As a huge fan of the 7th Doctor story Greatest Show in the Galaxy broadcast in December and January 1986 I really looked forward to hearing this new audio adventure. Its described as a prequel and a sequel. In Greatest Show in the Galaxy story Bellboy, the creator of the robots and kites of the Psychic Circus had his mind broken by the evil that had controlled the circus people. He blamed the people who ran the Circus led mainly by the Chief Clown.
But Bellboy also remembered earlier better times when the circus began with Flowerchild, Panpipe, Juniper Berry and Kingpin. So in this story, we are taken back in time to before the circus arrived at Segonax to see the roots of how the circus came into being.
Lots of fun for the family, at the Greatest Show in the Galaxy!When a junkmail robot invades the TARDIS, the Doctor gets led down an unnervingly familiar path. Meanwhile, space beatniks Kingpin and Juniper Berry just want to hitch rides and busk – until a greater purpose calls.The Doctor’s past and Kingpin’s future are entangled by malevolent forces. The Psychic Circus is just beginning: it may lack clowns, but it already has a Master…
The 7th Doctor returns to Segonax
Stephen Wyatt treads familiar ground with this story as he revisits some characters we already know. It’s nice also to see that he plays with time, as the same Doctor visits Segonax at two different periods even though it may affect crossing his own timeline. This is the first Sylvester McCoy I’ve personally listened to from Big Finish and although he isn’t a favourite Doctor of mine it really is as if I’ve stepped back in time to Seasons 25 and 26 of classic Who. Sylvester McCoy revels in playing the interested affable Doctor with the touch of the showman. He starts literally learning to juggle lots of balls but using that as a shield to hide his vast intelligence when confronted with old enemies.
As the Doctor has vague memories of his first visit to the circus it is set after Ace leaves and I quite like the fact he is on his own for this adventure as it gives him more interaction with our characters. The junk mail beacon robot becomes his focus into the story becomes his companion of sorts, a mystery to be solved. The robot starts as an annoying salesman personality but then deviates between devious, childlike, pleading and goading until it becomes apparent that the robot is being controlled by a far more powerful malignant influence.
The Master and his masters
I must admit that I didn’t know that the Master was in the story ( I don’t read every synopsis I have to be honest as I’d rather discover things on my own!) I haven’t heard James Dreyfus before and I rather enjoyed his sinister interpretation of the old foe although his involvement felt a bit small league for his character. The early connection with Kingpin and the way the origins of the circus was set in motion had me intrigued initially. However, my interest tailed off a bit like the Master’s motivation for being in the story seems questionable aside from being unable to resist annoying and playing with the Doctor. His involvement with the Gods of Ragnarok could have been expanded upon a bit more and also how the use of the psychic energy created the changes that occurred.
The origins of the Psychic circus
As an origins story, I suppose it is right it starts with Kingpin and Juniper Berry who are the characters who together create the circus. Both free-spirited wanderers dropped off on a planet called Zamyatin which is where their troubles begin. I rather enjoyed Chris Jury resurrecting Kingpin, who in Greatest Show in the Galaxy, seemed rather side-lined for much of the story as Deadbeat. Kingpin is happy to spread the ideals of universal peace and love without worrying too much about the motives of others. So much the global hippie and far more trusting and idealistic than his girlfriend Juniper Berry. He’s a reluctant leader in waiting and I enjoy the way the Master’s influence changes him and affects the direction of the circus and the relationship with Juniper Berry.
We travel the universe with our songs, magic tracks and we like to make people happy – Kingpin
Juniper Berry is a character who is mentioned very briefly by Bellboy in Greatest Show but here she is expanded on to show she is far more intuitive to the reactions of others and grounded than Kingpin. She loves the ideals of peace and love as much as Kingpin and when she tries to persuade Panpipe to be a part of the “collective” circus its meant as a positive gesture, the creation of something good. Her uneasiness at being on Segonax and staying there, however, becomes more palpable as she has “bad vibes”. Her final conversation with Kingpin is a favourite moment of mine. It feels so true of troubled relationships.
