Cybermen Vs. Daleks

I have a guest post up on the Popgun Chaos site. I argue that the Cybermen are better villains than the Daleks. Let the controversy resound!

And be sure to check out Big Finish today. In celebration of this year’s anniversary they are having a sale of The Sirens of Time, Jubilee, and The Harvest for $1.00 as a download or just over $5 for CDs. The Sirens of Time is a multi-Doctor story (5, 6, and 7), Jubilee is a 6th Doctor and Daleks story, and The Harvest is a 7th Doctor and Cybermen story. So in a way, this sale goes along with my post, although I’m sure it is just a coincidence.

Doctor Who – Earth Aid (The Lost Stories) or, more accurately, a look back at the faux-season 27

The cover for Doctor Who: Earth Aid
Find It At

Big Finish

Written By

Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel

Directed By

Ken Bentley

Big Finish Says

Welcome aboard the space vessel Vancouver. Its mission: to guard a vast shipment of grain from Earth to the planet Safenesthome. Its Captain is called Ace. She seems a little unsure of herself. In fact, some might almost think she was new to the job…

Its medical officer is called simply ‘The Doctor’, and he’s perhaps not all he seems either. When mysterious ships target the Vancouver, Ace and the Doctor are pushed to the limit. Meanwhile, there’s something nasty in the grain containers. And it’s not very happy…

Make it so

When all is said and done, these faux-season 27 stories have been a hit . . . but a qualified one.

The enigma of season 27 and of the Cartmel Master Plan hung around these stories. The potential of what might have been was ever present. As a result, my expectations were unfairly high. Everything I saw in the televised McCoy era didn’t quite translate to these audio stories. And why should they? Nearly thirty years have passed, and the energy of the show in 1989 cannot realistically exist in 2014. (Well, 2011.) The passion and anger of Cartmel and his writers, passion and anger directed at British politics in the late 80s, is muted. The anxiety of being responsible for the very future of Doctor Who is gone. What is left are 25 year old ideas, brushed off for scripting and presentation.

Earth Aid, as an end to these lost stories, works wonderfully. It wraps up a loose Metatraxi story-arc in a largely satisfying way. In Cartmel fashion, it gets a few digs with some social commentary. And the pastiche of Star Trek style science fiction was a lot of fun. Earth Aid was a nice, light end to an interesting but somewhat inconsistent run of stories. It fits quite well at the end of this pseudo-season. It has some holes and unanswered questions. (How, exactly, did Ace become a captain of a starship?) It would have been nice to have more character development where Raine is concerned. (What was up with her staying on Earth to grieve her father, but turns up again here with just a passing reference to her grief?)

But what is missing from this season is the maybe-god/maybe-not Doctor manipulating time and space against gods, monsters, and himself. There is nothing on the scale of Ragnarok or Fenric here. The closest we get is a sentient planet. I think Andrew Cartmel, in producing these stories, was more interested in making interesting stories from half-remembered script ideas. He wasn’t interested in reproducing how fans have read his era. And he didn’t seem interested in putting the “who” back in Doctor Who as he was in the 80s. He didn’t need to. That was done in the New Adventures novels.

And so, season 27 essentially becomes a divergent possibility. It is a divergent possibility that slips quite well into Big Finish continuity. This wasn’t such a bad move. I would like to see what this TARDIS team does free from the restrictions, the pressure, of season 27. (In fact, Big Finish’s UNIT Dominion features the Doctor and Raine.) But when it comes to lines of continuity, I am far more interested in seeing what happened in the novels. They picked up on the narrative threads. They picked up on the urgency and passion of the stories. And that is where I go next on my journey through Doctor Who.

Next stop: Timewyrm: Genesis.

Doctor Who – Animal (The Lost Stories)

Cover for Animal
Find It At

Big Finish

Written By

Andrew Cartmel

Directed By

Ken Bentley

Big Finish Says

Margrave University in 2001, and Raine Creevy is enjoying her first trip into the future. For the Doctor, there are mysteries to solve: what are the alien creatures imprisoned in the science labs? And what are the true motives of the student Scobie and his followers? With enemies on all sides, the Doctor teams up with his old friend Brigadier Bambera and the forces of UNIT in a battle for the future of the whole world.

