escapes with Rose and Danny. The Ood nearly get Zack, but are disabled when Danny activates the flare. Zack joins the others.

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The Doctor reaches the bottom of the cable, and—to Ida’s horror—disconnects himself and falls.

The crew and Rose head for the rocket. They cannot save the Doctor or Ida now, and intend to escape and make sure no one can come here again. Down below, the Doctor has survived his fall; he finds a record of the Beast’s history, and decides its claims are true. He then finds the Beast itself, chained to a wall. However, he realizes that it’s only the body—the mind has gone somewhere else. He finds two jars that not only maintain the atmosphere in the pit, but maintain the gravity field keeping the planet in orbit. Unaware that the crew is escaping, he doesn’t want to destroy them, as it would let the planet be destroyed with Rose on it. However, he decides that Rose is no victim, and he believes in her—and he smashes the jars.

The planet begins to fall in, and the Beast’s body bursts into flames. However, the rocket begins to be pulled in too. Toby is fully possessed by the Beast. Rose grabs the bolt gun, tells the Beast to go to hell, and shoots out the cockpit glass, then unclips Toby’s harness. He is sucked out, toward the black hole. Zack raises the emergency shield, saving the rest of them—but they are still being pulled in.

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But all is not lost. The Doctor returns to the cavern to find it collapsing—and finds the TARDIS, which has fallen this far. He rescues Ida, then tows the rocket to safety, and reclaims Rose. The episode ends with Zack recording the final log entry, with the names of all the dead—including the Ood.

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This two-parter is a great story, in my opinion. It’s one of the earliest episodes of the new series that I saw, and it’s probably the first one that I took seriously (The Girl in the Fireplace, my first episode, is a bit on the fluffy side, and I didn’t see the Cybermen two-parter until later). The idea of a historical source for demonic ideology is not new; we’ve had it as far back as The Daemons, and in other places as well; but rarely is it done this convincingly. If New Earth was Doctor Who’s take on a zombie story, and Tooth and Claw was its werewolf, this is its take on the entire horror genre, complete with jump scares and possessions. The horror-movie tropes are actually a bit overplayed here, almost to the point of parody, but there’s good reason for that: it makes the twist near the end, where the Beast is seen to be split into two entities, that much more brilliant. You think you have it all figured out, but then you find out just how wrong you are. I know nothing about Matt Jones, the writer of the episode, but I give him credit for that.

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We are introduced to the Ood here, or rather, in TARDISode 08. Their appearance is rather bizarre; and I can’t help wondering how much of their future arc was planned in advance, as their spheres would eventually be revealed to be artificial second brains. They’re quite different as both villains and allies; as individuals they are all much the same, but as a species they exhibit a lot of variety in characterization over the course of the series. They appear in a number of Tenth Doctor episodes, and get a mention in the audio Babblesphere, which I reviewed yesterday, when the Eleventh Doctor lists them with other villains. They will eventually be revealed to hail from the same planetary system as the Sensorites from the serial of the same name; they appear to be somewhat related, as there are definite similarities in appearance, abilities (both are telepathic), and even planet name (Ood-Sphere versus Sense-Sphere).

Doctor Who TV series starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Billie Piper, Karen Gillan, Freema Agyeman, Catherine Tate, Alex Kingston, Jenna Coleman, Paul Kasey, Nicholas Briggs, Arthur Darvill, Noel Clarke, John Barrowman - dvdbash.com

 

The Beast could easily have been a stock villain (aside from its split nature, as I mentioned); but it is distinguished by its technique of turning its victims’ own internal doubts and guilt against them. It’s brief and unsuccessful here, but it goes a long way toward making this villain frightening indeed. A similar thing occurs in the audio The Shadow of the Scourge, which I reviewed on Monday (I promise the timing was not planned, but it seems to be a good week for it).

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Some references: Rose mentions having been a dinner lady, seen in School Reunion. The Doctor refers to the TARDIS suffering indigestion, mirroring a line from the television movie. The Beast has a son, Abaddon, which appears in Cardiff in the Torchwood episode End of Days. The Beast itself returns in the comic story The Beast is Back in Town. Draconia gets a mention; the Third Doctor visited it in Frontier in Space, and it has been referenced often since. Daemos is mentioned, having been referenced in The Daemons. The Kaled God of War is mentioned as well. The TARDIS tractor beam appeared twice in the classic series (The Creature from the Pit, Delta and the Bannermen). The Doctor claims the Time Lords invented black holes, echoing claims in The Three Doctors and other classic stories. There’s a reference to the Beast being from a time before this universe, along with its ancient enemies the Disciples of Light. The more references I get to that time, the more fascinating it gets; eventually I’ll compile a list of pre-universe entities, both verified and possible. This also gives me my only complaint about this story, and it’s a logical one: Why would the Disciples of Light go to the trouble of creating such an elaborate trap, when they could have just let the Beast fall into the black hole and ended it? Also, when did they do this—before the universe? Then how did the planet and black hole exist? But then again, who can predict the logic of pre-universal beings?

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TARDISode 10 shows us a glimpse of the villain of the upcoming episode, as he researches the Doctor, and finds the minor detective group called LINDA. He then is interrupted by his secretary, who brings him tea—and catches him at a very bad time. She appears to be killed offscreen.

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Welcome to Love and Monsters, one of the most hated and reviled episodes in all of Doctor Who! We’ll take a look at why—but first, the plot.

We meet a young man named Elton Pope, who is in the middle of a life-changing event: He sees the TARDIS, then meets the Doctor and Rose Tyler. They are pursuing a monster called a Hoix; and the Doctor seems to recognize Elton. Elton runs away.

A scene cut reveals the frame story of this episode: Elton is recording a series of videos, narrating his story. He met the Doctor once before, while a child; the Doctor appeared in his house on the night his mother died. He then recounts other strange happenings; he recalls the Autons, the crash of the Slitheen ship into Big Ben, and the Sycorax ship over London last Christmas. The one common thread is the Doctor. His investigations introduce him to other people who are intrigued by the Doctor: Ursula Blake, her friend Bliss, Bridget Sinclair, and Colin Skinner. They form a group, with regular meetings, and call themselves “LINDA” (London Investigation ‘n’ Detective Agency). Eventually, with their investigation tapering off, they transform into a social group, exploring other interests.

They are interrupted by Victor Kennedy, a strange man with an aversion to physical contact. He muscles in and takes over, calling them back to their quest for the Doctor; he makes them work harder toward that goal. After their first meeting with Kennedy, Bliss disappears.

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Elton finds the Doctor—in the encounter from the beginning of the episode—but runs away. Kennedy changes tactics; now, they will search for Rose instead, as she is associated with the Doctor. Elton is able to do so with ease, and meets Jackie Tyler, who quickly takes a liking to him. Over several visits, he learns more about Rose, and Jackie begins to flirt with him. This brings out his love for Ursula; but he is exposed when Jackie finds a picture of Rose in his coat, and throws him out. Meanwhile, Bridget has vanished.

Elton confronts Kennedy, saying he has destroyed the group; he also asks Ursula out. They leave, but Skinner, concerned about Bridget, stays behind; he then disappears too. However, Ursula has forgotten her phone, so they return to the meeting room. Inside, they find that Skinner has disappeared, and Kennedy has transformed.

He is revealed as an unsightly monster, who is responsible for the disappearances; he has absorbed the others, leaving only their minds and their faces on his skin. Elton calls him an Absorbaloff, which he likes. He wants to absorb the Doctor, in order to gain access to his mind and memories. He absorbs Ursula, and chases Elton into the street.

In an alley, he is about to kill Elton; but the TARDIS appears. The Doctor and Rose emerge, and—ignoring the alien—Rose confronts Elton for upsetting her mother. The Absorbaloff demands that the Doctor sacrifice himself to free Elton, but the Doctor refuses; he offhandedly remarks that the others might have something to say about that. The victims throw their effort into stopping the Absorbaloff, and he drops his cane; Elton breaks it. The Absorbaloff collapses into slime. The Doctor reveals that the cane was emitting a field that held him together; now the absorber is being absorbed into the earth.

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The Doctor explains about his first meeting with Elton; he was hunting an elemental shade, and caught it, but not before it could kill Elton’s mother.

Later, Elton tells the camera that meeting the Doctor is dangerous; but he credits the Doctor with saving Ursula, sort of. He was able to separate her from the dying Absorbaloff, but not from the paving stone in which she was absorbed. Her face remains, and she now “lives” with Elton, in the best relationship they can manage. Elton is a bit depressed in the end, but reflects that the world, with all its problems, is better than he thought.

Few episodes have been as maligned as this one (though we’ll get another next week!). It’s hated mostly for its silly and ridiculous monster, as well as other humorous aspects. I’ll go ahead and say up front: I actually love this episode. However, that’s because I’m fine with occasional humorous stories, even if they are ridiculous. Such stories haven’t been entirely unheard of throughout the show’s history, and in all media; they’re usually a breath of fresh air to me, and a nice change. It’s mocked, as well, because the show had begun to take a more serious turn in Series Two; this story would have been at home in Series One, which is often derided for its silliness. I’m okay with that, though. I don’t particularly enjoy very grim stories, and more so in Doctor Who; if you think at all about the implications of the Doctor’s actions, you’ll find there’s enough darkness already built in without adding any.

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That brings me to the theme of this episode (and yes, it does have one!). It asks the question: What’s it like for the Doctor’s bystanders? The answer appears to be “terrible”. LINDA was composed of innocent people, but their association with the Doctor, however tangential, got most of them killed. No one was untouched, not even Elton, who just had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and at an age when he could hardly be responsible, too. However, his summary at the end says what we as fans often say: that no matter how difficult the universe may be, and even when the Doctor is part of the difficulty, it’s better with him in it. It’s a theme we’ll see again and again; but this was, as far as I can tell, the first time it appeared on television. (We’ve had similar ideas from companions—Tegan, in particular, left because of the death she kept witnessing—but rarely if ever from a bystander.)

This episode introduced two concepts that continue to this day: The “Doctor-lite” and “Companion-lite” episodes. (This episode qualifies as both.) The idea was conceived to increase the number of episodes that can be produced; with the Doctor and/or companion mostly absent, two episodes could be filmed at once. While this episode is not considered great, it was successful enough to continue the concept, giving us future masterpieces such as Blink, Midnight, Turn Left, and Heaven Sent.

