Updates

In my continuing quest to archive my previous posts on Doctor Who, I have created pages for the Seventh Doctor, which can be accessed via the menu above or via this link. I wanted to get the Seventh Doctor pages up because I have been hitting more of  his licensed stories and I was afraid of an unmanageable backlog when I finally worked my way to him. I admit, I’m also a little intimidated by the time it will take to archive Tom Baker’s stories. In fairness, all told the Seventh Doctor probably has more stories than the Fourth, so I’m sure it is just perceptual on my part.

I started reading Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible this weekend. I may be slower to update on it because my wife thought the story sounded interesting, so I am reading it aloud to her. Since her work schedule is tighter than mine, I’m not sure how long it will take, but what matters more to me at the moment is enjoying the time together than updating my New Adventures read through.

In lieu of this, I’m thinking about moving ahead with looking at the TV Movie and the New Series. For some reason, Timewyrm: Revelation gave me a strong craving to watch the New Series and to see how ideas and themes introduced in Revelation cast their shadows on what Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat have done with the show. Even though the canonicity of the New Adventures is uncertain, these particular idea have not been put back in the bottle.

So, if the Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors start showing up, you have been warned.

Timewyrm: Revelation

The Doctor dances with Death on the cover of Timewyrm: Revelation

Where to Find It?

Physical copies can be found at Bookfinder.com.

A detailed synopsis can be found at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.

Story By

Paul Cornell

Book Copy

The parishioners of Cheldon Bonniface walk to church on the Sunday before Christmas, 1992. Snow is in the air, or is it the threat of something else? The Reverend Trelaw has a premonition, too, and discusses it with the spirit that inhabits his church. Perhaps the Doctor is about to visit them again?

Some years earlier, in a playground in Perivale, Chad Boyle picks up a half-brick. He’s going to get that creepy Dorothy who says she wants to be an astronaut. The weapon falls, splitting Dorothy’s skull. She dies instantly.

The Doctor has pursued the Timewyrm from prehistoric Mesopotamia to Nazi Germany, and then to the end of the universe. He has tracked down the creature again: but what trans-temporal trap has the Timewyrm prepared for their final confrontation?

We’re like characters in a book he’s continually rewriting.

When I stared my Doctor Who project I had the stated goal of watching every episode of the classic series in broadcast order. I had never done this before and I wanted the experience. My other goal, less frequently stated, was to determine why there was often such discontinuity (in tone, theme, and scope) between the classic series and the new series. My theory was that Doctor Who is a work that evolved over time, the tone, theme, and scope changing with technology. In some ways this was true in that technology changed the types of stories told, but it is ironic that the truly paradigm-shifting medium was print. Timewyrm: Revelation changed Doctor Who. The new series owes much to this novel.

But Revelation isn’t without its roots in the classic series. In many ways, this novel expands on ideas that were present in the Seventh Doctor era, particularly those in Remembrance of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric. The Doctor is a manipulator. He plays chess with his enemies with his companions the people they encounter as the pawns. Paul Cornell applies this idea to Revelation and asks two very important questions: How does this manipulate affect Ace? What does this manipulation do to the Doctor? And so, the explicit conflict in Revelation is that between the Doctor and the Timewyrm, but the implicit conflict is between the Doctor and himself. Cornell cleverly portrays the Timewyrm as a biotech virus (which isn’t much of an extrapolation from what we had seen so far) that doesn’t so much make people ill as rewrites their personality. The Timewyrm has buried itself in the Doctor’s consciousness. In his attempt to battle the creature, he has chained his conscience (portrayed as the Fifth Doctor) so that he can do whatever it takes to destroy the Timewyrm. But doing so has changed his personality. In essence, the Doctor had become the Timewyrm internally, and it was only a matter of time before his entire personality would succumb.

And so most of Revelation takes place in the Doctor’s mind. Cornell introduces the idea of the various Doctors being extensions of the Doctor’s personality. Cornell offers a type of critique of each in doing this, but it is curious that the Sixth Doctor is missing. Could this itself be a critique?

I am integral with his experiences. I have read all his memories, and become part of them also. He has fought me and will fight me wherever he goes.

