Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Trouble In Paradise

We’re back, with another Doctor Who audio drama review! We’re continuing our look at the eleven-volume Fiftieth Anniversary series, Destiny of the Doctor, produced by Big Finish in conjunction with AudioGO. Today we’re listening to the Sixth Doctor’s contribution to the series:  Trouble in Paradise, read by Nicola Bryant and Cameron Stewart, and written by Nev Fountain. Let’s get started!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trouble In Paradise

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: The Holy Terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Holy Terror

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: The Apocalypse Element

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Apocalypse Element

Doctor Who Audio Review: The Spectre of Lanyon Moor

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

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

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We open on a scene in the distant past. An alien being is conducting a survey on Earth when his ship—and partner—are called back to the fleet. It’s an automatic recall program, and can’t be overridden. The alien races back to the ship, but is attacked along the way, and forced to defend himself—and the ship leaves without him. Frustrated, and blaming his partner, he swears revenge.

Eighteen thousand years later, the TARDIS wheezes to a stop in the middle of a marsh. The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe emerge, arguing good-naturedly over why they are here—the Doctor insisting they were forced off course—before heading for the nearest buildings in the nearby valley. They determine they are in Cornwall, and their first contact with humans confirms they are in the late twentieth century—near Evelyn’s home time, in fact.

They meet a Mrs. Moynihan, out walking her dogs; she is the housekeeper for a local figure of minor note, Sir Archibald Flint. They also view a nearby fogou, a subterranean passage of Celtic origin, the like of which only exists in Cornwall. It sits near a tumulus, a stone age burial mound. Evelyn picks up a souvenir, a small stone of odd shape; then they are intercepted by Philip Ludgate, an archaeology student. He is using electrical equipment to take readings in the area; and the Doctor notices that the readings are oddly high. Ludgate takes them to his base of operations, the Lanyon Moor Archaeological Institute, which is located in Flint’s gameskeeper’s lodge. Evelyn finds the name familiar.

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At the lodge, they meet the very traditional lead archaeologist, Professor Morgan, who is mildly antagonistic toward Ludgate, and more so toward the Doctor. They also meet Flint, who is the patron and benefactor of the enterprise, but not an archaeologist himself. One more guest is also apparent, and he comes as a welcome surprise to the Doctor; it is an old friend, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, formerly of UNIT, now retired.

Over Morgan’s objections, the Brigadier takes the Doctor on to assist him, and admits that he is doing a bit of clandestine contract work for UNIT; he is investigating a history of odd occurrences on Lanyon Moor, which infringe on UNIT’s work in the area. He also mentions his wife, Doris, whom the Doctor has not yet met, and who is on vacation with family in Devon. Mrs. Moynihan excuses herself and leaves, ostensibly for a long vacation in Greece; this was her departure date prior to meeting the Doctor. The Doctor and the Brigadier go out to examine the fogou again, sending Evelyn to conduct some historical research in Flint’s library.

Evelyn is warmly received, and quickly completes her overview. As she leaves, Flint and an unknown visitor conclude that she is too inquisitive, and must be dealt with. On the path back to the institute, Evelyn meets a hiker named Nikki; they begin to talk, but are cut short. A small creature leaps out of the fog, and attacks, killing Nikki. It flees when confronting Evelyn, however.

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Ludgate finds Evelyn and gets her back to the instituted to rest. The Doctor and the Brigadier return as well, having discussed the local history of myths about imps and goblins, and the history of strange happenings. In the morning, the trio compare notes; the Doctor confirms that the imp on the path was unable to attack her due to the stone she carried, taken from the fogou. Morgan interferes, causing the Doctor to lash out at him; Evelyn agrees to rest, but only if the Doctor apologizes. He does so, and enlists Morgan’s help, and then leaves to get equipment from the TARDIS. The TARDIS, however, is gone.