For an episode that is mostly disconnected from the series arc, there are a surprising number of references. Elton remembers the Auton attack (Rose), the Slitheen spaceship crash (Aliens of London), and the Sycorax ship (The Christmas Invasion). Kennedy mentions the Bad Wolf virus, which the Doctor gave to Mickey (though not by name) in World War Three, and which subsequently corrupted Torchwood’s files. The Hoix would later appear in Torchwood’s episode Exit Wounds. Jackie mentions Mickey Smith, and says that he is gone now (The Age of Steel). The Absorbaloff hails from Clom, the sister planet of Raxicoricofallapatorious, which is one of the stolen planets in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. He is therefore similar to the Slitheen, in much the same way as the Ood are similar to the Sensorites; even Rose comments on it (although: why would he know them as the Slitheen, given that that is a family name?). And, most interestingly to me, LINDA will in the future be referenced…by the Fifth Doctor, in *Time Crash, indicating that other incarnations were aware of them (although they only ever encountered Ten). Though that minisode was played for a little humor, I’m fine with accepting it as canon.

I personally don’t have any complaints, but it’s worth mentioning some of the things for which others have complained. The scene with the Hoix has a door-running scene reminiscent of Scooby-Doo, which is rather silly. There are a number of pop culture references, sometimes accomplished with momentary cutscenes. The dialogue can be silly at times, especially from Elton and Ursula; and the veiled reference to their sex life at the end is just creepy. And of course, the Absorbaloff itself is truly ridiculous, though again, I’m okay with occasional forays into ridiculousness.

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Next time: We’ll look at another oft-hated episode, Fear Her; and we’ll finish out the season—and say goodbye to Rose Tyler—with Army of Ghosts and Doomsday! See you there.

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

TARDISode 08

The Impossible Planet

TARDISode 09

The Satan Pit

TARDISode 10

Love and Monsters

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Spare Parts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spare Parts

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Winter For The Adept

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter for the Adept

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Red Dawn

I don’t usually post reviews twice in one day, but my new series review was delayed from last Friday. This is my usual Monday post, and I promise it is much shorter than the new series review. Enjoy!

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Red Dawn, the eighth in the Main Range of audios. Let’s get started!

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

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Ordinarily I begin with a lengthy summary of the plot of the audio. That won’t be necessary here, though I will summarize briefly. The story here is uncomplex at best, and minimal at worst. It is the story of America’s first manned mission to Mars (Britain’s early expeditions having been documented elsewhere), aboard the Ares One spacecraft and the Argosy lander. It’s a NASA mission, but with heavily corporate financial backing; and of course, there’s an agenda going on behind the scenes. The ship lands near a large artificial structure; and as the occupants begin to explore, the Fifth Doctor and Peri Brown arrive in the TARDIS, landing inside the building. The interior atmosphere is breathable, but only just; outside, the world is the wasteland we know it to be in real life.

The building is revealed to be the tomb and memorial of the dead Ice Warrior Izdaal However, his guards, led by Lord Zzaal, are still alive in suspended animation, and are inadvertently revived by the humans. Misunderstanding ensues as an astronaut overreacts in fear, and is subsequently killed by the Ice Warriors; then, one of the expedition’s leaders, Paul Webster, forces a hostile standoff, and makes plans to escape back to Earth with a captive Ice Warrior and Martian technology for use in weapon development. In the midst of the conflict, the Doctor and Peri try to mediate, but it is complicated when it is revealed that one of the humans, Tanya, is an Ice Warrior hybrid of sorts, created years ago using DNA brought back by an unmanned probe.

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Displaying a refined sense of honor and nobility, Zzaal and his warriors work with the humans and the Doctor to stop Paul, who seems at first to have outwitted them at every turn. In the end, Zzaal agrees to help Paul escape in exchange for the lives of the others, and further agrees to be a captive; his warriors will not fire on Paul as long as Zzaal lives. However, Zzaal turns the tables by sacrificing his own life; he faces the “Red Dawn”, the Martian sunrise, which due to the thin atmosphere contains lethal levels of ultraviolet radiation. (In dying this way, he follows the example of Izdaal, who died in the Red Dawn centuries earlier to convince his people to abandon the planet for the sake of their lives.) This frees the warriors to open fire on Paul, eliminating him and bringing the crisis to an end. In the end, the Ice Warriors choose to pursue peace with the humans, with Tanya as humanity’s first ambassador to Mars.

While the story is very straightforward, it’s not without impact. I really enjoyed this story, chiefly because of its handling of the Ice Warriors. They have long been a favorite Doctor Who villain for me, even though I was mostly unaware of them until Series Seven’s Cold War (I have since watched their past appearances in the classic series, and also read the Eleventh Doctor novel The Silent Stars Go By, which features the Ice Warriors). Doctor Who, like so many other series, gets accused occasionally of indulging in one-dimensional characters, especially villains; and certainly there’s some truth to it, which is why we repeatedly have conversations about why the Daleks aren’t scary anymore. There’s only so much you can do with a one-note villain. With the Ice Warriors, you get none of that. They are as complex as any villain has been, chiefly because they aren’t a villain in the traditional sense.

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In this story, in fact, the Ice Warriors are the true heroes. Certainly the Doctor does his part, as does Peri; but they are little more than bystanders. The Discontinuity Guide comments that “this story is less of a Doctor adventure than a Martian one, with us as well as a certain Time Lord as its audience”. It’s said disparagingly, but I didn’t find it to be a flaw; this story needs to be told for the sake of the Ice Warriors, and it’s not a problem that it’s more about them.

It was established long, long ago—in fact, all the way back to their first appearance in Season Five’s The Ice Warriors, with the Second Doctor—that the Ice Warriors are an honorable race. They don’t want to hurt anyone by default; they just want to live, and have possession of their world. They do sometimes get a bit misguided in that regard; the inhospitability of Mars has led them to try to colonize other worlds, sometimes violently, but no more so than some human colonization efforts. Most often, it’s that sense of honor that gets them in trouble, as they must save face when attacked—essentially they’re the Klingons of the Whoniverse. That very nearly happens again here—but wait! Something is different this time. With a little nudging from the Doctor, we see that Martian honor is not one-dimensional, either. Zzaal admits—and even endorses—that there is great honor to be had in mercy, and great dignity as well. It’s true that his first instinct when attacked is to retaliate; but he puts that aside and chooses to show mercy, even as the provocations continue. In fact, he goes beyond mere mercy, and tries to help the humans with their goals, even though it will clearly mean a much greater involvement for his people down the road. His final gesture is over the top, as is characteristic of the Ice Warriors—for reference, see Grand Marshal Skaldak’s attempted nuclear provocation in Cold War—but it is also effective, and does more to put both races on the path to peace than anything else. It’s a fitting end, and neither Ice Warriors nor humans will forget it.

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The humans don’t fare too badly in this story, either, and I find that remarkable. Fiction in general—and Doctor Who is no exception—tends toward extremes. That’s normal, of course, because we want our messages—whatever they may be—to be clear. In a story like this, it would be almost customary for the humans to be fully committed to their admittedly evil plan, but that’s not the case here. Oh, definitely, Paul Webster is committed, and being the actual villain, he dies for his trouble; but the other humans come across as fair and even-handed, just as do the Ice Warriors. They are neither overwhelmed nor corrupted by the situation they find themselves in; for once, they do the right thing, and pursue peaceful relations with the Martians. It’s a very hopeful ending, and I look for good things to come as a result.

Some continuity items: This story is set in approximately 2000-2001, as it makes reference to a “Mars probe fiasco” approximately thirty years prior; while it’s not specified what story this refers to, it seems likely to be the events of The Ambassadors of Death, with the Third Doctor. (An interesting side note: That story is followed up in the VNA novel The Dying Days, the only appearance of the Eighth Doctor in the VNAs; however, it is completely unclear whether that novel, which describes a 1997 British manned mission to Mars, is accepted as fact in this story. One would think the probe fiasco mentioned would be an American incident, as Red Dawn describes an American mission, but I could find nothing to concur with that; only The Ambassadors of Death seems to fit, and it’s unclear to me why that would be referred to as a probe fiasco, when it actually involved a manned mission. As well, all of this is contradicted by a mention in The Christmas Invasion of the UK’s first unmanned mission to Mars.) The Ice Warriors here probably come from a later time than those seen in The Ice Warriors, as that group was frozen in ice on Earth for millennia. The re-entry of the Ice Warriors into the galactic scene gets some reference in The Bride of Peladon, set in the 41st century. Izdaal will be referenced again in the audio The Judgment of Isskar. The outcome of Izdaal’s sacrifice is described in the audio Deimos, where it is revealed that the Ice Warriors evacuated to Deimos and placed themselves in hibernation.

This story is unique in that it features the Fifth Doctor with only Peri, placing it in the rather short gap between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani. Many other audios have also been inserted into that gap, but all of them also include the Big Finish-original companion Erimem (or at least, that was the case at last revision of the TARDIS wiki; I haven’t verified independently as yet). As such, this is a very positive and bright version of Peri, with none of the strain and difficulty that would later plague her under the Sixth Doctor. If anything, she’s more capable than her age and experience would allow.

In final assessment, while this is a weak story, it’s strong on characterization, and sets the stage for many later Ice Warrior stories. In that regard, it’s worth a listen.

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Next time: No More Lies, the next in the Eighth Doctor Adventures, followed by The Spectre of Lanyon Moore, in which the Sixth Doctor is joined by another old friend: The Brigadier! See you there.

All audios in this series are available for purchase at Big Finish; link to this story is below.  This and many others can be found on Spotify and Google Play.

Red Dawn

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: The Land of the Dead

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to The Land of the Dead, the fourth in the Main Range of audios. Let’s get started!

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

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It’s 1964, briefly at least, and the Fifth Doctor has just recently left Tegan Jovanka at Heathrow Airport in the wake of Adric’s untimely death. Traveling alone with Nyssa of Traken, he materializes the TARDIS in the icy north of Alaska. I say “materializes” rather than “lands” because he doesn’t land; the TARDIS arrives in midair, giving it a close call with a small plane. The TARDIS seems to have a mind of its own, locking in on an odd energy source and disappearing back into the vortex; it rematerializes in the same location, but thirty years in the future, in 1994. Here it does land, and the Doctor and Nyssa find themselves chased by a dangerous creature across the tundra to an unusual house, and an odd group of individuals.

