A New Doctor for the Holidays: New Doctor Who Rewatch, “The Christmas Invasion”

We’re back, with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Last week we finished up Series One, with the Ninth Doctor. Today we begin the Tenth Doctor’s tenure, with the 2006 Christmas special, The Christmas Invasion! We’ll also take a look at the brief Children In Need charity special which bridged the gap between Series One and the Christmas special. Let’s get started!

As a reminder, each series in the new show tends to have considerably more stories than the classic seasons; therefore we’re splitting each series into parts of approximately three episodes each for the sake of length. Today is an exception, as we’ll look at the Christmas special by itself.

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen this episode!

The Children in Need special opens with a recap of the regeneration scene from The Parting of the Ways. The Tenth Doctor arrives—marveling at his new teeth—and tries to pick up right where the Ninth Doctor left off, setting course for the planet Barcelona. Rose isn’t having any of it, though; regeneration is a brand new concept to her, and she doesn’t believe that this is still the Doctor. She suggests he was switched out, or transmatted away, or even that the new Doctor is a Slitheen in a skin suit. He explains quickly, and to back up his claims, he reminds her of mutual memories of their first meeting. (This is a little unusual; typically regenerations have left him with at least a minor amount of memory loss, if only temporarily.) While this sets her mind at ease, she is still in shock, and wants to go home. He sets course for December 24, 2006, and heads for the Powell Estate (Rose’s apartment building). However, he suddenly starts to act erratically; regeneration energy wisps out of his mouth, and he seems to be in some pain and mania. Rose suggests finding Jack Harkness to help, but the Doctor brushes it off, saying Jack is busy rebuilding Earth after the Dalek attack. He throws the TARDIS into high speed, and warns her it is crashing. The cloister bell sounds, giving weight to his assertion.


The Christmas Invasion picks up immediately, on Earth. Mickey and Jackie each here the TARDIS arriving and come running; it does crash, though not catastrophically. The Doctor stumbles out and greets them, then passes out; they don’t recognize him until Rose explains, and even then they find it just as hard to believe as she did. They set him up in bed in Jackie’s apartment to recover.


Meanwhile, Britain is making history. Its Guinevere One space probe is on approach to Mars. Harriet Jones, now Prime Minister by a landslide victory, is making a speech about it—but is interrupted when the video feed cuts off. The probe has been intercepted by an unknown alien race. Harriet goes to UNIT—the agency’s first appearance in the new series, though it was mentioned in World War Three–and begins to oversee efforts to deal with the crisis. She summons help from an agency called Torchwood, of which she is not supposed to be aware. The feed is re-established, and they get their first glimpse of the aliens, who call themselves the Sycorax—and declare humanity their property.


While the Doctor recuperates, Mickey and Rose go out for some last-minute Christmas shopping, and discuss—or rather, dance around—their future and relationship. They are interrupted by an attack by androids dressed as Santa Claus; they flee back to the apartment in the chaos. As they explain to Jackie, Rose notices a Christmas tree that wasn’t there before. Jackie tells them it was anonymously delivered—and suddenly it comes to life and goes on the attack. Rose manages to awaken the Doctor just in time for him to destroy it with his sonic screwdriver. Outside, he sees the Santa robots watching, then disappearing in a transmat beam. He explains that they are like pilot fish, accompanying a larger threat; they have come for him, because he is brimming with regeneration energy, which they could use to power their technology. However, Rose has awakened him too soon, and he is still sick from regeneration; he passes out again.


Harriet confronts the Sycorax, via a rough translation program worked out by UNIT. She warns them that Earth is armed and will not surrender. In retaliation, the Sycorax take control of a third of the population, sending them to the tops of buildings and other structures and preparing them to jump off. UNIT works out that it is done via blood control, and only affects type A+ blood, of which a sample was included among other items on the Guinevere probe. Harriet makes a public broadcast about the situation, and implores the Doctor to come to Earth’s aid. Watching it on television, Rose realizes that the TARDIS is not translating the Sycorax footage, because the Doctor is unconscious and therefore out of the circuit. Harriet and her associates are then transmatted aboard the Sycorax ship to discuss surrender.


Rose, Mickey, and Jackie get the Doctor aboard the TARDIS, but are unable to pilot it. The Sycorax have discovered the TARDIS, however, and transmat it to their ship, leaving Jackie behind. Rose steps out—unaware of the transmat—and is captured, as is Mickey, who spills a container of tea onto the machinery by the Doctor’s unconscious form. The Sycorax take her for the owner of the TARDIS, and decide that she will speak for Earth. She tries to bluff, making them ridicule her—but suddenly, the TARDIS begins translating again, and Rose realizes the Doctor is awake. He throws open the doors of the TARDIS and joins them.The Doctor takes charge of the situation, and explains that nutrients from the vaporized tea aided his recovery. He quickly figures out the blood control situation, and shuts it down, freeing the hostages on Earth. He then orders the Sycorax to leave; and when the leader refuses, he grabs a sword from one of the guards, and challenges the leader to formal combat.


The Doctor is no slouch with a sword. He forces a change in venue, taking the combat onto the outer deck of the ship, overlooking the city. It appears he will lose; the leader cuts off his hand. However, he is still close to his regeneration, and the residual energy causes a new hand to grow. Stunned, the leader is taken aback, and the Doctor presses the attack, and defeats him. He offers the leader a chance to live, and again tells him to leave the Earth and never return. The leader agrees; however, as the Doctor walks away, the leader tries to stab him in the back. The Doctor forces him off the edge of the ship, and he falls to his death. There will be no second chances.


With the humans and the TARDIS transmatted back to London, the Sycorax ship departs. However, Harriet orders Torchwood to destroy it; they carry out the sentence with a large superlaser. Enraged, the Doctor turns on Harriet, and after castigating her—much as he once did the Brigadier, when UNIT destroyed the Silurians—he tells her he will destroy her career with just six words. He walks away, but whispers into her aide’s ear, “Don’t you think she looks tired?” This sets off a storm of controversy that soon—within days—results in her downfall via a vote of no confidence regarding her health.


The Doctor celebrates Christmas with Rose, Jackie, and Mickey; but then he must leave. It looks as though Rose will stay behind; and then, having fully accepted that this truly is the Doctor, she chooses to go with him.


Although there are some minor plot weaknesses—the Santa droids, for one, could just as easily have been eliminated with no change to the overall plot—I always felt that this story constituted a good, strong introduction for the Tenth Doctor. David Tennant is an excellent choice for the role, and indeed, for many fans, has become the definitive version of the Doctor. Like many of his predecessors (and also Matt Smith after him), he needed no adjustment period; there was no series of shaky early episodes leading up to him owning the role. He simply WAS the Doctor, from the very first moment. The story also establishes an excellent tradition: the annual Christmas special. It’s been argued that the First Doctor had the true first Christmas special, with The Feast of Steven, episode seven of The Daleks’ Master Plan (now unfortunately lost to history, although reconstructions exist); I can agree with that, but this is where it became an annual tradition, as the classic series had no other such episodes. A second tradition began here as well: that of Doctor Who’s involvement with the Children in Need fundraising efforts. The brief interlude that precedes the Christmas special adds only a little to the story, but adds much to the social impact of Doctor Who. Also, beginning with this episode, David Tennant is credited as “The Doctor” rather than “Doctor Who”; this change was at his request, and mirrors a similar change in the classic series under Peter Davison.


Several running jokes occur in this story. Jackie makes the classic “Doctor who?” joke upon seeing the Doctor’s new face, although she says it in earnest. The TARDIS crashing has become a bit of a running joke, occurring in connection with every new series regeneration with the exception of the War Doctor’s regeneration into the Ninth Doctor (as far as we know anyway; we don’t see the immediate aftermath of that regeneration. However, the TARDIS even crashed with Eight’s regeneration into War, though admittedly not under its own power). The Doctor for the first time (of many) expresses his desire to be ginger. Most conspicuously, there’s the running joke regarding Harriet Jones; every time she introduces herself, the listener responds with “Yes, I know who you are.” This includes the Sycorax leader, albeit via the translation software. This will continue through her final appearance and death in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.

Yeah, it's...not going to end anytime soon.

Yeah, it’s…not going to end anytime soon.

Rose’s reaction to the regeneration is perfectly understandable, given that the Doctor only told her about it seconds before it happened. In this moment, the companion is truly an audience surrogate, as many fans who had not seen the classic series would not have known what was going on. Her eventual acceptance of the new Doctor is not assured until the end; unfortunately, her choice of the Doctor again, here where it seemed like she should give him up, only serves to drive a bigger wedge between herself and Mickey, who is not as over her as he previously led us to believe.


There are a number of connections to other episodes here; some of them are connections to future stories which had not yet been written. “Sycorax” is the name of the witch in The Tempest; the Doctor will later unwittingly give Shakespeare the idea by name-dropping the Sycorax. He can analyze blood by taste; he has previously demonstrated the ability to analyze substances in this way, although the blood is a first. He is a skilled swordsman, as were the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors before him; we last saw this in The King’s Demons, against the Master. Harriet makes a meta reference; she says the video signal may have been hijacked by kids, which is an allusion to the Max Headroom Signal Intrusion incident in Chicago in the 1980s. During that incident, a showing of Horror of Fang Rock was interrupted and hijacked. UNIT is re-introduced, after being referenced in Aliens of London/World War Three; it was last seen in Battlefield, and seems to have had a budget increase since then. The TARDIS’s translation ability was introduced via the Fourth Doctor long ago, but is expanded on here. The Santa droids will be used again by the Racnoss Empress in The Runaway Bride. Torchwood gets a very direct reference, which will lead into its introduction onscreen later in the series, and its spinoff as well. The Doctor’s severed hand will be seen again on Torchwood, as well as in Utopia and Journey’s End. The Doctor mentions a “great big threatening red button” which he is compelled to push; this will eventually resurface as a reference to the Moment in The Day of the Doctor, adding some depth to his offhanded comment. There are parallels between the Sycorax and Faction Paradox, especially with regard to blood control and the wearing of bone; however my knowledge of Faction Paradox is too limited to comment further. As well, a recently-released short story, The Christmas Inversion, takes place in the midst of this story, in which Jackie Tyler meets the Third Doctor.

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


Most interestingly, this story sets up a chain of terrible events which will continue all the way through the Tenth Doctor’s life. The severing of his hand, and his deposing of Harriet, will eventually lead to the rise of the Master as Harold Saxon, and to the eventual death of the Tenth Doctor at the end of the Master’s plans. For more information, check the continuity section of the TARDIS wiki’s entry for this story.


Overall, I liked this story. I felt it has something for everyone—plenty of classic references, the beginning of a new story arc, a good follow-up to Series One, and a hopeful introduction to Series Two, as well as a fair bit of setup for Torchwood. While there have been more popular specials, this one still holds its own.


Next time: We launch into Series Two with New Earth, Tooth and Claw, and School Reunion! See you there.


Parting of the Ways: New Doctor Who Rewatch, Series One Finale

We’re back with our new Doctor Who rewatch! Today we’re finishing up Series One, with the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler; if you’d like to catch up, here are the entries for Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four. As a reminder, each series in the new show tends to have considerably more stories than the classic seasons; therefore we’re splitting each series into parts for the sake of length. Today we’re looking at the series one finale, episodes twelve and thirteen. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen these episodes!

The episode is titled Bad Wolf, and we open cold on the Doctor, Rose and Jack. They awaken to find themselves with slight amnesia, and find they have been incorporated as contestants in several futuristic game shows. (The shows are intentional takes on shows that were popular at the time of broadcast, notably Big Brother (here featuring the Doctor), The Weakest Link (Rose), and What Not To Wear (Jack). They are mostly unchanged, with the exception of robotic versions of their real-world hosts—which, coincidentally, are voiced by said hosts.) They are stunned, but quickly recover, only to find that losing contestants don’t go home—they are vaporized.


Their intrusion isn’t unnoticed. The staff that are controlling the broadcasts have taken note of their presence, and presented their findings to the Controller—a human woman who is wired into the system to control the data. She has been there since she was five years old, and knows no other life; she only sees the data, not the individuals. She tells the staff to continue working as though nothing had changed; and she cuts off access to the nearby Archive Six.


After some adventures in their respective shows, the Doctor and Jack escape, taking another contestant—Lynda—with them. The Doctor suddenly realizes where they are: They have returned to Satellite Five, and it is the year 200,100, one hundred years after his previous visit. The satellite is now called the Gamestation; it no longer broadcasts news, but now broadcasts more than 40,000 channels of high-stakes entertainment. They try to find Rose, but are too late; losing her competition, she is disintegrated. Enraged, the Doctor and Jack head for Floor 500. There they confront the broadcast staff, and the Controller, just as a solar flare temporarily takes down the broadcast.


Under the protective silence of the flare, the Controller addresses the Doctor directly. She tells him that she serves hidden masters, but she cannot tell him who they are—they have programmed her not to reveal their name. She states that they manipulate and oppress humanity for their own ends, growing in power in the darkness of space. She tells him that they fear him, and so she has brought him here to destroy them. (How she did it is not explained, however. She somehow managed to locate the TARDIS and pluck it and its occupants from flight, all without any obvious means of time travel.) The solar flare prevents them from reading her thoughts, allowing her to privately pass this message. However, the flare ends before she can tell him where to find her masters.


Jack breaks into Archive Six, and finds the TARDIS there. He uses the equipment aboard to determine that the contestants aren’t being killed; they’re secretly being transmatted away, meaning that Rose is still alive. The Controller breaks her secrecy to reveal the coordinates to the Doctor, and is immediately transmatted away to her masters, who kill her for her betrayal. Rose, too, is there, and discovers the terrible truth: The masters are Daleks.


The Doctor locates the coordinates at the edge of the solar system, but nothing is seen there. He cuts off the cloaking wave that the station is broadcasting along with its signal, and a fleet of two hundred Dalek warships is revealed. Each contains a few thousand Daleks, bringing their total force to nearly half a million. The Daleks contact the Doctor, and threaten him to stand down or they will kill Rose; he refuses, and says he is coming to rescue her and destroy them.


The Parting of the Ways picks up immediately, with the Doctor and Jack racing to the scene in the TARDIS. They use the extrapolator from Boom Town to create a shield around the TARDIS, which allows them to materialize around Rose, then step out and speak to the Daleks with impunity. They discover that the Daleks are led by the Dalek Emperor, who somehow survived the destruction of the last day of the Time War and fell through time to come here. He has since built up his forces over a few centuries by using human dead to create new Daleks. He now considers himself the Dalek god.