Ludgate and Evelyn conspire to break back into the mansion and investigate, as Evelyn believes something strange is happening there. Inside, they find a hidden lab full of equipment…and Flint catches her there, and locks her up.

The Doctor improvises a piece of equipment to track the alien energy readings. He concludes that the creature is dormant, but still aware, and can jam the signal; to overcome this, the Doctor will have to link his mind to the signal, which could be dangerous. He has the Brigadier switch on the machine, and warns him to leave it on no matter how much pain the Doctor appears to be in.

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Flint tells Evelyn a bit of his plan to locate and use the powers on the moor; then he sets up a machine to destroy her eyes, as her eyes led her here. Before he can do it, however, the Brigadier switches on the Doctor’s machine, causing an outburst of power; as that power is also linked to Flint’s machine, the resulting feedback destroys Flint’s machine. He locks her in a study instead. As power lashes the institute, the Brigadier is forced to disobey and shut off the machine. The Doctor recovers, and reveals that he felt a second psychic field…in Greece. It seems Mrs. Moynihan is in on the plot. As it turns out, she has gone to recover an alien artifact, traded off by the Celts long ago and now residing in a museum in Athens. The Doctor and the Brigadier head for a nearby UNIT facility to obtain help in stopping her.

It is too late. She recovers the artifact and hops a plane to return home, bypassing the larger—and more secure—airports for a smaller one. The Doctor, meanwhile, has deduced the alien’s identity; it is a Tregannon, a very long-lived and hostile species which has the ability to use mental energy for many purposes. It even has the ability to discorporate into energy—its dormant form—and return, assuming it has a technological focus. The device that Mrs. Moynihan has retrieved will give it that focus, allowing it to return in the flesh.

Evelyn breaks out by smashing—to her chagrin—a priceless old stained-glass window. However, she is intercepted by Ludgate, who forces her back to the manor. Flint locks her in the cellar this time, and reveals that Ludgate has been working with him. Mrs. Moynihan arrives, causing the death of a soldier en route. She has fallen in with the Tregannon, Sancreda, as a means of restoring her honor and getting respect after her husband left her, and is quite blinded to anything else that may come of it. She places the device on the tumulus…and Sancreda is restored to life.

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Sancreda examines the device, and determines that a component—the induction loop—is missing from it; Mrs. Moynihan identifies it as the stone that Evelyn is carrying. She goes to get it. The Doctor has recognized it as well, and realized the connection, and determines to use it as a bargaining tool Meanwhile, UNIT has detected Sancreda’s Tregannon ship entering the solar system. The ship blinds UNIT’s satellite surveillance in the area.

Moynihan intercepts the Doctor and returns him to the institute, where the Brigadier waits; Morgan has gone to find Evelyn. Meanwhile, Sancreda arrives at the manor and kills Ludgate. Flint confronts him, thinking he can control him, but Sancreda kills him as well, and destroys the laboratory. Morgan arrives thereafter and frees Evelyn and takes her back to the institute to get the induction loop. A confrontation ensues, and Morgan is revealed to be Sancreda; the real Morgan was killed immediately after Sancreda arose from the tumulus. Sancreda causes Moynihan’s dogs to kill her, leaving only the Brigadier, the Doctor, Evelyn, and himself. He takes the three of them, with the induction loop, to meet his ship on the moor, and reveals he plans to punish his old partner—his brother Scryfan–for leaving him behind.

Sancreda finds that the ship is empty. The Doctor reveals the truth: Scryfan had long ago come out of the ship to help Sancreda, and was killed by Sancreda’s errant firing of his weapon. He has been dead for eighteen thousand years. Sancreda decides to use the ship’s psychic weapons to take revenge on Earth instead, and forces the trio out. However, as the ship rises into the sky, it explodes. The Brigadier reveals that while Sancreda was enraged—and distracted—he switched the focusing device for a roll of wire from the Doctor’s pocket. This caused the ship’s weapon to discharge inside the hull rather than outside, destroying the ship.

