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The News

Nothing exciting, an update on viewing figures for the last two episodes.

Merch Corner

The new design has landed for the upcoming Series 12 steelbook and it looks amazing.

Review story this week is: Ascension of the Cybermen

Last week was a good set up for this week’s show, it’s Cybermen/Cyberdrones/Cyberguards and Cybercarriers all the way. The Doctor has fought these guys before but are they different enough to provide a challenge? What’s Ashad’s game plan? Who or what are the Timeless Children?

Thank you all for listening this week. Our review story next week will be the Series 12 finale – “The Timeless Children”. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!

Dear reader after the momentous revelations of the previous week I secretly held a tiny hope that this once Doctor Who would go against type and give me an immediate hit of arc satisfaction in episode 6. But that isn’t its style so we were taken back a step to a mystery of the week episode with dead birds, disappearing humans, a strange alien bacteria and a race against time.

I have to say I abhor the term “filler” so avoid using it like the plague. It’s an expression which I’ve seen used on too many online forums or videos to describe as inconsequential when an episode disappoints said fan. I am however tickled by the descriptive definitions of the word that filler could be a) substance added to a product to increase bulk, weight or strength or alternatively b)material issued to fill extra space. The first definition has I feel more positive connotations than the second. Did this episode add substance or strength or alternatively fill a space?

Episode 6 – Aliens put the Earth under the microscope

The Script

Well, Praxeus didn’t add anything to the series arc (sigh)  but in the effort to reflect real-world concerns (which this era seems ever so keen to promote) it hit a surprisingly current keynote. If coincidental concerns regarding coronavirus COVID-19 weren’t so present-day with reported deaths in China, Hong Kong and France I would have entirely dismissed the doctor’s off-camera voiceover that humans are a “global” community in her speech at the beginning of Praxeus.

DOCTOR Planet Earth, early in the third decade of the 21st century. Population, seven billion. Seven billion lives, separate and connected, from the depths of the oceans to the edge of the atmosphere.

In of itself, the sentiment is rather general, wishy-washy not giving any clue to the threat coming. I suspect that just having a visual depicting the Earth without any speech would have been seen as a wasted opportunity for the writers Pete McTighe and Chris Chibnall to not hammer home their message. Yes, I am using a touch of sarcasm here as both were ignoring the rule of a visual medium of “see don’t tell”. As Jake rolling his eyes at Graham and Yas observed at one-point smashing down the warehouse door in Hong Kong they  “Chat, chat, chat, chat, chat!”

Warren Brown as Jake Willis is a man of action
Warren Brown as Jake Willis is a man of action

Praxeus as a concept is a rather subtler approach than the sledgehammer approach of Orphan 55 in another episode covering the damage that humans are doing to the planet. I’m not averse to these “message” stories but want them to balance being entertaining and also pushing piously “worthy”. On the whole, this story succeeded in the storytelling far better than Orphan 55.

The story incorporated the idea of an alien bacteria feeding on plastic well and that the planet being so full of the stuff was what attracted the aliens here. I love that mix of fiction wrapped around reality of a large garbage patch, a gyre of rubbish and marine debris in the Indian Ocean,  plus the alien bacteria uses that to feed on.

The infection is spreading...
The infection is spreading…

It’s an interesting idea of planet Earth being used as a petri dish by aliens to test for a cure for themselves. I’m sure that we aren’t alone in the universe. We haven’t progressed very far yet out amongst the stars so could be considered as primitive through an alien’s eye. There was a mystery as we didn’t even find out the name of the planet that Suki and her crew came from but I liked the look of the crew at the hospital although why Suki didn’t have a suit and they did I’m not sure.

Like Spyfall this story uses the three-location format to set up the action so we have Hong Kong, Madagascar and Peru. Praxeus did look exotic and that is surprisingly something we are getting used to now with Doctor Who I’m glad that we have this more global approach to stories although I’m not sure I initially liked all the frequent cutting back and forth between locations. The look and effect of the Praxeus infection were really impressive and I loved Segun’s music which added atmosphere during the episode.

There have been some fantastic horror films made about attacking bird colonies and the episode draws on well-known visual and audio tricks to create cool moments such as the initial scratching of the birds on the vloggers tent in Peru, their fluttering wings and the attack of the birds as they crashed through from the skylight of the laboratory in Madagascar.

Matthew McNulty as Adam Lang, Warren Brown as Jake Willis, Bradley Walsh as Graham, Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor, Tosin Cole as Ryan - Doctor Who _ Season 12, Episode 6 - Photo Credit: Ben Blackall/BBC Studios/BBC America
Matthew McNulty as Adam Lang, Warren Brown as Jake Willis, Bradley Walsh as Graham, Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor, Tosin Cole as Ryan – Doctor Who _ Season 12, Episode 6 – Photo Credit: Ben Blackall/BBC Studios/BBC America

The idea of the bacteria being spread so easily by birds infected because of the plastic they ingested is such a clever idea Drawing on real facts that birds are suffering because of our over expansion in plastics and our thoughtlessness concerning the environment. It also allows for exploration of the instinctive fear that humans can have for an enemy that cannot be reasoned with and which outnumbers them by at least forty to one.

Leaps without logic

  • There were some parts to the story which felt illogical and irked me in an otherwise decent story. Perhaps the script needed a further polish but it struck me that events in the plot should occur organically based on what we know about the characters and the situation but I noted the following:
  • Jamila and Gabriela arrived at the river and discovered the rubbish dump so why not move away from there? If it had been getting dark as they arrived I could understand they might be forced to stay even if the smell would have been unbearable for anyone.
  • How was Adam able to use his phone to text Jake being he was tied up?
  • Later Gabriela obtained from a Reddit message board that an ambulance took Jamila away. Who found Jamila and got her into an ambulance or did the aliens take her to the hospital? If we saw the aliens monitoring the birds as they attacked Jamila then them taking her away would make sense.
  • Ryan and Gabriela then got a lift to the creepiest hospital ever, found Jamila who exploded after she succumbed to the infection. Gabriela didn’t seem that upset by Jamila’s death at the end of the story as she wanted to go with Adam and Jake on their honeymoon vlogging as “Three Idiots Roaming”. No explanation was given how she would explain Jamila’s disappearance to her family. Surely she would be missed eventually? Also Adam, “famous missing astronaut” reported missing on the news. Did he confirm he was alive to his space mission colleagues? Mind you Doctor Who has form here as way back in 2009 how did Yuri and Mia explain their presence back on Earth after the base exploded in the Waters of Mars. Maybe I am overthinking this point but its little illogical things such as this that could be solved with a line of the script.
Jamila will never roam again
Jamila will never be a girl roaming again

There’s more ….

  • The doctor asked Ryan to dissect a dead bird when a scientist Suki is there stood next to him. Really Doctor?
  • Everyone forgot about poor Amaru
  • Jake up in an alien spaceship without a spacesuit (ok maybe I have to suspend my disbelief for this one)

Supporting cast and the Fam

I did think that having a large number of characters included within a wide-reaching story such as this did not serve them well as that there just wasn’t enough time given to know them properly. Most were sketchy there just to serve the plot. Three victims initially, then Suki, Amaru and the two-alien crew who died plus Jake, Adam and Gabriela. Adam and Jake the married couple were the standouts of the episode, struggling with commitments issues both well acted but the others won’t be that memorable in the long run. Poor Amaru got disregarded about pretty quickly.