Juniper Berry is far more suspicious than Morgana, who also appears in the story. Morgana was the fortune teller in Greatest Show and here sees the success of the circus grow but seems a little wearier as she sees the original aims of the circus become slowly subverted by others. I really liked Morgana, played by Sioned Jones, who has had the empathic gift of foresight since a child. She is looking to belong somewhere, make people happy too and is swept up in the excitement of what the circus could be.
Sioned Jones also plays the Minister of High Seriousness on the planet Zamyatin who is a tyrant of order and when Kingpin in his vernacular inappropriately calls her “hey lady” and “hey babe” it’s not going to end well as both Kingpin and Juniper Berry are sent for retraining as model citizens. I think I would have liked to have seen a bit more on the planet Zamyatin showing the clash of a dictatorship and peaceful universal belonging but the escape from there is all resolved quite efficiently.
The Clown with dreams
Ian Reddington returns as the Chief Clown and he is one of the highlights being brilliantly creepy. He is able to convey here with his voice all the eeriness he originally exhibited visually with the make-up, costume and hand gestures in Greatest Show. The Doctor meets him in a strangely familiar place and the clown is even then totally bonkers because of his desire to be the greatest clown that ever lived. There is a lovely touch with the mention of the poster for the psychic circus when the clown first sees it and then later Juniper Berry. There is something damaged shown in the level of mania and fixation the clown has which Ian Reddington brings hauntingly out. The clown explains why he is as he is but he still gives me the shivers. We see his progression from clown to Chief clown where he is ripe for manipulation as he rises up the ranks and guides the circus folk along a path where all the original values of the circus become twisted.
I don’t want to go on doing the same things. I want to surprise, amuse and yes sometimes scare somebody a little- Chief Clown
The incidental music
The synthesiser beats music by Steve Foxon harks back to the original score by Mark Ayres and is rather marvellous. I wanted to relisten straightaway.
The 7th Doctor first meeting the Chief Clown.
The junk mail robot develops a split personality.
The Doctor and Master first meeting.
The neat joining of this story with the tv serial.
If you are a fan of Stephen Wyatt and the Greatest Show in the Galaxy this is a simple treat – 7/10
For me, Series 4 of the modern era is one of my favourite eras of the show. Not only does it have a largely great set of stories, with not really one weak one in its thirteen-episode run, but it also features one of my favourite companions of all time, Donna Noble. So when Big Finish announced they were going to give Donna her own series I was excited, even if I did wonder why they were doing it. But I shouldn’t have been worried, as Donna is just as brilliant away from the Doctor as she is by his side!
A lot of people were wondering how this series could be pulled off given how Donna departed, but this is set right after the events of Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead and Donna needs some downtime away from her friend when her seemingly happy life in the Library was ripped away from her. Out of this World, written by Jaqueline Raynor opens the series nicely with Donna firmly back on Earth and trying to live with her mother. Sylvia Noble was never one of the world’s best mums on the series and while this series doesn’t shy away from that, she does prove on a number of occasions that she, in fact, loves and cares for her daughter deeply.
Out of this World gives us a story where she tries to help her daughter by sending Donna and her old school friend, Nat, played by Catherine Tate’s comedy partner, Niky Wardley, to a speed-dating evening. Of course, this is Doctor Who and nothing is ever simple. It transpires that aliens who are trying to harvest organs, in a very Torchwood twist for stories to be told at 6-7pm on a Saturday evening, are kidnapping people close to those at the speed-dating evenings.
Catherine Tate quickly shows us how capable she is of leading a cast and proves to be as great as the Doctor himself, foiling the evil plan of the Collectors and saving the planet. Donna quickly adjusts to the role of ‘The Doctor’ taking her companion in the form of Nat under her wing and accidentally brings her along as she saves the TARDIS from the clutches of the Collectors. Out of this World is a great pilot episode for the set and sets up the characters nicely, leading into the next story, Spinvasion brilliantly.
John Dorney’s story, Spinvasion is gloriously satirical, though a little more serious than the show I learnt about PR from, Absolutely Fabulous! In fact, Spinvasion has a lot to say about the media and the way they spin-stories to either keep people pacified or frightened.