Doctor Who since 2005 has often emphasized the Doctor’s guilt. It has dealt with the surreal landscape of the Doctor’s mind and as recently as last year introduced revised an old villain (The Great Intelligence) and inserted it into the Doctor’s time stream similar to how the Timewyrm had encountered previous Doctors in the waking world and the subconscious world. Even Ace’s last words before her perceived sacrifice on behalf of the Doctor were “Remember me,” although Ace is not likely to call the Doctor a “clever boy.” In truth, why wouldn’t new series writers mine this novel for ideas. It is out of print and probably not likely to be read by the new generation of fans. No idea is completely new in Doctor Who, only explored in a different way.

Timewyrm: Revelation, then, is the pivot point in modern Doctor Who. It is the first story to establish a new direction for the New Adventures novels, and I look forward to seeing how this plays out. As stated before, Revelations falls firmly into the Rad camp rather than the Trad camp. I’m happy to get a little of each, so long as the stories are well told. There is much more that could be said about this novel, but I think I will end it with saying I am happy to have finally found the missing link between the two series. I enjoy that Doctor Who is an evolving continuity. In some way, it fits.

Five Lovecraftian Doctor Who Monsters

From its earliest days Doctor Who has flirted with horror (except when it went full-on relationship with horror under Philip Hinchcliffe). The show has given us pre-Romero zombies in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the Frankenstein send-up The Brain of Morbius, and the Dracula-inspired State of Decay. But has Doctor Who ever called upon the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft? Maybe not intentionally (although some of the New Adventures novels tackle the Mythos outright), but the classic series of Doctor Who has occasionally invoked Lovecraftian nightmares. Here are five monsters that leave me with that Lovecraft vibe.


 

The Animus

  1. The Animus

    While not high on the list of fan favorites, the First Doctor story The Web Planet features the Animus, a creature that has enslaved a population and nearly destroyed a planet. The Animus could control the minds of anyone who looked at it, as well as controlling anyone who wore gold. The Web Planet author Bill Strutton intended the story to be an allegory about cancer. As such, the Animus was a cancerous cell that infected the ecosystem of a planet, turning its own population against one another. The inhabitants of the planet Vortis were based on insects (ants, moths, grubs) and the Animus was envisioned as spider-like. When the effect was realized on set, it looked appropriately tentacled. Even the Doctor couldn’t fight against the control of the creature’s mind. The Mythos opportunities were later taken up by New Adventures authors and the Animus was categorized as a Great Old One.


     

    The Yeti

  2. The Great Intelligence

    Steven Moffat brought back this Second Doctor adversary in the 2012 Christmas special The Snowmen and provided it with an origin story. The original creation by Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln was more mysterious. In The Abominable Snowmen, a Tibetan Lama entered the astral plane while meditating. The Great Intelligence latched on to his consciousness and followed him back to the mortal plane. The Intelligence’s desire was corporeal existence. He augmented the Lama’s scientific knowledge to create robotic Yeti. The Doctor, Jamie, and Victoria defeated the creature, but it returned to our plane in The Web of Fear. The exact nature of the creature was never revealed. Once again, New Adventures authors added The Great Intelligence to the Cthulhu Mythos by identifying it as Yog-Sothoth. It is currently unclear if the three portrayals of The Great Intelligence (classic Who, New Adventures, and new Who) are compatible.


     

    Fendahleen

  3. The Fendahl

    The Fendahl were a gestalt creature composed of a core and Fendahleen, which are eyeless, limbless creatures with fins and tentacles. They fed off the psychic energy of humans. They were thought to have been destroyed on pre-historic Earth, but the core was discovered by a group of scientists who believe the core is a pre-historic human skull. Their attempt to study it leads to the core being activated and Dr. Thea Ransome is turned into a new core. It doesn’t help matters that one of the scientists, Dr. Maximillian Stael, was part of a Fendahl-worshipping coven who wanted to see the Fendahl return to Earth. The Doctor and Leela encountered the Fendahl in Image of the Fendahl.


     

    Rutan on the stairs

  4. The Rutan at Fang Rock

    More than any other story The Horror at Fang Rock feels like a weird fiction story in the mold of Lovecraft. It is dark, brooding, and one of the best realizations of atmosphere in the classic series. The Doctor and Leela arrive at a lighthouse on Fang Rock, an island that is rumored to be haunted. One of the lighthouse keepers is killed and a ship crashes on the island soon after. The survivors are trapped on the island with a killer. While creatures from the sea are par for the Lovecraftian course, it is the atmosphere that really makes this story effective.