It seems that Chibbers and the writers are learning to split our Tardis crew up and this worked really well. I like that the Doctor had already briefed the “Fam” and they were on a mission when we saw Yas and Graham in Hong Kong and Ryan in Peru. The assumption being they were aware of the same things we have seen as an audience but it added interest that both were there for different reasons Ryan was looking for a bird to take back for the Doctor and Yaz and Graham were following energy readings. It’s motivating for their development that they had their own companions to talk with as they explored as it also expanded the story onto a larger scale.

JAKE My husband is an astronaut. Do you have any idea how hard it is being married to somebody that impressive?

In series 11 Yaz was too much in the background but in Praxeus we saw a streak of independence emerging, as she was thinking methodically perhaps due to her police training but also as a character keen to explore and somewhat follow in the Doctor’s footsteps. Ryan, I found was quite well paired with the fiery Gabriela but there is something about his demeanour which is sometimes slightly dull even though he’s a sweet slightly vulnerable character. Bradley Walsh always manages to find the humour in Graham but his best interaction was the man to man discussion with Jake on the beach where he listened and sometimes didn’t say a word. I really want to know more about Graham aside from being married to Grace.

DOCTOR: Oh, I’m a sucker for a scientist

Jodie worked well popping up unexpectedly to guide the others. Her disappointment in Suki and in herself when she realised she had been duped is so the Doctor. I did find at times though there was still the breathlessly gasping and talking to herself (prefixed by “Oh” quite a lot) which distracted me. Her doctor talked a lot in this story in a not particularly subtle way and sometimes it moved the plot along as in the case of the bird enzymes attacking the bacteria and other times it was silly. Jake when in the spacecraft says he dispersing the antidote, we see it and then the Doctor says it again. It’s too much exposition to explain what was going on from her to the audience. Maybe it’s a fault of the writing that the only way they can show the Doctor is clever is by having her talk constantly

JAKE: Dispersing antidote… I think.
DOCTOR: Jake, you’ve done it. Antidote particles being dispersed into the jet streams.

This story is a better effort overall than the other “issue” episode Orphan 55, with superior signposting of its themes and a clearer narrative although not without some faults. Praxeus does lack some of the necessary subtlety with its characters to resonant deeply and leaves a lasting impression but like Orphan 55 is bold in its ambitions. It lands altogether more successfully through its use of a current hot environmental topic mixed in with a mostly satisfying well-created solution

Reviewing Orphan 55 against this story I think I overmarked it initially with a score of 7 so welcome to decimal scoring …Until next time

Relevant sci-fi episode exposing the cost of our plastic obsession 7.25 /10

The News

SFX Magazine got in touch about a cool signed photo of Jodie which is up for auction on eBay and all proceeds go to the Dogs Trust.

Merch Corner

Robert Harrop has released some pics of their upcoming figures and Build-A-Bear Workshop has partnered with the BBC offering 10th and 13th Doctor variants.

Review story this week is: The Haunting of Villa Diodati

We’re almost at the end of Series 12 and we’re hoping we go into the two-part finale strong. Does this creepy haunted house tale of famous history coupled with the “Lone Cyberman” arc give us a banger or does it fall short?

Thank you all for listening this week. Our review story next week will be the Series 12 story – “Ascension of the Cybermen“. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!

Over the past four months, I’ve been rewatching Star Trek: Voyager from start to finish. All seven series of it. (I promise, this isn’t a cry for help.) If you don’t know it, it returns to Gene Roddenberry’s mission statement to “Explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilisations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!” by dumping a federation starship in an uncharted quadrant of space.

It could have reinvigorated the franchise, introduced new aliens and new ideas thus refreshing the well-worn Star Trek tropes. In the event, aside from a few high concept episodes, it felt like the same old Star Trek. It’s a criticism that can be levelled at the so-called E-Space Trilogy from Doctor Who‘s 18th season. Aside from Stephen Gallagher’s beguiling, cine-literate, hard sci-fi serial Warrior’s Gatethe other stories are, at their core, a base-under-siege story and a sci-fi retelling of vampire mythology. Both of which are the show’s stock-in-trade.

This year, Big Finish are revisiting E-Space, expanding the trilogy into hepatology with four new adventures split across two boxed sets. If it goes well, I’m sure things will expand further so that it defies such terms and just becomes “that time the Doctor, Romana and K-9 got stuck in E-Space”.

Slipcase artwork for Volume 1 of The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 9
Slipcase artwork for Volume 1 of The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 9

The potential in realising this whole new universe via an audio medium where the only real limits are the writer’s and, indeed, the listener’s imagination is huge – it’s what makes this latest set of Fourth Doctor adventures such an attractive prospect. It’s also a refreshing change of pace for the range, which has in previous releases become formulaic in the way it routinely shifts from replicating the styles of Hinchcliffe/Holmes to Williams/Adams and back again. Those plays, whilst often incredibly entertaining, and some of the best Big Finish have to offer, could also feel jarring in their two-part structure and incongruous references to the times we live in now, rather than Saturday teatime in the 1970s. The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 9 returns to a more authentic feeling four-part structure and has some excellent music and sound design from Jamie Robertson that evokes those adventures of the early 1980s.

This four-part structure really allows the stories to breathe, and to give everyone stuff to do, which is especially helpful as the Doctor now has three companions, with the addition of a returning Matthew Waterhouse as Adric. The Fourth Doctor and Adric’s relationship is a lot better and far more interesting than some fans give it credit for, and it provides writers Marc Platt and Jonathan Morris with some rich material to play with.

Marc Platt’s Purgatory 12 opens the boxed set and finds Adric still reeling from the death of his brother and struggling to find his place within the TARDIS team. Some crossed words with his surrogate parents – the Doctor and Romana – and he asks to be let out at the next stop so that he can make his own way in the universe. It’s just rather unfortunate that their next stop is a barren asteroid which is about to collide with a rather unusual penal colony.

1980s style cover artwork for Purgatory 12 by Marc Platt
1980s style cover artwork for Purgatory 12 by Marc Platt

I say unusual because it is. If ever there was a writer who could grasp the potential weirdness of E-Space it’s the writer who penned Ghost Light. Platt’s dialogue is evocative of the very strange and very alien environment that surrounds the prison. The early scenes where Romana and K-9 explore the surface are vividly realised through that winning audio drama combination of writing and sound design. There are faces in the rust clouds and smoky tendrils reach out from the scars in the ground. A strange life form, affectionately named ‘The Gullet’ is the source of these phenomena, feeding off the colony’s inhabitants and it soon has the TARDIS crew in its sights.