In this case, Donna and Nat find themselves on an alien world which has been conquered and the locals are kept happy as slaves because of the PR they are being given. Being a temp, Donna has some experience in these areas but its Nat who outshines Donna and finds herself in a job in an office, while Donna is sent to work in mines. Given the overall tone of the series, none of these stories is too series, though Spinvasion is perhaps the one that has higher stakes than the others and while it can sometimes veer towards being a little too blunt and satirical, Dorney does a great job at keeping it fresh and fun to listen too.
It’s a great way to showcase the chemistry between real-life friends Tate and Wardley and quickly helps establish Nat as a strong character in her own right, even though we never saw on her screen, she feels like she’s been there all the way through Donna’s journey. You might have guessed that Wardley doesn’t join the TARDIS team at the end of the set but I really wish she had done, she was a great character, hopefully, if Big Finish does more Ten/Donna stories, Wardley will return to the role.
Following on from a fun scene were Donna flies the TARDIS, and no one is more surprised than her that she can do it, the TARDIS brings Donna and Nat to the Middle Ages for James Goss’ story, The Sorcerer of Albion. Right off the bat, we get some Who-references for eagle-eared listeners, with Donna being mistaken for Merlin and someone running around shouting “Grandfather!” It’s not Susan but it was a fun little nod, intentional or not, anyway.
The Sorcerer of Albion, which you think is about Donna being Merlin actually focuses more on Nat and her getting to grips with the life of a time-traveller as she used modern medicine to save another sorcerer, Parval’s life. Donna finds herself locked up for much of the story, really until the final act and, though Spinvasion did much the same thing, this story really lets Nat shine, proving that she might not like travelling through time and is looking forward to going home, she does have what it takes to be a companion to the Doctor and Donna.
This is a quiet little story, which had similar vibes to a previous Tenth Doctor/Donna audio adventure, Death and the Queen. But its a fun little story, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the rest of the series.
The series wraps up with The Chiswick Cuckoos from Matt Fitton. Anyone familiar with the movie, The Stepford Wives will figure out the structure of this story, but that doesn’t make it any less fun, picking up the threads of the Collector storyline from the rest of the series and tying them up nicely. It also features a small appearance at the end from David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, where he apologises to Donna for not realising what had happened to her in the Library.
There was a brilliant scene, which felt like Russell T. Davies had written it with an argument between Donna and the Doctor communicating to her through the Psychic Paper. We learn that the TARDIS is greatly distressed from the way Donna has been piloting her and is almost in a state of shock! Donna’s reaction is comedy-gold and once again not only reinforces the chemistry between Tate and Wardley but also Tate and Tennant, despite him not actually being in the scene.
Fans of the UNIT series will be pleased to note that this story features an appearance from Josh Carter and its a nice way to connect the Davies era with Big Finish and the UNIT from the Moffat era. The Chiswick Cuckoos is much like other earth alien invasion stories from Davies tenure but that isn’t a bad thing because they were some of the best stories ever told in Doctor Who. This is another corker of a story.
It also gives Sylvia some nice touching moments and it’s always nice to hear Jaqueline King in these audios. While Sylvia won’t be winning any mum-of-the-year awards, she does have some touching moments and its nice to hear Big Finish making her a little more sympathetic than she was on the television series. Sylvia gets some nice moments here, much as she did in Out of this World and it proves that like Donna, she is also changing her outlook on things, its a great way to develop her character.
Donna Noble: Kidnapped is a hell of a lot of fun. From four exceptional scripts to the fantastic direction from Barnaby Edwards to the winning pairing of Catherine Tate and Niky Wardley. It also continues the legacy of the Davies era perfectly, proving that ordinary people can be fantastic and they came no more ordinary than Donna. What will win you over with this series is the way it continues to show Donna in a great way, and proves why she was such a good character, to begin with.
Doctor Who The Collection – Season 14 of classic Who is released on Blu-ray on Monday 4th May and to celebrate the BFI (British Film Institute) on the London Southbank ran a special event showing the Talons of Weng Chiang which is one of the best-regarded serials from season 14. In retrospective, we were very lucky that the event went ahead as what a difference a few days makes.