With the threat neutralized, the TARDIS rematerializes—it had vanished at the prompt of one of its security systems. The Doctor, the Brigadier, and Evelyn take this opportunity for a well-deserved break, a meal at a pub, and talk of old times.

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I was excited to get to this audio (if a bit delayed over the weekend). I’m unashamedly a big ol’ fanboy of the Brigadier, and I couldn’t wait to see his first outing in the main range. Nicholas Courtney is fantastic as always, and hadn’t lost anything over the years. With that said, however, there is a bit of difficulty with placement in the timeline here. The TARDIS wiki places this story in the year 2000, but I suspect that that is an error (the release date is also in that year). From clues within the audio, it seems that the story must predate Battlefield, if not by much, which would place it in the mid-1990s (Battlefield was set in 1997). The Brigadier seems to be a bit less retired now than in that story; he openly admits to doing occasional undercover work for UNIT, where in Battlefield he was quite going against his wife’s wishes in returning to duty, implying that it was no longer customary for him. He also has not introduced the Doctor to Doris, as he does in Battlefield; he mentions her for the first time (although this creates a bit of a contradiction, as that episode implies that the Seventh Doctor is unaware of her. We could handwave it a bit by saying that the Brigadier is unaware of the order of the Doctor’s regenerations, so he does not know at that point if the Seventh Doctor would remember this meeting or not). He has not met the Sixth Doctor before, but recognizes him by his fashion sense and manner of arrival, as well as the Doctor’s knowledge of him. (Full disclosure: the novel Business Unusual contains an earlier meeting between the Brig and Six, which would be earlier from the Brig’s point of view, but later from the Doctor’s; but it seems to be ignored here.)

This is Evelyn Smythe’s second appearance. We have skipped a few offscreen adventures with her; she refers to having seen alien worlds. However, it hasn’t been long since her first appearance in The Marian Conspiracy, as the Doctor is just getting over a cold he contracted in that story. She’s quite at ease with the Doctor, despite not having known him long as yet. She remains as snarky as ever, and continues to be a good match for the Doctor’s wit—better than Peri ever was, in my opinion, though not for lack of trying on Peri’s part.

The story references several others in various media. The Brigadier states that the TARDIS previously became invisible, which occurred during The Invasion with the Second Doctor. In discussing the archaeological efforts, there is a reference to Leamington-Smith from The Stones of Blood (Fourth Doctor) and Sir Percival Flint from the backstory of The Daemons, who proves to be an ancestor of Sir Archibald Flint in this story. It’s a shame it worked out so badly for all of them. The Doctor uses a Shlangiian power cell; the Shlangiian first received mention in the VNA novel Original Sin, featuring the Seventh Doctor, Bernice Summerfield, Chris Cwej, and Roz Forrester (in fact, it was the first appearance of the latter two). Though it’s not an actual reference, it’s worth noting that there’s yet another occasion in which the Brigadier first tells the Doctor of his marriage (bringing the total to three), in the novel The King of Terror. Finally, the Doctor is revived by the power of tea; though I am sure this was not in any way intended to be a connection, we’ll see this again post-regeneration in The Christmas Invasion, where the fumes from spilled tea give renewed focus to the Tenth Doctor’s recent regeneration.

The acting is top-notch in this serial. Given that it’s a darker, more gothic mood—very reminiscent of The Daemons–the voice acting does much to set the tone, and I consider it a success. In my experience, Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier excels at this type of story; he’s droll but not over the top. He gives an air of solidity that a story like this needs. The Brigadier is very much the kind of man who faces the mysterious, sighs, shrugs, and sets his shoulders to plow through it. He’s long past the point where he would fail to believe the Doctor’s wild stories—he fully accepts them now—but his approach is the same: “What needs to happen? Very well, let’s get to it.” And in the end, he’s the one who saves the world, by pulling the device from the ship. Maggie Stables, as well, continues to thrive as Evelyn; she may not be young, but she’s no kindly grandmother. She can be sharp and cutting when she needs to be, and diplomatic when the situation calls for that. (Sometimes I wonder if I’m talking about the character or the actor here…) And of course, Colin Baker is long since at home in the role, even if his part here is a bit reduced compared to his co-stars.