As for the remainder of the TARDIS team – Adric starts to find a place for himself amongst this colony of losers and rejects, dishing up what little food they still have and hitting it off with the warden. This is a facet of Adric’s character that was always fumbled on-screen, but here it works and becomes a key part of the plot and its resolution. Sure, he’s a maths genius, but he’s also resourceful and pragmatic and easily ingratiates himself with those at odds with the Doctor. He was envisioned as an Artful Dodger type, after all. It must be rewarding for Waterhouse as an actor to be given more weighty material to work with, even if, through no fault of his own, he no longer sounds like a teenager.

Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, of course, no longer sound like they did in the 1980s either. The Doctor and Romana are mostly separate for a lot of the action, perhaps due to both actors being in different studios. It’s not a problem and is something that only occurs to you afterwards, given that Platt teams the Doctor up with a rag-tag bunch of convicts. Baker is clearly enjoying the experience – One standout moment involves him laughing at a blackly comic joke about a grisly crime committed by one of his new friends, only for him to immediately check himself. It’s a fun bit of business and you can imagine Tom coming up with it ad-hoc.

Repentance, justice and belief are the key concerns of Purgatory 12 and with its barren setting, high concept villain and less than salubrious supporting characters it calls to mind Warrior’s Gate. This is a story that fully embraces the possibilities of this new region of space, introducing us to weird science, a wide range of alien civilisations and strange new worlds. It’s therefore disappointing that it drops the ball at the climax, concluding the story with a high-stakes chess game which, in Doctor Who especially, feels rather played out.

Jonathan Morris’ Chase the Night similarly mines the storytelling possibilities of E-Space with a story that deals with inequality, dictatorships, collective consciousness, nature and tying people to railway tracks. As I say, the four-part structure really allows the stories to open up in a way the Fourth Doctor audios haven’t done before.

80s style artwork for Chase the Night by Jonathan Morris
80s style artwork for Chase the Night by Jonathan Morris

Answering a distress call from a crashed ship, the TARDIS lands on a planet where daylight is literally fatal. Given the ever-expanding, near-infinite interior dimensions of the Doctor’s ship, it’s a surprise that we’ve never seen them ride to the rescue on such a scale before.

Whilst waiting to be rescued, however, the distressed crew have come up with a novel solution, building railway tracks and converting their downed ship into a train, allowing them to avoid the scorching hot sun in a sort of reverse Snowpiercer situation. Oscar-winning director Bong Joon-ho’s social satire looms large here, especially in the inequality between the crew and the complex moral dimension to the horrendous punishments doled out by the ship’s pilot to her detractors. (Played chillingly by an against-type Jane Asher)

It leads to a fantastic scene between the Doctor, Romana and Adric where the young Alzarian’s pragmatism clashes with the Time Lady’s moral fortitude. There is a theme developing in these stories that seek to make Romana’s departure at the end of Warrior’s Gate less abrupt. One character’s harsh response to a difficult decision she makes is perhaps the inciting incident that leads her to stay in E-Space.

This is so clearly a story where the real monsters are inside the train, that it momentarily wrong-foots you when a more monstrous threat appears to emerge. As the train’s engines fail, and crew members succumb to a strange infection, the Pilot becomes even more unhinged and desperate to survive. It’s also a story that is absolutely brimming with big sci-fi ideas that Morris confidently knits together to provide a resolution that feels left-field but is actually incredibly fitting.

If Chase the Night teaches us anything, it’s that the march of time is inescapable. Where Purgatory 12 mostly kept the former Mr & Mrs Baker apart, here Morris writes a lovely bit of business where they try to negotiate their way out of a very difficult situation. It’s a scene that would have really sung at the height of their powers, but it’s no less enjoyable here.

It’s not 1981 any more, but despite ageing actors and a divorce, Marc Platt, Jonathan Morris and the Big Finish team have successfully recaptured that feeling of the best of Season 18 – big science fiction ideas tempered with real-world scientific concepts, with an undercurrent of doomy finality. It’s some of the best material Tom Baker has had in years, and I’m eagerly anticipating the next two entries in the E-Space hepatology.

Dear reader it’s a couple of weeks since episode 5 aired and with such an arc heavy episode its been a good opportunity to digest and discuss its contents. Forget an uncomplicated romp with the stompy alien policemen this is definitely an episode to be savoured slowly with a glass of wine in hand.

This is probably the strongest episode to date of the Chris Chibnall showrunner and writing era, It was described online after transmission in many quarters as a game-changer for this series and it would be lovely to see this as a beginning of a cohesive arc from which we get the answers about the timeless child teased last year. I tend to watch episodes at least twice for review purposes and this episode has become more exciting each time I’ve seen it for all for the tantalising questions it raises.

Episode 5 An arc heavy episode, return of an old friend and a startling discovery

The script

My reaction on live transmission of this story was similar to others as in > ooooh there’s a nice little mystery going on > oh yay Captain Jack is back!!! > what is going on ? > What, what?  Ruth is who? OMG Really? I need to lie down but I need to know more. I’m so curious therefore with the writing credits ascribed to both Vinay Patel and Chris Chibnall as to who wrote bits of the episode. I certainly rate Vinay Patel on the strength of last series “Demons of the Punjab” and also his non-Doctor Who drama Murdered by my Father. He writes emotional true characters, strong with dialogue. Chris Chibnall’s writing efforts last series were more disappointing but it feels this series that he has discovered some form, the training wheels have come off and he’s talking to the fans in their language, challenging the canon of what we know.

The countdown is nearly up
The countdown is nearly up

Looking at the structure and dialogue for this episode, except for the part where Ruth is out and about high fiving kids or admiring dogs in a slightly cheesy way of showing how nice she is Fugitive of the Judoon is tightly scripted. It starts inauspiciously with a domestic situation but just builds and builds as the surprises just kept coming through the episode after the Judoon beamed down to Gloucester. What I liked is the script was written well enough to showcase the few characters we were introduced to from a city of around 150,000 people. Each supporting character had their moment as we were shown how rule-bound the Judoon is.

The old lady Marcia got her ball of wool and knitting needles “confiscated” as she panicked and Alan ended vapourised after his jealousy of Lee got the better of him.  Gat treated the Judoon as brainless thugs, at the call of the Timelords but they meant business exactly on their contract terms. I thought the commander of the Judoon Pol Kon Don, played by Paul Kasey, was actually an excellent prosthetic in terms of movement and speech.

The Doctor facing Judoon justice
The Doctor facing Judoon justice

Oh, I really want to talk about all ears, Alan. Thank god the actor Micheal Begley played it with a light touch of comedy as he did. It was hilarious seeing the dossier on Lee and his “you can do better” cake was a laugh out loud moment. Alan must have spent hours trailing Lee, either that or swapping gossip with the librarians. He’s the kind of slightly weaselly guy who has an obsessive streak and probably takes out ten hardback crime novels out of the library rather than invest in a Kindle! Did hapless Alan deserve to get killed? No, but  I did wonder why he was attracted to Ruth, as they seemed completely mismatched but I guess it takes all sorts.

