Short Story: Chasing Humanity

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

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

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

Third Doctor and Jo Grant

Chasing Humanity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

“Shh.” He raised a finger. “Listen.”

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

“A heart attack?” Jo suggested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, no, that won’t be–”

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

“A… shapeshifter?” Benton murmured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The sunburned faces,” Jo said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third Doctor party

Advertisements

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: Vengeance of the Stones

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

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

vengeance-of-the-stones-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

vengeance-of-the-stones-3

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

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

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

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

vengeance-of-the-stones-2

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

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

Vengeance of the Stones

Doctor Who Audio Drama Review: The Fires of Vulcan

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

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

fires-of-vulcan-1

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

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

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

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

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

fires-of-vulcan-2

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

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

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

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

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

fires-of-vulcan-3

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

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

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

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

fires-of-vulcan-4

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

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

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

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

fires-of-vulcan-5

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

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

The Fires of Vulcan

Doctor Who Audio 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!

spectre-of-lanyon-moor-1

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.

spectre-of-lanyon-moor-2

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.

spectre-of-lanyon-moor-3

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.

spectre-of-lanyon-moor-4

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.

spectre-of-lanyon-moor-5

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.

spectre-of-lanyon-moor-6

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.

spectre-of-lanyon-moor-7

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.

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

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

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

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has never seen this episode!

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

children-in-need-1

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

christmas-invasion-1

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

christmas-invasion-2

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

christmas-invasion-3

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

christmas-invasion-4

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

christmas-invasion-6

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

christmas-invasion-7

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

christmas-invasion-8

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

christmas-invasion-9

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

christmas-invasion-10

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

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

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

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

christmas-invasion-12

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

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

 

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

christmas-invasion-14

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

christmas-invasion-16

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

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!

eight classic doctors

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

Where it all began.

Where it all began.

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

First doctor companions enemies

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

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

The War Games

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

Doctor Who the seventies

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

The Android Invasion 1

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

Season 21 10

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

Trial 13

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

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

Season 26 10

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.

movie 11

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.

Doctors banner

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

The Past is the Present: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Twenty

It’s been a hectic few weeks behind the scenes, but today, we’re back, with our Classic Doctor Who rewatch, season twenty! Let’s get started!

Omega, looking less than his best today.

I should mention at the outset that this is an anniversary season—twenty years, to be precise—and thus it’s a little different. This season is filled with appearances by villains and other references from the past seasons and incarnations of the Doctor, culminating with the very first official anniversary special, The Five Doctors. (The Three Doctors, while definitely an anniversary story, was technically not a special; it was a normal part of its season.) In our season opener, Arc of Infinity, it’s the villain and former Time Lord Omega, last seen in The Three Doctors—and once presumed dead. Here he returns, in a plan to retake our universe and punish the Time Lords—and he needs the Doctor to do it.

Welcome back, Tegan...were you gone?

Welcome back, Tegan…were you gone?

The plan is simple, but difficult. Omega wants to cross back into our universe, but as he remains in an antimatter state, he needs the body and biodata of a Time Lord to do so. In vengeance for his previous defeat, he chooses the Doctor as his target; but it quickly becomes clear that someone high in the Gallifreyan hierarchy is also involved, as only a Councilor can access the Matrix to retrieve the biodata. That someone, in the end, proves to be Councilor Hedin, who has been taken in by hero-worship of Omega, and wants to restore him, not believing the danger he represents. In the meantime, the High Council’s solution is simple and draconian: They will execute the Doctor. Without him, Omega cannot cross over.

I feel like I should know that face...

I feel like I should know that face…

By sheer coincidence—or perhaps not, given that Earth was the setting for The Three Doctors—Omega also has made contact with Earth in 1983 Amsterdam, and has hidden his (antimatter?!) TARDIS there. How he obtained such a TARDIS is never known, but it is clearly a more advanced model than the Doctor’s Type 40. Tegan Jovanka, having recently left the TARDIS and lost her job, stumbles into the situation and is captured by Omega for use as bait. In this manner she eventually rejoins the TARDIS crew. Omega is returned to his own universe, and the Doctor is permitted to go on his way.