     

    Fenric possessing a human

  5. Fenric

    The Seventh Doctor story The Curse of Fenric ticks quite a few Lovecraft boxes. It has creatures from the sea, ancient ruins, mythological threats, and a non-corporeal being desiring a body in our plane of existence. To make matters worse, he has a grudge against the Doctor and has been playing a game of wits against him for who knows how long. Fenric is revealed to be a force of evil that had existed since the dawn of time. Like The Great Intelligence and the Animus, Fenric was added to the Mythos when The New Adventures identified him as Hastur the Unspeakable, though this version of Hastur has little connection to the King in Yellow that Call of Cthulhu gamers are familiar with. Fenric returned in the Big Finish story Gods and Monsters.

These are my favorite Lovecraftian Doctor Who monsters, but I’m sure there are others. Let me know of your favorites or any I have forgotten in the comments.

Doctor Who: The New Adventures Series 1.03 – Timewyrm: Apocalypse

Cover for Timewyrm Apocalypse

Where to Find It?

Physical copies can be found at Bookfinder.com.

A detailed synopsis can be found at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.

Story By

Nigel Robinson

Book Copy

The end of the Universe. The end of everything.

The TARDIS has tracked the Timewyrm to the edge of the Universe and the end of time — to the lush planet Kirith, a paradise inhabited by a physically perfect race.

Ace is not impressed. Kirith has all the appeal of a wet weekend in Margate, and its inhabitants look like third-rate Aussie soap stars.

The Doctor is troubled, too: If the Timewyrm is here, why can’t he find her? Why have the elite Panjistri lied consistently to the Kirithons they govern? And is it possible that the catastrophe that he feels impending is the result of his own past actions?


 

I appreciate your concern, Doctor, but the facts are simple: Ace must die so that the rest of creation may live.

I suppose the place to start is reputation. Timewyrm: Apocalypse is not well regarded and has even been called the low point in the Timewyrm cycle, if not the entire New Adventures range. This reputation is undeserved as the novel’s greatest crime is placement, being slotted between the action-packed, highly engaging Exodus of Terrance Dicks and the mind-bending, era-defining Revelation of Paul Cornell. Thus, a perfectly average Doctor Who story that doesn’t really stretch the bounds of the concept stands out, and not necessarily in a good way. And I admit, when I first read Apocalypse a few years ago I couldn’t stomach it. When I picked it up this past weekend I was a bit apprehensive. However, of the three Timewyrm books I have re-read, Apocalypse was the most interesting to me because it was the one I had forgotten. I didn’t remember a thing about it. Contrary to expectations, my experience with this novel was deeply satisfying.

Nigel Robinson, like Terrance Dicks and John Peel, was a Target writer. In fact, Robinson was editor of the Target range as it drew to a close. As a result, he is familiar with the tropes and style of the classic series. He can replicate it quite well, and that is on display in Apocalypse, which puts the novel firmly in the Rad/Trad debate that surrounded the New Adventures. Essentially, the debate was whether the New Adventures should stretch the concept of Doctor Who into new territory as could only be accomplished in the written word, with no dependence on budget, BBC oversight, or strong boundaries of what is and is not proper Doctor Who (the rad or radical position) or whether the New Adventures should tell the types of stories that were told on television, adhering to the formulas and goals of the original series (the trad or traditional position). The entire debate falls into the same trap as all progressive/conservative debates in its assumption that the answer is either/or. Experimentation aids evolution, but tradition helps cohesion. In practicality this balance can be difficult to achieve. In a shared universe such as Star Trek, the novels were mere tie-ins. They didn’t supplant or influence the main corpus in any way. They were additional adventures which could be slotted in between episodes. With the New Adventures, there was every belief that this could be the future of Doctor Who, and whatever happened in the novels was cannon. Thus, the nuance interactions between rad and trad could be difficult to maintain, much like a mythology heavy story-arc in The X-Files being followed by a monster-of-the-week episode, the fan wants to know what happens next, not experience this stand-alone story.

Personally, I tend to think of the trad stories as a type of rest between complex or intense measures. They become moments of introspection and meditation. And even if the plot itself is fairly traditional, the characters have grown and changed, and they sometimes respond in different ways.