The Doctor and the others escape and return to the station to stage a defense. He organizes a perimeter defense under Jack and some of the station’s crew; behind the lines, he begins to establish a Delta wave, a form of energy burst that will fry the brains of every Dalek. However, the emperor contacts him and reveals that it will be indiscriminate; it will also kill every human in its range, including those on Earth. The Doctor is willing to sacrifice Earth to destroy the Daleks; he states that humanity on its far-flung colonies will survive, but the Daleks must die here. The Daleks compare him again to them, calling him the Great Exterminator, which rankles him.


Rose and Jack are also willing to die. However, the Doctor tricks Rose into leaving in the TARDIS using an emergency program. She is returned to her home time, with Mickey and Jackie. On the station, the battle begins; the Daleks invade and slaughter everyone they can find, until only Jack and the Doctor are left. They also begin killing vast swaths of the population of Earth (offscreen, thankfully).


In 2006, Rose admits defeat. However, she suddenly realizes she is seeing Bad Wolf graffiti everywhere. She takes it as a warning, and tries to get the TARDIS to move. Remembering her experience with Blon, she reasons that she can open the heart of the TARDIS to somehow spur it to action; and with Mickey’s help (and a yellow truck) she does. The heart invades her body, and takes her over; she becomes a powerful entity that takes the Bad Wolf name, and forces the TARDIS back to the station. She arrives just as Jack is killed, leaving only the Doctor. He is horrified; she has absorbed the power of the vortex, which is too much for anyone to survive.


The entity destroys the Daleks, turning them all to dust. It scatters the Bad Wolf words through time and space, creating all the references that led them here—thus, creating itself. It restores life to Jack (and much more, as we’ll later see). Then, before Rose can be consumed by the power, the Doctor kisses her, drawing it into himself, and releasing it back into the TARDIS. It will be his final act.


Jack arrives just in time to see the TARDIS leave, stranding him here. Inside, the Doctor tells Rose the damage is too much even for him, and he will die. He explains about regeneration, when he will change to a new face. He says his goodbyes…and transforms into the Tenth Doctor.


This remains one of my favorite series finales, if not my absolute favorite. As humorous and (sometimes) off-balance as the series could be, it takes itself seriously here, even while making jokes about reality television. All season the Doctor has been venting his emotions as if he can’t control them at all; here, we see it come together, and get an idea of how truly fearsome he can be. And yet, even with that, it’s Rose who is truly to be feared, as she recklessly absorbs the vortex and becomes the Bad Wolf. For all the Doctor’s anger, it’s his sense of self-sacrifice that saves the day, as he dies to save her.parting-of-the-ways-7

I had previously mentioned that Satellite Five had a ridiculously low number of channels for the future. That’s overcompensated here, with over 44,000. The game show parodies were cleverly done, with puns and inside jokes, even if they seem dated now. There’s a reference to Torchwood here, as the Great Cobalt Pyramid is said to stand on its ruins. And of course, there’s the obvious Bad Wolf reference, in the name of the consortium that runs the station (secretly under the Daleks, of course).


The Doctor, Rose, and Jack mention having come from Raxicoricofallapatorius (having dropped off egg-Blon as promised), then having had one more adventure, in 1338 Kyoto, from which they narrowly escaped. Thus there is no time for additional adventures involving the three of them—sorry, fanfic writers. It was good while it lasted. Jack’s sexuality is played up again, though not as jokingly as in previous episodes; I also do not want to know where he was hiding his gun, though.

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

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 Daleks have an established history of using human children as “controllers”, dating back to Day of the Daleks; this isn’t quite the same, but close, and again, their subject betrays them. We also get a connection with the transmats leaving dust behind; this happened previously in The Twin Dilemma. The Face of Boe is mentioned again, in the trivia questions. A control panel on the Dalek ship is the same as one dating all the way back to The Chase–a small but interesting connection. The Doctor tells the Daleks that their legends call him the oncoming storm; this name will recur several times in the new series, but actually dates to a Draconian phrase in the VNA novel, Love and War. (Another VNA reference is seen in the trivia questions; the planet Lucifer gets a mention, having originated in the novel Lucifer Rising.) Most interestingly, Jack recognizes the Daleks and their ships; this makes for interesting questions about the Time War. Some are answered in part two, when he explains that they were the most feared race in the universe, but suddenly vanished; the Doctor explains that they left to fight a bigger war, the Time War, which Jack implies was just a legend.


The line “And for my next trick”, seen in part two, is later reused in The Day of the Doctor. The Daleks here are post-war Daleks, making them very powerful indeed, and it’s probably that had Rose not intervened, they would have won. The Doctor faces the same choice—kill innocents to destroy the Daleks—that he faced in the war, but here he makes the other decision, and stays his hand.


The Dalek emperor is the same as in the war, but appears to not be the same as any others we have seen mentioned. The concept first appeared in The Evil of the Daleks, all the way back to the Second Doctor; Davros also called himself the emperor. As with Davros’s Imperial Daleks, the Daleks seen here are bred from human stock, and thus inherit some of the characteristics of humanity, in this case religious inclination. That part doesn’t surprise me; the only oddity is that the Emperor, who is a pure Dalek of Skaro origins (presumably), buys into it. It’s very curious, but then, we’ll see this sort of leader-worship again, if not so explicitly. As to the human stock: This issue will also reappear in the Eighth Doctor Adventures audio drama, Blood of the Daleks, where it is initiated by the human Professor Martez.


This is an incredibly bloodthirsty story. Every incidental character dies, including all the humans on the station and all the Daleks. Though it happens offscreen, the Daleks are stated to be killing off large portions of Earth’s population. As well, Jack and the Doctor both die, though both live again (Jack by resurrection, the Doctor by regeneration). Only Rose, Jackie, and Mickey survive (and, I suppose, any background characters in the 2006 scenes, though they hardly bear mentioning). Jack is the fifth companion character to die onscreen, joining classic companions Katarina, Sara Kingdom, Adric, and Kamelion. (Apparently it doesn’t pay to have the letter K in your name…)


The Doctor tricks Rose into leaving in the TARDIS, by activating an emergency program. The Eleventh Doctor will later do the same to Clara Oswald in The Time of the Doctor, complete with a similar holographic interface. Clara will take equally extreme actions to return to him, as she clings to the outside of the TARDIS while in the vortex.


For the second time in this series, a Dalek compares the Doctor to the Daleks; the Emperor calls him the Great Exterminator. He doesn’t care for the comparison. The emperor states that this act of extermination will make the Doctor like him; however, the joke’s on him—he already did it once, although we haven’t yet had the specifics revealed to us. As I mentioned, he makes the opposite choice here, and chooses not to kill.


The Bad Wolf entity is fascinating. It’s set up as a parallel to the Dalek Emperor, in that both established themselves as a kind of god. However, where the Emperor merely boasted of godhood, the Bad Wolf demonstrated it, by displaying a ridiculous amount of power. Being possessed of control over time, it creates itself, by scattering the “Bad Wolf” words throughout time in such a way as to lead Rose and the Doctor here, to this moment. (This makes the entire series, to me, reminiscent of the episode Turn Left, where the point is that a myriad small choices lead up to momentous things–Doctor Who’s take on the butterfly effect, if you will.) The entity also kills the Daleks by reducing them to dust; and it brings life by command, reviving Jack from death. This will have consequences, of course, as later episodes (and the Torchwood spinoff) will show that he is now immortal, and a sort of mobile fixed point in time. At the end, the Doctor leaves him here; and it will later be revealed that this was because he finds Jack’s new nature abhorrent, offensive to his time sense, although he still respects him personally.


This is, as far as I’ve seen, the first mention of regeneration in the new series. The Doctor explains it briefly to Rose before it happens; and really, he’s explaining it to the fans, as well. New fans who missed out on the classic series would likely have no idea that he can change; and as it had already been announced that he would be leaving, it no doubt left some viewers wondering about the future of the show. This regeneration would have resolved that uncertainty, as we see the Tenth Doctor for the first time. Also, this is the first new-style regeneration, with the now-characteristic energy explosion, although we have since learned it dates back to the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration into the War Doctor. I do find it interesting that Rose seemed to maintain the vortex energy better than the Doctor; she holds it for some time before it begins to kill her, but the Doctor appears to be mortally hurt by it after just a moment—after all, he releases it back to the TARDIS almost instantly after taking it in.


And so, with that, we say goodbye to the Ninth Doctor, and hello to the Tenth. It’s been a fun ride, and far too short. Still, without the Ninth Doctor, we never would have had the good things to come; and we wouldn’t be eagerly awaiting Series Ten today. For that, though Christopher Eccleston’s time in the TARDIS was short, we thank him.


Next time: The Christmas Invasion! And possibly the beginning of Series Two. See you there!

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

Bad Wolf

The Parting of the Ways

Doctor Who Novel Review: Lungbarrow, by Marc Platt

I know, I know…two posts in one day?!  My apologies; that wasn’t the plan.  This should have been posted several days ago, at the same time as I posted it on Reddit’s /r/Gallifrey subreddit.  It’s not crucial to anything else going on, just an interesting read; you can feel free to skip it if you like, although it has some interesting backstory for Doctor Who which gives a different take from the television series.  If that interests you, read on!


We’re back, with…something different? Due to unforeseen circumstances, I will most likely not be able to post my review of the second Big Finish Main Range audio, Phantasmagoria, this week as promised. I should be back on track by next week; but in the meantime, here’s a review of a very controversial Doctor Who novel, Marc Platt’s Lungbarrow. Let’s get started!

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not read the book!

Lungbarrow cover 1

Lungbarrow is the next-to-last novel of the “Virgin New Adventures” series of novels, which mostly concerned the Seventh Doctor. (Technically it’s third-from-last, as So Vile A Sin was delayed, but the internal order of the stories places this one next-to-last. As well, it’s the last to involve the Seventh Doctor; the final novel, The Dying Days, involved the Eighth Doctor.) It’s a series that sought to continue where the classic television series left off, and it did so admirably, totaling sixty-one entries, far more than the Seventh Doctor ever received onscreen. By the time of its completion, the 1996 TV movie had actually already been released and considered canon, and the last few novels–Lungbarrow and The Dying Days–were written with the lead-up to the Eighth Doctor in mind. Lungbarrow, in particular, ends with a setup that directly references the opening events of the movie. Despite all of this, the novel series doesn’t exactly fit with everything referenced in the television series, either classic or revived (or, for that matter, with other lines of books); Steven Moffatt has described them as “a separate (and equally valid) continuity” to the television series. [The parenthesis is his, not mine.] The New Adventures series would continue after the expiration of Virgin’s license, but would focus on the non-BBC-owned Bernice Summerfield rather than the Doctor; for my purposes, though, I’m only counting the novels concerned with the Doctor.

It would take a very long time to explain the backdrop of the novel, and I want to keep this readably short. Suffice it to say that the story is set mostly on a Gallifrey where Romana (II, if we’re keeping count) is Lord (Lady?) President; Andred has become Castellan, and therefore head of the Chancellery Guard; Leela, as Andred’s wife, occupies a not-quite defined position that does not sit well with her; there are not one, but two K9s (Leela’s Mk. I and Romana’s Mk. II); and the Celestial Intervention Agency (CIA) is active in a major way. (That agency is a source of great fascination to me, as I am new to the novels; it seems to appear in many places there, but was almost totally unknown on television, netting only a single unilluminated reference in The Deadly Assassin.) It is into all of this that the Doctor, his current companion Chris Cwej, and former companion Ace (here preferring to be called Dorothée) wander.

I called this book controversial; “notorious” might be a better term. It was conceived during the writing of the television serial Ghost Light, written also by Marc Platt. That serial’s mysterious mansion in Perivale would have been the house of Lungbarrow on Gallifrey, had Platt not been advised to bring the story back to Earth. Lungbarrow recycles many of the elements that went into that original script effort, but the finished product is very different. Further, it’s essentially the last bastion of the Cartmel Masterplan, Andrew Cartmel’s ill-fated effort to breathe new life into Doctor Who by changing its backstory. While I think that’s perfectly fine for a novel, it did cause much debate among fans for years.

This novel is perhaps the only full expression of where that plan might have gone. In that version of Doctor Who lore, the ancient Pythia—the women who once ruled Gallifrey before Rassilon—were vanquished; their remnants would become the Sisterhood of Karn. That much is also common to the television series. However, the Pythia (singular this time, indicating their leader), before dying, cursed Gallifrey with infertility. No children would be born to the Time Lords. (Of course, this has since been discarded onscreen; The Day of the Doctor makes a point of the billions of children on Gallifrey.) In response, Rassilon, Omega, and a mysterious third founding father known as the Other, created the Looms—machines that would remix and recycle Gallifreyan DNA and give birth to new Time Lords. Those so born would arrive fully grown, but with childlike minds. The Looms, like much Time Lord technology, are sentient, after a fashion.

The word “House” has a double meaning here, as was also common in European history. It refers to the families into which Loomed Gallifreyans are born (for want of a better word); those houses are restricted in the number of living members, or “Cousins”, they may have, as a means of population management. However, the word also refers to the literal house, the mansion owned and operated by the House of Lungbarrow. The physical house is also sentient, sort of; it definitely has a will and mind of its own, although it is telepathically linked with its Housekeeper, the female family member chosen to maintain and govern the house. Further, all of its outsized furnishings, as well as its artificial servants—the wooden Drudges, not to be confused with the robotic Drudgers in some of the audios—are alive, in one way or another, and often unfriendly as well.

Lungbarrow’s events are precipitated long ago—673 years ago, to be precise—when the family’s leader, or Kithriarch, is murdered on the day he would have chosen to die anyway. It seems like a minor matter, except that he died before revealing his last will and testament, which would have named his successor; oh, yes, and there’s also the small matter of his having been murdered by the First Doctor. In reaction to this awful betrayal within the family’s ranks, the house—that is, the physical house—takes drastic action: It buries itself with all forty-plus cousins inside. All, that is, except the Doctor, who has taken off to begin his life of adventures in his stolen TARDIS. Over the intervening centuries, the house slowly degrades, and so do its occupants; they become the darkest soap opera imaginable, so to speak.

The story can be a bit awkward, because it’s going in two directions at once. On the one hand—the stronger hand, in my opinion—it’s a mostly straightforward mystery. Did the Doctor, so long ago, really murder the Kithriarch Quences? Where is his missing will? What’s up with the rivalry between the Doctor and his Cousin Glospin? What about Cousin Owis, who legally shouldn’t exist (as he was Loomed to replace the disowned Doctor, but before the Doctor’s death)? Why is the house underground, and how can it be saved? (Spoiler: It can’t.) And what about Glospin’s obsession with the Doctor’s DNA and origins? More on that last in a bit. At the same time as all of this, it’s a political intrigue; behind the scenes, Romana is conducting secret diplomatic dealings offworld, and facing a coup attempt by the CIA. Those scenes are awkward, and don’t seem to fit well; in the end, all the characters involved there serve mainly to give the Doctor some backup at the house. The mystery is the main attraction here, and it makes you question everything you know about Time Lords, from Looms to TARDISes to regenerations.