Multi-millionaire Shaun Brett (which sounds like a pro wrestler name to me, but what do I know?) has made a fortune in Alaskan oil, but at a price: the death of his father in 1964. He is now building and furnishing the house—sourced from local materials, which is a desecration in the eyes of the local natives—as a shrine to his father’s memory. He is matched with Tulung, a half-Koyukon native hired by Brett to liaise with the locals, whose father died in the same incident as Brett’s father. Each blames the other’s father for the tragedy (spoiler alert: Tulung is correct). Brett is assisted by Gaborik, another Kolyukon, who is secretly sabotaging the work so as to ensure his own continued employment, and is also stealing pelts from the house to sell. Also on site is Monica Lewis, an interior designer who has been working at the site for three years, crafting the interior of the house.

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As the plot unfolds, the creatures—for there are more than one—are found to consist of only bone, and ancient, mostly-fossilized bone at that. They are held together by a bio-electric field, which seems also to be their weapon, as it exerts damaging effects on the minds of those around it—especially Nyssa, who seems to be particularly harmed, although not controlled by the effect. The Doctor determines that the creatures are much older than the dinosaurs, although still somehow living; they date, in fact, to the Permian era, and thus he nicknames them “Permians”. Further, they consume sources of energy, including living beings, as revealed when one of them manages to kill and devour Gaborik.

The situation devolves, as Brett and Tulung each try to confirm their own version of history—and discover that Nyssa, somehow, was there, when she identifies the plane she witnessed in 1964. With the Permians’ electric field affecting his mind, Tulung decides that Nyssa is supernaturally powerful, and kidnaps her to protect himself and Brett from the creatures as they make their way to the site of their fathers’ deaths. Once there, Tulung discovers the truth: That their fathers unearthed a Permian and were attacked—but that Brett’s father fled in the plane Nyssa witnessed and left Tulung’s father to die. He defeated the Permian, but died in the process, and his remains are still on the ground inside the dig site. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Monica are forced to battle the monsters in the house, and escape via a shortcut, arriving at the dig site.

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Brett refuses to believe the truth about his father, and attempts to destroy the Permians with dynamite, sacrificing himself in the process. However, the attempt reveals that they are vulnerable to fire. The Doctor and the others rig the house to burn, then trap the creatures inside and burn it to the ground. With the threat eliminated, Monica and Tulung—now free of the field’s influence—leave in the site’s transport, and the Doctor and Nyssa depart in the TARDIS.

While interesting enough, this story was a bit hard for me to follow; there were several long stretches of dialogue with very little action, a portion of which was awkwardly written; and I also admit that I was a little distracted while listening. Still, it’s an interesting plot, although I couldn’t help wondering if it would come across as culturally insensitive to anyone of actual native Alaskan descent. To its credit, it doesn’t try to delve too deeply into that culture or its mythology, just touching on the parts necessary for the sake of the story; otherwise it would probably have come across as hamfisted. Tulung is a bit of a caricature, as is Gaborik, but only mildly so; and some of their fanaticism in the story is explained by the effects the Permians had on their minds.

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Brett is a bit of a stereotypical power-mad villain here; he’s very much in the same vein as Henry Van Statten from Dalek, although not so over the top. He, too, however, is made worse by the Permians; he is much more restrained at the beginning, before the creatures start to affect him. Monica Lewis is mostly annoying, but she does get some good banter with the Doctor (their constant argument over tea is understated and hilarious), and she proves to be both honest and very useful in the end, being instrumental in the burning of the house. There’s a hint of a possible relationship between Monica and Tulung, but it’s shoehorned in at the end, and not really supported by anything preceding it. The plotline involving Gaborik and his thefts and sabotage had potential, but also felt extraneous to the story; and I can’t help thinking that the writers agreed, as they killed him off early.

The Permians are odd villains; there seems to be a streak of somewhat-unbelievable monsters in the main range at this point, and the Permians fit right in. They have no flesh—in fact, they historically consumed their own flesh—and yet they keep living, with the nebulous concept of a bio-electric field maintaining them. They’re certainly menacing enough, but difficult to grasp.

Nyssa is delightful as always, although she’s a bit underplayed here as compared to her television appearances. I’ve often said that she’s a match for the Doctor in intelligence and skill; but that is mostly unseen here, and she’s more of the damsel in distress that so many other companions have been. It’s unfortunate, I think, as she had an excellent opportunity to shine, being the only companion on hand for a brief time. The Doctor, too, is a little different than usual, at least toward the end, in that he’s more than willing to destroy the Permians mercilessly, whereas typically he tries to save his enemies. He justifies it by saying that they had their time millennia ago, and can’t be allowed to master a time that has moved on without them; while it’s true, it’s a bit out of character for him.

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Overall, this audio is middle-of-the-road, in my opinion. It’s certainly not great or memorable, but listening was not a chore, either, and it made for a fun couple of hours. Peter Davison is always a pleasure to listen to with regard to dialogue, and the plot wasn’t bad, only stretched. While it’s not one of the greats–Phantasmagoria and Whispers of Terror, the two preceding dramas, were both better, in my opinion—it’s still worth a listen.

Next time: A possible sidestep into another range, or, barring that, Main Range five, The Fearmonger! See you there.

All audios reviewed in this series can be purchased here from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below.  This and many other audio dramas are also available on Spotify and Google Play.

The Land of the Dead

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Phantasmagoria

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! This week, we’re listening to Phantasmagoria, the second in the Main Range of audios. Let’s get started!

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

Phantasmagoria 1

It’s London, 8 March 1702, and King William has just died. We join some locals in the Diabola Club, celebrating the king’s death and the ascension of his successor with some drinking, gambling, and—as always—gossip. Something isn’t right, however; the mysterious Sir Nikolas Valentine, playing cards alone, is not what he seems…and people are going missing. Meanwhile, the Fifth Doctor arrives, accompanied by Vislor Turlough, arriving inside the house of Dr. Samuel Holywell, a collector of antiquities and oddities. The Doctor and Turlough quickly get separated; Turlough is involved in a carriage accident in the street, and is taken in by two friends from the club, Jeake and Flowers, who tend his injuries.

Meanwhile, a third man—Carteret, a friend of Jeake and Flowers—dies in the street, apparently from fright, leading the Doctor to investigate.

The investigation leads the Doctor and the others first to Holywell’s maid, Hannah, and then to a flamboyant highwayman named Major Billy Lovemore; and in the biggest twist of this story, the two are revealed to be one. Hannah/Lovemore is not of earth; she’s not a shapeshifter, as it seems at a glance, but rather, is simply accomplished at disguises, and possessed of a voice changer as well. She has made her way to Earth to apprehend Valentine, who is also in disguise; beneath it, he is an otherworldly criminal known as Carthok of Daodalus. Hannah’s vendetta is personal; in addition to many other deaths, he killed her parents. Stranded on Earth with a damaged ship, he has been kidnapping people to provide bio-organic repairs to his ship (a premise that will, some years later, be repeated onscreen in The Girl in the Fireplace with the Tenth Doctor, and Deep Breath with the Twelfth Doctor). If he escapes, he will destroy the city in the process. The Doctor successfully thwarts him by turning his own technology against him; and Hannah sacrifices herself to destroy him. The Doctor and Turlough then program the ship to self-destruct.

Alternate title card

Alternate title card

This audio has some notable firsts for Big Finish. It’s the first single-doctor audio, as the Doctor Who range began with a multi-doctor story. It’s the first to feature a returning companion (or any companion at all) with Turlough. Mark Strickson’s return is particularly good; the longer I’m aware of that character, the more I like him. Turlough, once past the insanity of his early appearances, is a clever, loyal, resolute companion, filling the niche that Nyssa left behind in Terminus. Given that he is the only companion present, it must occur between the events of Resurrection of the Daleks (Tegan’s exit) and Planet of Fire (Turlough’s exit)—not a wide range, but certainly possible. The story is the first pure historical of the audios (The Sirens of Time had a historical sequence, but was mostly in the future), and I enjoyed it more than most historicals of the television series.

On the negative side: It’s nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking. All of the major plot elements have been done before; although, with this series, it’s getting hard to find things that HAVEN’T been done in some capacity. Some would go on to be done again onscreen, and better (see The Girl in the Fireplace, above). As well, it’s a slow starter; it takes until about the end of part three for the action to really pick up. Nevertheless, it’s not a bad story at all; it’s solid, and if it had been a classic serial, it would have been firmly middle-of-the-road, assuming it translated well to screen (and it should). It shares some elements with a number of serials: Ghost Light, The Visitation, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and City of Death all come to mind, as well as the two NuWho stories I mentioned above, and possibly Love and Monsters (with the idea of absorbing individuals for their life energy).

In retrospect, I think that beginning the single-doctor stories with the Fifth Doctor was a great idea. Davison is easily the most relatable of the living classic Doctors, and probably the one with the least debate about his character. It sounds weak to say it, perhaps, but beginning with someone who would not be controversial in any way was a wise move, given that the range was just getting established. Bringing back Turlough may not have been the most obvious choice—Tegan, I think, would have been more likely—but it certainly worked out well, and I’m glad they did it.

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Next time: Main Range #3, Whispers of Terror! See you there.

 

All audios reviewed in this series can be purchased here from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below.  This and many other audio dramas are also available on Spotify and Google Play.

Phantasmagoria

Audio Review: Doctor Who: The Sirens of Time

We’re back, with another audio drama review! As previously mentioned, this is one of an occasional series I’m putting together, in which I’ll review various Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas. Generally the plan is to follow the Main Range (or Monthly Range, if you prefer), with occasional forays into other ranges. Today we’re going way back to the beginning, with the very first Main Range audio—and in fact, the very first Big Finish audio for Doctor Who, period—The Sirens of Time. Let’s get started!

(As always, spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this production!)

Sirens of Time 1

Big Finish starts off, well, big, with a multi-Doctor story in four parts. We get the last three Classic Doctors—Five, Six, and Seven. Interestingly, the Seventh Doctor was the only classic Doctor to never participate in a multi-Doctor story onscreen; but now he meets his two immediate predecessors. In part one, the Seventh Doctor is manipulated into landing on an unnamed planet in the year 3562; there he meets a girl named Elenya, and then finds himself instrumental in the liberation of Sancroff, an old man who later proves to be a war criminal. Along the way, he finds himself unable to re-enter the TARDIS, and they encounter assassins who were sent to kill Sancroff, and are taken by them. Behind the scenes, Gallifrey itself is suffering invasion, and falling.