Borusa: Man of Way Too Many Faces

Borusa: Man of Way Too Many Faces

Some observations: Borusa has regenerated again—he seems to go through them faster than the Doctor!—and has been named Lord President in the Doctor’s absence. There are also a new Castellan and a new Chancellery Guard Commander (played by a pre-Doctor Colin Baker!), replacing Andred. Neither Andred nor Leela are seen, though it is mentioned that they have married. Gallifrey seems to have relaxed its no-aliens policy, which I like to attribute to Leela. The High Council is considerably smaller in this era than it will be seen to be during the Time War (The End of Time); however it may be that, like the Senate and House in America, not every member must be present to be in session. The Doctor says to Maxil, “If I’m to die, I want to prepare myself mentally. For that I need to be alone.” This bit of dialogue could be taken as distant foreshadowing of the concept of a confession dial. And last, Peter Davison joins Hartnell, Troughton, and Baker in the tradition of playing both the Doctor and a villain in the same episode; he plays Omega’s short-lived form after transference, which shares the Doctor’s biodata.

Let's go in the snake-headed cavern.  What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s go in the snake-headed cavern. What could possibly go wrong?

Snakedance takes us to the planet Manussa in the year 3426, though it takes some mental gymnastics to work out evidence that the date is in Earth years; the planet is a former Earth colony, but with a convoluted history of its own, with two separate empires in its past. One of those empires is the Sumaran Empire, ruled by another past enemy: the Mara. That being exerts its influence over Tegan here, causing her to pilot the TARDIS to Manussa, and then taking control of her to bring itself back to the corporeal world. On Deva Loka, it seemed to lack the strength to control more than one person; here it suffers no such restriction, and quickly spreads its influence. It cannot be beaten with mirrors this time, and must be destroyed by the Doctor, who requires the aid of an old mystic named Dojjen.

The Mara returns!

The Mara returns!

The Doctor’s behavior here is uncharacteristically frantic and excitable; it’s very similar to the Eleventh Doctor. At one point he’s stuck in a cell; too bad he doesn’t have some kind of sonic device to use as a lockpick…nah, that’s just crazy talk. (Never thought I’d get to use THAT joke again. Even Nyssa jokes about it!) Having rejoined the TARDIS, Tegan shares a room with Nyssa, which is odd given the TARDIS’s internal volume; they seem to just like the company. Overall this story is well-written, and along with its prequel Kinda, it has traditionally been well-liked and enjoyed high ratings. It’s not my personal favorite Fifth Doctor story (after some thought, that would probably be The Visitation), but it’s high on the list.

Welcome back, Brigadier!

Welcome back, Brigadier!

Mawdryn Undead takes us back to Earth, and brings back a familiar face: Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. With that reference, though, the serial touches off the infamous UNIT dating controversy. To put it briefly—and I won’t go into all the details here—if the dates given in this serial are accurate, then none of the previously-given chronology for the UNIT stories (and by extension, all the way back to The Abominable Snowmen) can add up properly. We could easily have an entire post about this controversy; therefore I’ll just give the dates as noted in the story, and I’ll say that I just simply consider them incorrect (specifically, too early by several years). I take the vast majority of UNIT stories to be roughly contemporary with their broadcast dates, which this serial would not allow. To me, discarding the dates here is the easiest and simplest solution.

Turlough and the Black Guardian

Turlough and the Black Guardian

The story begins in 1983; its flashback scenes are set in 1977. It’s the beginning of the Black Guardian Trilogy, which sees the return of that villain, who wants to fulfill his long-ago promise to destroy the Doctor for his defeat in the Key to Time incident. The Black Guardian enlists the aid of a teenage schoolboy named Vislor Turlough, who has a secret of his own: he’s not from Earth. His true origin will not be revealed until next season. Turlough happens to be a student at Brendon Public School, where the now-retired Brigadier teaches mathematics. In exchange for a promise of freedom from Earth, Turlough willingly helps the Black Guardian in this and the next two stories, but balks at killing the Doctor; he’s not evil, just young and desperate. The Brigadier can’t remember his previous involvement with the Doctor at first; he believes this to be the result of a nervous breakdown in 1977, but in reality, it’s the Blinovitch Limitation Effect. Put another way, his past and present selves encounter each other, and upon physical contact, they short out the time differential between them; the resultant discharge of energy temporarily affects his memory. He is eventually set right by the Doctor.

I hate to be THAT GUY, Mawdryn, but your brain is showing.

I hate to be THAT GUY, Mawdryn, but your brain is showing.