So, talking of Lee? Lots of questions raised in the episode of what is in retrospect an important role. Played by Neil Stuke,  a really good actor who I’ve seen as a ducker and diver character called Billy Lamb in a legal series called Silk. Given that Gat called him ‘old friend’ my theory is he was working as an operative or a foot soldier on an alternate version of Gallifrey, together with Ruth. They were both run by the Celestial Intervention Agency ( a covert arm of the High Council to safeguard the Time Lords’ interests ) and they both deserted.  I enjoyed the faithful companion comment by Gat for the double meaning (of Doctor and his/ her companions) but also, Lee was in the role of protector of them both. What mistake did he make? Escaping perhaps.

I really got vibes of a watcher protecting the important one (similar role of Giles from Buffy, the vampire slayer)  here. It’s not anything new now to introduce a spouse for the Doctor but I was interested in the lack of reaction from Ruth at his Lee’s death. I would have loved to have seen him alive once Jo Martin’s Doctor was restored to herself but it was not to be.

I haven’t mentioned Captain Jack yet but I had the biggest smile on my face when I saw him. I’m so glad Chris Chibnall brought him back even as a brief teaser. Chris Chibnall has borrowed a lot from Who’s past but this is one of the better ideas.  Jack’s a reminder of a popular era and he has an energy which is infectious. Captain Jack’s larger than life alpha persona did highlight the rather passive nature of the current companions, who are more everyman observers in the Tardis. Saying that I loved Graham’s face after Jack kissed him. John Barrowman’s appearance was a cameo but it also gave tantalising glimpses of future episodes and I absolutely loved it.

I found the direction for the episode was stunning at times especially in the cathedral and at the lighthouse. How interesting that in the cathedral which should be a place of peace, and contemplation is where Ruth becomes this warrior beating the Judoon soldiers. Unknowingly we are being given clues. echoes of previous doctors (3rd  Doctor with Venusian aikido) This Ruth-less Doctor is merciless, driven by instinct and it is such a switch, a jolt. I love the later sound of the church bells, a call to action, as she sits meekly confused about her actions, convinced it isn’t her (echoes of the 10th Doctor struggling as a human under the chameleon arch) with the little flashes where Ruth is guided to the lighthouse.

“Let me take it from the top, Hello I’m the Doctor. I’m a traveller in Space and Time” Ruth
“Let me take it from the top, Hello I’m the Doctor. I’m a traveller in Space and Time” Ruth

The episode steps up a gear at this point visually and we are on a physical but also metaphorical journey alongside the 13th Doctor to find out the truth. I love the shots of the car on the road. It’s entirely appropriate that she and the 13th Doctor alone are doing the journey together. Their conversation together in the car up to the lighthouse is more than just an information stream at the audience. At this point, the 13th Doctor is the one we trust and the inquisitiveness Jodie brings at this point is testament to the cleverness the Doctor normally has. Did anyone else wonder at the decision of Ruth’s parents to live in the middle of nowhere? Was it deliberate, where they were timelords too hiding out, or just human foster parents?

The physical separation that the 13th Doctor imposes by wanting to look around the lighthouse and leaving Ruth highlights their individuality. Both similar but also different. There is some gorgeous cinematic visual direction as Ruth lighting a fire becomes emblematic of what’s coming. The revolving shot on the top of the lighthouse as Jodie/ the 13th stands on the brink feels beautiful, totally apt to portray her spinning confusion.

The moment Ruth broke the glass was really exciting and in hindsight took me all the way back to the excitement of “Utopia” as the Master opened the fob watch.  For a minute with the red bolt of energy and her leaning for the gun pretty quickly I thought it was the Rani. Yes, that old chestnut Certainly, with the swagger she gave hauling the gun to the Tardis and the “You’re probably a bit confused right now,” as she confronted the 13th Doctor Jo Martin brought a dangerous air with her which I kind of love. Jo Martin has joined an exclusive club now and her success will really depend on how the story plays out.

I hope we see her again. Chibnall has addressed the controversy of why the series hasn’t had a black Doctor before now and that can be laid to rest as long as it isn’t a one-off meeting. I’m sure all of those production people behind the scenes following the BBC Content Diversity and Inclusion Commissioning Guidelines are fist-pumping the air at the positive reaction to the episode.

It was really interesting to see the interaction between the two incarnations after Ruth Doctor took 13th to the Tardis. A doctor who isn’t like our hippy trippy 13th, who is disdainful, quick to action. She’s a kick-ass Doctor able to scare the Judoon and tricking a fellow Gallifreyan Gat into discharging a gun. Whilst the 13th Doctor couldn’t believe that Ruth could be her there are the overlapping dialogue and the way they insulted each other over their clothing to suggest they are the same person. Unknown versions of the Doctor are nothing new. In the more straightforward days of my superfan youth in the classic series, there were six doctors and Peter Cushing from the films.

Two Doctors
Two Doctors

The mathematics was simple as long as you didn’t consider all other forms of media. Then on tv, it started to go pear-shaped during the Trial of a Timelord when the Valeyard was revealed as an amalgamation of the darker sides of the Doctor’s nature somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnation. Due to the later cancellation of the series, this idea of unknown versions of the Doctor wasn’t taken much further. But the new series has been much braver introducing the War Doctor, and we now have Jo Martin as Ruth Doctor who is a gun-totting timelord.

A lot of people have been extremely positive regarding Ruth Doctor more forceful version compared to the 13th Doctor but I rather enjoyed Jodie Whittaker’s confused, inward-looking stance. She is far more measured than Ruth especially the way she appealed to Gat and they made contact. The 13th’s reaction to Ryan’s comment that they knew her felt uncharacteristic of her normal bubbly, full of smiles persona but I enjoyed that bite.

Ruth suggested that the 13th doctor is a later incarnation than her. Do we believe Ruth’s version? I originally thought she was from a parallel universe but Chris Chibnall says she isn’t. There is an idea floating that she is pre-Hartnell as she doesn’t know about the sonic screwdriver (created by the 2nd Doctor) and her Tardis is a gleaming white. Whilst we might speculate on the Doctor’s early life on Gallifrey with a family (to have a grand-daughter to run away with ) I’m not sure how I feel about expanding the history backwards with a different person as a first. It is a time travel programme but it doesn’t feel entirely respectable to place Ruth before the William Hartnell incarnation who began the whole show off. But then it is also worth remembering that showrunners build on existing history all the time.

Gallifrey, which has been destroyed, resurrected and destroyed again was first shown six years into Doctor Who’s history and the name mentioned in the 1973 story of “The Time Warrior” ten years after the debut. Perhaps the answer is something else completely different as Ruth’s Tardis is a police box which only occurred after Totters Lane. There is another theory doing the rounds that she is part of an unscreened season which occurred between season 6 and 7 when Patrick Troughton’s Doctor continued missions for the Timelords before regenerating into Jon Pertwee. Whatever the truth Chris Chibnall has set in motion a new strand of history for Doctor Who which  I’m so excited to find out about.

Triumphs in the dialogue

“They are coming for me, always the nanogenes”- Captain Jack Harkness

“Feels like instinct against the bullies and you know the thing about bullies there’s always a weak spot” Ruth

“Let me take it from the top, Hello I’m the Doctor. I’m a traveller in Space and Time” Ruth

 The best episode so far of the Whittaker era  9 /10

The News

Candy Jar Books are after your thoughts and memories for the upcoming Chris Achilleos Target book and more chat about viewing figures.