Part two takes us to Earth during the first world war, with the Fifth Doctor. While searching out a lost signal, he lands aboard an unidentified merchant ship. The signal is a message from the Time Lords, but they are unclear; they seem to be urging the Doctor to return to the TARDIS, but he is unable to get inside, and Tegan and Turlough—trapped inside—are unable to answer him He meets a woman named Helen…and immediately the ship comes under attack from a German U-boat. The Doctor and Helen are collected as survivors by the Germans, who lock them up as potential spies. While locked up, an officer on the ship is possessed and attacks the Doctor; the Doctor assumes, correctly, that it’s the Time Lords. Meanwhile, the Germans see British ships on approach, and debate whether to attack. They are spared the decision when the Doctor seizes control and navigates back to the TARDIS’s position; he locates it, but can’t get inside, leaving him trapped at sea.

Part three sees the Sixth Doctor land on a starship called the Edifice, near the astronomical object called the Kurgon Wonder, year unknown. The Wonder is a massive time distortion in space. He meets a woman named Ellie, and correctly surmises that the ship was struck by a time disruption emanating from the Wonder, which killed the rest of the crew; together they also meet an android named Azimendah. This Doctor, too, cannot return to his TARDIS. He is manipulated by Ellie into eliminating the Wonder; afterward he discovers that it had existed as the result of the battle between the savage Knights of Velyshaa and a creature called the Temperon. Ending the disruption freed both the Knights and the Temperon.

In part four, the rather complex plot comes together. The three Doctors, now gathered and imprisoned on a conquered Gallifrey, find that it was the Knights who have conquered the planet. The woman they each encountered, under three different names, is actually the Knight Commander, Lyena; she has manipulated the Doctor in three time periods to create a timeline that is favorable to the Knights. In 1915, the Doctor’s redirection of the U-boat caused it to fail to sink the Lusitania, which prevented the USA’s timely entry into the war. While the war went similarly to original history, it allowed another change: Alexander Fleming was killed prior to developing penicillin (and by extension, other antibiotics); this later allowed form of pneumonia and meningitis to ravage humanity, thus preventing their eventual conquest of space. Therefore, in 3562, humanity did not defeat the Knights; and the rescue of Sancroff, one of the Knights’ leaders, re-inspired them to form their second empire. In between, the knights were able to control the now-freed Temperon, which produces a form of time-related power, and use it to develop time travel.

And yet, that’s not the end. It becomes clear that Lyena is not what she seems. In fact, she is a part of the Sirens of Time, a race of eternal creatures who feed on the energy produced by disruptions to the time stream. The Sirens have manipulated the Knights and the Doctor to create a terrible alternate timeline; if they are permitted time travel, the Sirens will essentially dominate and devour all of history. Like the legendary Sirens, they called to the Seventh Doctor, resulting in the course correction that led to his freeing of Sancroff; it becomes clear that anyone who answers their call a second time will become eternally enslaved to them. The Doctor, however—or Doctors, as they work together—find themselves trapped in a situations where any choice will result in failure—either they obey the Sirens and become enslaved, or they disobey and take actions that will ensure the new timeline remains unchanged. They are saved by the intervention of the Temperon; it sacrifices itself to travel back to the beginning of time and contain the Sirens throughout all of history. It can’t destroy them, but it can bind them.

It’s an interesting story, and one about which I have mixed feelings. The Sirens are a great villain, but really they can only be used once; their fate here takes them out of continuity forever, and any effort to re-use them would either have to be a work of genius or a cheap trick. The Knights of Velyshaa are interesting, but actually we don’t get a good look at them here; they are overshadowed by the Sirens and the Temperon. They do appear again in the audio Invasion of the Daleks. Other elements reappear as well; the Time Lord Vansell, who has a bit part here, reappears in multiple audios, and the Sixth Doctor’s visit to the Kurgon Wonder is referenced in the novel Instruments of Darkness. The Doctors make telepathic contact with each other in the same manner as the first, second, and third Doctors in The Three Doctors. There’s a good bit regarding the various characteristics of the different Doctors, and how they represent different facets of his personality; all of them possess his whole personality, but they emphasize different parts.

On the downside, it’s unclear for much of the story what the Temperon is: at times it appears to be a living being, and at times it appears to be an energy or a form of particle. With regard to the story, essentially, the Doctor loses at the end; the situation is saved, and Gallifrey is restored, not because the Doctor succeeded, but because the Temperon intervenes. While that’s perfectly fine on occasion, I don’t know that I would have started the series with a story of that type. It’s a convoluted plot, and that’s not unusual or a bad thing in Doctor Who; but for many people this would have been the first exposure to the audio format, and I find it would have been difficult to get used to that non-visual format while dealing with the rapidly-shifting complexities of the plot. As well, it’s a bit disappointing that no companions appear (beyond, that is, the mention of Tegan and Turlough), although I have to acknowledge that their presence would probably have complicated an already-convoluted plot.

Overall, it’s a bit disappointing as the audios seem to go. It’s certainly not bad, and is worth a listen; but it was not quite what I was hoping for. Still, it’s the first in a long line of audio dramas, and for that, we owe it some recognition.

Next time: We’ll take a look at the second installment in the Main Range, Phantasmagoria! Also in the works, I have the Destiny of the Doctor series which was produced in conjunction with AudioGO before that company’s end. See you there.

All audios reviewed in this series can be purchased here from Big Finish Productions; link to this story is below.  This and many other audio dramas are also available on Spotify and Google Play.

The Sirens of Time

Final Thoughts: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch

Heads up, folks; this is a long one.  The alternative was to split it up over a few days and a few posts, but we all have things to do, so we’ll just put it all up at once.  Here we go!

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Eight months ago, give or take, I started something that was, for me, pretty ambitious. I decided to watch all of the classic series of Doctor Who. It was a lot to take on; I’m not good at following through and completing a series, even if it’s all available for streaming at once. I can’t count the shows I’ve attempted and then quit halfway. But Doctor Who is different, I told myself; it’s the show of my childhood, and besides, I had already seen the entire revived series to that point (or almost anyway; I held off on a bit of Series 8 for my girlfriend to catch up, and likewise with Series 9). So I decided to give it a try.

Where it all began.

Where it all began.

Now here we are, eight months, twenty-six seasons and one movie later, and it’s over. I missed a collective total of about thirty minutes, I think; there was a single episode (not a serial, just one part) I couldn’t locate, plus about seven minutes missing from another. Of course many of the early episodes are only available in reconstructions, but I was able to find recons for all of those missing episodes. So, I wanted to put together a final thoughts post for the series, and see what people think. I appreciate all the comments (and karma) from the previous posts; this fandom is great, no matter what anyone outside it may say, and the discussion is what I was after most of all. I’ve learned a lot about the series just from the conversations that have resulted, and it’s convinced me to give Big Finish and the various novels a try, as well. If this gets a little long—and who am I kidding, I know myself, of course it will—I’ll split it into parts, but I’ll post them as quickly as I can. (If you’re reading this on my blog, some of what I’ve just said may not make sense; I’ve posted these reviews on Reddit.com’s /r/Gallifrey subreddit, as well, and some things are specific to that site.) With that, let’s get started!

First doctor companions enemies

My very first observation as I started this rewatch is that the series has changed immensely since William Hartnell was the First Doctor. I suppose I expected that, given that the show is fifty-three years old; but I wasn’t expecting it to have changed in the ways I saw. It’s gone from being a somewhat-educational children’s show to being a family show with adult overtones; but it’s more than that. The Doctor we first met was not a nice guy, nor likeable. He really wasn’t even the hero of his own show—that would be Ian Chesterton. (All respect to Barbara and Susan, but it was the 1960s—women weren’t often the heroes of anything on television. They were great, and I liked them, but they existed to support Ian, mostly.) The Doctor was there, basically, to put Ian and Barbara and Susan into a bad situation every week, and occasionally offer a solution. Nowadays that would never fly—he’s the Oncoming Storm, the Madman with a Box, Time’s Champion, even the Time Lord Victorious. He’s the star of his show, now.benpolly

It might be tempting to say that that change happened with the revival, but it was happening long before that. I’ve theorized as I watched—well, it’s not so much a cohesive theory as just an observation—that there’s a visible pattern of growth to the Doctor as the series goes on. Every incarnation adds to his character, makes him something new—he doesn’t just change, he increases. The First Doctor was hardly the Doctor at all for most of his life. He became the Doctor, I believe, in The War Machines. I’ve talked about this a few times before, and I can’t claim total credit for the idea—sorry, I’ve lost the link to the original post that inspired the idea—but my headcanon is that the Doctor didn’t consider himself to be the Doctor until he met Ian and Barbara. (The short version is that Ian mistakenly calls him Doctor, and he lets it stand so he won’t have to tell them his real name; eventually he sees noble qualities in Ian that he wants for himself, and takes the name on as a promise to himself to live up to that example. Then, later, his name leads to the use of the term for a healer—it’s a bit of a paradox, but hey, this is Doctor Who, paradoxes are what we do here.) I think the turning point onscreen is when he faces down the War Machine in the street, willing to sacrifice himself if necessary to save the others—but confident that he can meet the challenge.

The War Games

And then, not long after, he regenerates. Patrick Troughton is the Doctor right from the start, there’s no doubt about it. For him, growth means learning not to let things go to his head. He’s just learned all this confidence and taken on this self-assigned responsibility; now he has to be humble. And the Second Doctor is definitely humble. He does all the things that a class clown does: He’s self-effacing, he uses humor to redirect attention, he’s always evaluating everything and everyone. He moves from passive to active: He’s not just a wanderer in time anymore; instead, he’s getting involved, making things happen. And he cares, far more than the first Doctor ever did. My first memory of the Second Doctor—before I started this rewatch—is from The Mind Robber, with the Doctor running through the Land of Fiction, frantically searching for Jamie and Zoe because he’s so utterly worried about what might happen to them. He comes across as sullen, sometimes, simply because he worries so much.