The BFI, following the government’s updated advice of the 16th March, regarding the crisis of coronavirus COVID-19 closed the Southbank with immediate effect. There were guests which the BFI had kept as a surprise for this screening who were unable to attend.
Usually, these events are fully booked and well attended but there were some empty spaces for this event and it felt slightly subdued. Expected guests unable to attend were Christopher Benjamin who played Henry Jago and producer Philip Hinchcliffe but they sent their very best wishes. Justin Johnson (Lead Programmer for BFI) was able to read out a note from Philip Hinchcliffe before the first episode of Talons of Weng Chiang aired.
…above all I would like fans to consider the screening as a tribute to Bob Holmes without whose imagination, hard work and genius none of our collaborations would have had a lasting appeal. For me, Talons showcases all his talent, clever storytelling, sardonic humour, memorable characters, dark fantasy seamlessly woven into rich haunting entertainment – Philip Hinchcliffe, Producer
Extract of the note from Philip Hinchcliffe Producer of Doctor Who 1974-1976
As part of these BFI screenings, the audience is treated to extracts from the bonus features for these new releases. There was an intriguing interview snippet as Matthew Sweet chatted to producer Philip Hinchcliffe. In the short clip, Hinchcliffe described feeling fortunate and ambitious. He saw himself as “an outlaw from ITV” coming with the perceived “brashness “of commercial television to be able to express what he wanted to do.
Other bonus clips came from “Behind the Sofa” with Doctor Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Philip Hinchcliffe, plus companions Sophie Aldred and Peter Purves. There was a lovely montage of quotes from a feature-length documentary tribute for Elisabeth Sladen Tribute called Our Sarah Jane which looks as if it will be as much a tear-jerker in the way of the recent JNT documentary.
Neil Bushville Interview
Interviewed by Justin Johnson Neil Bushville was responsible for the CGI updated effects for the boxset. Neil talked about how he approached deciding which effects he wanted for the Talons of Weng Chiang. He logged all the shots onto what he described as a “boring” spreadsheet (I love a big old Excel spreadsheet myself) and then set about deciding on those which would fit into the existing scene and not be jarring. His favourites were the subtler ones and he covered a couple of them.
There is a lovely shot of the Doctor on a boat going across the Thames and Neil repositioned the skyline so you can clearly see St Paul’s Cathedral in the distance. There were also other subtle CGI effects such as changing the hypnosis eye effect that Li H’sen Chiang used which was done by removing the original effect, tracking the eyes and adding a new effect and matching up the sound.
Louise Jameson Interview
Louse Jameson who played Leela was in attendance which was greeted by warm enthusiastic clapping from the audience. In a solo interview with Justin Johnson, she managed to enchant the audience as she discussed her career just before Doctor Who as a graduate from the RADA acting academy to the present and thoughts about her autobiography which we won’t see soon because she doesn’t want to embarrass her children!
How she got the role: Louise had created a strong career in theatre but her agent felt she needed to be put forward for a tv series. She was unlucky missing out on two or three tv roles, including the BBC series Angels and getting down to the last ten for the role of Purdey in the New Avengers. In one of the tv series Survivors, she had been interviewed by Pennant Roberts who liked her and called her back for Leela. Part of the reason Louise revealed she got the role was when Pennant read in on her audition she was told by him that she made him work to react to her responses.
Recognition: Louise revealed the Evening Standard newspaper got hold of the story that she was the new companion very quickly. She recalled that she had already started filming and had a very busy day to get into makeup, then have a photocall, followed by recording in the studio and then had to do another photocall which lasted until 10.30pm at night.
Playing Leela: Louise highlighted how much she enjoyed playing Leela (except for the costume!) and how she envied Leela’s ability to be able to just say things without any self-filter. Most people are quite self-conscious but Leela isn’t and her character doesn’t understand sarcasm or subtlety. Leela reacts instinctively and Louise considered that a gift for the character.
The new series and what happened to Leela’s knife: Louise seemed very amused and excited that Leela might be a Cyberman now and said: “Bring it on”. She also revealed that her knife had made £1000 in a charity auction and the proceeds went to Romanian orphans.