But, the Cartmel plan would have done more than just establish the existence of Looms. Its greater focus, judging by the references that made their way into the final seasons of the classic series, were with regard to the Doctor’s identity. While this novel goes to great lengths—and some dialogue gymnastics—to avoid saying the Doctor’s actual name aloud, it does make it clear that the Doctor is something more than just a Time Lord of the House of Lungbarrow. He is the Other, reincarnate. Glospin suspected it, and indeed, it’s almost completely confirmed. We see that the Other killed himself by leaping into the master Loom which feeds all the others; that the Hand of Omega had in the past attached itself to the Other, and in the more recent past to the Doctor (consistent with Remembrance of the Daleks); that the Doctor’s DNA doesn’t match Lungbarrow’s imprint; and that Susan is not actually the Doctor’s granddaughter, but the Other’s, from the Old Times. Susan joins the Doctor on his very first TARDIS flight when the Hand of Omega defeats the barriers and takes the TARDIS into Gallifrey’s past—but what is more, she recognizes him as her grandfather, though his face has changed.

I won’t spoil the resolution. While the book is hard to come by (due to a combination of high demand and a small, non-repeated print run), it’s a great read if you can get it. However, I will say that it neatly wraps up all the threads it spins out, and yet somehow manages to avoid feeling too convenient. It sets up nicely for the movie—not too difficult a task, given the movie was already out at the time of writing—and also ties in nicely with many other stories, both televised and written. It has the feeling of a hinge between two realities—that of the generally-accepted canon of Doctor Who (such as it is), and that of the Cartmel plan. It’s a bit like the Big Finish Doctor Who Unbound dramas; It’s a great window into what could have been; and with it behind me, I have to say, the alternate lore isn’t so bad. Certainly I like the version we have onscreen, but this alternate view is pretty interesting as well.

Some notable things: The Doctor takes up the Sonic Screwdriver again, as Romana gives him hers; this is consistent with the movie, except that her screwdriver as last seen looks nothing like any version of the Doctor’s screwdriver. Of course, she could have rebuilt it in the interim. The Hand of Omega makes a reappearance in flashbacks here, both with the Other and with the Doctor, and displays more abilities than we have previously seen. Kan’po Rimpoche, the hermit from the Doctor’s childhood, gets a mention by one of the Cousins; he was last seen in Planet of the Spiders. Ace makes an appearance, but not as a companion; she is summoned by Romana, but intercepted and interrogated by the CIA. Chris Cwej, after several literary adventures with the Doctor, departs here, leaving the Doctor companionless for the opening events of the movie. As the Gallifreyans don’t have a bodily childhood, the furniture in the house is intentionally larger-than-life, to give them the sensation of being small until they are old enough to leave home. Time Lords can live many hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years without regenerating, a fact that would later be borne out in the revived series; some of the Cousins in the house have never regenerated since its burial, and altogether they display a wildly varying collection of lifespans. One Cousin, Innocet, regenerates during the course of the events, and seems to recover much faster than the Doctor ever does, adding some evidence to the idea that he’s just not good at it; maybe this has something to do with his past as the Other, who—being an ancient Gallifreyan—did not possess the ability to regenerate. Incidentally, that very fact is contradicted by the revived series, in which Rassilon is seen to be able to regenerate. (It is unknown whether he could do so in the classic series, as he only appeared once, in The Five Doctors.)

Lungbarrow cover 2

Altogether, it’s a good read, and I enjoyed it. Perhaps it’s backward, reading this book before any of the preceding New Adventures novels, but I wanted to get an idea of the outcome of the Cartmel plan, having just finished the Seventh Doctor’s television stories. I was not disappointed, and I think others would agree. If you can come by a copy, it’s worth checking out.

Next time (hopefully): Phantasmagoria! See you there.

Lungbarrow unfortunately was unable to receive further print runs due to the expiration of the publisher’s license to the characters.  Therefore print copies are expensive and rare.  A free ebook was issued by the BBC, but has since been removed from their site.  However, an archived version is available here via the internet archive.

Eighth In Line: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Movie Edition!

Welcome back to our Classic Doctor Who rewatch! Although technically we’ve finished the classic series, we’re not quite out of the woods yet. This week, we look at the first major attempt to revive Doctor Who onscreen, the 1996 made-for-television movie. Intended as a pilot for an American revival of the series, it’s an interesting look at what Doctor Who might have become on this side of the ocean…and a case study in what doesn’t work, as the series wasn’t picked up. Let’s get started!

"Sylvester, remember the first law of time!  We're not supposed to meet!"

“Sylvester, remember the first law of time! We’re not supposed to meet!”

We open with the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, now at the end of his life cycle. He’s a changed man since his last appearance in Survival; he seems to have left his scheming days behind, as well as his companions (no Ace to be seen here). He’s quiet and calm, and clearly a bit weary; he’s also carrying a sonic screwdriver again (Lungbarrow states that it’s Romana’s, though it doesn’t look like hers). His TARDIS has changed too, in the most drastic redesign we’ve ever seen; it’s dark and comfortable in a very Victorian way, with its parlor and its wood-grain console and its vaulted ceilings and arches. (I’d describe it as “steampunk” if there was any evidence of steam-driven technology; there isn’t, but it certainly has that feeling). Ace’s final lines in Survival described the TARDIS as “home”, and this TARDIS is clearly the Doctor’s home; he’s at ease here as we’ve never seen. He’s on a mission; the Master, having at some point escaped the Cheetah world, has been captured, tried, and executed by the Daleks, and the Doctor—at the Master’s request—is bringing his remains home to Gallifrey.

Goodbye, Master!  ...wait, that never works.

Goodbye, Master! …wait, that never works.

(For fun and some additional insight, at about the same time as watching this film, I read Marc Platt’s Lungbarrow, the well-known and controversial novel dealing with the Doctor’s family and origins, which is set immediately preceding the film, and in fact leads up to its events. I won’t discuss that lead-in here, but I may put up a separate review post for the novel.)

"Snake" is not a good look for you, Master.

“Snake” is not a good look for you, Master.

As in any dealing with the Master, things aren’t that simple. A Time Lord’s remains carry his or her mind until it can be uploaded to the Matrix; and the Master is far from finished with this world. He causes a disturbance in the TARDIS, which disrupts its flight and allows his now-disembodied form to escape the urn; the TARDIS makes an emergency stop in San Francisco, Earth, New Year’s Eve, 1999 (or actually, judging from the time span we see, late night on Dec. 30th). Just in time for Y2K! But, no. At any rate, the Doctor steps out of the TARDIS…and into a gang battle. He’s immediately shot several times, and appears to be dying. Gang member Chang Lee gets him to the hospital…and the Master hitches along with the EMTs.

The Doctor, Chang Lee, and Grace Holloway in the TARDIS.

The Doctor, Chang Lee, and Grace Holloway in the TARDIS.

At the hospital, cardiac surgeon Grace Holloway operates on the Doctor; but due to his alien circulatory system, she unintentionally kills him. While she’s dealing with the fallout of his death, he’s in the morgue…and regenerating: Paul McGann takes the stage as the Eighth Doctor. He’s unusually strong—he batters the morgue door off its hinges—but his regenerative fog is worse than usual; the anesthesia has affected him, not only delaying his regeneration and making it more difficult, but giving him pretty severe amnesia as well. Pondering his identity, he steals some clothes from a locker (in the finest tradition, as established by the Third Doctor) and slips out of the hospital…only to run into Grace again.

The Master gets a companion?!

The Master gets a companion?!

From this time on, it’s a battle to recover his memory, outwit the Master, and get his TARDIS flying again, all with Grace in tow. Meanwhile, the Master hasn’t been sitting still. He’s taken the body of Bruce, one of the EMTs (and killed Bruce’s wife, who really didn’t deserve this); and he’s returned to the TARDIS and coerced Chang Lee into helping him capture the Doctor. He’s a consummate liar, even in this form; he convinces Chang that the Doctor is the villain here, who has stolen HIS body and TARDIS. It comes out that what he really wants are the Doctor’s remaining lives. He uses Chang to open the TARDIS’s Eye of Harmony, which has the power to transfer his consciousness into the Doctor’s body; only a non-Gallifreyan can open the Eye. In the course of this he makes the shocking discovery that the Doctor is half-human; later the Doctor confirms this, and states that it’s on his mother’s side (though that detail may have been facetious). Finally, at the stroke of midnight, Grace restores power to the TARDIS and overcomes the Master, and frees the Doctor, who sees the Master pulled into the open Eye of Harmony…and the battle is over.

"I'm not wearing any pants...I mean, I'm half human.  Yeah, that's it."

“I’m not wearing any pants…I mean, I’m half human. Yeah, that’s it.”

There’s a lot on which to comment in this movie. Perhaps most notably, there’s the controversial idea that the Doctor is half human. Who knew that a few little lines would spark so much argument over the years? I’m unsure what the writers were thinking, but it WOULD go a long way toward explaining the Doctor’s love for Earth and humanity, so there’s that. Still, it runs counter to everything else we’ve ever seen about the Doctor (and if you’re a fan of the Cartmel plan and Lungbarrow, it’s an outright impossibility, as the Doctor would have been Loomed without parents instead of born). Later episodes in the revived series would play with this idea, especially in Series Nine with the idea of the Hybrid—a product of two warrior races, sometimes suspected to be humans and Time Lords. The Series Nine finale, Hell Bent, would even come right out and say that this is one of the suspected possibilities for the Hybrid; when Ashildr makes that allegation to the Doctor, he doesn’t deny it, but waves it away as irrelevant. Personally, I think that (as much as we can say that Doctor Who has a canon at all) the concept isn’t canon; like other hints of the Cartmel plan from the last few seasons, it’s a possible direction for the show that failed and was soft-retconned out. I do acknowledge that a regeneration doesn’t have to produce a Gallifreyan body, and also that the Time Lords can change the anatomy to match another species (as seen in Human Nature/The Family of Blood and Utopia/The Sound of Drums), therefore a single regeneration could make a Time Lord half human; but not by birth, and not “on his mother’s side” in this case. However, I choose to think of it like the Cartmel plan: While I’m happy with the direction things ultimately went, I like to think I would have been okay with this had it been made canon for the series. It’s not worth getting angry.

Grace, you should probably see a doctor about those eyes.

Grace, you should probably see a doctor about those eyes.  (By the way, the tool she’s carrying, and the briefly-glimpsed tool kit it came from, are identical to the one briefly seen way back in the Fourth Doctor’s era, and depicted in the Tardis Technical Manual.  Score one for continuity!)

The Master is able to take over a mind (Grace’s, in this case) more thoroughly than ever before, and without any direct interaction; Chang refers to it as possession, and it’s seen to even affect her physiology, most notably her eyes. His stolen body is degrading, as we see when he pulls his fingernails off; this is inconsistent with his theft of Tremas’s body in The Keeper of Traken, as he kept that body for years, possibly even longer than its normal lifespan. He clearly still has the cat eyes from Survival, and they persist into his new body as well; I had previously stated that this is mostly symbolic, as the novels establish that he was already free of the Cheetah contagion, but the movie makes it clear that he actually has them, as seen by onlookers. Clearly the movie, at least, disregards the novel continuity. People have often criticized Eric Roberts’ portrayal of the Master, but I didn’t mind it. He’s pretty wooden at first, but he loosens up throughout the film; this makes perfect sense when you consider that he’s in a new body and growing slowly more acclimated to it. His ruthlessness is also a bit out of character for the Master, whose schemes usually have a bit more finesse; but I think we can chalk that up to desperation on his part, as he’s trying to avoid death. While his portrayal may not make sense for a long-term role, it’s perfect for a Master in extremis. (One unanswered question: How did he get into the TARDIS without a key? The key was in Chang’s possession at the time, and it seems unlikely that he found the spare, used it, and put it back.)

Not-so-shiny new TARDIS!!

Not-so-shiny new TARDIS!!

The TARDIS is impressive. I like the new console room, and I feel like we would never have gotten all the wonderful “desktop themes” of the revived series without this one to inspire them. When sitting there, the Doctor is reading H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine; this is a throwback to several jokes in the classic series: The Master reads that very book in one of his earliest appearances; Wells appears in Timelash; and every book the Seventh Doctor reads onscreen has “time” in the title somewhere. The Eye of Harmony is, for the first time, seen to be aboard the TARDIS. I don’t know what the intention of the writers was—did they intend for this to be the actual Eye, as in, the black hole that constitutes the Eye? At any rate, they set a precedent of establishing that TARDISes contain a subset of the actual Eye (the “Prime Eye”, if you will) which links to the Prime Eye and draws out power from it. The loss of Gallifrey allegedly broke this connection, which is why the TARDIS in the revived series can run out of power and must be recharged at the Cardiff rift; it’s that subset of the Eye that must be recharged, and that we see in Journey to the Center of the TARDIS.

The kiss that stunned a million fans.

The kiss that stunned a million fans.

The Doctor himself has an unusual relationship with time here. He is able to see things from Grace’s past and future despite having never met her before. He’s a far cry from the Eighth Doctor we’ll see in the audios and in the mini-episode The Night of the Doctor, but we can probably attribute this to his recent regeneration. He’s flighty and excitable, where later he will be confident and strong. In addition to the controversy over the “half-human” statements, there’s controversy from another quarter: he has his first onscreen kiss, or kisses, to be precise, when he kisses Grace. It came as a disturbance to many fans who felt that the Doctor should be asexual and non-romantic, as he had always been portrayed; but as a result, we get his later romance with Rose Tyler. As well, we know he had a family in the past, so it’s more likely that he does have a romantic side, which he has just suppressed for the duration of the classic series.

"Amazing Grace", as her coworkers call her.  No, really.

“Amazing Grace”, as her coworkers call her. No, really.

Grace is usually considered a companion of the Doctor, although she doesn’t do much traveling in the TARDIS (just a day back in time, really). She chooses not to travel with him at the end, and of course he won’t stay with her. There have been conflicting statements that, had the series been picked up, Grace would or would not have returned as a regular companion; she does persist in some comic strip stories. Unfortunately, due to licensing complications, she is not available for use by Big Finish in their audio dramas; nor is Chang Lee, who is more of a companion to the Master than the Doctor. Chang is not a bad guy; he’s just misled by the Master. He too leaves at the end; the Doctor just casually hands him half a billion dollars in gold dust! And we wonder where the Doctor gets his money.