Merch Corner

The Faceless Ones gets the triple format release as expected.

Review story this week is: Can You Hear Me?

Overall Series 12 has been decent so far so can this one provide some creepiness as we approach the end of this series? Immortals, flying fingers, nightmares and more Timeless Child pondering.

Thank you all for listening this week. Our review story next week will be the Series 12 story – “The Haunting of Villa Diodati“. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!

As we continue our look back/review of The Virgin New Adventures that continued the series’ legacy throughout the Wilderness Years, look back at Gareth Roberts first Doctor Who piece as well as what could possibly be one of the worst Doctor Who stories of all time, the dreaded, The Pit. Readers beware, I might be so fair this time around!

THE HIGHEST SCIENCE – WRITTEN BY GARETH ROBERTS

In more recent times, Roberts has gotten into some serious trouble with some of his more, shall we say, political views, on social media. These views have meant he has been removed from future Doctor Who publications for the foreseeable future and as such, it’s hard to imagine a time when he delivered what is considered to be some of the best Doctor Who novels ever written.

Well, I say some of the best, The Highest Science certainly isn’t, it tries to be and it isn’t a bad book, but it isn’t as strong as some of his other works like The Romance of Crime, The English Way of Death and The Plotters. But it must have had something in it, as Big Finish did adapt it for their Novel Range a few years ago. I remember listening to that one and I actually did enjoy it, though if it hadn’t been a novel, I expect it would have been a story from their Short Trips range as there isn’t really a lot going on in this book. It feels a very short read, despite being the average length of a Virgin Novel.

Before reading this book, I’d heard a bit about it, both people who loved it and people who didn’t and in the end, I ended up somewhere in the middle, I didn’t like it but I certainly didn’t hate it. The Highest Science follows the Doctor and Bernice, on her first proper trip as Transit didn’t treat all that well as they land on the planet Sakkrat, a planet that has something of a legendary status in the cosmos. But they aren’t the only arrivals, there is a motley crew as well as a Chelonian Assault force. If you don’t know who or what the Chelonian’s are, think along the lines of walking-talking and very angry tortoises. The Doctor is following a temporal fluctuation caused by the mythical Fortean Flicker that has teleported all these people to the planet. Throw in a group of humans who just want to go home, drug addiction, amnesia and an alien conspiracy that might or might not be what it seems, things begin to fall apart on the planet of Sakkrat very quickly.

Cover art for The Highest Science
Cover art for The Highest Science

Roberts gives the Seventh Doctor a twist though, he isn’t as scheming as he has been depicted in all of the previous novels. He does work out the main problem before everyone else but not too far away from the ending of the book. It’s also good that he gets to think on his feet here, not having had the time to plan everything beforehand, despite him constantly being knocked out by the Chelonians.

Bernice has a rough time here though, and for some reason, that seems to be a running theme through these novels. Love & War didn’t end very well for anyone and Transit saw her taken over by a malevolent entity for much of the story. Transit is supposed to be her first proper trip in the TARDIS and here she finds herself mostly being incapacitated by Bubbleshake addiction. She seems to be handled in the same way some of the Fifth Doctor’s companions were treated when there were three travellers. But that was justified by the fact that there were far too many companions for the writers to handle. Here though, as the sole companion, they don’t have that excuse, but the writers still seem to insist on writing her out of the action as quickly as possible. It’s a strange move considering she’s the main companion for much of this range.

Roberts also seems to hinge much of the story on a series of dues ex machina events with spaceships and transporters arriving at just the right time and it doesn’t allow any of the characters to show off any level of intelligence at all. And we’ve got groups of characters of seem to know each other with no explanation given. Of course, all this can luckily be explained away as the Fortean Flicker has something to do with the idea of coincidences but it isn’t the best idea in the world to hinge a lot of the events in your book on something like that, without explaining it properly. But as the book goes on it explains that the Flicker was once operational but is now not. So this aspect of the book really makes no sense at all.

If the planet the Doctor and Bernice find themselves on is supposed to be abandoned, there sure are a lot of supporting characters around. There are mad Chelonians, the General Fakrid and his First Pilot, Jinkwa. A group of human tourists, Vaness, Hazel and Witcher. Music fans, Rodomonte, Sendei and Molassi. And then there is the only supporting character that I remember from this book, the real villain, Sheldukher and his accompaniment of Rosheen, Klift, Posteen, and the Cell. It goes to show how good I thought this book was if I can only remember one character besides the Doctor and Bernice.

It’s strange then to learn that upon its initial release, this was a book that was well-received. Maybe its a case of the years not being particularly kind as I found it to be so-so. I do remember the climatic battle towards the end, and Bernice dodging missiles fired at the ruined temple of Sakkrat by the mad Chelonians but otherwise, much of this book went in-one-ear-and-out-the-other. Gareth Roberts would later become known for his quick-witted writing and indeed, books like The Romance of Crime and The English Way of Death, hold up much better today. The Highest Science isn’t bad for a first outing but it certainly doesn’t hold together particularly well as the novel rattles along. At least Roberts didn’t write this one to outstay its welcome.

THE PIT – WRITTEN BY NEIL PENSWICK

Oh, dear.

Right, here we go.

The Pit. What can I say about The Pit without being too horrible? Well, under no circumstances would I wish to insult the writer but this is a story that is too difficult and rambling to be enjoyable. Penswick can certainly write, he submitted an unused script for the show that would have featured in a series had the show continued into the 1990s, but this is just a story that is far too boring for its own good.

So what did I like? Well, I liked all the tie-ins to Gallifrey and the mythos of the planet and the Doctor’s role in it. I like that it ties into State of Decay, a Fourth Doctor story that I find hugely enjoyable and the vampire legends that make up much of that outing. It’s just unfortunate that Penswick doesn’t include more of this as this book is set long before Gallifrey becomes the Gallifrey we know today. These are the earliest of Gallifrian’s, just starting out and it is such a shame that there isn’t more attention paid to this as I would have really liked that aspect of this story more. Penswick also doesn’t make it clear as to whether these are the same breed of Vampires as the Yssagaroth, a term that would be later confirmed in the Eighth Doctor two-part novel, Interference or if they are related to the Great Vampires from State of Decay. Perhaps though the biggest villain here is the Gallifrian general, Kopyion Liall a Mahajetsu, who vows at the end of the novel to kill the Doctor should he ever see him again. He never does though, so we don’t have to worry too much about a follow up to this novel.

But besides Kopyion, I found it hard to get to grips with Penswick’s handling of the other characters, including the Doctor and Bernice. Now, to me, a Doctor Who book can be absolutely terrible, so long as the writer has a good handle on the main characters. So long as they feel like the Doctor and his companion, I can forgive the bad prose somewhat. Here though, the Doctor and Bernice feel somewhat shallow, like just what we see on the outside, there is no emotional depth given to them whatsoever. Maybe though that is a by-product of this story which is, luckily, quite short, though its difficult nature meant it took me a long time to read it. Normally, I can sit down and quite happily either finish a book or get the vast majority of it out of the way in an afternoon.