Communication Breakdown

There are many stories I enjoy in Matt Smith’s first series as the Doctor, but I have a particular interest in “Amy’s Choice.” I enjoy the way that story works in layers, how Amy’s inability to make a decision about Rory becomes manifest in a nightmare world where her fears become monsters. Amy, the Doctor, and Rory are stalked by monsters wearing human shells; they look like pleasant people but house something frightening inside, the normal life become horrifyingly destructive. The monster becomes the metaphor.

While “Animal” isn’t as layered, the monsters match the theme: animal rights gone horribly wrong. Just as the Rage virus was unleased in 28 Days Later by people setting animals free from a research lab, there is something monstrous in the Margrave University science lab, something which is best left alone. But that isn’t the only monster in this story. The wonderfully creepy aliens in this story are a nice counterpart to the animal rights group, allowing Cartmel to explore animal rights themes while also exploring the dangers of groups who will go to Machiavellian lengths to ensure animal safety.

As with “Crime of the Century” before it, “Animal” dips in and out of different genres, although I think it was more successful than its predecessor. It also helps that the Doctor and Ace are reunited with Brigadier Bambera and UNIT. Brigadier Bambera is a character I wanted to see more of, and I’m happy this story brought the character back. I admit that I would like to see her character fleshed out a bit more, making her more than just a female Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, but classic Doctor Who typically emphasized plot over character. Things are no different here. Regardless, it was wonderful to see this character again.

I particularly enjoy that this story sits in the middle of a loosely connected trilogy. While each story is self-contained, the Doctor’s dealings with the Metatraxi from “Crime of the Century” are exacerbated here, and they look to be resolved in the final story of these season 27 Lost Stories. I look forward to seeing how things turn out.

Doctor Who – Crime of the Century (The Lost Stories)

Cover for Crime of the Century
Find It At

Big Finish

Written By

Andrew Cartmel

Directed By

Ken Bentley

Big Finish Says

The year is 1989. In London, safe cracker Raine Creevy breaks into a house – and finds more than the family jewels. In the Middle East, the kingdom of Sayf Udeen is being terrorised by Soviet invaders and alien monsters. And on the Scottish border, a highly guarded facility contains an advanced alien weapon.

These are all part of the Doctor’s masterplan. But masterplans can go awry…

We Could Have Been So Good Together

The image is iconic, has been for over 20 years. A safe cracker works her way through a party, finds the safe, opens it, and the Doctor is stuffed inside. And for 20 years, this is all that has been known about the story that became “Crime of the Century.” And for 20 years, that was all that existed of it. There was no script. There was no story, just the image of a shocked young woman and a relieved, knows-too-much-as-always Doctor.

Raine Creevy, daughter of Markus Creevy from “Thin Ice” has grown up into the aristocratic safe cracker from Doctor Who season 27 legend. She is one more piece in the Doctor’s constant manipulation of events. The goal is a long game designed to remove an alien weapon from British possession. “Crime of the Century” is a caper, only we are not privy to the typical planning sessions in most film capers. We arrive as the plan is unfolding. Honestly, all the planning happened just off camera, in the Doctor’s mind. This is typical of the Seventh Doctor, but what is more explicit in this story than in the televised stories is the level of detail to the plan. The Doctor has been moving quite a few pieces around, some from “Thin Ice,” some new to this story (such as Sayf Udeen and the Metatraxi). It has been a long game indeed, and with this many pieces, it is probably inevitable that something will go wrong, a key moment can fall apart. This is where the story shines for me, the moment when the disparate threads of the story start coming together. But since we are not given this long-term view, the details of the Doctor’s master plan, many of the scenes seem disconnected. It was thrilling to see the connections in the end.

But that was in the end. The journey to the reveal left me disengaged. I enjoy caper stories, but this one didn’t have the clear statement of goals that many capers have. I never felt sure why these pieces were connected to one another until the end of part three. In a story where the pieces don’t initially make sense, I need to connect to the characters. Sadly, apart from Prince Udeen, I never connected with the new characters in the story. This is especially frustrating since Raine becomes the new companion. I wanted to like her, but she just never connected. Some contrast is made between her and Ace, one being a posh safecracker, the other from a working-class background. But this contrast is played for more comedic effect. Given the televised Cartmel era’s tendency to criticize the establishment, a complete embrace of this character strikes me as odd. Granted, she is upper class and a thief, so she is rebelling in some way, but there seems to be a deliberate attempt to minimize TARDIS team conflict. Since such conflict has been mixed in the show’s history, maybe this was a good move, even if Raine fails to win me over.