For lack of another place to put it, I’ll say it here: Gallifrey is stated by the Doctor to be 250 million light years away from Earth. It’s the closest to an actual, real-world location we’ve ever had.

movie 11

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. (I admit that I don’t often find great fault with any episode, so take that as you like—it’s entertainment, and I enjoy it.) It’s certainly different from the series; it feels very Americanized, but I can’t easily define what that means in context. The filming techniques, the pacing, the dialogue—it’s all subtly different. Still, “different” doesn’t have to mean “bad”; and any differences in the behavior of the Doctor and the Master can be attributed to the extremity of their circumstances here. While it’s certainly not the most complex plot in Doctor Who history, it helps to remember that this was a pilot for a series; it’s meant to showcase the acting, the design, and the potential of the series, not necessarily the complexity of the plot. Had it persisted, it certainly would have deepened at some point. It’s interesting to think about what might have been, had the series continued in America; but I’m happy with the outcome we got. I can’t help feeling that it wouldn’t have persisted as long as NuWho has, or added so much to the lore of the show. Still, it’s a great little story, and it gave us some valuable screen time for the truly excellent Paul McGann, which led to his long history in the audio dramas. For that, if nothing else, we owe the movie a debt of gratitude.

"I'm a Doctor...but probably not the one you were expecting."

“I’m a Doctor…but probably not the one you were expecting.”

Bonus: I know it’s not part of the classic series, but I also wanted to include a brief review of The Night of the Doctor, McGann’s other onscreen appearance. This mini-episode came as a very welcome surprise during the lead-up to the Fiftieth Anniversary Special in 2013, and gave us the other end of the Eighth Doctor’s life: His entry into the Last Great Time War, and his regeneration into the War Doctor. As this is the last bit of screen time the Doctor gets before the new series opens (at least, until the special came and showed us Gallifrey’s last moments), it’s worth a quick look.

Not Karn!!!  Anything but that!!!

Not Karn!!! Anything but that!!!

The Doctor has been avoiding the war, and helping out where he can, which is perfectly in keeping with his character. He tries to rescue a young woman named Cass from a crashing gunship; but when she discovers that he is a Time Lord, she refuses to deal with him, choosing to die instead. Die she does, as does the Doctor, when the ship crashes…on Karn.

"It's very nearly over."

“It’s very nearly over.”

We haven’t seen this planet, or its Sisterhood, since The Brain of Morbius. Here the Sisterhood is less rigid in their rituals, but they take their purpose very seriously: they are the keepers of the Flame of Eternal Life, or as the Doctor puts it, “the Flame of Utter Boredom”. They revive him, but only briefly; they can save his life, but they won’t force it on him. We meet the high priestess Ohila (her name is a tribute to Ohica, the high priestess from Morbius); and watching her trade barbs with McGann is pure gold. McGann is at the top of his game here; no more the flighty, chaotic Eighth Doctor of the movie, he’s now seasoned and in control of himself and his wit. My opinion is that this short, seven-minute episode has the highest concentration of great dialogue to be found anywhere in the series, both classic and new.

Regenerating at long last.

Regenerating at long last.

This episode does much to represent the utter terror of the war in just a few lines—“You haven’t finished yet, some of the universe is still standing.” “Who can tell the difference anymore?” “She didn’t miss much [of the universe]; it’s very nearly over.” Further, the war does something new: it gives the Doctor the only true death he’s ever experienced—the death of the man he chooses to be. Giving in to Ohila’s request—that he join the war, and end it—he takes the elixir, and regenerates; the Doctor dies, the Warrior is born. It’s his apology, not just to Cass, but to the universe, and to himself. Dying, he acknowledges his companions from the Big Finish audios (but oddly, not Grace Holloway), thus giving his adventures there an added degree of canonicity. At the end, he serves as body double for John Hurt’s War Doctor, with a manipulated bit of stock footage giving us the young War Doctor’s face; this makes him one of only two actors, with Sylvester McCoy, to play two different Doctors. In all, I find this episode to be a great and vital piece of Doctor Who history, and one of the best overall in terms of acting, dialogue, and emotion. It’s simply fantastic.

Next time: Final thoughts, and future plans! See you there.

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

Television Movie, part 1

Television Movie, part 2

The Night of the Doctor


At Sixes and Sevens: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twenty-Four

We’re back, with another season of Classic Doctor Who! We’re approaching the end today as we meet the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. Only three seasons (and a television movie) left! Let’s get started!

Sorry, Colin.  Wish you could have been there.

Sorry, Colin. Wish you could have been there.

Seasons from this point forward—or actually, from last season—will be the shortest they’ve ever been, with only four serials each. Unlike last seasons, Season 24 is not a single cohesive story, although we will see the beginning of a loose arc that will take us all the way to the end of the classic series. We open with Time and the Rani. Right away, it’s different from any previous regeneration story; Colin Baker declined to return and film the regeneration after being treated rather badly by the BBC. We open on the TARDIS under attack from an unknown source; after taking a few hits, we find the Sixth Doctor (played by McCoy in a wig with his face turned away) and Mel lying on the floor of the console room. The Rani, with a henchman, enters, and takes the Doctor away; when he is rolled over, his face has already begun to change. (The reason for the regeneration—the radiation from the attacking weapons, which is toxic to Time Lords but not to humans—isn’t stated here, but has since been revealed in a Big Finish audio.) Mel is left behind in the TARDIS, which has crashed to the surface of the planet Lakertya. The date is completely unknown.

A classic outfit.

A classic outfit.

It’s a better regeneration than most for the Doctor; although he does have some amnesia, it’s not nearly as total as it usually is—he remembers himself and Mel, the Rani, and Gallifrey, and he has more energy this time. He’s not pleased with himself at first; he comments to Mel (or to the Rani in disguise as Mel), “You don’t understand regeneration, Mel. It’s a lottery! …and I’ve drawn the short plank.” (Later, in The Day of the Doctor, the Tenth Doctor will make a similar, and snide, remark to the Eleventh Doctor.) He tries the outfits of all but the First Doctor, before settling on his trademark jacket, pants, suspenders, pullover, and hat. He claims at one point that he and the Rani are both 953 years old; and given that it’s a precise number that is sort-of backed up by the Rani, I think this is probably accurate. It’s also probably the last accurate count of the Doctor’s age that we will ever get.

Yep, that's a giant brain.

Yep, that’s a giant brain.

The Rani is seeking intelligent minds throughout history—including Einstein and the Doctor—to capture and use an asteroid composed of “strange matter” (a real-world concept, despite the hokey name). Properly obtained and used, it would allow her control of history. She uses the violent Tetraps and the subjugated Lakertyans to carry out her plans, and disguises herself as Mel to manipulate the regeneration-addled Doctor. (The Lakertyans remind me a lot of the Nox from Stargate SG-1.) Her ambitions seem to have grown quite a bit since her last appearance; at the same time, her methods have gotten a bit more ridiculous. Surprisingly, it very nearly works. This is her final appearance in the series so far, although a possible return is often speculated by fans.

Is that a lightsaber?!

Is that a lightsaber?!

Several things stand out about this serial. We return to 25-minute episodes here; the rest of the classic series will be an even split between three- and four-part stories. There’s a new title theme and sequence, the final of each for the classic series; the title sequence represents the series’ first foray into CGI. It’s a bit hokey, but cutting edge for its time. There’s a prop on the table at one point that I could swear is a lightsaber—maybe a nod to Star Wars? Andrew Cartmel joins the series here as script editor; next season, he will initiate the now-infamous “Cartmel Masterplan” for revising the creative direction of the series. I won’t go into the details here—that topic has been beaten to death elsewhere—but it would have represented a significant new chapter in the show’s lore, especially regarding the origin of the Doctor. The plan ultimately failed, not for creative reasons, but because the series will soon be cancelled. My thought on the matter is this: Had it been carried out, I would have accepted it as canon with no issues, as would most fans. It’s only in the face of contradictory canon that the debate arises. I’m happy with how things turned out, but I like to think I’d have been happy with the Cartmel plan too. Of course it lives on today in some novels, mostly, especially Lungbarrow, which I haven’t read but want to. Only slightly related: Does Andrew Cartmel ever age?! Photos of him in the 1980s and 2007 are practically identical. Maybe he’s a Time Lord!

Andrew Cartmel in the 1980s (left) and 2007 (right).  The man is immortal!

Andrew Cartmel in the 1980s (left) and 2007 (right). The man is immortal!

We meet up with the Doctor and Mel again in Paradise Towers. The date is assumed to be about 2157, though evidence for this is thin. There’s also confusion about the world on which the titular Towers exist; it may possibly be Earth, but may instead be on another world called, alternately, Kroagnon (for the designer of the Towers) or Griphos. I’m guessing it’s the latter possibility, and that the planet is a human colony world, not too isolated, as the Towers were originally seen as a sort of resort town. Here, they are in disorder and disrepair, with minor gang warfare among its younger inhabitants. The gangs refer to themselves as “kangs”, and divide based on color, specifically Red, Blue, and Yellow. There are also Caretakers, the police force in nominal control of the Towers; “Old Ones”, the elderly inhabitants of the Towers; and some very murderous cleaning robots which are at least nominally under the control of the Chief Caretaker. The Towers hide a secret: all its middle-aged inhabitants, some time earlier, were taken away to fight in an off-planet war, leaving only the very young (who became the Kangs) and the elderly, as well as a few Caretakers. But there’s a greater secret yet: Kroagnon, the designer of the Towers, is still alive, and ruling from the literal shadows with an iron grip. It is him that the Doctor must find and depose for the sake of everyone in the Towers.

We all know Red Kangs are best Kangs.

We all know Red Kangs are best Kangs.

It’s a good time to mention, I think, that we never actually get an origin story for Mel. After her first onscreen appearance in The Trial of a Time Lord, she should have been returned home by the Doctor and allowed to meet him in order; and offscreen, she most likely was. Unfortunately, the firing of Colin Baker and the subsequent, abbreviated regeneration scene eliminated the possibility of seeing that first meeting onscreen. I haven’t confirmed it, but I imagine that the event has been covered in novel or audio form. Mel doesn’t seem to rank high in popularity of companions among viewers, but I like her; she’s far more capable than poor Peri ever was. Nothing seems to faze her, though she can scream with the best.

Welcome to 1959!

Welcome to 1959!

We return to Earth for the only confirmed time this season in Delta and the Bannermen. ( I understand that the title is a play on the name of a band, but it wasn’t one that I was familiar with.) The story takes place in South Wales in 1959; surprisingly, it’s the only story of the classic series to be set in Wales, whereas Cardiff is a frequent location in NuWho and Torchwood. Short scenes also take place on the embattled planet Chumeria and at Toll Gate G715. It’s not known where (or when!) the toll gate is located, but “Nostalgia Trips”—which utilizes time travel—leaves from there, so I would place it in the far future. This is not the last time Doctor Who will play with the idea of aliens touring Earth in anachronistic vehicles; NuWho does something similar with the starship Titanic in Voyage of the Damned, and with the Orient Express in Mummy on the Orient Express, though that one doesn’t travel to Earth.

The Chimerons take off.

The Chimerons take off.

Delta is the last of the Chimerons, the native inhabitants of Chumeria. They are the victims of genocide by the militia-like Bannermen. She escapes in a stolen Bannermen ship, moments after her partner is killed, and flees to Toll Gate G715. From there—and coinciding with a visit by the Doctor and Mel—she hides among a group of alien tourists on their way to Earth, 1959. She’s carrying a secret: an egg which will soon hatch into a fast-growing Chimeron princess. On Earth, the Bannermen arrive and attack, forcing the Doctor and Mel—along with several human allies—to defend Delta and the baby. In the end, the Bannermen are defeated, and Delta and the princess flee to plead their case in court for the preservation of their race. She takes with her a human named Billy, who has begun to transform into a Chimeron.

The Bannermen, looking stupid, if you ask me.

The Bannermen, looking stupid, if you ask me.

It’s never made clear what court body Delta appeals to, but as it seems to have jurisdiction over multiple races and worlds, it’s possible that this could be construed as an early reference to NuWho’s Shadow Proclamation. As well, I couldn’t help wondering if the transformation arch used by the alien tourists is somehow related to the Time Lord chameleon arch, another NuWho concept; it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that this version may have inspired that one. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save the aliens, as they are blown up by the Bannermen. In fact, a lot of people die needlessly in this serial; I haven’t seen all of the Seventh Doctor’s episodes yet, but this story may well have the highest body count of his term. Interestingly, it’s been a LONG time indeed since we had a three-part story in the 25-minute format; the last one was 1964’s Planet of Giants, with the First Doctor.

The gang's all here!

The gang’s all here!

We close with Dragonfire. The setting is the planet Svartos, circa 2,000,000; the date is not stated, but it is seen to be Sabalom Glitz’s home time period, and we know from The Mysterious Planet that he hails from that era. Specifically, the events here occur at Iceworld, a trading colony (and secret starship) on the cold side of the tidally-locked planet. Mel departs in this serial, choosing to stay with Glitz and keep him in line; it’s a fine departure for her, and probably makes both of their lives much more interesting. She’s replaced by Dorothy Gale “Ace” McShane; Ace’s full name isn’t given onscreen, but has been well established in spinoff media. We do confirm here that her first name is Dorothy. She comes from 1980s Earth, and was transported seemingly randomly to Iceworld by a timestorm. (In a couple of seasons, we’ll find that this was not random at all.) It’s interesting to see Mel and Ace “hand off” the companionship, especially given that they are the final companions of the classic series; this is something that rarely happens in NuWho. The story is also Glitz’s final appearance, and I wish him well.

LITERAL handoff.  Goodbye, Melanie; hello, Ace!

LITERAL handoff. Goodbye, Melanie; hello, Ace!

The villainous Kane is using Iceworld—along with a mercenary force composed of mind-altered captives—to seek vengeance on the homeworld that exiled him. To that end, he needs the “dragonfire”, a jewel found in the body of the dragon that imprisons him, which serves as the power source for Iceworld’s engines. He doesn’t realize, however, that in his long imprisonment he has outlived the world he seeks to destroy. Without spoilers, I’ll say it doesn’t end well for him; and Sabalom Glitz takes control of Iceworld.

Okay, maybe ONE spoiler.

Okay, maybe ONE spoiler.