Doctor Who the seventies

And then, he gets caught. The runaway gets dragged back home to an as-yet-unnamed Gallifrey. His companions get their memories removed—what a waste!—and get sent home, and he is forced to regenerate again. In Patrick Troughton’s place, we get John Pertwee, the Third Doctor. Further, he’s banished to Earth; the newly-named Time Lords pull out parts of his TARDIS and parts of his mind so as to keep him there. He’s immediately scooped up by UNIT, so he’s not homeless or purposeless; but his wandering days are over for now. This Doctor is the responsible one, but it chafes him to be that way. He wants to be free, but he has to learn patience. In the meantime, he’s calm, dignified (mostly), and smooth. He’s cared for his companions before, but this is where he learns to love humanity in general; when he first lands, he looks down on them. He knows he’s smarter, knows they’re not on his level. But by the time he gains his freedom back, he doesn’t look down on them anymore—in fact, his opinions are reversed; in Planet of the Spiders, he’s happy with his friends and companions, and looking down on himself for his own foolishness. It’s humility, but a different kind of humility from that of the Second Doctor: He knows he’s not infallible.

The Android Invasion 1

All of that seems to go right out the window when Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor comes on the scene. Several times I’ve called this his adolescent phase. He’s the rebellious teenager here. He’s no longer content to meet his responsibilities; he wants to get out and see the universe. He spends a lot of episodes trying to run from duty, whether it be to UNIT, the Time Lords, the White Guardian, or his companions. He works on his TARDIS the way some teenagers soup up their cars. He gets so rebellious that he has to have a nanny, essentially, to keep him on track, and so Romana joins him. He’s changeable and moody and high-strung and unpredictable. He’s faced with huge decisions and freely admits he isn’t ready to make them. Genesis of the Daleks shows his immaturity (where rather than make the right decision, he more or less blunders into it); it’s not until The Armageddon Factor, when he dismisses the Key to Time, that he begins to grow out of it. And then, near his death, he gets Adric, and becomes something of a mentor to him. I feel like that relationship is what leads him to subconsciously choose the pattern of his next incarnation. He dies doing what he never could have done at the beginning: being a real hero, sacrificing himself for not just those close to him, but the universe at large.

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Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor takes that mentoring aspect and cranks it up to eleven. Young though he appears to be, he’s the fatherly type; he treats his companions less like friends and more like family, or like his own children. Adric’s death in Earthshock breaks him, and he becomes a little harder afterward; but instead of giving him a dark side, that hardness just makes him try that much harder to be the protector, the mentor, the leader. This is the phase of his life where he becomes, as Ohila will later say to the Eighth Doctor, the good man. He finds something of an equal in Nyssa (though it’s never a romantic relationship), but she ultimately leaves out of goodness—she chooses to stay behind on Terminus to help the survivors of Lazar’s Disease. He takes Turlough under his wing, and saves him; he tries to do the same with Kamelion, but fails. It hurts him quite a bit when Tegan leaves; he tries to make it up with Peri, and ends up dying to save her.

Trial 13

I want to say that Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor came as a reaction to something about the Fifth Doctor. I want to say that, but I can’t. I labored over the question of why he should be the way he was—at first at least—but I just couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer. It just seems that when you’re changing personalities with every regeneration, every once in a while you get a dud. It’s almost a reset, a throwback to Tom Baker, but with the bad qualities exaggerated and the good minimized. How often do you get a Doctor that tries to kill a companion? Not often. That, at least, is how he starts out. But if this were elementary school, I’d give the Sixth Doctor the award for “Most Improvement”. The change between the beginning of his (admittedly short) era and the end is just amazing. While he never stops being arrogant, it goes from unapologetic and vicious to self-aware and, well, able to laugh at himself. While he started out thinking of himself as being supremely capable in any circumstance, he really wasn’t—think of all the times he was outwitted by his circumstances, or the times he tried and failed to fix the TARDIS. Yet, by the end, when he learns not to focus on himself as much, he really IS capable—it’s almost like a bit of humility unlocked his abilities.

And then he’s unceremoniously dumped by the BBC. Oh. Well, that’s not good.

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Sylvester McCoy, as the Seventh Doctor, didn’t get the benefit of any buildup whatsoever. He had to step into the role and be the Doctor with no in-universe preparation. He met that challenge; no other Doctor has so immediately been the Doctor. From the minute he wakes up in the Rani’s lab, he commands the role, and never looks back. That’s literal as well as figurative; he’s the only Doctor never to be involved in any capacity in a multi-Doctor story, at least in the classic series. As far as the classic series is concerned—and with its end approaching—he is the pinnacle of the character: Capable, smart, mysterious, caring, wise, powerful, cunning. He meets his match in Ace, who is likewise the pinnacle of what a companion should be: Energetic, realistic, versatile, adaptable, happy, devoted, and above all else, human. With them, we get some of the best stories—and we get the difficult task of closing out the series for cancellation. Somehow, it all comes together perfectly.

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It’s unfortunate that the Seventh Doctor dies as he does—in gunfire and pain—but one thing that was NOT unfortunate was Paul McGann’s selection as the Eighth Doctor. This Doctor is the hinge on which the classic series turns, paving the way for the new series; and as such, he’s a little of both. He’s a survivor, but also a lover, at least to some degree. He puts thought into what it means to BE the Doctor—and he takes a stand accordingly. He dies trying to balance those aspects of himself, fighting destiny all the way to the end—and in his ashes is born the War Doctor. We’ll talk more about him somewhere much further down the road.

old and new dw

I made a point as I watched of looking for similarities and connections between the classic series and the revived series. Many of those, I pointed out as I came to them. It was interesting to see how plot points reappeared, and how relationships and personalities in one series mirrored those in the other. I suppose it’s inevitable that a five-decade series would repeat itself, but it’s uncanny sometimes; clearly the writers didn’t plagiarize, but they hit the same notes just the same. It never feels repetitive, somehow; instead, it just goes to make these characters feel like real people, with real personalities that stay consistent from one appearance to another. That’s no small feat, considering that there have been dozens (if not hundreds) of writers, and that it was almost certainly unintentional.

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One specific connection I looked for was the various ways in which later Doctors drew inspiration from earlier Doctors. I didn’t research the subject; I know some modern actors have spoken about how they designed their portrayal, and in at least one instance (Ten with Five from Time Crash) it’s actually canon; but I didn’t look into that. These are just my guesses and opinions based on what I saw of the characters. With that said, Nine doesn’t owe much to anyone—or rather, he’s a little bit of everyone. That makes perfect sense, considering he’s a brand-new Doctor, fresh off the Time War, and in a sense the first of his line. He had to carry the weight of the revival single-handedly, and so it made sense for him to show a little something from everyone—the harshness of Hartnell, the energy of Troughton, the severity of Pertwee, the willfulness of Tom Baker, the paternalism (sometimes) of Davison, the mercurial whims of Colin Baker, the determination of McCoy, and the responsibility of McGann. His costume didn’t even relate directly to anyone; it was something new, although we would eventually find that it relates to the War Doctor.

time crash

Ten, of course, owes much to Five; that much is official within the series. He gets his wit from Four, but his attitude toward his companions is all five—in fact, his companions themselves have a lot in common with Five’s companions. Rose is his Adric (though it eventually went to romance more than mentoring); Donna is his Nyssa; Martha is his Tegan, right down to the “I can’t do this anymore” departure; and Wilfred is his Turlough. Astrid Peth, in her one appearance, is his Kamelion—the one he tried to save, but failed; or you could make the same observation about Lady Christina de Souza, as she was both hero and villain.

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Eleven owes his characterization to the Second Doctor, but also—oddly—to the Sixth. Bear with me. He shares Two’s general humor, many of his mannerisms, his flawless loyalty to his companions, and his calm self-assurance (which admittedly is the ONLY thing calm about him). At the same time, he has a proud and arrogant streak that is pure Six; sometimes he’s even as fickle as Six. He also has a scene at his tomb that parallels Six’s scene at his ostensible tomb in Revelation of the Daleks, though Eleven’s attitude about his impending death is much more mature than Six’s (and understandably so). Having a few audios with Six under my belt now, I see the way that character grew offscreen, and I can’t help thinking that Eleven is what Six might have been if he had had to face the Time War.

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Then there’s Twelve. I’ve been vocal in various comments sections about my disappointment with the Twelfth Doctor thus far. I have the utmost respect for Peter Capaldi; his acting chops are second to none. What I don’t like is the direction the character has taken, mostly due to Clara Oswald. With that said, it was harder to nail down influences for him; but I feel like he mostly owes himself to the First and Third Doctors. He shares One’s disdain for his companions, or in his case, companion; I don’t mean that he hates Clara, but there is a lot of rivalry there, and also some looking down on her when he feels she’s inadequate. (It’s only fair, I guess; she does the same to him.) He also has One’s arrogance and willfulness, though it’s not as pronounced as, say, Six. He shares Three’s flair and fashion sense (sometimes anyway), love for tinkering, chafing at restrictions (Three toward the Time Lords, Twelve toward Clara), and sense of responsibility toward Clara and toward UNIT.

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We fans of the show are fond of declaring a certain Doctor to be “MY Doctor”, and that’s fine; I’ve done it too. Now that I’ve seen them all, I thought I would try to rank them according to my preferences. This ranking isn’t any kind of evaluation of their qualities; it’s strictly a ranking of who I liked, most to least, though I may make a comment or two along the way. I’m including the new series Doctors as well, because it’s a short list, and I feel like it’s best judged with everyone included.

  1. Tenth Doctor—David Tennant. I didn’t expect him to unseat Tom Baker, but what can I say.
  2. Seventh Doctor—Sylvester McCoy. I was surprised at just how good he was. The series ended in good hands.
  3. Fourth Doctor—Tom Baker. I grew up watching him, and he was always the standard for the Doctor, in my opinion. I was surprised and a little disappointed to see him slip in my personal rating.
  4. Eleventh Doctor—Matt Smith. He gets a lot of controversy among fans, but I thought he was great.
  5. Third Doctor—John Pertwee. Just a great performance all around.
  6. Fifth Doctor—Peter Davison. I wanted to be more impressed with him, and he wasn’t bad; but he wasn’t as good as I expected at first.
  7. Ninth Doctor—Christopher Eccleston. Great guy, great Doctor, but all too soon gone.
  8. Second Doctor—Patrick Troughton. I liked him, but for reasons I can’t pin down, I had trouble following a lot of his episodes.
  9. Eighth Doctor—Paul McGann. Just not enough material to rank him higher, though what we have is pretty good.
  10. First Doctor—William Hartnell. It was a different time; the First Doctor is easy to respect, but hard to love.
  11. Sixth Doctor—Colin Baker. Such a victim of bad writing and bad politics. I really feel like he would have done much better with more time.
  12. War Doctor—John Hurt. Great performance, but very little screen time.
  13. Twelfth Doctor—Peter Capaldi. Yes, I know, placing him last is controversial. I hope he’ll improve with a new companion. I have high hopes for him next series.