“Crime of the Century,” then, was a mixed bag for me. It had great moments but quite a few moments that were just part of the Doctor’s game, moving one piece to a specific location. In a way, it was like watching a chess match, but not being privy to the rules or the endgame. It made sense in the end, but it took too long to get there.

Doctor Who – Thin Ice (The Lost Stories)

Where Can I Find It?

Big Finish

Written by

Marc Platt

Directed by

Ken Bentley

What’s It About?

Ad copy: Moscow 1967. The Doctor and Ace have arrived behind the Iron Curtain, and the Soviet Union is seeking a new weapon that will give it mastery in the Cold War. What is the secret of the Martian relics? As the legendary War Lord Sezhyr returns to life, the Doctor is faced with some of his oldest and deadliest enemies. The fate of Earth – and the future of Ace – are now intertwined…

cover for Thin Ice

What Might Have Been?

Any amount of research into the history of Doctor Who, specifically into the history of the McCoy era, will eventually lead to the Cartmel Masterplan. This hypothetical document dictated the plan to move Doctor Who from the perceived failures of the Sixth Doctor era and in to a bright, new future. The Doctor would have been made more mysterious, possibly being revealed as a mythical Gallifreyan known as the Other. The overall vision was to put the “who” back in Doctor Who.

Naturally, the problem with the Cartmel Masterplan theory is that the plan probably never existed. I remember listening to an interview with Andrew Cartmel which had been conducted by the Podshock podcast, and Cartmel said this plan didn’t really exist. At best, the plan was spontaneous and organic, evolving out of the scripting at the time, not connected to a long-term, detailed vision for the show. But over the years the hints of a future in the McCoy era, the allure of the cancelled season 27, and the mythology that arose from the New Adventures novels contributed to theory and speculation. The Cartmel Masterplan became a lost, apocryphal golden era for the show.

With Thin Ice we are given, then, a glimpse at what season 27 could have been. But this glimpse may be less effective than anticipated. Based on some accounts, nothing had gone to script for season 27, although ideas had been pitched. If this is the case, then these lost stories are remembered pitches filtered through decades of development. They are an attempt to reproduce a previous era, not a reflection of an abandoned vision. Essentially, Thin Ice was pitched in 1989 but not written until 2011. It is a product of its time, and that time is the present. That time has also mythologized season 27, leaving me to wonder if these stories can even really be termed “what might have been.”

Looking at what we have been given, then, is nonetheless interesting. Thin Ice engages with the idea that Ace was to be inducted into the Time Lord Academy. The Doctor, seeing her potential, submitted an application without her knowledge and the events of Thin Ice become a test to prove her worth. This is somewhat interesting, and yet, despite the themes of change and the development of Ace’s character in season 26, it seems sudden. If becoming a Time Lady has been Ace’s journey, it hasn’t really been set up well. Moving from bitter (toward her mother) and violent to merciful and peaceful doesn’t not inherently entitle one to the knowledge of the inner workings of all time and space. Fittingly, this plot point is dropped when Ace is not accepted into the Academy. Instead, the Doctor allows her to take a greater role in their adventures, moving from the pawn to an active player. This is far more fitting.

So in a way, Thin Ice plays against the Cartmel Masterplan expectation by deflating it. What we are given instead is an adventure rooted more in Cold War spy antics than Time Lord mythologizing. The Ice Warriors lend themselves well to the Cold War (Cold, Ice, Red Planet), which is something we’ve even seen in the current series episode Cold War. I am always interested when Doctor Who portrays its monsters with nuance rather than, well, monsters. The alien races the Doctor encounters can’t always become stand-ins for those traits of society that we dislike. This is why Malcolm Hulke was such a great writer for Doctor Who. The monsters had believable motivations. And we have the same in this story, with an Ice Warrior agent working with humans to recover an ancient Martian artifact from Soviet possession. The artifact is a helmet with the biodata of a legendary Martian warrior who will be reborn into the wearer of the helmet. The Soviets have been experimenting with the technology, but in addition to the problem this technology will create in the timeline, the inevitable rebirth of this legendary warrior into a human would be a bad thing for human history.