Apocalypse, then, is largely of the trad mold. It is a thematic sequel to Logopolis as it takes place during the Big Crunch when entropy cannot be reversed and the universe is contracting in on itself. This knowledge ultimately drives the Panjistri since their goal is to reverse entropy. The Logopolitans of the Fourth-Doctor Era tried to do this using math; the Panjistri try to do it by creating a god. It takes us a while to get there, but the ultimate revelation of the attempt to genetically create a god is interesting. The Panjistri view is that a being with every possible experience of every possible creature in the universe would essentially be a god. They essentially are attempting to create an autonomous, pantheistic god—an all-encompassing entity that is at the same time personal and distinct. For the Panjistri, if the divine word of math—a force mortal minds can understand—is unable to prevent entropy, then an immortal mind is required. Only an immortal mind can defeat death. The Doctor refutes this, saying all things must die, even the universe.

At the center of this genetic conspiracy is the Grand Matriarch. The Matriarch has been possessed by the Timewyrm, who hopes to inhabit the god once it has been created. Doing so will allow her to re-incarnate, something she needs to do since the Doctor destroyed her physical form. After he extracted her from Hitler’s mind, the Timewyrm hid from the Doctor in his timeline, transferring into a young girl named Lilith when the Second Doctor repaired her doll. The Timewyrm hid in Lilith for five thousand years, manipulating the Panjistri’s genetic experiment to her own purpose. It is fitting that a being that lived among and manipulated the ancient Babylonians would be drawn to a child named Lilith.

Beyond these elements, Apocalypse follows a fairly standard Doctor Who set-up: The Doctor and Ace arrive in a utopian society, discover a group of elites who provide everything to the people while at the same time discouraging certain questions or scientific development, and in the investigation foment rebellion. Philip Sandifer rightly observes that the revolution actually fails, which is a reversal of Doctor Who tropes. The people don’t succeed as the Doctor confronts evil. They are subdued. It is only after evil has been defeated that all parties are reconciled, including the Panjistri elite to the people they manipulated.

While Timewyrm: Apocalypse didn’t push the format of Doctor Who, it still provided a solid story. The Timewyrm’s appearance, while not surprising, at least made sense. Her physical form had been destroyed and this experiment at creating a god would have been appealing to her. The Timewyrm possessing Hitler never quite worked for me, and I think Exodus would have been far more interesting as its own story rather than using the Timewyrm as the MacGuffin. Stretching this cycle of novels over four books is starting to feel a bit drawn-out and I look forward to Cornell’s conclusion in Timewyrm: Revelation.

Doctor Who: The New Adventures Series 1.02 – Timewyrm: Exodus

Cover for Timewyrm Exodus

Where to Find It?

Physical copies can be found at Bookfinder.com.

A detailed synopsis can be found at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.

Story By

Terrance Dicks

Book Copy

The pursuit of the Timewyrm leads the Doctor and Ace to London, 1951, and the Festival of Britain — a celebration of the achievements of this small country, this insignificant corner of the glorious Thousand Year Reich.

Someone — or something — has been interfering with the time lines, and in order to investigate, the Doctor travels further back in time to the very dawn of the Nazi evil. In the heart of the Germany of the Third Reich, he finds that this little band of thugs and misfits did not take over half the world unaided.

History must be restored to its proper course, and in his attempt to repair the time lines, the Doctor faces the most terrible dilemma he has ever known…


 

The fabric of time was badly torn, Ace. You can’t stitch it up like repairing an old shirt.

While John Peel had become a regular hand at writing Target novelizations, Terrance Dicks had a much more intimate résumé where Doctor Who was concerned. He was script editor during the Pertwee years. He wrote televised stories for the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors (possibly more uncredited). Having this second original novel in the range written by Dicks is a great way to bridge the two series, lending credibility and blessing, passing the torch as it were.

In Exodus we travel to the heart of the Nazi Reich at its beginning stages. And it struck me as I read about Hitler, Himmler, and Goering that up to this point, Doctor Who had not really dealt with Nazis in their context. The first time the show overtly portrayed them was during the Seventh Doctor story Silver Nemesis, and even those Nazis were 1980s exiles, war criminals trying to recapture the glory of the Reich. The show had often drawn parallels between the Daleks and Nazis, but the human figures themselves were almost never portrayed. Had Doctor Who been an American creation, there is no doubt in my mind that the Doctor would have gone up against the Nazis as soon as possible, but this was one era of history that the show never really covered. On some level, I can see why. Doctor Who debuted in 1963. The war had only been over 18 years. The memory was too fresh and too painful. The narratives of the war in the U.S. and England are very different. For the U.S. it is a story of foreign citizen soldiers coming into the fight to do what needs to be done to defeat the enemy. For England, it is a story of endurance and survival. These are generalizations of course, but the narratives are there. For the U.S., defeating the Nazis was a given, a divine destiny. For England, it was hoped for but not necessarily a guarantee. And it is into this uncertainty that the Doctor and Ace track the Timewyrm.