On the down side, I was disappointed to see yet another mad-scientist type for the villain. There’s a bit of bait-and-switch; you expect Morgan to be trouble, but in the end it’s genial Flint who is the real problem. Still, it’s not enough, and I at least saw it coming. Like so many other Doctor Who villains of this type, he wants to use the arcane and yet newfound technology—in this case, Sancreda’s power—to gain power of his own, and it’s just tiresome. He’s one-dimensional enough that it comes as a bit of a relief when Sancreda kills him. I was, however, caught off guard by both Ludgate and Moynihan; I didn’t expect either of them to be in collusion with Flint or Sancreda, and I was even more surprised to see that Moynihan fell in with Sancreda apparently without Flint’s involvement. Sancreda himself is a bit stereotypical; he kills from a sense of vengeance, and without discretion. It can be perhaps forgiven in that he had ten thousand years of discorporation in which to go mad, and also in that his race is known to be violent and hostile anyway; but again, none of this is new to Doctor Who, and ancient threats are a dime a dozen. One almost expects to hear that Sancreda is the last of his kind.

Overall, it’s a good story, riding on the strength of its protagonists. The Sixth Doctor’s main range entries continue to get better with each installment, and this is no exception. It’s a great addition, as well, to Evelyn’s time as a companion, and anything involving the Brigadier is always welcome. Check it out if you haven’t—you won’t be disappointed.

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Next time: We finish season one of the Eighth Doctor Adventures with Human Resources, and we return to the Main Range with #10, Winter for the Adept, with the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa! See you there.

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

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: The Marian Conspiracy

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

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

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We open with the Sixth Doctor, companion-free for the moment, visiting a university history lecture in the year 2000. Or rather, he’s disrupting the lecture; upon dismissal of the class, he is called down by the instructor, one Dr. Evelyn Smythe. Evelyn claims to trace her lineage back to a Tudor-era courtier named John Whiteside-Smith. The Doctor makes a rather radical claim that Evelyn is at the center of a temporal nexus, but she rejects him, though with some humor. She isn’t laughing, however, when he meets her at her home and persuades her to review her family history—and finds that half her family tree is vanishing from the records. In fact, she herself is at risk of vanishing, because history has been changed.

Recovering quickly enough, Evelyn goes with the Doctor to 1558, to the royal court. Unfortunately—and unknown to them at first—they land three years earlier than planned, in 1555. This mistake nearly costs Evelyn her life; for Queen Elizabeth I is not yet on the throne, which is held by her sister Mary. Toasting Elizabeth’s reign, Evelyn is taken for a traitor. Meanwhile, the Doctor finds himself attending Mary, who believes she is pregnant.

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Evelyn is rescued by a group of conspirators, who secretly support Elizabeth and want to put her on the throne. She finds she is in over her head, however, when they reveal they intend to depose and kill Mary to achieve their goals. This contrasts with established history; and yet it is possible—and Evelyn unintentionally encourages them, by revealing that Mary’s pregnancy is not real, but psychosomatic. The Doctor finds himself confronting another conspirator, the Bishop Francois de Noallies of Aix, and making the situation worse. The time travelers are reunited in Mary’s presence, only to find that Evelyn has been set up; de Noallies rushes in and accuses her of attempting to poison the queen with painkillers (which are unknown in this period). He does this to deflect attention from his group’s own plot, but fails when the Doctor demonstrates that the pills are a medicine, and in fact gives some to Mary, winning her favor. However, Mary shows her favor by declaring that the Doctor will be married—to her handmaiden, Sarah. Putting the names together (the Doctor’s John Smith alias, combined with Sarah’s last name of Whiteside), she suggests that her ancestor is in fact the son of the Doctor and Sarah—making him her ancestor! He counters that history also attests that John Whiteside-Smith’s father was executed at the order of Mary.