Reviewing the Talons of Weng Chiang and the racism row
This event had invited a guest panel to discuss the issues this story raises regarding racism hosted by writer Matthew Sweet, who has written Doctor Who Jago and Litefoot audio dramas, Samira Ahmed, writer and broadcaster, Kevin Fong, doctor and broadcaster and Emma Ko, a member of the British East Asians Theatre and screen organisation. Understandably the guests were worried to attend with the coronavirus attention, more for their relatives than themselves and so the panel didn’t go ahead. However, BFI hosts Dick Fiddy (BFI Archive Television Programmer) and Justin Johnson still wanted to review the issues it raises, prior to the first episode being shown, using comments given to BFI from the panel who had watched the serial.
There were various issues raised by the panel, one being some of the language used in the script. English characters in the story do talk about the Chinese in a derogatory way. Litefoot uses the term ‘Chinks’, and the Doctor doesn’t rebut him but himself uses ‘little men’ which Matthew Sweet “attributes to his “aloof nature and selfish desire to get on with the adventure”. There is some merit to that view given that some forty years later the 12th Doctor would punch Sutcliffe for racism in “Thin Ice” suggesting it is the particular nature of the 4th Doctor being rather dispassionate about social niceties. I think Talons can be defended in that it does probably reflect some of the attitudes and sensibilities of Victorian English of the 1870s.
I was rather intrigued by the idea raised about whether the serial and other “problematic” broadcast material, should be buried away and not shown? Dick Fiddy discussed how the role of the BFI wasn’t to be apologists for the past but to give context to that past. As someone who was a child when this story first came out and was probably more concerned by seeing a giant rat, I think it is far more truthful to show the episodes as they were made whilst understanding the context of the late 1970s for a modern audience. Louise Jameson noted in her interview that there wasn’t any discussion regarding racism during the production of the serial and they wouldn’t have deliberately created a racist programme.
Emma Ko commented she felt the storyline is of its time but was still “dehumanising as the criminal gang’s motivation hangs only on being Chinese. It avoids exploring the narrative of fully realised characters and generalising a culture tends to keep it at a distance” There is justification for Emma Ko’s point but as Dick Fiddy pointed out that the story does call to another tradition of what are known as penny dreadful “blood and thunder “Fu Manchu novels by Sax Rohmer.
It is historically accurate that there was a Chinese community in Limehouse and Sax Rohmer used ethnic identities to add an exotic mysteriousness to his characters which Robert Holmes would have been aware of. In my opinion, the Chinese gang characters aren’t dehumanised as such but, as in much of classic and new Doctor Who, the recognisable plot uses to push the story on.
It is a complex subject as there is a central Chinese character Li H’sen Chang but as Emma Ko further commented she found it problematic and hard to watch as John Bennett is “a white man-made up with make-up, to look a yellow face” Chinese. Li H’sen Chang has an exaggerated forehead, eyelids”. There has been a history of yellow facing in theatre with make-up and costume which has been seen as a caricatured representation of Asian dress.
To be fair, regardless of the makeup as an actor John Bennett puts in an absolutely mesmerising performance as Li H’sen Chang. He’s a fully rounded man at times fascinating as the theatre performer, terrifying when hypnotising people or abducting girls, but also charming and sympathetic at times. BFI hosts Dick Fiddy noted in trying to explain the historical context that this was a time where white men were cast in non-white roles, prevalent due to a lack of ethnic actors but where dissenting voices were few and far between.
I do remember growing up in the 1970s watching a then-popular BBC light entertainment show called The Good Old Days which recreated the authentic atmosphere of a Victorian theatre and it’s something that seems so very “British” so there is no surprise that I love the Talons of Weng Chiang despite the issues it raises. There is a familiarity with the use of the Victorian setting something the BBC do very well (as experts in costume drama). Robert Holmes delivers a wonderfully atmospheric, dark and witty script. His script draws on the seedier sides of Victorian life with allusions to Jack the Ripper, prostitution and takes the music hall theatre traditional setting and weaves an interesting story around it.