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So, there you have it—if I can call anyone “my Doctor”, it’s David Tennant.

Not a perfect list, but closest I could get.  From top left:  Susan, Barbara, Ian, Vicki, Steven, Dodo, Polly, Ben, Jamie, Victoria, Zoe, the Brigadier, Liz, Jo, Sarah Jane, Harry, Leela, K9, Romana I, Romana II, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough, Peri, Mel, Ace, Grace, Rose, Jack, Mickey, Martha, Astrid, Donna, Jackson Lake, Lady Christina, Adelaide Brook, Wilfred, Amy, Rory, River, and I really don't know who that last one is.

Not a perfect list, but closest I could get. From top left: Susan, Barbara, Ian, Vicki, Steven, Dodo, Polly, Ben, Jamie, Victoria, Zoe, the Brigadier, Liz, Jo, Sarah Jane, Harry, Leela, K9, Romana I, Romana II, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough, Peri, Mel, Ace, Grace, Rose, Jack, Mickey, Martha, Astrid, Donna, Jackson Lake, Lady Christina, Adelaide Brook, Wilfred, Amy, Rory, River, and I’m unsure, but I think that last one is supposed to be the personified TARDIS.

Finally, companions. As this list is considerably longer, rather than talk first about the various companions, I’ll just put this in ranking order, and make comments along the way. If you’ve read this far, congratulations! But this last part is likely to be the longest—the Doctor has had a lot of companions. As with my Doctor ranking, I’m including NuWho companions as well. I’ve mostly followed the Wikipedia list, but with a few exceptions for totally arbitrary reasons: I’ve left out Mike Yates and Sergeant Benton because they only appear with the Brigadier for the most part, and lumping them together with him doesn’t really change his ranking. I’ve included Chang Lee even though he was technically a companion of the Master, because he ultimately sided with the Doctor and was mostly inseparable from Grace Holloway. I’ve listed the two versions of Romana separately because the performances were very different; by the same logic, I’ve combined the two K9s into one entry. I didn’t include Jackson Lake because he (for all practical purposes) functions as a separate Doctor, complete with companion of his own; or Adelaide Brook, because she more or less traveled under duress, and clearly did not want to be with the Doctor. I also have left off incoming companion Bill, since we don’t know anything about her yet. In every case, I’ve tried to give the most complete name that I can; in some cases a surname wasn’t given onscreen, but has arisen in other materials. I’m using the versions that can be found on the TARDIS wiki. In total, using this ranking, there are 46 companions; 15 are male, 29 are female, and 2 are robotic. So, without further adieu, here’s my companion ranking.

  1. Ian Chesterton—First Doctor. I have a lot of respect for Ian. He’s a good man, even before the Doctor proves himself to be one as well; and he set the pattern for many companions to come. I would love to see William Russell reprise the role in a few episodes of Class, as Ian is hinted to be on the Board of Governors for Coal Hill School.
  2. Dorothy Gale “Ace” McShane—Seventh Doctor. I earlier described her as the pinnacle of what a companion should be, and I stand be that. She was fantastic in every regard.
  3. Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart—Second, Third Doctors, plus several cameos. Possibly the most loyal of all companions, in the sense that his loyalty existed in spite of having a clear view of just how crazy the Doctor could be. Every single appearance onscreen is great. Has a wit that cuts like a knife.
  4. Jamie McCrimmon—Second Doctor. More episodes under his belt than any other companion, and I’m still angry that he had his memory wiped. He’s the only companion to ever be present for a Doctor’s entire run (with the exception of Clara, if Series Ten goes as planned).
  5. Donna Noble—Tenth Doctor. Hands down, my favorite NuWho companion, and just as tragic at the end as Jamie. She was the one true equal in personality that the Tenth Doctor ever met.
  6. Nyssa of Traken—Fifth Doctor. If Donna was Ten’s equal, Nyssa was Five’s. They both essentially give up their life with the Doctor for the sake of saving people, though Donna doesn’t know it. Nyssa was the loyal, stable one while Adric and Tegan—and later, Turlough and Tegan—were fighting it out.
  7. K9—Fourth Doctor, and a cameo with Ten. A companion’s companion, literally, in that he ended up with Leela, Romana, and Sarah Jane in various incarnations. I loved K9 as a kid, and still do; his obliviousness and bluntness plays perfectly against Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor.
  8. Elizabeth “Liz” Shaw—Third Doctor. She didn’t get enough credit, and didn’t stay long enough. She was a much better match for Three than Jo Grant ever was, though he would never have been able to be paternal toward Liz like he was to Jo.
  9. Wilfred Mott—Tenth Doctor. Wins the award for “most lovable companion.” He summarizes how the rest of the universe relates to the Doctor—they want to trust him, but they can’t keep up with him, and in the end, they just want to survive and live a good life.
  10. Leela—Fourth Doctor. It always bothered me that the Doctor treated her rather badly, when she didn’t deserve it. Still, their relationship wasn’t all bad, and she was loyal and strong to a fault.
  11. Sarah Jane Smith—Third and Fourth Doctors, plus a cameo and two spinoffs. If I had only had her classic run to look at, I would have ranked her lower; she’s fairly whiny and weak. She gets a great redemption, though, in School Reunion and in The Sarah Jane Adventures.
  12. Dorothea “Dodo” Chaplet—First Doctor. Likeable, fun, and energetic. Her tenure felt very short to me.
  13. River Song—Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors, with suggestions that she met them all. River generates a lot of controversy, but I always liked her, even when she was being infuriating.
  14. Romana II—Fourth Doctor. Lalla Ward is the definitive Romana. Once the character and the Doctor learned to get along, they made a great team (and of course their real-life relationship added some chemistry, both good and bad).
  15. Vislor Turlough—Fifth Doctor. He’s another who gets some criticism, but I liked him once he stopped acting like a spoiled child and started standing up for himself.
  16. Jack Harkness (just as a companion, not based on his Torchwood performance)—Ninth and Tenth Doctors. Jack has a unique gift for grasping the situation instantly and adapting to it. A good man to have in a fight, and of course he’s charming as can be. Early Jack is almost more interesting than his Torchwood portrayal.
  17. Martha Jones—Tenth Doctor. There’s only one Martha, and I’m so glad she didn’t end up in a relationship with the Doctor. She turned out much better for walking away.
  18. Susan Foreman—First Doctor, plus a cameo. Susan gets a bad reputation because she was poorly written, but I always felt like the character had so much potential. I want to see her come back and get a regeneration scene while Carol Ann Ford is still with us.
  19. Zoe Heriot—Second Doctor. Zoe gets credit for matching so well with Jamie. They were a great duo, and together they perfectly balanced the Second Doctor. I wish she had stayed longer.
  20. Victoria Waterfield—Second Doctor. This was always going to be a difficult role to play; she was essentially a teenager with PTSD. Nevertheless, the role was executed well.
  21. Jo Grant—Third Doctor. I gave Jo a lot of flak in my reviews, but she turned out fine; I was just feeling burned by the loss of Liz Shaw. In the end, she made a great choice and picked a great cause when she left the Doctor. She grew on me over time, but I admit to thinking she was stupid at first.
  22. Harry Sullivan—Fourth Doctor. Harry is one of those incidental companions who never chose this life; he’s just along for the ride. He absolutely makes the most of it, though, and isn’t scarred by it at all—kind of a rare thing among companions.
  23. Adric—Fourth and Fifth Doctors. Not the first death in series history, but the most traumatic. He had a great arc, with considerable growth…and then, dead. Just like that.
  24. Romana I—Fourth Doctor. I liked Mary Tamm’s performance, and though I also liked Lalla Ward, I was sorry to see Romana regenerate. She was excellent at reining in the Fourth Doctor.
  25. Mel Bush—Sixth and Seventh Doctors. Mel was the best thing to happen to Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. After the doom and depression of Peri’s final appearances, Mel was a breath of fresh air, and it clearly made a difference to the Doctor. Her performance was good enough that the transition to Ace felt like a handshake between friends rather than a change of watch.
  26. Tegan Jovanka—Fourth and Fifth Doctors. Tegan loosened up considerably after leaving her job; it was a great direction for her character. Unlike many companions before her, she didn’t leave because she missed home, or found other involvements; she left because of the horror of what life with the Doctor could entail. I compared her to Martha Jones in that regard, and I still think it’s a fair comparison.
  27. Grace Holloway—Eighth Doctor. Such a short performance, and unfortunately we’re not likely to get her back in any capacity. She may not have been a good long-term match for the Eighth Doctor, but she was certainly what he needed at the time.
  28. Chang Lee—Eighth Doctor. An excellent counterpoint to Grace. Had the show persisted, I could have seen him becoming another Adric. A good kid in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  29. Mickey Smith—Tenth Doctor, though also present around the Ninth. Often rejected from lists of companions, but I feel that’s unfair to him. He had a difficult path to walk, watching Rose reject him in favor of the Doctor, and yet still focusing on the bigger picture of saving the world (two worlds, actually!). He ended up with Martha, and I can’t imagine a better ending for him.
  30. Rory Williams—Eleventh Doctor. It’s difficult to tie yourself to a person with a very strong personality, but there’s no question about his love for Amy. I felt a great deal of sympathy for him. He could teach the Doctor a thing or two about being a good man.
  31. Craig Owens—Eleventh Doctor. And now, here’s an everyman! It may be a bit stereotypical, but Craig played the part perfectly. I’m not sorry he only had a few appearances; making him a regular would have ruined him, and that’s a fate I don’t want to think about.
  32. Amy Pond—Eleventh Doctor. I wanted to hate Amy for a long time. She ordered the Doctor and Rory around constantly, and just made life miserable. Then we got Clara, and I realized I never knew how good we had it with Amy. She’s by no means a bad character or a bad person, but she’s headstrong to the point of death, possibly literally. She did improve with time, though.
  33. Astrid Peth—Tenth Doctor. Earlier I called her Ten’s Kamelion, because of her short term and her death. Also like Kamelion, she had been manipulated by a worse villain, but she absolutely made good on it.
  34. Vicki Pallister—First Doctor. Vicki was quiet and unassuming, and basically just there—and for her, those were good things. She made no demands, just quietly worked and helped and served. I really appreciated her for that.
  35. Steven Taylor—First Doctor. I recall commenting that Steven was the victim of having his parts written initially for someone else. As a result, his character was all over the place. It’s a pity; he had the makings of greatness, but he just never had the chance to shine, being caught in the middle of things.
  36. Barbara Wright—First Doctor. I only ranked her low because she was the victim of her time. A female character in 1963 was pretty much doomed to do a lot of screaming and make a lot of bad decisions. Her heart was in the right place, though, and she had some good moments.
  37. Lady Christina de Souza—Tenth Doctor. We’re reaching the point where characters just don’t have enough material to rank them higher (well, with a few upcoming exceptions). Lady Christina deserved a redemption story arc, but she never got the chance to get it.
  38. Rose Tyler—Ninth and Tenth Doctors. I’ve been very hard on Rose over the years, mostly because of her love affair with the Doctor. While I’m not of the camp that says the Doctor should be asexual and anti-romantic, seeing this eighteen-year-old child fawning over him was just sad. She had a lot of good moments, but mostly they were the ones that didn’t involve the Doctor. We do owe her something for being the first companion of the revived series, but I feel like she squandered it.
  39. Perpugilliam “Peri” Brown—Fifth and Sixth Doctors. Poor Peri. She started out happy and hopeful, and then the Doctor tried to kill her. She never recovered from it. For the rest of her tenure, she’s a trauma victim; she’s paranoid, easily frightened, distrustful, and whiny. I hated that for her. It was almost a relief to see her go.
  40. Ben Jackson—First and Second Doctors. I’m ranking Ben and Polly (you never get them separately) low chiefly because I don’t remember a lot about them. They came and went fairly quickly, and though they were present for some good stories, they didn’t make much impact on me. Otherwise there’s nothing wrong about them.
  41. Polly Wright—First and Second Doctors. Polly didn’t even get a last name onscreen, which tells you more about her character than I could say in a paragraph. She was definitely underused.
  42. Clara Oswald—Tenth, Eleventh, War, and Twelfth Doctors, with cameos with all of them. Yes, I’m ranking her low. She’s the only companion ever to inspire me to rage. I will give her credit for her early appearances with Eleven; from Asylum of the Daleks to The Name of the Doctor, she was fantastic and compelling. The “Impossible Girl” storyline was great, and had a great resolution, introducing the War Doctor as well. After that, she took over the show and turned the Doctor into her lapdog. I’ve ranted extensively about this in other places, so I’ll let it go for now.
  43. Katarina—First Doctor. Just too short a term to say much about her. She was in over her head to begin with. However, she did make a noble sacrifice in the end, thus becoming the first companion death.
  44. Sara Kingdom—First Doctor. Has the dubious distinction of being the second companion to die in the same episode as another. She could have been a good character, given enough time; and she was the first enemy to then become a companion.
  45. Adam Mitchell—Ninth Doctor. I kept him on the list because the idea of an evil companion is fascinating, but let’s be honest, he’s slimy and despicable.
  46. Kamelion—Fifth Doctor. Ranked last for his severe underuse. It’s not his fault; it’s hard to use a prop when no one knows how it works. Unfortunately he came and went with barely a blip on the radar, although The King’s Demons is a good—if insane—story.