The subplot from which the serial takes is title is that of Mawdryn, a scientist of a race which attempted to steal regeneration technology from the Time Lords. It backfired miserably, leaving him and his fellow scientists constantly dying, but never dead. They, too aren’t evil, only pitiable; they want the Doctor to willingly give up his regeneration energy—all his remaining lives, in the first hint that regeneration energy is even a thing—to allow them to die. When his companions are affected, he agrees to do so; but the Brigadiers’ discharge of temporal energy at the right moment powers Mawdryn’s machine and saves him the trouble. Afterward, Turlough joins the crew.

A simple schoolboy problem gone catastrophically wrong.

A simple schoolboy problem gone catastrophically wrong.

I don’t often talk about behind-the scenes situations, but in this story, the production team inteneded for Ian Chesterton to make an appearance. William Russell proved unavailable, unfortunately; however, we got the Brigadier instead, so I am not complaining. But, what a missed opportunity! Ian has long been one of my favorite companions.

I don't even know what this thing is.  It was a weird and dull story.

I don’t even know what this thing is. It was a weird and dull story.

Part two of the Black Guardian Trilogy, Terminus, takes us to the 35th century and the station of Terminus, parked at the approximate center of the universe. The TARDIS is sent there via sabotage by Turlough, who is still under the power of the Black Guardian. Terminus is allegedly a hospital facility for the sufferers of Lazar’s Disease, which has plagued the known universe. However, secretly it kills the sufferers. It used to have the ability to travel in time; it inadvertently created the universe when it traveled back too far and a hydrogen engine exploded, triggering the Big Bang. Tragically, that is NOT the story at hand here, and is only tangentially relevant; the Doctor must prevent a second such explosion which would destroy the universe. (The Doctor himself will be responsible for a “reboot” of the Big Bang in The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang.)

Not sure if they're reacting to Nyssa's exit, or to this dry story.

Not sure if they’re reacting to Nyssa’s exit, or to this dry story.

The Guardian again fails to kill the Doctor, and grows more impatient with Turlough. Nyssa opts to leave the TARDIS here; she is first infected with Lazar’s Disease, then cured, and subsequently she chooses to stay behind and help the other sufferers. The Doctor, Tegan, and Turlough travel on without her.

A sailing ship.  In space.  It's gonna be one of those stories, folks.

A sailing ship. In space. It’s gonna be one of those stories, folks.

Enlightenment wraps up the Black Guardian Trilogy, and sees the reappearance of the White Guardian for the first time since The Ribos Operation. It returns us to the Sol system, but not to Earth; rather it takes place on a collection of anachronistic ships in space, which are piloted by the Eternals. These beings are immortal, incorporeal (except by choice) and above mortal beings, but are not on the level of gods; they require a living being in order to think for themselves. In this, their only televised appearance, they race through the solar system in search of Enlightenment—true knowledge—which is guarded by the Black and White Guardians. One of them—Wrack, captain of the Buccaneer—is in league with the Black Guardian to cheat and win the race; Wrack will gain ultimate power, and the Black Guardian gains a final opportunity to destroy the Doctor. The tables are turned on him when the Doctor causes the death of Wrack, and Turlough uses the gem of enlightenment to destroy the Black Guardian (temporarily—as the White Guardian points out, he must always return).

The Guardians, watching over the cosmic egg cup--I mean, Enlightenment.

The Guardians, watching over the cosmic egg cup–I mean, Enlightenment.

To me this serial was the low point of the season, and I didn’t care for it. However, it sees Turlough, now free of the Black Guardian, join the TARDIS crew in truth, though he still has his own secrets. It adequately wraps up the Black Guardian arc, but felt flat as a story.

The Master and Kamelion.

The Master and Kamelion.

The King’s Demons is the true season finale, as the following story is a special which was released much later. It’s a historical, dealing with the signing of the Magna Carta, which happens offscreen. It sees the return of the Master, who brings with him a new companion, the robot Kamelion. Kamelion has the ability to impersonate anyone; the Master intends to impersonate King John and see him discredited, therefore preventing the signing, which will weaken human history. Okay, it’s kind of a weak plot for the Master. At any rate, Kamelion also has the weakness of being controllable by anyone with sufficient telepathic strength. As a result, at the end, he is freed by the Doctor and joins the crew; but he will only appear once more, spending the rest of his time hiding in the TARDIS to prevent being taken captive again.

En garde!

En garde!