The novel opens with the two arriving in 1950s England. They find that the Reich won the war and England is under German rule. This emphasizes one of the major themes of the novel, that the outcome of WWII was not a certainty. Any number of factors could have changed the result, and in the case of Exodus outside influences were present in the form of the War Lords (a primary interference) and the Timewyrm (a secondary interference). The War Lords reappear after their defeat in the Second Doctor story “The War Games,” which was a collaboration of Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke in 1969. The War Lords attempt to create the perfect soldier, typically by removing armies from different points in history and making them fight one another. Their scientific advisor in the process is a renegade Time Lord known as the War Chief. The War Chief now has an added goal: to get revenge on the Doctor. What is particularly interesting (and gruesome) in Exodus is the revelation that the War Chief wasn’t killed as was portrayed in “The War Games”; he regenerated—almost. The damage to his body caused the regeneration to fail, so the process aborted partway through, creating a monstrosity of bodily horror. Ultimately, the War Chief wants to transplant his brain into the Doctor’s body. Dicks is also mining “The Brain of Morbius” for ideas, it would seem. Added to the mix are internal Reich politics, Himmler’s obsession with the occult, and the Doctor’s struggle to insert himself into an unstable historical situation in an attempt to rectify two types of interference that the result of previous adventures.

Along the way Exodus tries to avoid explaining Hitler’s Reich in terms of alien interference or the supernatural, but never quite succeeds. All the elements that led to WWII were present; the Timewyrm and War Lords magnified what was already there, but I was still left with a distinct impression that Hitler only came to power because of the magnification, not because of his own human attempts. This is a bit of a problem, I think, because it can serve to undermine the horror of WWII and the Holocaust, events which are arguably the worst of humanity. So often WWII is portrayed as a grand adventure (typically in American film) rather than the morally complex and horrifying war it was. Making Hitler a puppet of aliens doesn’t really feel right to me, especially since some of the attitudes held by Hitler and his followers were not as extreme in the 1920s and 1930s as they seem to us now. We look back on these attitudes with our perceived modern enlightenment and typically see them as fringe and aberrant, but they weren’t. They were popular and common. The Nazis were merely the end result of Western existential angst that coalesced around a nation that no longer had anything to lose and everything to gain.

This particular failing aside, the novel is still quite good. It is an easy read, likely the result of years of Dicks writing the Target novelizations. It is fast-paced and engaging. It is plotted extremely well. It deals with things the classic series probably couldn’t have pulled off with a great deal of success. It doesn’t fall into the excesses of Genesys where “adult” means sex and nudity. In the case of Exodus, “adult” means exploring ideas that may be inappropriate for children’s television: anti-Semitism, black magic and occultism, human sacrifice, torture, and Nazi zombies—although, it would have been interesting to see some of the larger moral complexity lurking underneath the alien puppetry. The secondary characters are memorable and interesting. Dicks humanizes Hitler, Goering, and Himmler without ever making them less atrocious than they were in real life. And despite the science fiction elements, there is an air of historicity to parts of the novel.

Doctor Who: The New Adventures Series 1.01 – Timewyrm: Genesys

cover for timewyrm: genesys

Where to Find It?

As usual, Bookfinder.com is a great resource.

A detailed synopsis can be found at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.

Story By

John Peel

Book Copy

Mesopotamia – the cradle of civilization. In the fertile crescent of land on the banks of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, mankind is turning from hunter gatherer into farmer, and from farmer into city-dweller.

Gilgamesh, the first hero-king, rules the city of Urak. An equally legendary figure arrives, in a police telephone box: the TARDIS has brought the Doctor and his companion Ace to witness the first steps of mankind’s long progress to the stars.

And from somewhere amid those distant points of light an evil sentience has tumbled. To her followers in the city of Kish she is known as Ishtar the goddess; to the Doctor’s forebears on ancient Gallifrey she was a mythical terror – the Timewyrm.