In the end, Thin Ice is an entertaining story, made even more so when divorced from the mythologizing season 27 has been subjected to. This so-called lost season is shaped more by an attempt to tell interesting stories than to recapture a long-playing, long-abandoned plot. The Ace as Time Lord concept doesn’t really work as anything other than a sign to the fans that this ideas has been abandoned. Put it out of your mind and approach the stories as they are, not as we thought they were to be.

There really is no “might have been.”

Doctor Who – The Beginning (The Companion Chronicles)

Where Can I Find It?

Big Finish

Written by

Marc Platt

Directed by

Lisa Bowerman

What’s It About?

Ad copy: When the First Doctor and his grand-daughter Susan escape through the cloisters of Gallifrey to an old Type 40 Time Travel capsule, little do they realize the adventures that lie ahead… And little do they know, as the TARDIS dematerializes and they leave their home world behind, there is someone else aboard the ship. He is Quadrigger Stoyn, and he is very unhappy…

Cover for The Beginning

I was playing with a chair which should have been housebroken

Marc Platt seems to be Big Finish’s go to writer for major revisitations of classic series stories. He wrote the origin of the Cybermen (Spare Parts), the return of the Mara (The Cradle of the Snake), the origin of Magnus Greel (The Butcher of Brisbane), and with The Beginning he visits a pre-Unearthly Child time period for the second time (the first being Quinnis). And while Big Finish has many excellent writers, Platt is one of my favorites. I enjoy the way he layers concepts in his stories, weaving together ideas that reflect one another. The Beginning is no different as the title is a clever play on words and expectations.

On one level, the most obvious one, The Beginning refers to the Doctor and Susan’s flee from Gallifrey. The audio hits the ground running, with the Doctor, Susan, and a mysterious trunk making their way through the bowels of the Citadel. They arrive at a bank of time capsules and pick one in haste. While I didn’t particularly care for The Name of the Doctor, there is a nice reference to that story, and then the adventure begins in earnest. With the stolen TARDIS, however, comes Quadrigger Stoyn (played by Terry Molloy), a TARDIS mechanic who was doing repairs on the damaged ship. Stoyn has never left Gallifrey, and he is horrified at his predicament. And so, The Beginning refers to where all this started, but graciously leaves certain details—such as the reason for the Doctor and Susan’s escape—in mystery. I appreciate this discretion.

On another level, The Beginning refers to beginnings in a more cosmological sense. The Doctor, Susan, and Stoyn arrive on Earth before the emergence of human life. It is here where Platt’s layering becomes truly fascinating to the Religious Studies side of my interests. At the beginning of human life is the ancient cosmological idea of Order and Chaos. Many ancient near eastern texts have this duality at the core of their worldview. Even passages of the Old Testament are probably best understood as Order and Chaos rather than retro-fitting Platonic or Enlightenment ideas onto the interpretation of texts. And these ancient texts are clear in the view that Order is benevolent and Chaos is malicious. Order is embodied in divine beings who keep the weather clear and the crops growing (order in nature) and society at peace (order in humans). Chaos, on the other hand, is embodied in divine beings who create storms and natural disasters (disorder in nature) and society at war or ridden with crime (disorder in humans). And at the heart of The Beginning is an alien race seeding order into the cosmos, taking the disorder of creation and bringing it into a peaceful alignment. But as this function is somewhat mechanistic (for what is more orderly than pure logic and no emotions), the ordered existence of life has no growth, no struggles and perseverance, no free will.

Into this ordering process steps our chaotic-good-aligned Doctor. The experiment by which the alien race attempts to bring order is interrupted and humanity is created. Disordered life rises on Earth. The aliens decide the experiment has failed and the only option left is to destroy the Earth. The Doctor and Susan intervene. In a way, Marc Platt upends the ancient near east duality by making our hero a god of chaos who, with the best of intentions, introduces chaos into humanity before they emerge. Put another way, he puts an aspect of himself into humanity which subsumes the aspect of Order. By doing so, the Doctor has created, in this moment, every human-involved battle he has ever fought. He has bound himself up with the destiny of humanity. He has created humanity, not in a physical sense, but in a psychological/spiritual sense. The price of free will becomes the ability to choose evil. The price of struggle and perseverance is pain and suffering. The Doctor, then, is god but also Satan. And the great irony of this act of creation is that the First Doctor, at this point in his career, is probably the most selfish, least moral of all his incarnations (until the Sixth).