The Doctor again shows off his swordsmanship, following in the footsteps of the Third and Fourth Doctors; while no other classic Doctor will do so, the Tenth Doctor will revive the tradition in The Christmas Invasion. The fight against the disguised Master was completed without stuntmen; Peter Davison and Anthony Ainley did all the sparring themselves. Again, the Master’s identity is concealed with a double anagram; the character is called “Sir Gilles Estram”, an anagram for Master, while the actor was credited as “James Stoker”, an anagram for “Master’s Joke”.

"Hey, Doctor."  "Yeah?"  "You think they'll figure out my identity this time?"  "Not a chance, Estram, not a chance."

“Hey, Doctor.” “Yeah?” “You think they’ll figure out my identity this time?” “Not a chance, Estram, not a chance.”

This is an odd choice for season finale. In addition to being a fairly weak (but enjoyable) story for the Master, it’s also a two-parter, the only one of the season. On the other hand, part one is the 600th episode of the series; and it’s possible it may have been planned with the knowledge that there would be a special before next season.

That's a wax figure of Tom Baker in the background.

That’s a wax figure of Tom Baker in the background.

For the twentieth anniversary special, we return to Gallifrey for The Five Doctors. It truly is an anniversary special, being broadcast (at least, in America, though oddly not in the UK) on 11/23/83, twenty years to the day after the show’s premiere. (British viewers would have to wait two days for their broadcast.) It’s also the first Children in Need fundraising special for Doctor Who, though the revived series has greatly expanded this tradition. Though it’s called The Five Doctors, in fact only four appeared in new footage; Tom Baker declined to appear so soon after the end of his tenure, a decision he has since stated he regrets. Fortunately, footage from the unused Shada was present, and reworked to give him a bit of coverage in which he and Romana II were caught in a time eddy, much as the First Doctor was in The Three Doctors. Also, sadly, William Hartnell had since passed away, and therefore his part was played by lookalike Richard Hurndall (who, unfortunately, has also died in the intervening years). A number of companions appear as well: Susan (now visibly older), Sarah Jane, Romana II, Tegan, Turlough, K9 Mark III (never before seen on the show, but seen in the failed pilot for K9 and Company) and the Brigadier, as well as (in illusionary form) Jamie, Zoe, Mike Yates, and Liz Shaw. K9’s appearance sets the stage for his appearance in NuWho’s School Reunion. The Third Doctor and Second Doctor appear to be snatched from near the end of their lives; the Second Doctor is visiting a UNIT reunion and reminiscing with the Brigadier, and the Third Doctor knows Sarah Jane and is somehow aware of the Fourth Doctor despite never having met him. All of the above characters are collected by the Time Scoop and taken to the Death Zone on Gallifrey, a relic of Gallifrey’s bloodthirsty past, which contains the tomb of Time Lord founder Rassilon.

The Master, summoned!

The Master, summoned! (Could not find a clearer picture.  He is strangely absent from most of the pictures I found for this serial.)

The High Council summons the Master to rescue the Doctor, and promises him a new regeneration cycle as a reward. This is the first indication that they can grant such cycles. He takes them quite seriously, but most likely does not receive the regenerations here, although we know he will receive such a cycle in the Time War. It’s also an early indication that the Master’s relationship with the Doctor is deep and complex; he muses to the Council that “a cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about.” He is instrumental in helping the Doctor, but in typical Master fashion—that is, through trickery and deception—and he escapes at the end. For once, he’s NOT the villain.

Rassilon!  The man, the myth, the legend, the corpse!

Rassilon! The man, the myth, the legend, the corpse!

The Villain, as it turns out, is Borusa. Nearing the end of his life, he seeks immortality, which it is said that Rassilon discovered. He uses the Doctor’s various lives to clear the way to Rassilon’s Tower and tomb, and there encounters the mind of the fabled Time Lord himself; however, it proves to have all been a trap, when he accepts immortality only to find himself a living relief carved on Rassilon’s sarcophagus. Immortality, it seems, is too dangerous for anyone. The Doctor—in all his forms—quickly declines immortality, and leaves via the time scoop (though an unused ending would have had them all, with their companions, crowding into the TARDIS—I would have liked to see that!). Meanwhile, the Fifth Doctor becomes Lord President by default—and nimbly frees himself from the office, going on the run from his people once again. “After all, that’s how it all started.”