Robert Holmes also pulls in other elements of literature such as Sherlock Holmes (the Doctor’s costume) and Pygmalion as Leela is dressed in fine clothes as befits a lady but has no pretensions to be different to who she is. Both actors are on top form as Tom Baker’s Doctor broods and growl his way and Louise carves out her savage as brave and instinctive.
To end the event there was a signing with Louise Jameson. As with previous recent releases, there was a special postcard produced by the BFI for the event showing the amazing cover for the Season 14 Blu-ray.
It didn’t matter that due to the concerns of COVID-19 we had to queue to see Louise Jameson observing social distancing and were told selfies weren’t allowed. We felt blessed that the event went ahead. Thank-you BFI and we look forward to coming back soon.
Doctor Who The Collection – Season 14 is released on 4th May 2020
We sadly say goodbye to David Collings, the Rose 15th anniversary watch through should be good and Fantom Events put on a virtual fan event.
No merch this week.
Review story this week is: Inferno
We have wanted to do Inferno for ages (in fact Adam thought we had done it!) and it’s finally here. An often loved classic story but what do we think? Red hot or green sludge?
Thank you all for listening this week. Next week our review is Torchwood – End of Days. Until then have a great week, take care of yourselves, stay healthy and remember – Allons-y!
Big Finish temporarily suspends recording sessions.
Two new soundtracks – The Sun Makers and The Visitation – are coming this May.
Review story this week is: Series 12 Recap
We look back at Series 12 and discuss some of the great elements, the not so great bits and our feelings on Who moving into Series 13.
Thank you all for listening this week. Next week our review story is the 3rd Doctor story – Inferno. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!
Recently, my friend and I had an idea to create some Doctor Who audio adventures much akin to the stories told from the masters at Big Finish. I don’t think we realised how much money we would have to spend though, microphones and editing software don’t come cheap and we wanted to make them of the highest possible quality.
Still, I had previously come up with six series of stories I would like to tell at some point, possibly putting them on my own blog: https://www.tardistravellerreviews.co.uk/ or through fan-fiction sites, a completely new blog or publishing them independently through Amazon and related sites as completely unofficial books, I’ve seen a couple of War Doctor books on Amazon in the same vein, though I’m yet to read them.
As someone who is an aspiring writer, I’ve got a series of novels I’m constantly working on called Shaw & Sullivan currently on Amazon, it’s perhaps cheeky of me to think that I might be allowed the producers chair of our favourite show. Who knows though?! But for now, it’s a bit of fun to get these ideas down and over a few articles, I’ll be taking you through the six series I had previously planned out.
We’ve got a list of Main Players: The new Doctor (including actors I’d like to see playing the role), two new companions and their relatives (though I haven’t decided who I’d like to see playing them just yet). We’ve got brand-new and returning baddies from all over the history of Who and a story arc that runs through each series. And I’ll talk a little about each story from the series, which I’ve written in the form of a book-blurb so not to give away too much, including a Christmas special. I hope you enjoy! (And if anyone from the BBC is reading this, I hope this pitch impresses you! 😉 )
MAIN PLAYERS AND CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS:
THE DOCTOR: Quirky, loud and brash. Has hearts of gold but something is kept hidden away, darkness from his past. While outwardly happy, fun-loving and adventurous, he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty if necessary and isn’t incapable of having darker moments and will take out enemies permanently if he has too. He sees something of himself in his new friend’s George and Elisabeth. He knows what its like to want something more and yearns to see the universe through the youthful wonder in their eyes. Because this Doctor is broken inside, haunted by something from his past. George and Elisabeth bring out the best in the Doctor and he does the same for them. They make a great team and overtime gradually help to heal one another.
Possible actors for the role of THE DOCTOR: Hayley Atwell, Gillian Anderson, Colin O ‘Donoghue and Matt Ryan.
GEORGE ATKINS: Much like The Doctor, outwardly George portrays something that is very happy. But he too is broken inside. His father had passed away a few years earlier and he is worried that something similar would happen to his mother, who was also ill recently, though she has since recovered. But its taken a toll on George and he longs to get away from his life. He’s spent the last few years working in retail but its a dead-end job that he can’t see a way out of. His fiancé Nate tries to help, but he can only do so much. George dreams of flying away while Nate and George’s Mother have tied him to reality. This has started to form cracks in their relationship. While George dearly loves Nate, he still goes on adventures with the Doctor, someone who can give him the life he wants.