The last thing I wanted to mention are my favorite serials for each Doctor (or the first seven, anyway—not enough material for choice with McGann, really). Someone had asked about this; I tried to get into it season by season, but really ran out of time in most cases. Anyway, for better or worse, here were my favorites for each Doctor, and a bit about why:

  • First Doctor: The Space Museum. I know, it’s an odd choice, especially when I’ve talked so much about The War Machines. But favorites aren’t just based on seminal moments in the series; they’re based on how enjoyable they were. This serial gets a lot of flak for various reasons, but it was fun to watch, and it created a few ideas that have shown up again in surprising places, like the idea of a mind probe device, or the idea of being out of sync with time. And Hartnell is at his funniest here, which is awesome.
  • Second Doctor: Oh, man, so many good choices. Patrick Troughton really is the Doctor who defined the role. But when all is said and done, I’d choose The Tomb of the Cybermen. It’s full of iconic scenes and moments, and brought the Cybermen back from what seemed like the dead after the end of The Tenth Planet. In some ways, Cybermen have always been scarier than Daleks; all a Dalek can do is exterminate you, but the Cybermen can make you one of them, and steal away your humanity.
  • Third Doctor: Inferno. Again, probably an uncommon choice, but hear me out. Here you get the Doctor in extremis; he’s alone, in a hostile world, racing the clock, feeling the burden of not one but two worlds, with no TARDIS, no companions, no UNIT—and he wins. Yet, even as he wins, he loses some people he would rather have saved, and it’s clear he’s not perfect, and he can’t do everything. Also, it’s a bit downplayed, but there’s some suggestion that the Leader in the inferno world is the Doctor, or rather, what he would have become had he accepted one of the forms the Time Lords offered him in The War Games.
  • Fourth Doctor: Again, so many choices! But I’m going with The Face of Evil. Not only did it introduce Leela, but it also showed us just what happens if the Doctor has to go up against himself (or rather, the computerized version he left behind). It’s an irresistible plot, and one that would be mined again under the Eleventh Doctor (Nightmare in Silver). This is one from my childhood, too, so there’s some sentimentality there as well.
  • Fifth Doctor: I’m tempted to say The Visitation just based on the awesome Richard Mace, but the rest of the story wasn’t that strong; and it cost us the sonic screwdriver. So, I’ll go with Kinda. There’s not much to hate about it; the Mara are a great and unique villain; Tegan is fantastic here; and it is dealt with chiefly due to the relationship between the Doctor and his companions, which is the essence of what the Fifth Doctor is about. I didn’t enjoy Snakedance quite as much, but it was also a great complement to this story.
  • Sixth Doctor: No, I’m not going to say Trial of a Time Lord; that would be cheating. If it were going to be that season, I’d break it down into its parts. Actually, in general I do prefer that season over the preceding one; but for an individual story, I’m going with Revelation of the Daleks. It’s the first place where the Sixth Doctor really started to come into his own, and Davros is one of my favorite villains.
  • Seventh Doctor: Battlefield. No hard decision here. Yes, I know it was rated low, but this is my list, so there. It’s the seventh Doctor at the top of his game; UNIT and the Brigadier still at the top of theirs; an actual battle scene, which is something we rarely ever got in UNIT stories for some reason; a great take on the King Arthur legends; Ace being fantastic; and Bessie, who we all know is my one true love. Just kidding. Still cool to see the car again, though.

So, there it is. Twenty-six seasons, one movie, eight Doctors, thirty-two companions (classic series), one hundred sixty stories, and one blue box—classic Doctor Who in its entirety. There’s far more that could be said, and has been; after all these years, there’s no bottom to this well. Still, this rewatch has given my thoughts on these decades of stories; now, what are yours? This has always been about discussion, and I love seeing everyone’s thoughts and reactions. Feel free to comment!

Season 26 feature

Some future plans: I’ve already begun an occasional series of reviews of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas, and I intend to continue it. It won’t have anything near the regularity of this series; it will just be as I manage to listen to the audios. That series is open-ended; I don’t have a goal in mind, as Big Finish is constantly adding new material. Nor will it be in any particular order; as they add materials for all Doctors, it’s not practical to take them in numeric order as I did with the television series. As I can get my hands on the novels, I may do the same with them; but that series is likely to be even more infrequent than the audios. I have given some thought to continuing with a rewatch of the revived series, and I may do that; but I don’t want to get it mixed up with /r/Gallifrey’s official rewatch series, so I may wait a bit and title it differently. If I do continue, I won’t do an entire season in a single post; there’s just too many stories per season for that. I’ll probably do about three episodes per post.

Doctors banner

Thanks for reading! I’m glad this series was well received, and I look forward to everyone’s comments.

 

All seasons and episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below. Note that these links are not the individual serial links I have previously posted, but rather, links to the entire collected seasons, arranged by era. For convenience, I have included links to the revived series as well.

The First Doctor, William Hartnell, 1963-1966

The Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, 1966-1969

The Third Doctor, John Pertwee, 1970-1974

The Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, 1974-1980

The Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, 1981-1984

The Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, 1984-1986

The Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, 1986-1989

The Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, 1996, 2013

No episodes dedicated solely to the War Doctor have been produced.

The Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, 2005

The Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, 2006-2010

The Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, 2011-2014

The Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, 2014-Present

End of an Era: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twenty-Six

At long last, we’ve done it! We’ve reached the end (or almost, anyway) of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch! I say “almost”, because my plan is to include the 1996 television movie with this rewatch, and also to make a “final thoughts” post (or possibly two, if it gets too long). Today, however, we’re looking at the twenty-sixth and final season, with Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor. Let’s get started!

Let this be our last battlefield!

Let this be our last battlefield!

It’s goodbyes all around, as we open with Battlefield, and say goodbye to UNIT. It’s Carbury, England, in the year 1997 (coincidentally, the year I graduated high school), and strange happenings are afoot. It’s Doctor Who’s take on the King Arthur legends, but oddly, it doesn’t deal much with Arthur at all; he’s seen to be in stasis, and then at the end, it’s revealed that he was dead all along, and his prophesied return was just hype. Instead, we deal with Morgaine and Mordred, plus a number of knights in their services, and a summoned demon called the Destroyer. Helping the Doctor and Ace is the loyal knight Ancelyn (I really hope I’m spelling these correctly…); and the Doctor, as it turns out, is Merlin. Of course there’s a catch: He himself doesn’t remember being Merlin, as—it’s suggested—those events are still in his future, and even in a different regeneration.

Gotcha!

Gotcha!

There are some great moments: Ace pulling Excalibur and playing Lady of the Lake; Bessie making a reappearance; and Morgaine meeting Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart for the first time, at the business end of his gun. Oh, did I mention him? Yes, the Brigadier makes his final classic appearance here! He’s retired now, from both UNIT and his teaching career, and happily married to his second wife, Doris (not Kate’s mother); but he is recalled by the new head of UNIT in Britain, Brigadier Winifred Bambera, who is NOT prepared to deal with the Doctor. (Nicholas Courtney will reprise the role in The Sarah Jane Adventures episode Enemy of the Bane; and after Courtney’s—and the character’s—death, he’ll be revived in Cyberman form in Death in Heaven, for one final salute.)