Things I enjoyed this season: Snakedance was a pleasure to watch, though it required a lot of attention. (I’m watching these serials in between tasks at work, so sometimes that is a challenge.) Tegan makes a wonderfully haughty villain, given that her usual personality alternates between mousy and whiny. Mwdryn Undead was great as well, and it was wonderful to see the Brigadier again. The dating of the story may have been clumsy, but the execution was great; any story that directly relies on time travel has the potential to be unworkable, but this one worked out well. I didn’t care for the rest of the Black Guardian Trilogy; a dozen times I was thinking “oh come on, the Doctor MUST know what Turlough is doing by now, even Tegan sees it!” The King’s Demons was a lot of fun, and while I’ve complained a bit that it’s not a very worthy plot for the Master, it was also nice to see something on a smaller scale. I liked Kamelion, and think the character deserves more development than he gets; it’s unfortunate that the prop was so difficult to use, limiting his appearances. And The Five Doctors was great all around. I suppose I may be easy to please, but I’ve enjoyed every multi-doctor story I’ve ever encountered, and this was no exception. Of course I wish that Tom Baker had appeared; but I think they covered it well, and not clumsily. The interaction between the various Doctors and their mismatched companions was something I would love to see more of (attention BBC: Please write a thirteen-Doctor story while these people are still alive! Get on it!).

Next season: Deaths everywhere, and the Doctor too! See you there.

All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; Links are Below

Arc of Infinity

Snakedance

Mawdryn Undead (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Terminus

Enlightenment

The Kings Demons

The Five Doctors

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

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

Castrovalva 1

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

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

Castrovalva 2

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

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

Four to doomsday 1

The Urbankans.

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

Apparently to Doctor doesn't require a spacesuit?

Apparently to Doctor doesn’t require a spacesuit?

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

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

I’d feel bad for Tegan…but which one?

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

The Mara, revealed!

The Mara, revealed!

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

Goodbye, old friend.

Goodbye, old friend.

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

The Terileptils.

The Terileptils.

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

Richard Mace!

Richard Mace!

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

Welcome to Cranleigh!

Welcome to Cranleigh!

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

There may be some resemblance...

There may be some resemblance…

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

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

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

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

Goodbye, Adric.

Goodbye, Adric.

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

Heathrow, circa 140 million BC.

Heathrow, circa 140 million BC.

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

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

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

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

The Fifth Doctor Nyssa Tegan Adric

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

Next time: Twentieth Anniversary! See you there.

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

Castrovalva

Four to Doomsday

Kinda

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

Black Orchid

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

Time Flight (Parts 1-3, Part 4)

Farewell, UNIT: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Thirteen

This week in our Classic Doctor Who rewatch, the Fourth Doctor has hit his stride.  Let’s get started!

Terror of the Zygons 1

Terror of the Zygons

 

After several stories offworld, Terror of the Zygons brings us back to Earth.  It’s a UNIT story, and in fact, it’s the Brigadier’s final appearance of the decade; he will return in 1983’s Mawdryn Undead, which is oddly not a UNIT story.  This serial is also Harry Sullivan’s last story as a companion, though not his final appearance; he remains behind after being shot and recovering.

Terror of the Zygons 2

Goodbye (for now!), Brigadier

 

The villains are the newly-introduced, shapeshifting Zygons. They will never appear again in the classic series—what a waste!—but return strong in the fiftieth anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, and again in its two-part sequel The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion.  Coincidentally, their first two appearances, though 38 years apart, both occurred in stories in which Tom Baker appeared.  Here they use a cyborg Skarasen to menace humanity, thus giving us Doctor Who’s take on the Loch Ness Monster.  We get some environmental themes here, but they’re mild this time; the Zygons want to disrupt an energy conference that deals with environmental issues, thus beginning their transformation of Earth’s climate.

Terror of the Zygons 3

Goodbye, Harry (sort of)

 

Something interesting about their appearance here: Though the Time Lords seem to be unaware as yet of the Last Great Time War, its effects are already being felt, as The Day of the Doctor reveals that the war is responsible for the destruction of the Zygon homeworld, which is key to this story as it is to that one.