ELISABETH WATTS: A stewardess from the real-life Titanic, Elisabeth Watts was supposed to drown when the ship sinks. But the Doctor and George offer her a place on the TARDIS and Elisabeth accepts. She too is damaged, escaping from a life she doesn’t want. Her parents are rich and so she could have everything. But she wanted to see the world and escape an arranged marriage between her and a suitor from another powerful family. She believes you make your own destiny and while it takes her a while to-get-to grips with time travelling and visiting the future, she eventually adapts to it. The Doctor is hesitant at first, he’s rescued people before from disasters they were supposed to perish in, (maybe give a mention of Big Finish’s Charlotte Pollard?) and knows the types of paradoxes that can happen. But history has other plans for Elisabeth, and while she believes in making your own destiny, fate has plans for her in Normandy on the 30th May 1431…
NATE WALLIS: George’s fiancé. Tries to ground George but has to let go when George travels with the Doctor. Works as an executive at Suntrap, in charge of distributions. (Suntrap is the overall arc for Series 1 and is a Wi-Fi and mobile signal service that doesn’t require electricity as it uses solar rays from the sun. But Suntrap is owned and run by an old foe of the Doctor’s and has gradually been destroying the Earth’s natural defences against the sun’s rays.) NATE though, doesn’t know any of this until it’s too late. He will go on to travel with The Doctor in the future.
SUSIE ATKINS: George’s Mother. Doesn’t know and later like that her son is travelling with the Doctor and later blames the Time Lord for the distance between her and her son. But the distance has been there for some time as she hasn’t been there for her son since her husband had died. She never understood that George wanted more than a life stuck in one place and never really understood or liked George’s adventurous side, which she never really allowed to develop.
CLAIRE & JONATHAN WATTS: The parents of Elisabeth are only referenced through the first half of the series until a two-part story which sees Elisabeth returning home to visit them. But because she should have died on the Titanic, time is swirling around the family and Elisabeth’s ancestral home. Claire and Jonathan are forced to understand their daughter who has come to live with some modern ideologies over the course of her travels with George and the Doctor. But they can’t forgive Elisabeth for an accident in her childhood which resulted in the death of Elisabeth’s sister Amanda. The two-part story will see Claire and Jonathan disowning Elisabeth. This isn’t the last we see of them but they’ll only be included in guest appearances in future series’.
THE RANI: Yes, you read that right, the Rani! She’s the mastermind behind Project: Suntrap and recruits Nate to the business as a way of luring the Doctor into her trap. Driven mad by the Time War, she’s decided that the Doctor is responsible and Earth, as his favourite planet, should be destroyed as she believes it was more of his home than Gallifrey. She uses humanity’s need for Wi-Fi and mobile coverage against us and creates a trap which sees the destruction of the world as the solar energies of the sun cause an extinction-level event. She’s defeated when a band of survivors, including Nate travel back in time to her underground bunker and release the full force of the sun’s radiation through the innards of her TARDIS, which she has turned into a bunker for a select few before she can destroy the Earth.
A series of thirteen episodes, the last of which will be a Christmas Special, will see the introduction of the Doctor, George, Elisabeth and all the supporting characters. Across the series will feature a number of returning and brand new villains and will see stories from sci-fi to horror, to war epics from across space and time. All of the historical episodes will feature aliens, though, in the future, we will be including pure-historical adventures akin to the style told with William Hartnell. Each episode below features a blurb.
1. THE HOTEL THAT BLED TO DEATH
Determined to get away from his mundane life, George Atkins books himself and his fiancé into a fancy hotel/spa in the Lake District. Arriving in the middle of a storm, George and Nate find themselves in a sinister trap laid by two old ladies who own the hotel.
But the hotel holds a deadly secret, it’s a literal death-trap, with previous visitors hooked up to alien machinery, slowly draining them of blood.
The Plasmovores are using Earth as their hunting ground and George and Nate’s only hope of survival lies in them trusting a stranger called ‘The Doctor’. The Doctor has a long history with vampires but will he win this time as the Plasmovores grow in strength and the hotel literally starts to bleed to death?