The dragon looks much like a Xenomorph from the Alien series. Iceworld itself, on the inside, strongly resembles the Lunatic Pandora location in the videogame Final Fantasy VIII, with its crystalline hallways and open spaces. There’s a scene with the Doctor dangling from a railing by his umbrella; this scene was recycled for one of Clara Oswald’s fractured lives in The Time of the Doctor, though of course we don’t see her here. I can’t help feeling that Ace is what Clara should have become; she’s lively and ambitious with regard to the extraordinary life she lives, but it doesn’t seem to corrupt her or bring out her worst qualities, as it did with Clara. (Apologies to anyone who is a fan of Clara.) She does have the habit of calling the Doctor “Professor”, which seems to annoy him. Although the BBC once promoted this serial as the 150th television story, it’s only that if you count The Trial of a Time Lord as four stories instead of one. In my post I listed the parts separately, but for the purpose of counting I am listing them as one story, which seems to be consistent with most other counts. By that reckoning, this is the 147th story (or 148th if you count Shada).

Nice of you to drop in, Doctor.  Feel like hanging around awhile?

Nice of you to drop in, Doctor. Feel like hanging around awhile?

Thoughts on this season as a whole: The contrast between Six and Seven is startling. While it took me an entire season to begin to see Six as the Doctor, Seven was the Doctor from his very first line. Sylvester McCoy owns the role right out of the gate, as few before him have done; there’s no adjustment period. I enjoyed Mel’s performance, but I really like Ace; she’s the ideal companion for the Seventh Doctor, and their performances complement each other perfectly. (Being a season ahead in my viewing, I can say that it continues to get better.) After years of a feeling of tension throughout the seasons, these episodes seem very easy to watch; I’m going through them almost too quickly. Seeing Sabalom Glitz one more time was nice, and I’m glad he gets a bit of the redemption that the Sixth Doctor said he deserved. As far as dislikes: I didn’t care for the way the regeneration was handled, of course, but I do feel that the production team did the best they could with what they had to work with. The Rani was goofier in this serial than in her previous appearance, tree mines notwithstanding. Other than that, I really didn’t have much to say in the way of negatives. It’s a good season, and almost felt like a vacation.

Next time: Saying goodbye to some old enemies! See you there.

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

Time and the Rani

Paradise Towers

Delta and the Bannermen


Audio Review: Trial of the Valeyard

I’m trying out something different today. As my reviews of the seasons of Classic Doctor Who seem to have been fairly well received—at least on Reddit.com, where I’ve cross-posted them, and possibly here on the blog as well—I want to do an occasional series of reviews of Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio dramas, as well. I say occasional, because I’ll most likely be irregular in obtaining the audios and listening to them; unlike the classic television series, I can’t (and wouldn’t want to) get them for free. Big Finish is a relatively small company (though their output is prodigious), and I fully approve of what they’re doing, and therefore I’m perfectly fine with paying their asking price. On the other hand, I’ll be buying them just as I can afford to do so, which is irregularly.

As a consequence, I expect I’ll be obtaining them in no particular order, just based on what interests me. With various ranges to explore, establishing an “order” for these audios is a bit insane anyway. I loosely intend to follow the “main range” of Doctor Who stories, but I’ll insert others as they catch my attention. To that end, and following my review of (television) season 23’s Trial of a Time Lord, I’ve started with the audio sequel, Trial of the Valeyard, which I’m covering today.

I haven’t yet decided on a particular format for these reviews. For my television reviews, I’ve covered each serial of the season in order, and discussed the setting (place and time), the protagonists (which Doctor and which companions), antagonists (including discussion of previous appearances), a short plot summary in most cases, connections and similarities to other television stories (past and future), and my likes and dislikes. Some of that will carry over to the audios, I’m sure. As resources, I’ll have the television series, Big Finish’s site with its summaries of the audios, and the TARDIS wiki; the books I’ve used for reference for the television series mostly predate the audios, and won’t be of much use here, but I may refer back occasionally for some clarification. When it comes to connections with other events in the series, I’ll probably have to refer mostly to the television series, at least at first; I don’t know enough yet about the audios or novels to make those connections. If this series works out well enough, I may eventually expand to cover some of the novels as well.

I intend to keep these entries short, since they cover single stories as opposed to a season; future entries won’t have the introductory section above. With that said, let’s get started! (Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio.)

Trial of the Valeyard cover

Trial of the Valeyard begins with the Sixth Doctor again being pulled by the Time Lords to their space station/courtroom, again sans companion. He reacts in typically overblown fashion, but calms down a bit once he finds out that he isn’t on trial this time. The date is, as usual for Gallifreyan scenes, unknown; it appears to be some time after The Trial of a Time Lord, as there has been time for the Valeyard to enact other schemes and be apprehended. The station (apparently called Zenobia, according to the wiki; I know there’s a history there, but I haven’t looked into it yet) is orbiting a gas giant called Etarho, pronounced “Eta-rho”, as in, the Greek letters (equivalent to a long E and the letter R). It’s the Valeyard in the dock this time, for crimes that—crazily even for Gallifrey—are not permitted to be announced. Neither is the Valeyard’s true identity allowed to be stated—an issue which dances around the matter of the Doctor’s true name, given that he is known to be a form of the Doctor—and neither is the previous incident on Ravolox allowed to be mentioned. (The Doctor, of course, plays this up for comedy as often as he can.)

The Valeyard, once the Doctor’s prosecutor, now makes an outrageous demand: He wants the Doctor to be his defense. It seems preposterous at first, but it makes sense; the Doctor, being given over to justice, will see the trial prosecuted as fairly as possible. If the Valeyard is innocent, it works in his favor; if not, at least the truth will come out. The Doctor is enticed, because at the least, he wants to preserve the Valeyard’s life; only the Valeyard can shed light on his own origin, which is a fate that the Doctor is keen to avoid.

The Valeyard goes on to force discussion of his origins as much as possible. He states that at a point in the Doctor’s personal future, the Thirteenth Doctor, having gone mad, will experiment on himself to extend his life and regenerations. The result is the Valeyard. The planet they are now orbiting has a moon, on which the experiments took place, in proximity to a door into the Matrix; this is where the Valeyard was allegedly discovered as a child, and where, just before the trial, he was arrested. The moon, however, has subsequently been destroyed by the Time Lords, for classified reasons. The Valeyard says he was there in search of those secrets, as he himself cannot regenerate any more without intervention. He further says that as a child he was sent to a hidden Shadow House, where Time Lords suffering from failed regenerations are hidden away. He claims—heretically, to the Time Lords—that Rassilon imposed the twelve-regeneration limit. Now found guilty, he is sentenced to immediate execution, and the sentence is carried out.

Leaving the trial, the Doctor forces his way into the moon’s displaced timeline using his TARDIS, and heads down to the surface. There, he finds things to be much as the Valeyard had said. He finds a mad old hermit, whom he quickly deduces to be his own final incarnation; and with the hermit, he finds a sealed box that is keyed only to his biodata. The Inquisitor and other Time Lords arrive to claim the box; it is revealed that they want the secrets of immortality supposedly hidden inside, but that the Valeyard refused to open it. The Doctor deduces that the box contains a bomb, and that the alleged Thirteenth Doctor is the Valeyard in disguise; he escaped the execution by turning the machinery into a matrix door. This entire plot, it seems, has been a revenge scheme on his part. He triggers the bomb on a short delay, and escapes back into the Matrix; the Doctor and the Inquisitor escape in the TARDIS, and return to the courtroom. The Doctor posits that it is impossible to know which parts of the Valeyard’s stories were truth, and that he will try again; and further, that the Valeyard had help from within the Council. The Inquisitor promises a full judicial inquiry.

I’m failing to do justice to the events of this story in my summary. The arguments used by the Doctor, the Valeyard, and Inquisitor Darkel are complex, but change quickly; for a courtroom drama, the pace is quite fast. It demonstrates the difficulty required to write a new Doctor Who story, given that one must balance all the various bits of knowledge we have about Gallifrey, the Time Lords, the Doctor, and so on. Still, it’s a good story, and adds a bit to the Valeyard’s narrative and character; it manages to do so without locking down the character’s backstory, which is important given the possibility that he may yet reappear on the television series. (I’ve stated several times that I would love to see that happen; I favor the idea that the Metacrisis Doctor becomes the Valeyard.) Michael Jayston is fantastic as always; I felt it was even more clear here that there is a connection between him and the Doctor, in that he behaves much more like the Doctor than in his previous appearance. He’s clearly devious, but he’s also clearly intelligent and quick, with a trick always up his sleeve. Colin Baker puts in a good performance as well, with all of the energy of his time onscreen. This is a more mature Sixth Doctor; he still acts like a fool, but he does it strategically, using his buffoonery to his advantage. Lynda Bellingham (RIP) is even better than the first time around as Inquisitor Darkel (her name having been given in another audio rather than on the show); she seemed a bit beaten down by the circumstances during Trial of a Time Lord, but here, she is more than a match for both the Doctor and the Valeyard in terms of wit. John Banks rounded out the cast as the mad hermit; and though his lines were few, they were well-delivered. It was with the hermit that we get several of this story’s references; he mentions Polly Wright, Totter’s Yard, and the “fish people” from The Underwater Menace. The Doctor himself mentions various other characters, such as the Monk, the Master, and the Rani; and the Valeyard makes reference to the Seventh Doctor’s scheming and the Eighth Doctor’s frequent struggles with death. (This should have given the lie to the Valeyard’s claims about his origin; he claims to have had no knowledge of himself when found, but here claims to remember those lives.)

All in all, not a bad introduction to the world of the audio dramas. I enjoyed it; and I’m looking forward to more. Next time: if I stick with my current plan, we’ll be covering The Sirens of Time, the first audio in Big Finish’s main range, with the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors. See you there!

All audios reviewed in this series may be purchased here from Big Finish; link to this story is below.

Trial of the Valeyard

It’s Five O’clock Somewhere: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Nineteen

After a short delay, we’re back, with another season of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch! In Season 19, we say hello to Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor, picking up right where we left off after a difficult regeneration. Let’s get started!

Castrovalva 1

He might not be well, but he’s fabulous!

Following on the heels of Logopolis, we open with Castrovalva, the third part of the Master Trilogy. Adric, Tegan, and Nyssa rush the newly-regenerated Doctor back to the TARDIS; but, unbeknownst to them, Adric is captured by the Master and replaced with a duplicate. This duplicate, created from block transfer computations powered by the brain of the real Adric, soon leads the TARDIS to the peaceful—and fake—city of Castrovalva (with a brief detour to the beginning of the universe!). It’s been a difficult regeneration, and the Doctor—while cycling through his previous personalities and choosing a cricket uniform for his usual dress—states that it’s not going as well as previously. (He’s also not pleased with his appearance, despite his youthful looks; “that’s the trouble with regeneration,” he says, “you never quite know what you’re going to get,” or as Ten will later put it, “Regeneration, it’s a lottery.”) He compensates by resting in a newly-revealed part of the TARDIS: the Zero Room, which is cut off from the rest of the universe and thus free of interference. Shortly thereafter, however, in the chaos of “Adric’s” betrayal, the Zero Room is jettisoned, along with a quarter of the TARDIS’s mass. (We know now that it can be regrown, but there’s no indication of that at the time.)

Castrovalva 2

The most peaceful city in the universe. Too bad it isn’t real.

The setting for this serial is still 1981, as far as can be told, except for the detour into the past. We’re still in the middle of a four-story arc that is set on consecutive days, beginning with The Keeper of Traken and ending with Four To Doomsday; the latter states that the date is February 28, 1981, the date of the flight that Tegan was trying to catch when she met the Doctor. I feel bad for her on occasion; she’s sort of the idiot among geniuses here (not that she’s an idiot in general, just by comparison). The concept of Block Transfer Computation is expanded here, as it is used first to create a duplicate of Adric, and second to create the false city of Castrovalva. That city is pitched as one of the most peaceful places in the universe, a sort of natural Zero Room after the one on the TARDIS is lost. In the end, the Master is trapped there as the city collapses in on itself.

Four to doomsday 1

The Urbankans.

Having escaped the Master’s trap, in Four to Doomsday, the Doctor attempts to take Tegan home at her request. He almost gets it right; he gets the date and time correct, but not the location. Instead, the TARDIS materializes on a ship of the Urbankans, long-term galactic travelers with a secret: much like the Cybermen, they have given up organic existence for robotic. The title may reference either four days until the Urbankans reach Earth (and conquer it), or their three previous visits to Earth plus this one. As the Doctor and his friends dodge several attempts to kill them, the Urbankan Monarch’s goal becomes clear: he wants to travel back to the beginning of time and set himself up as God. He intended to salvage Earth’s resources to make the trip, but now, with the TARDIS, he sees an opportunity for a shortcut.

Apparently to Doctor doesn't require a spacesuit?

Apparently to Doctor doesn’t require a spacesuit?

I recall reading (rather than watching) this story as a child; especially I remember the scene where the Doctor uses the cricket ball to propel himself between the ship and the TARDIS in space. It was the first time I had encountered the idea that the laws of motion work differently in zero gravity, and just further propelled my love for spacebound stories. The TARDIS has at some point gone back to using the standard Yale lock keys instead of the more artistic ones created by the Third Doctor. As well, the Doctor states that the TARDIS uses artron energy to operate. While this is not the first occurrence of the term, it is the first use of it by the Doctor, and the first time it is stated to power a TARDIS.

I'd feel bad for Tegan...but which one?

I’d feel bad for Tegan…but which one?

Kinda takes the travelers to Deva Loka, a world being investigated for potential human colonization. Several possibilities have been suggested for the date, between the years 2700 and 3900; it’s not possible to be precise. Nyssa is almost completely absent from this story; framing scenes establish that she’s unwell, and sleeping in the TARDIS. Behind the scenes, the script was submitted prior to the establishment of Nyssa as a companion. The villain here is (are?) the Mara, a snakeline, disembodied, and evil being (or possibly collection of beings; it’s not really clear). It once ruled an empire from the planet Manussa, but was defeated and banished to this world, to the “dark places of the inside”, where it now lurks and awaits a host. Tegan provides that host, but the Mara isn’t particularly attached to her; it uses her only long enough to transfer to Aris of the Kinda tribe. This brief possession, however, creates a link which will be exploited again in next season’s Snakedance. The story draws heavily on Buddhist thought, with several names and concepts transferring over directly.

The Mara, revealed!

The Mara, revealed!

The Mara are repulsed by their own reflections, driving them back to the place from which they came; and so the Doctor defeats them, using a circle of mirrors to trap them. We haven’t seen the last of them, however; but we have seen the last of Deva Loka. Two things about this serial: for one, it contains no interior TARDIS scenes, and is the only fifth Doctor story to do so. For another, it’s a very highly favored story, and with its sequel, Snakedance, is often near the top of ratings lists. I personally enjoyed it, though I don’t find it to be the most exciting story of the season.

Goodbye, old friend.

Goodbye, old friend.

In The Visitation, we say goodbye to one of the Doctor’s most faithful companions: The Sonic Screwdriver! Please contain your weeping. Interestingly, the destruction of the device is very low-key, having little bearing on the story; but it will not be seen again in the classic series, only returning in the 1996 movie and the 2005 revival (spinoff materials aside). John Nathan-Turner was famously unhappy with the device, considering it a narrative crutch, and insisted on its removal from the show.