 

I just sometimes wonder what I’m doing with my life . . . . following the Doctor all over the place

“Okay, what’s this whole “New Adventures Series 1” business?” you may be asking. Well, back when I rediscovered Doctor Who—the first time I was in college—I frequented the Outpost Gallifrey website. The “Canon Keeper’s Guide to Doctor Who” was a semi-mythical document to me. It was the key to long-lost memories and the promise of future entertainment. It made me wonder about this show that I connected to my mythical golden age—my childhood—a time when I had no responsibilities, no cares, no finals, and no research papers. This guide divided the New Adventures into seasons, and I still think of Doctor Who in this way. Yes, the television series is organized according to season/series but to the best of my knowledge the books were never officially viewed this way. But it’s fun nonetheless. I even try to sort Big Finish releases by series, something that is easier now than it used to be.

So according to this model, Timewyrm: Genesys is the pilot to this new series of stories. It has the unenviable position of linking what came before on television to what is yet to be written in novels. It is by no means a bad novel, and it is quite readable but, by a similar token, quite forgettable. And as I mentioned previously, this novel follows the standard Doctor Who trope of alien attempting to conquer humanity during a historical period. Although, this historical time period is actually mythic time, so it takes the ancient space alien route of mythology as extraterrestrial. We get the “real” story behind Gilgamesh before it was altered and polished up by Avram the minstrel. And the twist at the end, the identity of the long-promised Timewyrm, is actually fairly predictable.

It is an interesting place to start and it is quite clunky in places, especially where it tries to refer back to events from the show. The introduction of the Doctor and Ace is particularly strange as it seems to try to introduce new readers to the characters while dropping in-jokes to fans of the show. Until the ancient Mesopotamia story gets going, the novel is slow reading.

By the end of the book I realized I didn’t have much more to add from my previous post. The supporting characters were not very engaging. But as with most pilot episodes, this series is still trying to find its voice, still trying to figure itself out. Next we will see what Terrance Dicks brings to the table.

Timewyrm: Genesys (Doctor Who: The New Adventures) post 1

cover for timewyrm: genesys
Written by

John Peel

Chapters 1 – 4

I can’t imagine this would be a fun novel to write. Oh, I’m sure crafting the story was fun, but the pressure of having the first post-series, original would be intimidating to me. Without a doubt the demand was there. Doctor Who had been off the air for about a year and a half. The show was moving in an interesting direction, making the Doctor more mysterious, giving us a manipulative Doctor who had thing planned out far in advance, someone who took on gods and monsters and won. There were more stories to tell. So many more stories to tell.

Virgin Publishing stepped in to this gap and chose to continue where the series left off. Doctor Who had been in print before, so that was nothing new. What was new, however, was both the original stories aspect, not just a novelization of an episode, and the audience. The New Adventures were not written for the family audience as the show typically was. They were written for the fans who had grown up with the show. Presumably, these fans had money. But what, exactly, constitutes Doctor Who for adults? Complex stories and themes? Darker stories with difficult ideas? Sex?

In practice, all of the above, it would seem. Within these first four chapters, Timewyrm: Genesys gives us naked Ace, adultery, misogyny, groping, sexual assault, and Mesopotamian temple prostitution. These elements aside, what I’ve read so far is somewhat typical territory for Doctor Who: an alien crashes on Earth and sets herself up as a goddess. But that doesn’t mean the story isn’t interesting.

Peel sets this original Doctor Who adventure at the time of Gilgamesh, who is typically considered one of the earliest epic heroes. Gilgamesh was probably a historical figure during the Bronze Age, a king of the ancient city of Uruk. Timewyrm: Genesys, then, in Doctor Who fashion is telling us the “real” story behind the Epic of Gilgamesh. I can get behind that. I enjoy ancient Near East studies. Based on the fragments of the epic that we have, Gilgamesh doesn’t come off as a noble figure. His best friend Enkidu was created by the gods to distract the king who takes any woman he wants. Gilgamesh is a bully and more than a little rapist. This aspect of his personality is present in Peel’s novel, so I think we can put a dark check in the adult box here. The early conflict in the novel comes when Gilgamesh spurns the alien, who eventually takes on the guise of the goddess Ishtar (this is also drawn from the epic tale). And so we have an unlikeable king whose downfall is being planned by jealous nobles and an evil alien who takes control of people’s minds. Where adaptation is concerned, this is interesting. Where likable characters are concerned . . . nil.

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.