Cover art for The Pit
Cover art for The Pit

Then we’ve got two shapeshifters who have stolen the most powerful nuclear device to have ever been invented and their telepathic slaves. A group of androids who have been sent to recover the device, one of whom becomes Bernice’s escort through the book, there’s General Kopyoin and all his dirty-little-secrets. There’s a Major John Carlson who is on a murder investigation and a relic hunter, Mann who both have big plots here. Then there’s also a cult on Earth, UNIT and most surprisingly, the teaming up of the Doctor and the poet, William Blake. But like The Highest Science, the many characters prove to be the books biggest downfall as there is never enough time to spend on each one. Blake serves no purpose at all and should never have been included and as we learn early on in the book that this part of space will be destroyed at some point, towards the end of the novel, none of the other characters really matter anyway.

What was good though was that it does shed some light on the TARDIS breakdown that has been happening gradually since the beginning of the Cat’s Cradle arc and what I really liked was that has the TARDIS was breaking down, so is the Doctor thanks to their telepathic link. The Doctor very nearly doesn’t win here, and in fact, is in no way responsible for the victory at the end. It’s a plot thread that we’ll see resolved in the next book, Deceit.

But poor Bernice Summerfield. For a character who would go on to become one of the most beloved spin-off characters of all time, it’s strange to think of her character as the floundering mess she is at the moment. It almost feels like the writers had no idea what to do with after Ace had left and so leave her out of most of the action. But Bernice seems to be written like Ace, she has a tendency to use violence, get bored and sulk, despite the fact she is supposed to be an archaeologist. It’s a shame to see her character in such a state here, but Big Finish, and indeed these novels would go on to treat her right over the years, its just a shame that a companion we still hardly know at this point in her publication history isn’t getting the love and attention she deserves.

So actually, I did have some good points to talk about with The Pit. It’s such a shame then that the bad points negate the good in this book. It’s one that I’m glad I’ve finished and I’m happy to put behind me and never, ever read again.

NEXT TIME: DECEIT AND LUCIFER RISING: THE RETURN OF ACE AND THE EVIL CORPORATION IMC…

As the Virgin Novels continued the run of the show following its cancellation, they quickly set about making some changes. Ace left the Doctor in Love & War and the Doctor was joined on his travels by an archaeologist, Professor Bernice Summerfield. It didn’t take long though before Ace was brought back into the fold and this time she was meaner and moodier than ever. The Nineties had finally arrived for Doctor Who

DECEIT: WRITTEN BY PETER DARVILL-EVANS

Deceit came about because Peter Darvill-Evans, who was the head-writer on this range of novels, decided that if he could dish out criticism and instructions on how to write books for the show and continue the programme’s legacy, then he had better make sure he could do it as well. So he penned Deceit, which brought back Ace, although now she had been a member of the Spacefleet for a number of years, fighting the Daleks. She a changed person and whether that would affect her future travels with the Doctor and Bernice would alter the course of these books for some considerable time.

What is really striking about Deceit is that it is an experiment. Its Darvill-Evans asking himself the question of how many side characters should be included and how many plot threads should be woven into the story. These are questions that every writer should ask themselves before they put pen-to-paper and they were questions that sadly should have been answered before as a number of early Virgin Novels, suffered from there being far too many characters involved, often to the detriment of the companion Bernice Summerfield who was often shoved aside in favour of less interesting characters.

In real-life Ace hadn’t been gone for very long. Love & War had been published in 1992, while Deceit was 1993. And as this book goes on, one wonders if it was an editorial decision to get this older version of Ace involved. For Ace though, its been three years and she’s since joined Spacefleet and their Special Weapons Division. Oh and she’s worked for a shady sounding mining company. But there is no other mention of those who survived Love & War and Ace’s three-year stint away from the Doctor does seem to be pretty checkered. It’ll all be answered as the series goes on but for all her time away, she still doesn’t like the Doctor. She’s forgiven him for the death of Jan, her lover in Love & War but not for the way he used to treat her and manipulated her.

Cover art for Deceit
Cover art for Deceit

I know that at the time, many Doctor Who fans kicked off about the way Ace had changed but I haven’t noticed much difference. I’ve just finished The Dimension Riders and she still feels like the Ace, just with bigger toys and a bigger chip on her shoulder. Early on in the book’s run, there was a lot of emphasis put on her strained relationship with her mother, though these feels were dealt with on-screen in The Curse of Fenric. But there is none of that silliness here and so far, I’ve been impressed that her feelings for her mother haven’t been brought up again. But there is a hint that she’s gotten much more secretive since she left the Doctor and as she departs with the Doctor and Bernice, there is the hint that there is something she isn’t telling them. It’s a secret that won’t keep for long as Lucifer Rising delves into it nicely. But it’s a nice thing for the book to have and some nice development for Ace.

And much like Rose when she met Sarah Jane, there was a nice amount of tension between Ace and Bernice. Truthfully I don’t know why when the pair spent much of Love & War together but the jealousy of the new travelling companions must be par for the course for an older companion. The tension is something that will stick with them up until Blood Heat but there is little time for fighting here as Darvill-Evan’s story takes place over the course of five weeks with the final acts taking place over the course of a day. But as Ace and Benny spend much of their book run travelling together, they don’t keep their frosty relationship for long. And even though it is still early days for Benny, Davill-Evans doesn’t hang around to have her captured. Even though she goes on to become one of the most beloved spinoff characters, one does have to wonder where Bernice became strong enough to warrant her own run of books and twenty-years worth of audios. She must get better as the books go on.

The other major inclusion here is that of Doctor Who Magazine’s comic book creation Abslom Daak. I had read a little bit of his time with the Eleventh Doctor in the Titan Comics and certainly heard of him and seen panels from the old DWM comic book strip but never really read anything with him in. He’s an interesting character to look into, though I would recommend reading this book first and then delving into his background. He’s violent, coarse, straightforward and much to Ace’s dismay, quite lusty. In many ways, Darvill-Evan’s seems to have modelled him after John Peel’s Gilgamesh from Timewyrm: Genesys. But really, he feels more like Conan the Barbarian, ready to throw down with anyone, be them human or Dalek. Don’t get in his way because he’ll kill you. And he plays a larger part in Ace’s time away from the Doctor than you might expect, so he’s got some niceties into the wider Doctor Who universe. In many ways, he’s a character I’d love to see on television, but I doubt they’d have the guts to do him justice and I don’t think you’d get away with it at 7.00 pm in the evening! Maybe Big Finish could include him in their Torchwood range?

Darvill-Evans also goes to great pains to give us background on the Earth’s expansion phase. The time when humans really went out into space. It’s a time period we’ve seen and heard plenty of on television, but seldom seen really explored, so it’s nice to finally get some background here. He ties in stories like The Dalek Invasion of Earth and Frontier in Space as well as unwittingly giving us some basis for the fights seen in stories like Into the Dalek when it comes to the Dalek-Wars. And the Cyber-Wars also get a mention, which seems especially relevant now with Series 12 promising us the mystery of the Lone-Cyberman. It’s fun to think that these ideas might have been rediscovered in more recent times and upgraded for modern audiences and adapted to fit in with the television series proper.