Immediately thereafter, the Doctor and Evelyn are arrested, accused of heresy, and locked in the Tower of London. This happens because they were implicated by the Reverend Thomas Smith (small world, that last name), one of the conspirators, who has since been captured. While there, they determine what was changed to create the temporal nexus: Mary is due to die of natural causes in 1558, but if unimpeded, de Noallies will poison the sacrament at her next mass, causing her to die three years early. They escape the Tower—no thanks to the Doctor, with his current lack of a sonic screwdriver—and make their way to where the queen is taking mass. There they are prevented from entering by Sarah.

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Suddenly things fall into place for the Doctor. He realizes that de Noallies—who, despite his conspiratorial leanings, is quite devoted to his faith—would never pollute the sacrament, considering it a sin. Rather, Sarah is the true co-conspirator; and now it comes out why. She was married to Thomas Smith, but Mary’s recent edicts have disqualified her marriage to the Protestant reverend. Therefore she was going to poison Mary, and see Elizabeth onto the throne. Mary is of a mind to execute both of them; but the Doctor reveals that Sarah is pregnant with Smith’s child, and therefore persuades Mary to spare her. Instead she sends Sarah away into Elizabeth’s service. In gratitude, Sarah tells the Doctor she will name her child after him. Thomas, however, declines to recant his Protestant faith, and is burned at the stake. And thus, history is restored—and so is Evelyn, who now knows the truth about her ancestors.

In a final act, Evelyn insists on saving the other two conspirators, Leaf and Crow, who have since also been imprisoned in the tower. Using the TARDIS, they rescue them and place them in a Protestant city, where they will be safe. Afterward, Evelyn insists on traveling with the Doctor; she has a chance to see history with her own eyes, and will not turn it down.

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This serial was, in my opinion, the best Sixth Doctor outing so far. It’s a pure historical, complete with established historical characters (as opposed to, say, Black Orchid, which just includes the historical setting); these were increasingly rare in the later classic series, and I usually don’t find them to be particularly engaging, but in this case I’m making an exception. It’s a bit of a revision of history; Mary was historically not a well-regarded queen, but this story gives her a human side that history usually disregards. She has her positives—in her human affection—and her negatives. It says something about the Doctor that he treats her just as favorably as he later will do for her rival, Elizabeth; he has nothing personally against her, and even makes a brief attempt to show her the error of her ways, although he knows that history will be unchanged. Still, the story doesn’t gloss over her cruelty and dogmatism, either.

Evelyn Smythe is the real gem here. I had heard of her, but only in the most basic sense; she’s a refreshingly different companion (mostly due to her age—there, I said it; you may commence throwing stones now). The Doctor has been running around with young women for quite some time; Evelyn confounds him, I think, but at the same time they make a good team. I’m looking forward to more appearances from her.

Placing this story in the Doctor’s timeline is a bit difficult. He is traveling alone; but the television series affords a few times that that is possible, if we extrapolate a little. It could occur between Peri’s death and the beginning of Trial of a Time Lord; though I find that less likely, as the episodes seem to imply that not much time passed in between. More likely, it occurs after Trial—and in fact, Big Finish states that this is the case—but to allow this we have to assume that he was able to take Melanie Bush home as planned and wait to meet her in the proper order. This was hinted onscreen, but never established. In that case, Evelyn’s adventures would occur in the gap between Mel’s arrivals. Certainly once Mel becomes his regular companion, there is no room for any more independent adventures (or at least, without creating some unusual circumstances to justify it), as Mel remains until Ace joins the Seventh Doctor.