Quadrigger Stoyn becomes the other villain of this piece. He wants to get home and he realizes the Doctor has no intention of returning him there. Thus, Stoyn is willing to use whatever methods necessary to get control of the TARDIS, to get home. Stoyn is memorably played by Terry Molloy, but I don’t think we get enough of him in this story to really understand his motivations. All we know is that he is a mechanic who is experiencing his first trip off Gallifrey, and that it is against his will. And the other threat Stoyn brings is his willingness to turn the Doctor in to the authorities, to the Fetches. Since this story is also the first in a trilogy involving Stoyn, these details may be fleshed out later.

It is probably good to go in to this story knowing that the reasons the Doctor and Susan left Gallifrey are not revealed. Apart from Stoyn, the Gallifreyan elements are minimal and The Beginning could just be another pre-series adventure. But by tying the beginning of the Doctor’s life to the origin of human life, Marc Platt has given us something we never knew we wanted (or at least I never knew that I wanted): a reason why the Doctor’s life is tied up with humanity.

Doctor Who – Shadow of Death (Destiny of the Doctor)

Where Can I Find It?

Big Finish

Written by

Simon Guerrier

Directed by

John Ainsworth

What’s It About?

Ad copy: Following an emergency landing, the TARDIS arrives on a remote world orbiting a peculiar star – a pulsar which exerts an enormous gravitational force, strong enough to warp time.

On further exploration the Doctor and his friends, Jamie and Zoe, discover a human outpost on the planet surface, inhabited by scientists who are there to study an ancient city. The city is apparently abandoned, but the scientists are at a loss to explain what happened to its sophisticated alien architects.

The Doctor discovers that something dark, silent and deadly is also present on the world – and it is slowly closing in on the human intruders…

Shadow of Death cover
Size Isn’t Everything, Zoe

Shadow of Death is set in the sixth season of Doctor Who. Frazer Hines is always a great narrator of Second Doctor stories. His Patrick Troughton impersonation is astounding. The story is a nice mixture of Second Doctor tropes, from a base under siege (somewhat), to white foam, to mild innuendo, to space-age adventure. Honestly, the latter is one of my favorite things about the Troughton Era: the space age. In a way, the Troughton Era is a type historical preservation of what writer in the 1960s thought space travel would be like. It captures a perspective that has changed significantly, and yet the attitude and charm still exist. I love these details in old Doctor Who. I love mining stories for contextual meaning. And it is fascinating how current writers attempt to reproduce those types of stories, but filtered through a contemporary context. Hence, in Shadow of Death we get parallel time streams due to a pulsar. But at its core, Shadows of Death is straight out of a space-age, Second Doctor playbook.

I love how this story reproduces its Doctor’s era (something I felt Hunters of Earth didn’t quite accomplish), but at the same time, I never quite engaged with it. Sure, there was an interesting core concept. The appearance of the Eleventh Doctor encouraged the Second Doctor to solve the problem, but he didn’t provide the answer. I think my main disconnect was with the aliens in the story. They didn’t quite become real to me. I think this is due, in part, to not having anything from their perspective. Sure, the Doctor relayed a message from them, but they never really became an autonomous entity in their own right. This is admittedly difficult to portray due to the core concept, but I still want to know more about them. They never rose above generic alien threat to me.

That said, it’s not a bad story by any means. It is enjoyable and Frazer Hines is always a treat to listen to. But in the end, this second entry into Destiny of the Doctor is still somewhat forgettable.

Quinnis

Written by Marc Platt
Directed by Lisa Bowerman

Susan remembers a time before Coal Hill School when she and her grandfather arrived on the mysterious planet Quinnis which needs a new rainmaker.

“That’s where we nearly lost the TARDIS when our journey started.”

Way back in Edge of Destruction, Susan mentions that the TARDIS stores information on every place it visits.  One of the places that appeared on the visualizer during the TARDIS malfunctions was the planet Quinnis.  Susan gives a brief reference to Quinnis, in much the same way Sherlock Holmes and Watson would reference an adventure that hasn’t been written.  Big Finish and Marc Platt have decided, nearly 50 years later, to tell us the story of Quinnis.