Planet of Evil 2

The Antimatter Creature

 

Planet of Evil takes us far from Earth, to a planet called Zeta Minor, in the year 37,166 (the date is given onscreen in the first few seconds).  It’s distant indeed, on the very edge of the known universe—so far, in fact, that the universe here interacts with another universe, one made of antimatter.  It’s not clear if this is the same antimatter universe seen in The Three Doctors. The story is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in that one of the characters—possessed by the antimatter creature—displays a sharp duality of nature, of which he himself is unaware.  It’s a fairly action-packed story, with a pretty good sense of dread throughout.  It’s very brutal, though, as most of the humans are dead by the end—something which happens often this season.

Planet of Evil 1

The Doctor goes scarfless!

 

This is the first time we see the Fourth Doctor inside the TARDIS console room, though of course it’s clear he has been using it previously. Yet again, it’s a new console and set, slightly more utilitarian than the last, with roundels that are nearly flush with the wall.  It won’t be the last new set we see under Baker’s tenure. Speaking of Baker, he goes scarfless!  For much of the story, anyway.  Allegedly this had more to do with filming of the antimatter-universe scenes than with any stylistic decision.  Without the scarf, his chosen costume here is very reminiscent of the Eighth Doctor’s movie costume.  There’s one more noteworthy contrast, as well:  The jungle set in this story was built specifically to contrast with the sets on that other 1960s sci-fi series…Star Trek, I believe it was called.  It’s therefore ironic, then, that the probe ship seen in orbit is very much in the style of Star Trek, with nacelles and a rounded primary hull.  It even has a voice-controlled computer!

Pyramids of Mars 1

Marcus Scarman and the Mummies…worst band name ever

 

I had seen Pyramids of Mars before, and thought highly of it.  It doesn’t lose anything on repeat viewing.  The Doctor attempts to return to UNIT headquarters, but overshoots with regard to the date; he lands on the property, but sixty-four years earlier, in 1911.  UNIT headquarters hasn’t been built yet; a former priory, now owned by Marcus Scarman, stands on the grounds.  It’s here that the Doctor utters, to Sarah Jane, his famous line, “I’m not a human.  I walk in eternity.”  In the same scene, he mentions Victoria Waterfield, and possibly Vicki Pallister, when Sarah wears one of Victoria’s dresses.  First mentions in this episode include the concept of isomorphic controls, keyed to an individual (better known from the Master’s laser screwdriver in The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords).  He’s claimed repeatedly that the TARDIS only responds to him (a patent lie), but this is the first occurrence of the term.  He also first mentions his respiratory bypass system, which will recur several times.

Pyramids of Mars 2

Sutekh the Destroyer

 

The enemy at hand here is Sutekh, the last of the Osirans, the beings that inspired the ancient Egyptian gods. He’s a destroyer who wants to be free to bring death to everything and everyone; however, he remains trapped in a pyramid on Mars, linked to Earth only by a time-space tunnel.  The scenario is akin to The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, and also to The Rings of Akhaten; in fact, in his imprisonment Sutekh strongly resembles the mummy in the latter story.  Unable to move, he mind-controls Marcus Scarman to accomplish his goals.

Pyramids of Mars 3

Time can be changed for better…or for worse

 

There’s a very powerful illustration here that time is fluid and can be changed (except, of course, for fixed points). When Sarah declares that Sutekh can’t win because they already know the future is secure, the Doctor takes her forward to 1980, where Earth has become a blasted wasteland due to Sutekh’s victory.  They then return to 1911 to combat him, ultimately defeating him with a pretty clever trap involving time itself.  Significantly, this represents the final step in the transformation of the Doctor’s views on time; in his first life, he was adamant that history was fixed and should not be tampered with (see The Aztecs).

The Android Invasion 1

The Android Invasion

 

Returning to UNIT, the Doctor foils The Android Invasion.  This is the final appearance of John Benton and Harry Sullivan, though they will get occasional mentions in the future.  The Brigadier does not appear, though it has been documented that the story was written with him in mind; Nicholas Courtney declined to appear.  The enemies are the Kraal of planet Oseidon, a villain I would very much like to see in NuWho; there’s a lot of untapped potential in this warlike race.  Here, they create a copy of the village of Devesham and its inhabitants, in preparation for an invasion of Earth.  The creepy village and villagers are reminiscent of the illusory village in Series Five’s Amy’s Choice.  (Truly, Earth must be the most desirable planet in the universe; I’ve lost track of how many times alien races have tried to make it into a new homeworld, but it’s already happened twice this season!)