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Quite a few references occur in this story, although some of them refer to things that wouldn’t be established until some years later. The queen asks the Doctor about marriage, and he remarks that he has “not attained that happy state”; it plays perfectly as an allusion to his later marriage to Elizabeth I (and also to River Song), although that would not be fully established until The Day of the Doctor. There’s a reference back to the Great Fire of London, which makes the Doctor uncomfortable; and well it should, as his fifth incarnation was partly responsible for the fire (The Visitation). There are several references to events which at this point had not been established, but would later be fleshed out in other audios. The Doctor mentions other imprisonments in the Tower of London; though not seen onscreen, these were also referenced in The Sensorites by the First Doctor, and The Mind of Evil by the Third Doctor. He would later be imprisoned in three incarnations at once in The Day of the Doctor, and have a similar conversation about the sturdiness of the cell door. He refers to having killed an entire race, which occurred in Terror of the Vervoids; and he mentions the deaths of other companions, though not by name (The Daleks’ Master Plan, Earthshock, and—though it hasn’t been established yet—the audio The First Wave).

The scenes in which Evelyn briefly vanishes are reminiscent to me of the Doctor in The Name of the Doctor, when the Great Intelligence enters his timeline and causes it to “burn from the inside”. Although the Doctor doesn’t vanish outright, it seems to be that the cumulative effect, if unchecked, would be that he would cease to exist. It’s an effective cliffhanger in part three when Evelyn vanishes just before the closing; even knowing she will survive, it’s very well-played.

Overall, I feel that the main range is beginning to pick up well at this point. The first few audios were a bit rough, having just gotten started; now they are flowing smoothly, and the actors seem more comfortable in their roles. It’s a good time to be the Sixth Doctor, as Colin Baker seems to be getting more stories than any of the others; and it’s about time, as well. Had his television episodes been like this, perhaps the series’ history would have been very different.

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Next time: On Friday, we’ll look at Immortal Beloved, the next in the Eighth Doctor Adventures, Series One; and Monday, we’re listening to Main Range seven, The Genocide Machine, starring the Seventh Doctor and Ace, which begins the Dalek Empire arc! See you there.

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

The Marian Conspiracy

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Whispers of Terror

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

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

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The date is unknown, but sometime in the relatively near future. The Sixth Doctor and Peri land inside a curious edifice: the Museum of Aural Antiquities. It’s a facility devoted to the preservation and curation of sound, including speeches and other voice clips; and it’s curated by the eccentric Gantman, who is supremely suited for a job involving sound, as he is blind. He and his assistant are assembling a recording of the final, unbroadcast speech from one Visteen Krane, and actor-turned-politician who committed suicide shortly before he would have announced a highly-anticipated bid for the presidency.

The Doctor and Peri arrive in the middle of this, and are quickly brought to Gantman. He explains that an associate of Krane, Beth Pernell, is coming to the museum to broadcast the speech, which will provide support for her own presidential bid. Almost immediately, however, something goes wrong: A strange collection of voices and other noises begins to haunt Peri and others in the museum…and a man is killed.

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It becomes apparent that the voices are more than just sounds: they are an intelligent creature, existing only in aural waves. The creature has the ability to travel in any sound, no matter how quiet; and it wants to escape the museum. It is guilty of the murder; and strangely, it is discovered to be a remnant of Visteen Krane!

Beth Pernell arrives on the scene at the worst possible time, intent on making her broadcast. However, the Doctor and Peri discover that her intentions are not what they seem. After capturing the creature, they at last piece together her plan: She is subtly altering the speech to make it appear to support her, when in fact it was delivered in direct opposition to her. The Doctor captures the sound creature; but it is tortured, and then unintentionally released, by Pernell. It allies itself with the Doctor to bring an end to her scheme by first preventing the broadcast, and then by allowing it to happen–but with changes that further make it clear that Beth is not to be trusted or elected. In addition, the edited broadcast makes it clear that Krane’s death was no suicide, but rather, a murder plotted by Beth and carried out by her accomplice, Hans Stengard. Pernell flees the museum, but dies when her vehicle explodes, a final gift from the sound creature. The creature–or rather, Krane’s echo–now restored to sanity by the Doctor, opts to remain in the museum, being supremely suited to helping Gantman with his curation duties. The Doctor and Peri then depart in the TARDIS, leaving the blind Gantman to remark, appropriately, “Well, now I’ve heard everything.”