Deceit was the first book I’ve really enjoyed in this range since Love & War. And I found very little to criticise about it. Where the book does flounder though is in its dealing with the infection of the TARDIS and by default, the degradation of the Doctor. Darvill-Evans does sort of handle it as a mercy killing, here the Doctor simply talks to it and everything is put right. This plot began all the way back in Cat’s Cradle: Warhead and has played a significant role in the books ever since. I’m glad to see it go and judging by what happens in Blood Heat, it seems to me that the creators at this time we’re delighted to get rid of the plot thread altogether.

LUCIFER RISING: WRITTEN BY ANDY LANE & JIM MORTIMORE

When I finished Lucifer Rising I looked back and I had thoroughly enjoyed it. However, looking back on it, it is a large book and takes quite a while to eventually get going. It’s got plenty of technobabble and weirdness to enjoy in the early half of the book, it just takes its time in getting to the point. Perhaps due to the two-authors of this novel, it jumps around quite a bit, moving the action from location to location and it isn’t hard to see the different writing styles of the two authors sometimes. It opens quite strangely too, with the Doctor, Ace and Bernice being viewed on a computer screen for quite some time. It’s an interesting way to open the story, though I doubt it needed to go on for that long. What makes it even stranger is that the crew watching them don’t know if the trio is supposed to be there or if they are stowaways. Perhaps it’s just because we are so used to seeing the Doctor smooth talk his way into situations, but here there is some explanation, about it being the TARDIS telepathic systems now that the TARDIS is working nicely again?!

With Deceit having been penned by Virgin New Adventures producer, Peter Darvill-Evans and the way he reintroduced Ace, then I think its safe to say that it’s been something of a course-correction for Ace. Lane and Mortimore continue that trend here, giving us some more background on the three-years she’s been away from the Doctor and her encounters with IMC, the corrupt mining company from Colony in Space and how she told them of the Doctor’s ability to travel in time. As the book goes on, it shows Ace has learnt how to be much more manipulative like her former friend and she manages to sneak IMC into the story’s setting without anyone realising until its too late. From there they try to get the Doctor to let them have access to time-travel. Of course, Ace eventually realises her mistake and corrects it and her and the Doctor and Bernice become ‘friends’ again, though the final line of the book does pose the question of how long that peace will last and it isn’t until a few books time with Shadowmind that we actually start to see the happier Ace we all knew and loved.

Cover art for Lucifer Rising
Cover art for Lucifer Rising

Poor Bernice. Yet again she seems to only exist to get herself into life-threatening danger, otherwise, she’s just stood around. You do feel sorry for the character, especially given how big she would become a few years down the line. Even here, she has the potential to be a great companion, had the writers of all her novels, treated her fairly. Whether it was due to the writers not knowing what to do with her or having three series regulars is up for debate, but at this point, you do wonder why she’s still around!

Lucifer Rising also introduces us to an organisation that was mentioned in Colony in Space and would go on to play quite a big part in future novels, not the least because it is through the Guild of Adjudicators that we meet the Doctor’s future companions, Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester. Here though, we meet Adjudicator Bishop, who is quite trigger happy in the beginning though he does mellow out as the book goes on and he discovers the Doctor isn’t the real enemy. He actually grows to be quite likeable and his death is actually quite sad. But everyone dies in the New Adventures, so don’t feel too bad! It’s a nice lead into an organisation we’d heard of in the show proper as well as some of the Doctor’s future companions coming from them. And it was good that Bernice had heard of them too but wasn’t a big fan. I’ve not gotten to the introduction of Chris and Roz yet, but I expect Bernice didn’t like them at all!

So Lucifer Rising is a decent read, easily up there as one of the best New Adventures I’ve read, even if it does take a while to really get going. It’s also a good jumping-on point for new readers if you’d missed Timewyrm: Genesys and Love & War. Even to this day, it’s still quite a cheap book to pick up, if you’ve got a bit of spare cash I’d recommend giving it a go!

And here’s a little fun fact for you, at the time this book was published, Virgin was toying with the idea of regenerating the Doctor. He was supposed to resemble David Troughton in appearance and although this book was published around the time those ideas were being formed, nothing eventually came of them as, by the time 1996 came along, Paul McGann was the Eighth Doctor. Won’t someone think of the continuity!

The News

Sad news to kick off with as we say goodbye to Nicholas Parsons and then some chat about viewing figures for the last two episodes or Series 12.

Merch Corner

Some of you asked for it and now it’s here (well, available to pre-order). The first of the blu ray collection sets, Season 12, is being re-released and is out March 2nd. Be quick though!

Review story this week is: Praxeus

After last week’s belter of a story, this one is under some pressure to keep the awesome train going. Another good adventure or are we infected with boredom?

Thank you all for listening this week. Our review story next week will be the Series 12 story – “Can You Hear Me?”. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!

Big Finish has gone to great lengths to continue the success of Torchwood. They’ve created new characters and resurrected old ones like Suzie. And they’ve given some much-needed character development to the likes of Owen and Tosh. With Martha Jones returning in Dissected, there is just about time to have a look at the wider life of Captain John, an old flame of Jack’s, when they aren’t trying to kill each other and the rest of Cardiff.

Following his introduction in Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, Captain John became a firm favourite, despite only then appearing in two episodes at the end of the second series. He then turned up in the audio adventure, The Death of Captain Jack and we were treated to a rip-roaring adventure so it was no surprise that a set surrounding the character was quickly announced.

All four stories in this set are written by David Llewellyn and thanks to there being just one writer, the set feels a lot more cohesive than it might have done otherwise and Llewellyn has a great handle on the character, that much is clear from the opening episode, The Restored. Following Oliver Cromwell’s death after the Civil War and the country saw the monarchy reinstated, Charles II finds himself in a country where the dead are coming back to life and when Captain John befriends him and his mistress, not only do we learn more about John but also the strange Resurrection Gauntlets, that seem to be able to bring people back from the dead.

Torchwood: The Sins of Captain John
Torchwood: The Sins of Captain John

When a Torchwood story opens with the warning that it contains adult humour and scenes, it isn’t lying and here in particular, Llewellyn mixes the story with a number of funny lines, action scenes and sex. So really its just your average outing for Torchwood. But in the opening minutes, Llewellyn makes sure we know what we are in for, allowing Captain John to break the fourth wall and address the audience directly about the nature of the following hour, as well as throwing in some funny lines about the idea of audio-dramas and some mentions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the 1990s series with Sarah Michelle Geller that Captain John actor, James Marsters, was a part of in the role of vampire Spike. It’s a funny thing to mention but it very quickly sets out how the series has decided to use Captain John. It could have been easy for them to retread the same use of the character from Series 2 but here, he feels much more like the Deadpool of the Doctor Who Universe, taking the audience at certain points and explaining what’s going on, in a way that only he could.

For any other character in Torchwood to do this, even Captain Jack, it would feel extremely odd. But when John’s involved, it really works, elevating what was already a cracking set to something completely unique.