The Android Invasion 2

Goodbye, Harry and Benton

 

This is one of the occasional stories where, for whatever reason, the Doctor loses access to the TARDIS for a time. In this case, it proceeds to Earth when the key is inserted, after being “paused” in its journey.  It illustrates again that the key is more than just a key; it’s an integral part of the TARDIS.  It also illustrates that the TARDIS has a number of automatic procedures, usually intended to preserve its safety and/or that of its inhabitants, which will be expanded greatly in NuWho.

Mindbending

Mindbending

 

In The Brain of Morbius, we get one of the most famous and controversial classic serials.  It introduces the well-known controversy as to whether the Doctor had regenerations pre-Hartnell.  However, the preponderance of evidence in the entire series indicates that Hartnell was, in fact, the First Doctor.  The other faces seen in the mindbending battle are probably best construed as Morbius’s past faces.

Sisterhood of Karn 1

The Sisterhood of Karn

 

This is the first appearance of the planet Karn and the Sisterhood of Karn. It doesn’t delve into their history, but it makes it clear that they share some history with the Time Lords—in fact, they appear to be the same species.  Their high priestess, Ohica, is not the same as the High Priestess Ohila from The Night of the Doctor and The Magician’s Apprentice, but the name is a tribute.  The sisterhood as seen here is very reminiscent of the Sybilline Sisterhood from Series Four’s The Fires of Pompeii.

Morbius and Solon

Morbius and Solon.  Spoilers:  It doesn’t end well for either of them.

 

The villain is the executed Time Lord Morbius, a sort of terrorist and revolutionary—or rather, it’s his brain, which lacks a body. He is provided with one by the human scientist Mehendri Solon, who wants the Doctor’s head to complete the project.  How a human got involved with Morbius is unclear; likewise, the date is unclear. A History of the Universe places it in 2375, based on the similarity between Solon’s work and that of Crozier, from Season 24’s Mindwarp. However, being that Morbius is a Time Lord, it could be any year.

Elixir of Life

The Doctor takes the Elixir

 

The Doctor first takes the Sisterhood’s Elixir of Life here, after restoring their Sacred Flame and defeating Morbius. It restores him, but doesn’t spark a regeneration, in contrast with The Night of the Doctor.  It’s a pity, in a way, that we don’t see that aspect yet; could the elixir have saved Morbius by starting a regeneration?  How much of a Time Lord’s body is required to regenerate, anyway?  We just don’t know.

The Seeds of Doom 1

The Seeds of Doom.  That was the same reaction I had as a child, but with more screaming.

 

We finish with The Seeds of Doom.  For me, this was like coming full circle; The Seeds of Doom is the first Doctor Who memory I have from my childhood.  It scared me immensely as a child, and I was anxious to see how it compared to my memory.  It’s the final UNIT story until Season 26’s Battlefield, with the Seventh Doctor; however, it involves none of the UNIT personnel we have been familiar with.  There’s some disagreement about the date; it is most likely contemporary with its broadcast, but some sources place it in the 1980s (personally, I think it’s irrelevant either way).

Humanoid Krynoid

Humanoid Krynoid…

 

The enemy here is the Krynoid, a “galactic weed” that turns people into plants, then devours animal life. We see two of them, as their seed pods travel in pairs.  They seem to be inhibited by the cold; in England, Keeler, the second victim, transforms far faster than Winlett, the first, who was infected in Antarctica.  The plot is straightforward:  The Krynoid seed pods are dangerous, and must be destroyed, but they are stolen by a fanatical botanist, and allowed to bloom, forcing the Doctor and UNIT to destroy them.  UNIT uses a pretty advanced laser weapon (though to no effect), possibly indicating that they have reverse-engineered alien technology, as Torchwood often does in NuWho and its own series.

giant krynoid

…and Not-So-Humanoid Krynoid.  Still terrifying.

 

Bottom line: Still terrifying.  Perhaps not as scary as in my childhood; but the idea of losing your humanity, transforming into something else—something mindless and deadly—will always be scary to me.  Still, it’s a good serial, and a good conclusion to the season.

Next time: With UNIT behind us, we’ll say goodbye to Sarah Jane, and continue with the Fourth Doctor!  See you there.

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

Terror of the Zygons

Planet of Evil

Pyramids of Mars

The Android Invasion

The Brain of Morbius

The Seeds of Doom (note: This playlist contains all parts, but is not correctly arranged.  Scroll down to locate parts in order.)