The Terileptils.

The Terileptils.

This story is Doctor Who’s account of the great fire of London, and as such can be dated fairly precisely, to August-September 1666. The villains, the Terileptils, would have crashed on Earth around the beginning of August; the TARDIS would have landed on September 1, with the story concluding on the night of September 2, the historical beginning of the fire. The Doctor inadvertently causes it, much as with the great fire of Rome in his first incarnation.

Richard Mace!

Richard Mace!

It’s a bit of a low point for the TARDIS crew, as they all seem to be at each other’s throats. Tegan wants to leave and does not want to leave, all at once; the Doctor is unusually abrasive; Adric is whining; and Nyssa is caught in the middle. They are countered in this by the fantastic character of local highwayman Richard Mace, who is, hands down, my favorite guest character of the season; his wit is worthy of Captain Jack Harkness, though with a definite seventeenth-century twist. The Terileptils are also an interesting race; reptilian and brutal, they are quite grim and menacing, and I think it’s unfortunate they’ve never reappeared as a major villain (though they get several references and minor appearances). Another rare occurrence: the Doctor uses a gun…but only as a lockpick, much as the Tenth Doctor will use one to destroy the white point star in The End of Time.

Welcome to Cranleigh!

Welcome to Cranleigh!

We get our only two-parter of the season in Black Orchid; there are only a few such serials in the Fifth Doctor’s time. They will become more common thereafter, but with the caveat that episode length will increase to 45 minutes, making a two-parter the equivalent of a current four-parter. This story is a historical, with no science-fiction elements beyond the TARDIS and crew; however it does not bear on any actual historical events. The date is stated onscreen by the Doctor as June 11, 1925, and the location is Cranleigh, England.

There may be some resemblance...

There may be some resemblance…

The story is a basic murder mystery, in which the Doctor is falsely accused of multiple murders. While it’s a decent story, it almost seems to exist solely to give Peter Davison a chance to show off his cricket skills, something which was mostly lost on me as I have no real grasp of the game. Sarah Sutton takes a page from the previous Doctors’ book and plays two roles here, as Nyssa and as local Ann Talbot; the two characters actually appear together and get along well, and make much of being identical. It’s a decent story, but largely uneventful, and almost feels like a vacation from the larger plots going on around it. Strangely, it’s the highest-rated story of the Davison era.

"Hey, don't look, but I THINK there's a Cyberman in the room..."

“Hey, don’t look, but I THINK there’s a Cyberman in the room…”

I’ve often felt that Earthshock should have been the season finale. In it we see the return of the Cybermen; and in it we see a rare thing indeed: the death of a companion, Adric to be specific. The date is 2526, stated by Adric in part one, and the setting is Earth and a nearby space freighter. Humanity is in its early First Empire period, and is engaged in wars with the Cybermen; however, based on technology levels and the size of the empire in question, I suspect this is not the same series of Cyber-wars depicted in Nightmare in Silver. These Cybermen are the ones I remember from my childhood, and look much different from their predecessors. They don’t seem to be completely free of emotion; they want the Doctor to suffer. They review their past encounters with him; from their point of view, a few should be missing, but that is of course because those encounters are with later Doctors, and haven’t been filmed yet. The Doctor here first uses his sometime-catch phrase, “Brave heart, Tegan!”.

Goodbye, Adric.

Goodbye, Adric.

The Cybermen intend to destroy Earth with a bomb, or, failing that, by crashing an antimatter-powered freighter into it. They succeed, but only after a warp accident sends them back 65 million years; the crash, it is revealed, causes the extinction of the dinosaurs. Adric, working to the last minute to save the ship, is killed in the crash; a final Cyberman attack destroys the console at which he works, thwarting his efforts. His famous last line is “Now I’ll never know if I was right”, which perfectly sums up his character. In honor of his death, the final credits roll over a background of his broken math badge, in total silence.

Heathrow, circa 140 million BC.

Heathrow, circa 140 million BC.

We end where we started in Time Flight, back at Heathrow airport in time for Tegan to catch her flight. Before she can leave, however, the TARDIS crew gets caught up in a mystery involving a missing Concorde jet; the mystery leaves them stranded in 140 million BC. The Doctor refuses to try to rescue Adric from death, referring to the First Law of Time (though not by name)—that is, that you cannot change your personal history. UNIT and the Brigadier get a mention here, as the Doctor uses his UNIT credentials, but they don’t actually appear. Adric also appears, though only as a hallucination; this was done so that he would be included in the credits as reported in Radio Times. The issue in question was released on the same day as part four of Earthshock, and the production crew did not want the surprise spoiled by even a few hours; also it fulfilled Matthew Waterhouse’s contract for the season.

I think we can forgive the Doctor for not seeing through this disguise.  I can't understand why he needed a disguise in the first place, before he knew the Doctor would be there.

I think we can forgive the Doctor for not seeing through this disguise. I can’t understand why he needed a disguise in the first place, before he knew the Doctor would be there.

The villain is the Master, disguised as Kalid; after escaping Castrovalva, he landed on prehistoric Earth with a depowered TARDIS. He intends to use the power of the Xeraphin to escape. The Xeraphin, also stranded on earth, were once a normal race, but later became a gestalt entity with a dangerously split personality; they seek to be restored to normal, and in fact may have accomplished their goal at the end, though it is not clear. At any rate, the Doctor causes the Master’s TARDIS to be diverted to the Xeraphin homeworld, where it is hoped they will exact judgment on him. In the end, Tegan leaves to catch her flight, though it is seen that she is not happy with her decision.

The Fifth Doctor Nyssa Tegan Adric

I was asked last time to speak a little more regarding what I like and dislike with each season. To be honest, I’ve found the Fifth Doctor to be more of an adjustment than I expected; his run so far—and at the time I’m writing this, I’ve already completed season twenty as well—still feels like an interlude between “real” Doctors. That’s unfortunate; I’ve been looking forward to Davison’s run, and I find him to be incredibly likeable. It’s not a criticism of his time as Doctor, I think; instead, it’s just that he’s VERY different from those who came before him. I expect the Sixth Doctor will likewise come as quite a shock. As for companions: I’ve grown to like Nyssa quite a bit. She’s the reliable one, the “right hand man” to the Doctor that Adric was beginning to be for Tom Baker. She’s the only one who’s on his level in both intellect and personality; whenever something goes wrong, she doesn’t complain, she just does what needs to be done. Of course Adric’s death was sad, and I can’t imagine how it was received in first run; but he felt like a child with too much power and not enough maturity. As a preview, even Turlough next season—who is the very definition of power vs. maturity—doesn’t feel as much like that as Adric did. The Master had quite a presence this season, and he’s excellent as always; Anthony Ainley may not be Roger Delgado, but he’s fantastic anyway, exactly what I would expect from the Master at this point. It was nice to get a season of “smaller” plots; there’s no universe-saving going on here, and that’s okay. We’ll deal with universal themes again next season.

Next time: Twentieth Anniversary! See you there.

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


Four to Doomsday


The Visitation (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Black Orchid

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

Time Flight (Parts 1-3, Part 4)

To E-Space and Back Again: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Eighteen

We’re back, with another season of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch!  This week, in Season Eighteen, we say goodbye to an entire TARDIS crew, including the Fourth Doctor—and gain a new one in its place.  Let’s get started!

Leisure Hive 1

Only the Doctor would hit the beach in the winter.

After a brief interlude in Brighton, 1980, the Doctor, Romana and K9 finally take a vacation. The destination is the planet Argolis, a “leisure planet” devoted to recreation—in this case, the resort known as the Leisure Hive, which is also the title of the serial.  (Another notable leisure planet is Midnight, in the Tenth Doctor story of the same name; like Argolis, it is uninhabitable except for its resorts.)  The year is 2290; forty years earlier, a one-sided nuclear war between the Argolians and the reptilian Foamasi devastated the planet.  Now, the resort is failing economically, and the no-longer-aggressive Foamasi want to buy it; at the same time, the Argolians, rendered sterile in the war, are dying out.

Leisure Hive 2

He really doesn’t age well, does he?

A splinter group of Foamasi, the West Lodge, use sabotage to try to ruin the hive and persuade the Argolians to sell. In the meantime, the Argolians have built a machine to try to restore their vitality, but it isn’t working.  They also have a form of cloning available, similar to the much-disputed Gallifreyan Looms from spinoff material.  The young, machine-born Pangol wants to use it to raise an army in his image.  The machine ages the Doctor considerably, much like the Master’s laser screwdriver will do to the Tenth Doctor in The Sound of Drums, but he is later restored.  He uses the TARDIS’s randomizer to repair the machine, thwarting the various plots, and also happens to regress Pangol into an infant, much like Blon Fel-Fotch Passimeer-Day Slitheen in Boom Town.  The randomizer is left behind, as the Doctor declares he won’t run from the Black Guardian forever.

Leisure Hive 3

It’s a bold fashion choice for raising an army, Pangol.

K9 is damaged by seawater at the beginning, and does nothing else for the rest of the story. He should know better.  On the other hand, John Leeson returns to voice the robotic dog, having been lured back by new producer John Nathan-Turner, who will remain for the rest of the classic series.  The Doctor wears a new, burgundy outfit and scarg; it introduces the question-mark motif that will adorn all the remaining Doctors’ costumes.  We also get a brand new opening sequence, with a starfield background, new “neon tube” logo, and a new, synthesizer-heavy arrangement of the theme song; it’s the most 1980s thing we’ve seen yet.

Meglos 1

Meglos in the form of the Doctor.  Not sure why he thought this would be convincing.

Meglos is also contemporary with 1980, but not on Earth; the lone human in the story wears contemporary clothing, and there’s no evidence of any time travel other than the TARDIS.  The story takes place on two worlds in proximity to each other, Tigella and its one-time oppressor, Zolfa-Thura.  The villain, Meglos, is the last of the Zolfa-Thurans; they’re a plant species, usually resembling cacti (and even hilariously potted—who pots them?!).  He’s able to take another’s body, though, which requires a human from Earth; subsequently, he takes the image of the Doctor, allowing Tom Baker—like Hartnell and Troughton before him—to play both the Doctor and the villain.  Another throwback:  the leader of the Deon faction, Lexa, is played by Jacqueline Hill, otherwise known as former companion Barbara Wright, in her first appearance since 1965’s The Chase.

Meglos 2

The Dodecahedron in action.

The story is rooted in a religionist-vs.-secularist conflict among the Tigellans, concerning a powerful Zolfa-Thuran artifact called the Dodecahedron. The Deons revere it as a god; the others use it as a power source; and Meglos wants it back so that he can conquer other worlds.  The Doctor is summoned by the Tigellans to intervene, but gets more than he bargained for.  K9 is repaired, but his batteries now only hold a charge for two hours.  We get some good comic relief here in the form of the Gazdaks—the mercenaries hired by Meglos—and their leader, Brotadac.

Full Circle 1

Welcome aboard, Adric.

With Full Circle, we begin the E-Space trilogy.  The TARDIS is en route to Gallifrey, having been summoned back—Romana, having fulfilled her task, is being called home.  The ship falls through a cosmic phenomenon called a “Charged Vacuum Emboitment” , or CVE; it carries them out of the normal universe (N-Space) and into E-Space, the Exo-Spacetime Continuum.  It’s a parallel or pocket universe, smaller than ours, but with an at least partially corresponding coordinate system; the planet Alzarius, where the TARDIS lands, occupies the same coordinates as Gallifrey occupies in N-Space.  Here they meet Adric, a young mathematical genius, who lives in a colony descended from stranded space travellers from Terradon, another world.  However, as the colony is threatened by the native Marshmen, the Doctor discovers that Adric’s people are not what they believe; they are genetically identical to the Marshmen—in other words, they are native to Alzarius.  Their ancestors killed the original colonists, took their place, and evolved into their image.  Sadly, they refuse to accept it, and leave in the newly-repaired ship, headed for parts unknown.  Adric is left behind, and stows away aboard the TARDIS.

Full Circle 2

Mars(hmen) Attacks!

Romana makes an interesting statement; she claims the TARDIS weighs “five times ten to the sixth kilos in [Alzarius’s] gravity”, or five million kilos. While it seems she’s referring to the external shell weight, probably she means the total weight of the ship if it was completely manifested in this dimension.  It’s clear from many other occurrences that the police box doesn’t possess the full weight; in fact, the Twelfth Doctor makes it clear that he can alter the external weight, and also says that the Earth couldn’t support its full weight without cracking the surface.  Incidentally, she’s probably drastically underestimating; five million kilos is a lot, but hardly on the scale that the Twelfth Doctor describes.

State of Decay 1

“That castle looks like a spaceship!””No, that spaceship looks like a castle!”

The trilogy continues in State of Decay.  The TARDIS lands on an unnamed world; no date is given, as with all E-Space adventures.  However, it must occur well after N-Space’s 32nd century, as the ship seen here is of Earth origin and dates to that century, but is quite old now.  I had seen this serial before, and enjoyed it; I recall thinking that when compared to the earliest seasons, it shows very well how far the production had come.  It’s very 1980s, and I consider it the high point of the season.

State of Decay 2


We get a small but significant part of Gallifreyan lore here. In the distant past, Rassilon led the Time Lords in a war against the Great Vampires, who are far larger than humans.  The Vampires proved resilient to most attacks, leading to the creation of bowships, spacegoing vessels which fired steel bolts to pierce the vampire’s heart.  The king vampire, however, escaped, prompting Rassilon to create the Record of Rassilon, which charges any Time Lord who finds the king to destroy him.  The Record exists in datacard form on every Type 40 TARDIS (which is curious; as the Type 40s were created in Chronotis’s childhood, does that mean that only a few generations passed between Rassilon and the Doctor?)  The Doctor also again mentions the hermit of Gallifrey, Kanpo Rimpoche, though not by name; he says the hermit told him stories about the vampires in his childhood.

State of Decay 3

The king rises! …or not.

The Doctor locates the buried king vampire and kills it just before it can rise; lacking a bowship, he uses the pointed prow of a small scoutship to pierce its heart. Adric joins the crew officially here, having nowhere else to go.

Warriors Gate 1

Saying goodbye to Romana and K9.