As Torchwood fans, we know how dangerous the Resurrection Gloves are on a normal day but as John discovers they are beginning to malfunction, leading to the dead in Westminster Abby and the surrounding area to rise from their graves and it isn’t long before Llewellyn has us on in a zombie epic that George Romero would be proud off. We’ve got the bodies of characters like Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey wandering around trying to kill everyone while Oliver Cromwell’s severed head is issuing a strange warning from his spike. It’s a warning that we’ll hear repeated as the set goes on but amongst all the zombie action, it gets a little lost.

That’s fine though because Llewellyn makes sure to keep everything else fun and interesting, even giving John his own assistant for the duration in the form of servant Mohisha. I would have liked John and Mohisha to have been together for longer in the set, Marsters and Serin Ibrahim had a great chemistry together. But Llewellyn makes them part with a funny line about the nature of Doctor Who it’s a real laugh-out-loud moment.

Captain John Hart as he first appeared in the Season 2 opening episode, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang
Captain John Hart as he first appeared in the Season 2 opening episode, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

The Restored is a great way to open the set, quickly establishing that isn’t going to be audio to be played too loudly or be listened to be people of a nervous disposition. While it’s adult nature does sometimes hinder the main bulk of the action, as it does throughout the set, it doesn’t spoil the story, and who doesn’t love a good zombie epic?!

The action continues into the second story, Escape from Nebazz, which sees John trying to find the creator of the Gauntlets, Dr. Magpie. Now, whether this Magpie is related somewhere along the line to Mr. Magpie in The Idiots’ Lantern is never stated, so it might just be a nice little coincidence but it’s a nice surprise that the woman who created these gauntlets, isn’t entirely mad.

There is a story that goes untold here though, what did Dr. Magpie do to warrant being sent to Nebazz? Was the creation of the gauntlets with the power of life and death enough to send her away, or did something happen like it did in Restoration England? The story doesn’t answer that but Llewellyn makes sure we have as the story quickly changes from a prison-escape story to a survival story, as John and Magpie, try to stop the Smart-Mould, a fungus that is mined from the planet Nebazz is on. As the name suggests, once the mould is ingested whether eaten, breathed in or put directly into the bloodstream, it makes whoever the victim is, unusually smart.

It’s fun to hear John pretending to be a prison guard and I expect it was fun for him to be on the other side of the bars for a change. And it doesn’t take long for John to be joined by Captain Jack, who is under orders to bring him in, due to a debt he owes a space-casino owner. Following a humorous few scenes with John and Magpie stuck together in an escape pod, the final act of the story sees the Smart Mould trying to take control of Jack’s ship so that it can travel to another planet. In many ways, this mould reminded me of aliens like the Krynoid or the Hoothi from the Virgin Novel, Love & War. But Llewellyn makes sure that this is still John’s story, so Jack quickly finds himself handcuffed to a railing, while John saves the day, though more out his sense of preservation than the safety of the universe. But the pairing of Marsters and Barrowman is still as excellent now, as it was over ten years ago and it’s surprising that it took so long for Captain John to come back into the Torchwood fold.

The cast of Escape from Nebazz
The cast of Escape from Nebazz

As Captain  John humorously puts it at the beginning of the third episode, Peach Blossom Heights, this is Jack before he became Captain Jack. He takes aside and tells us to roll with it and these amusing little asides were a stroke of genius from Llewellyn and the director, Scott Handcock.

Following on from the crash-landing of the second episode, Jack and John find themselves on a seemingly abandoned planet before stumbling across an Eden-like-paradise. A society, not unlike how we live but a little more Desperate Houswives than Torchwood. In this apparently perfect society, there are mascots, all similar to giant teddy-bears, dragons and cartoon characters. Jack and John are invited to stay with a couple, Caitlin and Trevor where they discover that the pair don’t have to work for money, and just spend the day lounging around and not really doing anything. But their neighbours are going missing, taken away to the Coast, apparently a new housing estate for the best-of-the-best. While for Jack this is an interesting problem, what really worries the pair is that Caitlin and Trevor have never heard of the word sex.

What follows is a scene which could have been so much more graphic. Luckily though, Llewellyn keeps it light and funny and it was hilarious to hear Jack and John destroy paradise. In this Eden, they are the snake tempting everyone. And I mean everyone as Caitlin and Trevor waste no time in introducing everyone else to the concept of sex. It could have quickly fallen into a territory that I don’t think we need to hear from Big Finish whether it is Torchwood or not, but the whole sequence ends with Jack realising that if these people had no idea what sex was, then they have no concept of children, or where and how children are made. So its equally as hilarious to hear John trying to explain the birds and the bees to them!

But underneath this hilarity is a dark secret and it doesn’t take long before Caitlin and Trevor are invited away to the coast. It turns out that the coast is a bit like the farm you’re told about when a pet dies and Jack and John find Caitlin and Trevor reduced to their proteins. Jack knows this is their fault for corrupting paradise, though John takes a different stance on things. Peach Blossom Heights does though show us that John does a sense of right and wrong and heroism, its just needs a bit of prodding to get into action and it was nice to hear that he was just as disgusted by what happened to Caitlin and Trevor as Jack was. It is perhaps the lightest of Llewellyn’s stories on offer here but is most likely to be the best-remembered because of the humour, setup and the main and interesting mystery at its heart, despite its lighter overall plot.

The set comes to a close with Dark Purposes, which sees John thrown into a web of intrigue following a funeral and the return of the Resurrection Gauntlets which quickly begin to cause some trouble again. What I liked as a long-time fan of Torchwood was that we got some background on the Gauntlets throughout this set, something that the show only really did twice, once with End of Days and again with Dead Man Walking. Dark Purposes does tie in nicely with both of those episodes which returned characters stating that something was waiting for its release in the darkness, foreshadowing the arrival of Abaddon in End of Days.

The cast of Peach Blossom Heights
The cast of Peach Blossom Heights

Llewellyn takes the right path here too in terms of the cast with only three other members joining Marsters, giving the story a much more intimate feel as John tries to corrupt the world and politics as well as the people he has ‘befriended’. What was a bit of a shame was that the main characters here seem to be little more than plot devices and never really get out of the shadows of the story to do their own thing. As a result, Dark Purposes does feel a little bit on the lighter side and without the humour of Peach Blossom Heights, it doesn’t quite work as well as that outing. Dark Purposes also ends of a cliff-hanger, featuring Captain Jack that does seem to hint at a second volume, which I would really like to hear.

What is clear throughout though is how much love and attention went into this set, from the brilliant scripts from David Llewellyn to the performance of James Marsters and John Barrowman and the brilliant direction from Scott Handcock. It has proved that there was a lot of unexplored potential in the character of Captain John and I would dearly love a second volume. This one was so much fun and proves that if they wished it, John would have been the perfect character for a televised spin-off to centre around. With action, humour, surprising emotional beats, and the usual splattering of Torchwood tropes like sex and violence, this felt like Doctor Who’s version of Deadpool. Llewellyn and Handcock have struck gold here and I hope it doesn’t run out soon. The Sins of Captain John is a must-have, whether you’re a Torchwood fan or not!