Like all titles in the Companion Chronicle range, this one is narrated by one of the companions and has one additional actor providing the voice of another character.  Obviously, it is narrated by Carol Anne Ford, who reprises her role as Susan.  The character of Meedla, who becomes Susan’s friend, is voiced by Ford’s daughter Tara Louise-Kay.  Both actresses do a marvelous job, with the exception of Ford’s portrayal of The Doctor.  As the action focuses primarily on Susan, this isn’t much of a distraction.  What impressed me about Ford’s performance is how she effectively recaptures Susan’s mannerisms, yet makes her less grating than they were back in the 1960s.

Marc Platt is one of my favorite Doctor Who writers.  Oddly enough, however, I have not seen his only contribution to the show.  I have not seen Ghost Light.  I’m familiar with Platt primarily due to his work on Big Finish, all of which I have loved.  He creates striking images and concepts.  He wrote the much beloved Spare Parts about the origin of the Cybermen, and has written many of the First Doctor Companion Chronicles.  He has a pretty good feel for The Hartnell Era.  As this story takes place just before An Unearthly Child, Platt doesn’t have to completely capture the feel of the era.  Instead, he focuses on what it is about this planet that would have stuck in Susan’s mind and why it would be memorable.

The concept designer for the original Star Wars movies was a painter named Ralph McQuarrie.  If you have ever seen his designs for the movies, you will be struck by two things.  First, how other-worldly they are.  Second, how much they do not look like the Star Wars we would eventually see in theaters.  Yes, there is a thematic connection, but many of the landscapes and designs McQuarrie created were either not used or significantly tweaked.  I remember being in high school collecting the Star Wars Galaxy Trading Cards and being struck by the paintings of McQuarrie.  There were no stories accompanying the pictures, but I wanted the stories that seemed to be taking place.  They seemed to have more potential than what was realized on screen.

Quinnis reminds me of the feeling I had when looking at McQuarrie’s paintings.  Some of his work had vast fields of grass, much like the Serengeti.  Platt deliberately drew images from vacations he had in Africa and other exotic locations.  From the fields outside the town, to the woman carrying a piglet everywhere, to a vast marketplace, the images in this story are rooted in our world.  What he adds, which makes the planet more alien, are bridges and arches that move up and up into the mountains, but none of the stone structures are complete.  They are half-finished.  Additionally, all the market kiosks are chained to the ground.  The reason for this becomes evident when the rains come.

As for the story, The Doctor and Susan arrive on Quinnis.  After a bit of exploring the town, The Doctor decides to find another scientist.  The people in the town interpret this to mean he is trying to find a rainmaker.  Quinnis is suffering from a severe drought, and the last rainmaker was literally thrown out of town due to his inability to create rain.  The Doctor is soon set-up as the new rainmaker, against his will, I might add.  Throughout, Susan becomes friends with a young woman named Meedla.  Susan is quite devoted to the young girl, who is just a bit cruel, spending much time laughing at other people and making mischief.

The people live in fear of the Bad Luck Birds.  These are creatures that are birdlike but can take on a humanoid appearance and blend in.  They feed off the misery and pain of others.  They aren’t so much bringers of bad luck as they are trickster creatures.  Hunters pursue and kill the birds to try to keep them out of the towns.  It turns out Meedla is one such bird, and she has taken quite the shining to Susan.

But the birds are not the only threat.  When the finally comes, it arrives in torrents, flooding the town and washing away any building that isn’t chained down, which includes the TARDIS.  All debris is washed to the fields below.  However, the grass is ravenous, and as it soaks more water, it grows taller and taller, it become more violent.

I really enjoyed this story.  Again, I’m a fan of Marc Platt.  The performances are good, and the story is unpredictable, despite some reference to it in the classic series.  One thing I especially like is that this story is placed just before The Doctor and Susan arrive on Totter’s Lane in London.  The Doctor is understandably unnerved by how easily Susan befriended this creature, and how easily she was manipulated by it.  He decides that Susan needs a bit of stability and the chance to make friends in a safer environment.  In essence, she needs to be around people so she can learn to interact.  Thus, Coal Hill School.