Season 26 3

The Doctor’s darker side begins to show here, as he is quite ruthless regarding Morgaine and her troops. He makes frequent references to his past, and even to his future. The serial contains the final scene in the TARDIS interior; the console room is darkened during the scene. Behind the scenes, this was because the wall flats had been accidentally junked after last season; the walls seen here were hasty, cheap replacements, and the lights were dimmed to hide the reality. This scene gives us the “across the boundaries separating one universe from another” line, which was used in the “freezing Gallifrey” scene in The Day of the Doctor. On Earth, the Doctor uses his and Liz Shaw’s now-outdated UNIT ID cards to get himself and Ace inside the perimeter; but it doesn’t work as planned, leading to the Brigadier’s recall.

Goodbye, Brigadier!  And RIP Nicholas Courtney.

Goodbye, Brigadier! And RIP Nicholas Courtney.

For reasons unknown to me, this serial is the lowest rated (in original run) of the entire classic series. It’s quite a shame; I thought it was a great story, and a lot of fun to watch. It was a little sad to watch the Brigadier’s final appearance; but it was good to see that UNIT is in good hands.

What an odd house.

What an odd house.

An oddity of this season, and something not seen since the Third Doctor, is that nearly the entire season occurs on Earth. For Ghost Light, we travel back to 1883, to Ace’s hometown of Perivale, and specifically to the large house called Gabriel Chase. We learn that, in her own time, Ace burned this house to the ground, due to an evil presence she felt there. That presence proves to be an incorporeal alien called Light, who, when defeated by the Doctor, dissipates into the house. It’s the story of three aliens from the same mission, each of which has very different plans for the Earth and its inhabitants. It’s a bit of a protest against the idea of evolution, as all three aliens react to the concept in different ways. In the end, Ace must face down some of the literal ghosts of her past.

Even the ghost wonders what he's doing in this story.

Even the ghost wonders what he’s doing in this story.

This serial was the low point of the season for me, and I found it a little hard to maintain my interest. To be fair, it’s the only serial I didn’t care for this season. In tone and subject matter, it’s very reminiscent of the NuWho episode The Unquiet Dead. Interestingly, it’s the final serial to be produced; the order of the season was reshuffled during production. As a result, the following serial has Ace mentioning “an old house in Perivale”; this was supposed to be foreshadowing, but was negated by the switch.

Wow, you guys don't look so good.

Wow, you guys don’t look so good.

We’ve been building up to it for three years, and now we get some answers in The Curse of Fenric. The Doctor and Ace arrive at Maiden’s Point, a secret military base in Northumberland, in May 1943. It’s hard to believe now, but this is the first (and only classic) serial to be set in World War II; it will be followed by several NuWho stories, including The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, Victory of the Daleks, and Let’s Kill Hitler! The enemy is Fenric, an ancient evil who is established in spinoff media to be a Great Old One, one of several beings from a previous universe (similar to the Animus from The Web Planet and, possibly, the Celestial Toymaker). The Doctor fought Fenric in the third century, and using a chess gambit, imprisoned him in the Shadow Dimensions (interfacing with our world via an oriental flask). Here, at long last, he escapes and challenges the Doctor again; and he doesn’t come alone. He brings with him the Haemovores, vampires from a terrible alternate future of humanity, who are led by the Ancient One, a hideously mutated and powerful Haemovore from the future.

Bad touch! Bad touch!

Bad touch! Bad touch!

Fenric, as it turns out, has been manipulating the Doctor’s path via the people around him. It was Fenric who caused Ace to be transported to Iceworld, and who enabled Lady Peinforte to time-travel in Silver Nemesis. (The chessboard in that episode was also intended as foreshadowing.) Those individuals, plus several others present in this story, are “Wolves of Fenric”—descendants of an individual who was touched by Fenric’s curse, and thus they can now be manipulated by him. Ace, in fact, establishes her own timeline here by saving the life of a woman named Kathleen and her baby, Audrey…who turn out to be Ace’s grandmother and mother, respectively. Fenric’s manipulation is matched by the Doctor, however; the Doctor let’s his darker side show when he insults Ace to break her faith in him, allowing the conflict to come to a resolution. Though he makes it up to her later, it was a cold trick to play on her, especially given that he couldn’t have known it would work out as it did, with the Ancient One turning on Fenric and destroying them both.

Uhh...anyone want to help us out here?

Uhh…anyone want to help us out here?

The backdrop for all of this is the creation of the ULTIMA machine, a codebreaking machine loosely based on the real-life Enigma machine, the German enciphering device broken in large part by Alan Turing. It’s a decent idea; however, a part of the plot is that the Soviets intend to steal the machine from the British. That makes little sense to me, as the British and the Soviets were allies during the war. Still, we can handwave it, given that this is a fictional universe. In the end, there’s much more that could be said—it’s a complex plot and a convoluted serial—but we’ll move on. I will say that I greatly enjoyed this story, and was sorry to see it end.

Season 26 10

Finally, we come to Survival, the last and final serial of classic Doctor Who. It’s an apt name, I’ve always thought, as the series went into “survival mode” after this, living on in novels and comics and—later—audio dramas. It’s the final appearance of the last of the three great perennial enemies of the Doctor: The Master. (We’ve already said goodbye to the Daleks and the Cybermen in season twenty-five.) For this serial, we return to Perivale, but in the present day (1989, that is); I think it’s fitting that the series should end with a contemporary story, as that’s how it began. (Or I should say, almost contemporary; it was broadcast in November and December of that year, but the visible setting appears to be late summer/early fall.) Interestingly, the serial itself doesn’t state that it’s 1989, though context makes it likely; confirmation of the date is found in the New Adventures novel, First Frontier.

A colder, more deadly Master.

A colder, more deadly Master.

The Master, it seems, is trapped on an unnamed planet; his TARDIS is nowhere to be seen, so presumably it has been lost. It’s a unique world; it has the power to transform its inhabitants into feral, catlike Cheetah people, and in very short order. The Master himself is infected with this transformation, visible in his now-catlike eyes and fangs. He is able to send Cheetah individuals to Earth, but can’t leave himself. Once there, they hunt and abduct humans as prey, teleporting them back to the Cheetah world. He seeks the Doctor for assistance in escaping; if successful, he will carry the planet’s contagion everywhere he goes. The planet is tied to its people; their violence is reflected in the planet’s geological violence. The situation is complicated when Ace, too, is infected. She is freed when the Doctor returns her to Earth, along with some of her kidnapped friends. The Master, too, escapes, but is intercepted by the Doctor and transported back to the planet, where they fight their final battle. In the end, the planet breaks apart, and the Doctor escapes, leaving the Master ostensibly to die.

Season 26 13

Of course, we know that he doesn’t die; he’ll be seen again as early as the television movie. That film uses the cat-eye motif as a symbolic connection to the end of the series, as the Master himself is free of the contagion by then. (In fact, he frees himself of it, and gains a new body, in the aforementioned First Frontier.) However, this is Anthony Ainley’s last on-screen appearance in the role, as he does not appear in the movie.

Goodbye, Doctor, and goodbye, Ace.

Goodbye, Doctor, and goodbye, Ace.

There are some great moments in this episode. Ace, commenting on the Master’s connection to the Doctor, asks the Doctor, “Do you know any nice people? You know, ordinary people, not power-crazed nutters trying to take over the galaxy?!” (Which, in my opinion, pretty much sums up all of the Doctor’s old relationships…) All the Doctor can say is “I don’t think he’s trying to take over the galaxy this time…” There’s a great moment where the Doctor asks Ace where she wants to go, and she simply says “Home”…then, seeing his crestfallen face, she adds “You know, the TARDIS!” And of course, there’s the famous final monologue, which I’ve included below. It was written by Andrew Cartmel, and dubbed over the final scene; notably, it was recorded on November 23rd, 1989, 26 years to the day after the premiere of Doctor Who. I can’t think of a better way to go out.

“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep and the rivers dream, people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold! Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!”

"That's my fetish!"

“That’s my fetish!”

This story, naturally, has some “lasts”, in addition to those I’ve already mentioned. It’s the final of only three serials to be filmed entirely on Outside Broadcast Video (the others being The Sontaran Experiment and The Curse of Fenric) and the final of five to be filmed entirely on location (the two previously mentioned, and Spearhead from Space and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy). It’s the last to use the most recent opening and theme; the last to use the TARDIS prop that had been in use most recently; and the last to feature the Doctor’s face in the opening until NuWho’s The Snowmen, with Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor. Notably, one of the supporting cast Lisa Bowerman (playing the Cheetah person Karra) will go on to voice Bernice Summerfield, a popular companion and spinoff character in the audios. Overall, it’s a great story, with a great and menacing take on the Master; despite being the televised equivalent of a furry convention, it’s a great way to end the classic run.

Next time: The Wilderness Years, and the 1996 television movie, in which we meet Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor! See you there.

Dimensions in Time 1

Bonus: I took a few minutes and watched the 1993 Children In Need special, Dimensions in Time. It’s twelve minutes of glorious nonsense, and I won’t dwell long on it, since it’s almost universally deemed to be non-canon. Taken in that vein, it’s a nice little coda to the series; it features all of the Doctors (with Hartnell and Troughton appearing only in still cameos, as they were both deceased by this time) and a laundry list of companions: Susan Foreman, Victoria Waterfield, Liz Shaw, Mike Yates, Sarah Jane Smith, Leela, Nyssa, Peri Brown, Mel Bush, K9 Mark I, Romana II, and the Brigadier. It’s rather short; its two parts run five and seven minutes respectively, with about five minutes of framing broadcast that featured John Pertwee. Its villain is the Rani, who brings her own companion, named Cyrian. Her plan involves pulling the various Doctors and companions from their timelines; as a result, the Doctors and companions keep randomly switching places, creating some odd pairings. The Rani’s “menagerie” includes a Cyberman and a Time Lord; the Daleks would have appeared, but the scenes were deleted due to a dispute with Terry Nation’s estate. There are some references back, including the “Doctor Who?” and “When I say run, RUN!” running jokes, and an appearance by Bessie. The special was a crossover with the show EastEnders, which I have often heard of but have never seen, therefore those jokes were lost on me. (Interestingly, it’s that show that most strongly makes this special non-canon, as Army of Ghosts makes it clear that EastEnders is a television show in the DW universe.) There was a phone-in voting element to determine the outcome of the story; scenes were filmed for the losing option as well, but never used. Overall, however, it must have been a success, as it raised 101,000 pounds in one night.

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

Battlefield (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Ghost Light

The Curse of Fenric (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Survival (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Dimensions in Time