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After a rocky start in The Sirens of Time, this is a good solo outing for the Sixth Doctor. Although by necessity this is still early in his lifetime (that is, given that Peri is the companion), he is far less abrasive than in his televised appearances, yet he retains his quick wit and a degree of arrogant self-possession. More striking is Peri’s performance here; I’ve often stated that for most of her televised run, she had the demeanor of a trauma victim or a sufferer of PTSD, but there is none of that here. Instead, she’s the sunny, confident, and somewhat snarky Peri that we first met alongside the Fifth Doctor, and perhap even more capable. It’s a good turn for her, and makes me wish that we had seen her this way on television.

The science behind the aural creature stretches credibility a bit; I kept thinking, “What if it just gets quiet? Won’t he die?” However, the idea of a non-corporeal creature that lives in a form of transmission is not new to Doctor Who, and would much later be explored onscreen in The Idiot’s Lantern and The Bells of St. John. The Krane creature is interesting to me; upon being tortured, it becomes the monster that it has already been believed to be, but is healed–completely inadvertently–by the very cancellation wave that is meant to destroy it.

I liked the pace of this serial. The episodes ran about twenty minutes each, a bit shorter than the television episodes of the comparable era; but there was no trouble following along as I experienced with The Sirens of Time. It felt like a quick story, but that was not a problem; it was coherent and well-done. The voice acting is excellent as well; although I suspected from the beginning that Beth Pernell was more than she seems, her true character stayed well hidden until it was time to reveal it. The same can be said for her accomplice, Stengard. Overall, this serial is excellent, and I recommend it.

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Next time: Land of the Dead, starring the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa! See you there.

 

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

Whispers of Terror

Audio Review: Doctor Who: The Sirens of Time

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

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

Sirens of Time 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sirens of Time

Final Thoughts: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch

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

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

Where it all began.

Where it all began.

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

First doctor companions enemies

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

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

The War Games

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

Doctor Who the seventies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

old and new dw

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

ninth doctor 2

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

time crash

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

eleventh doctor 1

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

twelve and one

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

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

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

tenth doctor 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Season 26 feature

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

Doctors banner

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

 

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

The First Doctor, William Hartnell, 1963-1966

The Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, 1966-1969

The Third Doctor, John Pertwee, 1970-1974

The Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, 1974-1980

The Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, 1981-1984

The Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, 1984-1986

The Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, 1986-1989

The Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, 1996, 2013

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

The Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, 2005

The Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, 2006-2010

The Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, 2011-2014

The Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, 2014-Present

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

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

Let this be our last battlefield!

Let this be our last battlefield!

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

Gotcha!

Gotcha!

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

Season 26 3

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

Goodbye, Brigadier!  And RIP Nicholas Courtney.

Goodbye, Brigadier! And RIP Nicholas Courtney.

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

What an odd house.

What an odd house.

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

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

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

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

Wow, you guys don't look so good.

Wow, you guys don’t look so good.

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

Bad touch! Bad touch!

Bad touch! Bad touch!

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

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

Uhh…anyone want to help us out here?

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

Season 26 10

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

A colder, more deadly Master.

A colder, more deadly Master.

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

Season 26 13

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

Goodbye, Doctor, and goodbye, Ace.

Goodbye, Doctor, and goodbye, Ace.

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

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

"That's my fetish!"

“That’s my fetish!”

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

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

Dimensions in Time 1

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

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

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

Ghost Light

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

Survival (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Dimensions in Time

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

Dragonfire