Warrior’s Gate concludes the E-Space trilogy.  It finds the TARDIS trapped in an empty white void, which is the gateway between E-Space and N-Space, and also between multiple timelines.  Another ship is trapped there as well, and it has a secret: it carries an imprisoned group of Tharils, a time-sensitive race whom the crew use as forced navigators among timelines.  The crew are referred to as humans, but it’s not clear from where they originate.  Attempting to liberate the Tharils (who themselves have a history as oppressors, but are now enslaved), Romana chooses to leave the TARDIS; K9 is obligated to stay with her as well, as his most recent bout of damage can only be repaired in E-Space.  The Doctor is unhappy with her choice, but only momentarily, as he knows he himself would have done the same; “You were the noblest Romana of them all!” he tells her, and lets her go.  He and Adric return to N-Space.

Warriors Gate 2

The Doctor, Romana, and the Tharil Biroc.

Something I had long overlooked: K9 states that he contains all the necessary information for duplicating the TARDIS!  It’s probably doubtful that Romana would be able to obtain whatever materials are necessary, given that the TARDIS is no ordinary machine, and she now lacks the ability to travel from world to world.  However, it’s at least nominally possible for her to have eventually constructed her own TARDIS in E-Space.  (I am aware that spinoff materials have her returning to Gallifrey, but I am not aware of what mechanisms it uses to do so.)

Keeper of Traken 1

The Master steals the body of Tremas.

In The Keeper of Traken, the Doctor and Adric emerge into N-Space near Mettula Orionsis, the start that is home to the center of the Traken Union, an exceedingly harmonious and peaceful civilization.  Of course, this being Doctor Who, that can’t be allowed to stand for long; and we get interference immediately in the form of an old enemy: The Master.

Keeper of Traken 2

The Melkur.

The next four serials, as far as it can be told, occur consecutively in the same time period. Four to Doomsday will establish that it is 1981.  This serial and the next two comprise what is often called the Master Trilogy, as he will be the primary antagonist.  Here he is still in the same degenerate body last seen in The Deadly Assassin, which is the final life of his regeneration cycle (and also probably the same as the Delgado incarnation, though much degraded).  He escapes death by stealing the body of Tremas (Anthony Ainley, who very much copies the style of Delgado’s Master), the father of future companion Nyssa and a councilor of Traken.  How exactly he does so is not explained; but he will do something similar in the 1996 movie.  Prior to that theft, he seeks to save his life by stealing control of the Source, a powerful energy under the control of Traken’s leader, the Keeper.  He possesses not one, but two TARDISes: the grandfather clock we saw at his last appearance, and an advanced model, which takes the form of a living statue called the Melkur.  This TARDIS can walk around and function as the living Melkur would; it even speaks, by way of transmitting the Master’s speech.  It is destroyed by the Source, thanks to sabotage by Adric and Nyssa.

Keeper of Traken 3

Welcome aboard, Ny…oh, nope, not yet.  Sorry.

As Nyssa does not actually become a companion in this story, this is the only Classic story in which the Doctor travels with only a male companion. An equivalent story exists in NuWho with The End of Time, and in fact it mirrors this story in several ways:  The Master is the villain in both; here, the Master takes another’s body, while there he takes everyone’s body; the male companion here, Adric, is younger than most companions, while there the male companion, Wilfred Mott, is older than most; a female companion makes a non-companion appearance in each (Nyssa, pre-companion, Donna Noble, post-companion); Adric will eventually die on behalf of the Doctor, while the Doctor will die on behalf of Wilfred.  This is also the final Classic serial to not include any humans, as Adric and the Trakenites are not actually human, just humanoid.  The TARDIS wiki states it’s the final such story overall, but I would argue that Heaven Sent counts for NuWho, as Clara Oswald isn’t actually present in reality in that story.

Logopolis 1

You’d think a city of hyper-advanced mathematicians wouldn’t look so primitive.

We end with Logopolis, and what an end it is.  In this second story of the Master Trilogy, we’re introduced to a new piece of TARDIS lore: The Cloister Bell.  This somber chime rings when there’s a massive threat to the existence of the TARDIS, or to the universe itself; and that’s exactly what we face here.

Logopolis 2

The Watcher.

Attempting to take his mind off of things, the Doctor travels to the city of Logopolis—its planet is unnamed—to have his chameleon circuit repaired. (Spoiler alert:  It doesn’t succeed.)  The Logopolitans are mathematical masters, but with a twist:  They don’t use computers.  Rather, they model all their calculations in their minds and out loud, in a large cooperative effort.  They specialize in Block Transfer Computations, a form of higher math which actually models reality so effectively that the modeled thing becomes real—physical objects made of pure math.  (Some have theorized that TARDISes are primarily constructed in this manner.)  Along the way, the Doctor unwittingly picks up the Master when he materializes his TARDIS around the Master’s, creating a recursive loop—TARDISes within TARDISes, repeated endlessly.  He also unintentionally picks up new companion Tegan Jovanka, a flight attendant from Earth, who is the first human companion since Leela in Season Fifteen.  Nyssa of Traken returns as well, having been transported by another mysterious figure:  The Watcher, who is later revealed to be a projection of the Doctor, much as Cho-Je was once a projection of Kanpo Rimpoche.  Unlike Kanpo, the Doctor appears unaware of the Watcher’s existence at first.  We learn that the TARDIS can jettison rooms for thrust, having done so with Romana’s room.  At the same time, we get another view of the deeper parts of the TARDIS.

Logopolis 3

New crew, old Doctor.

The Logopolitans are responsible for CVEs such as that leading to E-Space. These holes in reality are a method of draining off entropy from the universe; otherwise it would have already died a heat death.  (The science here is fairly far-fetched; entropy, as I understand it, is not a thing so much as the absence of a thing, much as cold is an absence of heat.)  They have constructed a copy of the Pharos radio dish from Earth—last seen in Terror of the Autons—for use in making the CVEs self-sustaining.  The Master tries to take control of this situation so as to hold the universe hostage; but his plan backfires when the mounting entropy eliminates the Logopolitans.  With the dish out of commission, he must join forces with the Doctor and travel to Earth, to the real Pharos Project…where he promptly betrays the Doctor.  Defeated, he escapes, but not before a great swath of reality—including the Traken Union—is destroyed, making him a murderer of billions  at a minimum.  The Doctor then falls from the dish, seemingly to his death.

Logopolis 4

It is the end…but the moment has been prepared for.

Thus ends the Fourth Doctor, in another regeneration. He sees visions of enemies and companions, and his current companions gather around.  “It is the end…but the moment has been prepared for.”  He then merges with the Watcher, and transforms into the young, smiling Fifth Doctor.

Logopolis 5

There’s much more to be said about this episode, but space is at a premium. It’s well worth your time, even if you don’t care for the rest of the season.  Next time:  The Fifth Doctor!  See you there.

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

The Leisure Hive (Parts 1 and 2, Parts 3 and 4)


Full Circle

State of Decay (Note:  This is a user page.  No playlist was available.  Scroll down to locate the individual parts.)

Warrior’s Gate

The Keeper of Traken


Randomized Wanderings: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Seventeen

With the Key to Time behind us, we’re back, with our Classic Doctor Who rewatch!  This week we look at season seventeen.  Let’s get started!


Romana’s various forms.  Yes, she’s dressed like the Fourth Doctor in the last version, thus making her the first Whovian in recorded history.


At the end of last season, the Doctor added a randomizer to the TARDIS’s navigation system, meaning that even he has no idea where he might land. In Destiny of the Daleks, we see him make a stop at Skaro, though he doesn’t realize it at first.  First, however, we see Romana regenerate; she’s actually already begun, as Mary Tamm did not return to film the regeneration.  This scene is notorious, as Romana tries out several forms before settling on the form of Princess Astra from The Armageddon Factor.  While aware of the scene, I never realized that the Doctor actually tells her to go try out different bodies, indicating that he was aware of her ability to do so.  On the surface, it seems she’s wasting regenerations, but that seems unlikely, and a number of answers have been proposed in other media.  I prefer simple solutions; I think that, in addition to the fact that a regeneration isn’t truly complete until fifteen hours later (The Christmas Invasion), Romana is probably just some kind of savant with regard to regeneration.  Even if this was her first time, the ability could have been diagnosed early and noted in her records.

Romana daleks

Romana being menaced by the absolutely terrifying Daleks.


The story takes place between the years 4500 and 5000; Earth has a deep space fleet and colonies, and Skaro has rested long enough to recover some greenery. As well, the Thals aren’t present—the humans seen are captive slaves from other places.  The Daleks cannot hover yet—the Doctor actually teases one about not being able to follow him from level to level—nor do they appear to have time travel, as they would probably have just reclaimed Davros right before his entombment if they did.  These Daleks were scary to me, especially in the scenes where they capture and interrogate Romana; they feel  much more menacing than previous appearances.  These Daleks also don’t appear to be the ones from The Daleks, as they aren’t aware of all the levels of the Kaled city, and don’t require static electricity; if my theory about the one-time split in their ranks is correct, then these are returnees from those that went into space to conquer.  It does seem odd to me that upon escaping the bunker after a thousand years (Genesis of the Daleks) they did not recover Davros then; he was hardly buried, just trapped.  Now, though, they want him back; his intuition will break the computer-generated stalemate between them and the android Movellans.  The Movellans want the Doctor for the same purpose.  (Now, there’s an alien race that we can do without in future episodes; they look like racist caricatures, and aren’t really very interesting anyway.)

Davros and the Movellans

Davros and a Movellan.


We get another Douglas Adams signature reference here, in the book the Doctor reads while trapped: Oolon Colluphid’s Origins of the Universe (which, the Doctor notes, is wrong on the very first line—he should have asked someone who was there!).  K9 doesn’t do much here, and is under repairs; behind the scenes, they were between voice actors, John Leeson having left.  Ostensibly K9 can’t handle the terrain, which is odd, as the Daleks have no trouble with it.  Romana is seen to be able to not only stop her breathing, but stop her hearts to feign death.  It’s a learned skill, one that the Doctor is unaware of.


Count Scarlioni, or should I say, Scaroth of the Jagaroth?!


It’s back to Earth in City of Death, which may not be a randomized destination; other material indicates the Doctor and Romana used the randomizer extensively between seasons to lose the Black Guardian’s pursuit, so he may not be using it consistently now.  They land in Paris, 1979 (coincidentally, the year I was born), and then later proceed to Florence, 1505, and also the distant past.  Many millions of years ago, Scaroth of the Jagaroth was splintered across time, a la Clara Oswald, when his refugee ship exploded; this led to the development of human life on Earth.  His scattered selves have worked to advance human development so that his twelfth and final self will have the tools needed to go back in time and prevent the accident; somehow this isn’t a paradox, but it is a disaster for humanity, which the Doctor must prevent.

Romana sonic

Romana’s very elegant Sonic Screwdriver


Romana seems to have lost some of her previous self’s overbearing qualities, but unfortunately she’s substituted childishness; in fact, she lies about her age, saying she is 125 rather than the 140 she reported in The Ribos Operation.  She does have her own, self-made sonic screwdriver, however, so there’s that.  At one point an artist sketches her, but substitutes a cracked clock for her face; the Doctor comments that it’s almost like a crack in time.”  Interestingly, when rotated 90 degrees, the crack is very similar to the cracks in time from Series 5.  It’s no doubt coincidental, but interesting.  K9 is once again unseen, though the Doctor speaks to him off-camera in the TARDIS.  The Doctor gets a few good one-liners:  “Such a wonderful butler! He’s so violent!” and, to Countess Scarlioni, “You’re a beautiful woman, probably.”  The TARDIS, parked in the Louvre, gets mistaken for an art installation; when it dematerializes, the art critics aren’t fazed at all!


Adrasta, meet Erato, the Tythonian ambassador.


The Creature from the Pit takes us to the planet Chloris, with no date given anywhere; the inhabitants probably aren’t human, though they look human.  It’s a slow starter of a story, but it picks up toward the end.  Lady Adrasta, the local ruler, has a monopoly on metals, which are scarce on Chloris; when a Tythonian emissary—the titular creature—comes to broker a trade agreement, she imprisons him to protect her power.  She doesn’t know that his people have not taken it lightly, and are planning to destroy her world.  Adrasta is a petty and thuggish villain who surrounds herself with similar people; but I don’t mind that.  She’s more realistic than many television villains; there’s no self-indulgent speeches, no melodrama—she simply says what she’s going to do, and does it.  She lets her force speak for her.  She’s a brute, but she’s okay with that.

Wolf weeds

Wolf weeds?


The serial is reminiscent of The Beast Below, with a non-harmful creature that can’t communicate being pressed into service by an oblivious ruler, then released by the Doctor just in time to avert a catastrophe.  The Tythonians are both massive and psychic (after a fashion, anyway), and also are technologically advanced; they can weave metals in an organic matter, and they can move a neutron star to use as a weapon.  The TARDIS is seen to have a gravity-based tractor beam, presaging its role in returning Earth in Journey’s End.  K9 returns in this serial, with a new voice actor, David Brierley; John Leeson will return next season.


Mandrels, the source of the drug Vraxoin.


Nightmare of Eden comes across as a sort of Doctor Who PSA; it has a very blatant anti-drug message, with the illegal drug Vraxoin portrayed as being both deadly and scandalous.  It’s the year 2116, just a hundred years from now; we know this because the Galactic Salvage and Insurance Company, which the Doctor and Romana claim to represent, went bankrupt twenty years earlier, a date seen on a monitor to be 2096. It’s early in the colonization period, but late enough for some colonies and transport lines to be in place; however, it’s possible that some of the individuals seen are non-human, as the planet Azure is described as an empire, and apparently not an Earth colony.  The action occurs above the planet, on the liner Empress, which has collided with the Hecate, thus initiating the story.

nightmare of eden

All this sneaking around gets tiresome!


The drug being smuggled, Vraxoin, is a byproduct of the death by electrocution of creatures called Mandrels. Rather than transport the drug—and risk discovery—the smugglers are transporting the Mandrels, by means of a Continuous Event Transmuter (CET).  It’s a bit like a cross between a miniscope and the Gallifreyan “cup o’ soup” paintings from The Day of the Doctor; it maintains three-dimensional slices of reality as two-dimensional projections.  It’s not revealed at first that it actually contains the things it pictures; later the Doctor and Romana specify that it actually leaves “bald patches” on the worlds on which it is used.  The drug scenario is reminiscent of the 456 aliens in Torchwood: Children of Earth, in that sentient beings are used to obtain the drugs.  While it seems this story would be bland, it isn’t; and there’s a good twist at the end with regard to the villain, so it’s worth a watch.


The Nimon (or one of them, anyway).