So, a great story, fun, suspenseful, and just a bit creepy in places.  If you like the Hartnell era, or are a fan of the Companion Chronicles, check this one out.

Here There Be Monsters

Starring Carol Ann Ford as Susan and Stephen Hancock as The First Mate
Written by Andy Lane
Directed by Lisa Bowerman

The TARDIS crew materialize on a space exploration vessel crewed by sentient plant life.  The ship is using an innovative, yet extremely dangerous, method to create navigational lanes through space.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where Doctor Who become influenced by H.P. Lovecraft, yet the influence is a beautiful one.  The scope of Doctor Who is limitless, all of time and space.  However, what about the dark corners of unexplored space?  What about those beings that exist just outside of our reality?  This is the subject of Here There Be Monsters.

At it’s core, this story takes a bit of inspiration from tales of sea exploration on our planet, it just switches them to space.  Humanity, looking for safe navigational routes, opened up the table to any and all plausible ideas.  One idea led to the genetic development of sentient plants that would grow through the ship like vines, eventually creating a jungle that populated the ship and could monitor ship functions.  One plant could run a ship without the need for a human crew.  The plants would also work with a singular focus that humans could never achieve.  As Rostrum, the plant captain of The Nevermore, says, plants spend their entire lives reaching toward the sun but never getting there.  Boredom is where plants thrive.  Humans have the tendency to go insane on long, deep space voyages.  Humanity gets to stay home on Earth and put their minds to other activities, such as creating art or being philosophically contemplative.  This isn’t quite the raw deal that the Golgafrinchans on Ark Fleet Ship B got, but still seems a bit uneven.

The only problem with the method The Nevermore uses to explore is that it punches holes in the fabric of space.  It rips a hole here, and another one there, alternating every few hundred light years.  Presumably it operates a bit like a tesseract, only instead of folding space and stepping over, you fold space and rip a hole in it.  A bit like sewing, perhaps?  Regardless, these holes weaken space, and The Doctor is furious because things lurk just below the space in which we exist.  Imagine space being the surface of water.  Creatures exist below the surface, but due to the nature of space, they are unable to break into our reality.  The benchmark method of exploration used by The Nevermore is weakening space so that these creatures are able to break through in all their tentacled, Lovecraftian glory.

Other questions arise in the story.  Rostrum is dying due to some disease.  As he dies, his memory fades.  Then there is the mysterious First Mate, who is working in the areas where Rostrum has died.  These two mysteries are, of course, connected.  As the tears in space widen, The Doctor realizes that the only possible way to repair them is to use The TARDIS, which would in turn destroy the time machine.  This isn’t the most ideal solution so far as anyone is concerned.

This was a good story.  It was a bit slow in places, and Susan didn’t seem to do much beyond walk to the bridge where The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Rostrum argued and then walk back to The First Mate.  This was a necessary device since Susan is the narrator, but on the face of it, it just seemed odd that all she did is walk back and forth.  However, the characterization of Susan is some of the best the character has had.  She only had a handful of good episodes (An Unearthly Child, all of The Sensorites, and Flashpoint), and this story builds on that.  She makes the observation that her grandfather loves to travel and might feel that she is holding her back (perhaps a subtle reference to Whatever Happened to Susan Foreman?).  She also states that the whole reason The Doctor left Gallifrey was because he disagreed with the non-interventionist policies of his people.  In his opinion, events should be experienced, not merely observed.  This is an interesting interpretation of why The Doctor left.  I can’t help but wonder if there is an episode that supports this.  If so, my money is on The War Games, mainly because I haven’t seen it yet.

The other universe, while hinting at Lovecraftian horrors ultimately turns out to be not much different from our own.  Yes, the creatures look different, but they have the same hopes and fears as we do, even fearing our universe as much as we fear theirs.  Yet, while we have no real malice to one another, we cannot coexist.  Like matter and anti-matter, intersections between our universe and the other universe are dangerous, even fatal.  Naturally, the rip is sealed in the end.  I won’t give too much more away with regard to how.  All in all, a decent story.  Andy Lane is a good writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed his Missing Adventures novel The Empire of Glass.  He has a good grasp of The First Doctor’s mannerisms, even if Carol Anne Ford has a bit of difficulty capturing the character at first.  She does get there in the end.  This is certainly a good story to check out if you are a fan of Susan or The Companion Chronicles.

The Transit of Venus

The Transit of Venus is part of Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line.  These are stories that involve Doctors 1-3 (who are dead) and number 4 (who as yet has not accepted the invitation to work with Big Finish.  They are called Companion Chronicles because they are told from the perspective (and narrated by) one of the companions who traveled with The Doctor.  In the case of The Transit of Venus, we have a story told by Ian Chesterton, played by William Russell.  This story is being told to an unseen listener some time after Ian has returned from his travels with The Doctor.

The Transit of Venus takes place directly after The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan leave The Sense Sphere.  We already have a continuity problem here.  At the end of The Sensorites, Ian makes a comment about The Doctor not being able to control The TARDIS, which highly irritates The Doctor.  As a result, Ian is to be thrown from The TARDIS at their next location.  Indeed the following story The Reign of Terror deals with this antagonism on the part of The Doctor.  Ian must convince The Doctor to go out for a drink, knowing that if they can convince him they are not in 1960s England, the travels may continue.  While Transit does address the conflict, to set an adventure in the middle of these two stories is stretching it a bit where retconning is concerned.

This aside, how is the story.  Pretty good, actually.  Transit gets points from me already by being an historical and the sci-fi elements are downplayed quite a bit.  While the ultimate plot does revolve around psychic phenomena, it doesn’t involve an alien invasion, so I’m satisfied with the writer (Jacqueline Rayner) doing something different yet being true to the historicals of the period.  The characters are spot-on, although Barbara and Susan are missing for much of the story.

Fulfilling his promise to eject Ian and Barbara from The TARDIS, they find themselves on an Earth sailing ship from 1770.  This is actually Captain James Cook’s ship, The Endeavor.  At first the sailors were fearful of the people coming from “the devil box”, but then grow more concerned over the fact a woman is on the ship, which will curse their voyage.  Ian is knocked unconscious and awakes to meet a sailor.  In his confusion, Ian accidentally leads the sailor to believe he is from Venus and is observing the humans who are observing the transit of Venus.  Ian meets Captain Cook and finds that The Doctor is with him.  Barbara had managed to get back into The TARDIS and The Doctor took her place on the ship.  If not for Susan, The Doctor would have abandoned Ian and Barbara without making sure they were okay.  The sailors threw The TARDIS into the ocean in order to get rid of both the devil box, and the woman.  The women are trapped in The TARDIS in the ocean and the men are stuck on Cook’s ship in the Southern Hemisphere where they will eventually discover Australia.  The Doctor ends up spending his time with Captain Cook while Ian is assigned to helping Joseph Banks, a naturalist and botanist.  The majority of the plot involves the difficulties as Ian believes Banks to be an alien with ill-intent.

While this story is a bit slow, it does turn a couple of story-telling conventions on their head.  First is the Doctor Who historical.  In a previous post I mention that Doctor Who currently does historical stories that involve aliens in some way.  The Hartnell Era historicals do not, preferring humans as the antagonists.  Thus, Transit returns to the old-style historicals rather than the current form practiced by Doctor Who.  The second convention is that of a protagonist suspecting that someone is not who they appear, even when everyone else believes them to be crazy.  In this case, Ian believes Banks to be an alien.  Cook and even The Doctor, believe Ian to be crazy.  What is also fascinating are the scenes where Banks seems to be genuinely hurt by Ian’s suspicions.  Typically in these stories, the hero would be proven right in the end.  Transit joins the minority of stories where the hero is actually incorrect.  Banks is not an alien, but I’ll refrain from giving away the solution here.

In the end, to provide continuity, The Doctor gets mad at Ian and Barbara again, believing all this to be their fault, and threatens once more to throw them from The TARDIS.  Yes, this story is shoehorned in to a place where it doesn’t quite fit, but the story itself is entertaining.  You are required to have some knowledge of The Sensorites, although the story does attempt give this information at the beginning.  Truth be told, I’m not sure this story could have fit anywhere else since it depends so much on continuity from The Sensorites.  If you can get past the difficult fit in continuity, the story is a lot of fun, especially if you are a fan of the Hartnell Era or a fan of Ian Chesterton in particular.