Due to a strike among BBC workers, the season is terminated early with The Horns of Nimon.  No date for the story is evident, though it’s probably in the future.  It occurs on and near the planet Skonnos, the center of the failing Skonnan Empire, and also briefly on the planet of Crinoth.  The Doctor’s involvement begins when the partly-dismantled TARDIS is pulled in by gravity from a black hole near the system, forcing a landing on a Skonnan ship.  Here we see the TARDIS console with the Time Rotor removed; it’s the only time this ever occurs (although the secondary console room lacked a Time Rotor completely).  The story is an adaptation of the myth of Theseus and the minotaur, complete with a labyrinth.  The Nimon are, in fact, relatives of the minotaur later seen in The God Complex.  They’re a cunning enemy, a sort of “galactic locust” which occupies a world until it is used up and then destroyed; then they move to the next world—Skonnos, in this case.  With their defeat here, they are apparently destroyed en masse.

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The partly-disassembled Time Rotor.


We see for the first time that the TARDIS’s defense shields can extend away from the exterior to form, as River Song will say in The Time of Angels, an air corridor.  It also occurs in the next, unbroadcast serial, Shada, there used to pass the Doctor between two TARDISes.  This serial is the final broadcast serial to use the original 1963 arrangement of the theme song, and the last to use the diamond-shaped logo and its corresponding introduction, though Shada would have shared those features.

Shada 1

An older and wiser Doctor, showing his love of museums.


I was also able to watch the incomplete Shada, with linking narration by Tom Baker (in character as the Fourth Doctor, though obviously older).  It’s not quite a reconstruction in the sense of the early-season reconstructions, but well worth watching.  In his opening narration he remarks that he’s “always felt at home in museums”; while probably not intentional, it adds some poignancy to his appearance as the Curator in The Day of the Doctor.  Ironically, many of the villain costumes seen here are not Fourth-Doctor villains, but rather, foes of earlier Doctors.  The serial was never completed and broadcast, due to what has to be the stupidest labor strike ever:  as the TARDIS wiki states, “The industrial action occurred due to conflict over which union had jurisdiction over the operation of an elaborate clock that was featured on the BBC children’s programme Play School.”  For THIS we lost a story?

Chronotis tardis

Chronotis’s TARDIS console.


The story is contemporary 1979, set at Cambridge; it seems likely that the off-planet portions are also at that time, as no time travel seems to be available to the villain, Skagra. His goal is to dominate the minds of the galaxy; to do this, he needs the Time Lord criminal Salyavin, who had the unique ability to project one mind into another.  Therefore he sets in motion an elaborate plan to locate and raid the forgotten Time Lord prison world of Shada.  He steals an ancient and powerful book, The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, from Cambridge professor Chronotis, who is actually a Time Lord in retirement—and who happens to be receiving a visit from his old student, the Doctor.  Unknown to Skagra, Chronotis is Salyavin, having previously used his powers to escape Shada and cause the Time Lords to forget its existence.  (However, the memories can be recovered with some work, as the Doctor demonstrates.)


Chronotis–or should I say, Salyavin?–the Doctor, and Romana.


Chronotis is on his final regeneration, and in fact dies, but is revived—not regenerated—by his TARDIS, which is hidden in the form of his Cambridge apartment. It’s older than the Doctor’s TARDIS, lacking the hexagonal console and time rotor; he notes that the Doctor’s Type 40 came out in his (Chronotis’s) childhood.  It’s also stolen, apparently from the scrap heap; being retired, Chronotis is not permitted to have a TARDIS.  Skagra steals the Doctor’s TARDIS, but can’t actually fly it; it is overridden by his use of the book.  Chronotis, meanwhile, uses his powers to transfer knowledge to the human Clare’s mind, in a manner reminiscent of Donna Noble’s fate in Journey’s End; however, she is not harmed, and only receives some knowledge, not his full personality.  Overall I was pleased with this story; it’s silly, in typical Douglas Adams fashion, but it was enjoyable.  Its canonicity is debatable; but then, this Doctor Who—what ISN’T debatable?  It doesn’t seem to conflict with established lore, even as it adds to it, so I’m fine with accepting it.


Skagra, the galaxy’s most fabulous villain!


Next time: One more season of the Fourth Doctor!  See you there.

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

Destiny of the Daleks

City of Death

The Creature from the Pit

Nightmare of Eden

The Horns of Nimon


Just Trying to Get Away: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Fifteen

With the war criminal from the future now just a memory, the Doctor and Leela are free to explore the universe! First, though, we make another stop on Earth, in Horror of Fang Rock. Let’s get started!

fang rock 1

The Doctor at Fang Rock


It’s 1902, and the location is the small island of Fang Rock off the southern coast of England. While the year is not actually stated, there are some context clues that narrow it down to that year.  The Doctor was aiming for Brighton, but—as usual—missed the mark.

Fang rock 2

A Rutan.  Scared yet?


The enemy here are the Rutans, the ancestral enemies of the Sontarans. This is their only appearance onscreen, although they are mentioned many times.  They are an entirely different brand of alien, more like amorphous jellyfish than the humanoid Sontarans (who don’t appear here; in fact, the two adversaries have never appeared together); they have the power to impersonate others, though the Rutan in the lighthouse mentions that this technique is new.  It crash-lands on earth in the course of a “strategic withdrawal”, and is stranded, but quickly summons its people, forcing the Doctor to use the lighthouse—with a little tinkering—to destroy the invasion craft.  Morbid, but noteworthy:  This is the final classic serial in which everyone but the Doctor and his companion(s) die.  It will happen again many years later in NuWho’s The Parting of the Ways, in which only the Doctor, Jack Harkness, and Rose Tyler survive.  Some things are just too dark for this show.

fang rock 3

Just made for a murder mystery!


I do remember watching this serial before, and I remember liking it. It follows the base-under-siege format, but with such a small cast, it feels more like a “bottle episode”, or maybe a locked-room mystery.

Invisible Enemy 1

So, uh…THAT’S what a virus looks like?


After a couple of sad stories on Earth, the Doctor and Leela flee to space; but they don’t get far, as The Invisible Enemy takes place on and near Saturn’s moon, Titan.  It’s the year 5000, as stated by the Doctor, but this is curious; he also calls it the “Year of the Great Breakout”, when humanity escaped the solar system for the larger galaxy.  We’ve seen before that the 51st century is a significant time for humans; however, many serials have indicated that the first galactic expansion happened much earlier, probably in about the year 2100.  Like the Mandragora Helix and the Wyrrn before it, the enemy here is spaceborn; this time it’s a virus called the Swarm; its nucleus, which controls the rest of the Swarm, invades the Doctor’s brain.  It infects humans, Time Lords, and even machines, but curiously, Leela is immune.  Later, after being expelled from the Doctor’s brain, it is enlarged to the macroscopic scale, and looks like an insect or reptile.  The idea of the Doctor losing control of  his mind is reminiscent of Series Seven’s Nightmare in Silver, in which the invading entity is a Cybercontroller.

Invisible Enemy 2

More personality than a dozen Rose Tylers!


The Doctor obtains a new companion here: the robotic dog, K9! More correctly, this is K9 Mark I.  He is the creation of Professor Marius, but is given to the Doctor when Marius can’t take him back to Earth due to weight restrictions.  K9 was always one of my favorite companions, and still is; I’m not sure what that says about me.  His personality is condensed irony, and I think it’s hilarious to watch him verbally spar with the Doctor (“I am without emotional circuits!”  Which is a lie, as smugness is most definitely an emotion).

Invisible Enemy 3

Inside the Doctor’s brain.  No, really.


The original console room returns, having had some minor upgrades; it’s handwaved in the story by the Doctor, who says it was being redecorated, but in the real world the switch was due to the warping of the wooden wall panels of the secondary control room while in storage. Ironically, the Doctor refers to the original set as the secondary control room.  We also see that the TARDIS, by way of its dimensional stabilizer, has the ability to shrink people, much like the device in Into the Dalek.  We’ve seen hints of this possibility as far back as Season Two’s Planet of Giants, but we’ve never before seen that it can be done deliberately, or independently of the TARDIS itself.  As well, this scenario gives us a view of the inside of the Doctor’s brain, which is pretty interesting.  Not so interesting are his phagocytes, the defensive cells that roam his brain; it’s a cool idea, but suffers from the limits of the practical effects of the day.

Image of the Fendahl 1

The book that gave me nightmares at ten years old.


Image of the Fendahl is the only contemporary story of the season, set in 1977 Fetchborough, England.  The date isn’t given onscreen, but it was given in a trailer for the serial, released at the end of the preceding story, and nothing contradicts it.  I vaguely remember reading the novelization as a child, and being scared by it, but I couldn’t remember anything from the broadcast version.

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Thea Ransome, becoming the Fendahl core.


K9 is seen to need repairs already, but it’s not clear why, as he was fine at the end of the previous story. I take this as a possible indication of one or more offscreen adventures in the interim; it’s one of the last times that the Fourth Doctor can possibly have those, as we will soon enter a period where the successive serials are clearly linked.  In the real world, K9 was portrayed this way because the serial was written prior to the decision to retain him as a character; therefore a reason was needed to keep him offscreen.  Notable guest star in this serial:  Thea Ransome, who becomes the core of the Fendahl gestalt, is played by Wanda Ventham, the mother of actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

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A Fendahleen


The Fendahl is an ancient being with godlike powers; it is a group entity or gestalt, composed of a core being and thirteen Fendahleen, lizardlike creatures that protect the core. In the course of destroying it, the Doctor weakens it by destroying one of the Fendahleen, thus preventing the full creature from manifesting.  It originated on the then-fifth planet of the solar system, which was destroyed by the Time Lords, thus creating the asteroid belt.  This occurred prior to their non-interference policy, which will be further explored later in the season.

The Sun Makers 1

Are we SURE this is Pluto?


In The Sun Makers, once again the Doctor tries to leave the Solar System; and once again he doesn’t get far.  This time, he lands on Pluto, but in the far future.  No date is established, but contemporary promotional material for the story placed it “millions of years” in the future.  It’s not your father’s Pluto; this is a world of Earthlike atmosphere and light, due to the six artificial suns  surrounding the world, hence the title of the serial.

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The Collector


The plot here is a rare political allegory, dealing with unfair taxation. The Company in control of the planet are flagrantly oppressing the humans who live there, imposing exorbitant taxes at will and seemingly at random.  As it turns out, the Company is run by Usurians (a play on the word “usury”, for unjust taxation), a fungal species.  It won’t be the last time humanity is secretly oppressed; later it will be the Daleks and the Jagrafess, in Series One’s The Long Game/Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways.

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Wrong target, Doctor!


Some noteworthy items: Gallifrey and the Time Lords are known to humanity and the Company at this point in history; in fact, the Collector claims to have knowledge of the Doctor’s past, although this is doubtful.  The Doctor is taken down at one point by Balarium gas; he seems to have forgotten that he has a respiratory bypass system which should have kept him safe.  Finally, there’s a hilarious scene where the Doctor hypnotizes a guard to sleep, but accidentally hypnotizes Leela as well.

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At the edge of the cosmos


Finally we see the larger universe in Underworld; and we don’t do it halfway, as the TARDIS arrives at the absolute edge of the universe—or as the Doctor puts it, “the boundary between what is and what isn’t”.  We don’t know the date; however, events are referenced which took place in Gallifrey’s history 100,000 years earlier.

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In hindsight, they do kind of resemble the little yellow guys.


In the far past, the Time Lords worked with a race called Minyans (no, not the little yellow guys from Despicable Me).  They gave the Minyans Time Lord technology, including the ability to regenerate; in return, the Minyans violently ejected the Time Lords from their world, went to war with each other, and destroyed their planet.  They regard the Time Lords as gods, but consider their gods to have failed or betrayed them.  This event is the prime cause for the Time Lords’ non-interference policy.  The story, set millennia later, takes place on a pair of Minyan ships: The R1C, which has been traveling all this time, and the P7E, for which it has been searching.

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The Doctor, Leela, and the Minyans


The Minyans can regenerate, and can even do so endlessly; it differs from Time Lord regeneration in that their appearances and personalities do not change, and in that they require mechanical assistance. However, this helps justify later notions that the twelve-regeneration limit is artificial, and can be countered by the granting of a new cycle of regenerations.  The Minyans cannot breed, however, and therefore they require the race banks aboard the P7E to save their species.  To gain them, they must overcome the Oracle, the P7E’s megalomaniacal computer, and liberate the slaves who are the descendants of the original crew (and never mind that the crew should not have been able to produce descendants—there’s no logic here).  The story is based on the legend of Jason and the Argonauts, which the Doctor makes explicit at the end.

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The Chancellor and the President


The Doctor returns to Gallifrey in The Invasion of Time.  Here he claims the presidency—which he won in The Deadly Assassin—only to immediately leave Gallifrey defenseless and invaded by mysterious aliens, known as the Vardans.  Several dates are noted, but they are in Gallifreyan notation and can’t be matched to real-world dates; however, this doesn’t appear to be long after The Deadly Assassin, as the position of president is still vacant.  In the interim, Borusa has ascended from Cardinal to Lord Chancellor, ruling in the absence of a president; he has also regenerated, though his appearance is similar to his previous body.  The Doctor treats him—and Leela as well—rather roughly at this time; it’s the only time I’ve ever felt sorry for him.

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The De-Mat Gun


The Doctor’s betrayal, of course, is a ruse, designed to open the Vardans to attack. He defeats them by locking their world in a time loop, possibly presaging the hiding of Gallifrey at the end of the Time War.  However, the victory is short-lived, as the Vardans’ allies are revealed: The Sontarans.  To defeat them, the Doctor and his allies must first survive; then, they must obtain the Great Key of Rassilon and use it to construct a powerful and forbidden weapon: the De-Mat Gun, which removes its target—and itself—from time permanently.

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The Fun Side of the TARDIS


Notable in this serial: This serial is briefly seen in the Doctor’s timeline in The Name of the Doctor, where Clara Oswald’s echo is seen to be present.  The Time Lady Rodan is the first female Gallifreyan seen since Susan (though she is a bit at odds with Time Lord philosophy).  We get our first glimpse of Gallifrey outside the Citadel, though we won’t see that structure from outside for many years.  We get to see many interior areas of the TARDIS, which have a brickwork appearance (including the infamous pool, which is definitely NOT in the library at this point!)  With the effects of the De-Mat Gun, the Doctor is left not remembering anything of this adventure, though it seems likely he was told of it after the fact.

Leela and K9

Goodbye, Leela and K9


Finally, Leela and K9 both opt to leave—or rather, to stay behind on Gallifrey. Leela has fallen in love with the guard commander Andred, and is given special permission to live on Gallifrey with him.  K9 chooses to stay to watch over her.  It’s an emotional goodbye for the Doctor; but it is mitigated by the appearance at the end of K9 Mark II, who possesses all the memory and personality of his precursor.

Next time: The Key to Time!  See you there.

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

Horror of Fang Rock (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

The Invisible Enemy

Image of the Fendahl

The Sun Makers

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

The Invasion of Time