2. THE HIGH-RISE HORROR
George has agreed to travel with the Doctor and finds himself in the far future. Initially disappointed to find himself in a block of flats, (he thinks the Doctor’s brought him to Leigh-Park!), they quickly discover that things aren’t as they should be. The residents are dying from accidents, things going wrong in their apartments and with no way of communicating with the outside world, the high-rise locks itself down.
On the top floor is the Penthouse Suite. It’s owned by a man who is going to be a great architect in the future named Kroagnon. One day, he’ll create the universally famous, Paradise Towers. The Conclave of Tranquillity is the first of its kind, a fully automated assembly of houses that cater for everyone, including Kroagnon’s more homicidal tendencies.
The Doctor knows all about Kroagnon, but this the Great Architect before the events of the Paradise Towers and Kroagnon is a living, breathing person in this time period, not a machine. The web of time is a fragile thing, and the Doctor isn’t sure he can defeat him this time…
3. SHIP OF THE DEAD
Having been to the far future, the Doctor takes George on a trip to the past. Setting the destination to random, they find themselves onboard a cruise ship. It doesn’t take them long before they realise they are on the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic. The Doctor decides they should leave but George is excited, they’ll get to solve one of the most curious mysteries in history, what made the Titanic vanish?
But the Titanic didn’t vanish, it sank, the Doctor knows this, but why doesn’t George and why do the crew and passengers keep reliving the same day, ending just before the tragic collision between the boat and an iceberg. Only a stewardess called Elisabeth Watts can help the Doctor and George. The Doctor has his suspicions about what might be happening but to set it right would mean to condemn thousands of people to death. Does he have the right?
4. THE HEAVY SCENT OF VIOLENCE
Forgetting to turn off the randomiser, the Doctor, George and Elisabeth find themselves in the future. Stepping out of the TARDIS onto a battlefield, they are quickly captured by the Sontarans and mistaken for Rutans in disguise.
This is one of the worst skirmishes in the war between the Sontarans and the Rutans. And facing villains on both fronts, George and Elisabeth a forced to face the realities of time-travel, its dangerous and they might die. Separated from the Doctor and finding themselves on the side of the Rutans, they have to use their wits to keep themselves alive.
The Rutan’s aren’t quite how the Doctor remembers either and they are trying to broker a peace between the two species. But the Doctor has a bigger crisis to face, in a battle where anyone could be a shape-shifter are his friends really his friends?
5. THE WHISPERS OF ANGELS PART 1
George has always found the story of Mary Queen of Scots to be a tragic one. He was obsessed with her life when they learned about the Tudors and her sister, Queen Elisabeth 1st at school. The Doctor has met Queen Elisabeth, he even married her. And his Sixth Incarnation met Mary 1st. But he’s never met Mary Queen of Scots, so he sets the course for France in 1557, at French Court.
It’s a year before Mary is supposed to marry Francis the Dauphin of France but things are going wrong. Francis’ father is going mad and Catherine De Medici is plotting behind the scenes. Also at court at this time is the famous, Nostradamus who claimed he could see the future. Catherine keeps him close, relying on him to warn her of possible opposition. But where do his visions come from? There is a secret in Nostradamus’ chambers and one rule that must be obeyed at all times; Don’t Blink. Blink and you’re dead.
The Weeping Angel’s civil war has reached back through time and this side is trying to cause a paradox large enough to give them unlimited energy. They must kill Mary Queen of Scots so that her son, King James is never born and the entire history of Earth is changed forever.
6. LONG LIVE THE QUEEN PART 2
With the Weeping Angels’ plan having been revealed, the Doctor, George and Elisabeth must navigate the French Court and keep Mary safe and history on-track. But the other side in the Angels’ war have arrived and are determined to stop the plan to kill Mary, at any cost.
While George and Elisabeth have to keep Mary and Francis safe fighting Angels’ and human villains alike, the Doctor must put a stop to the Weeping Angels’ plan and send them back through time to their home planet. But he also has to battle the wits of Catherine De Medici again and Nostradamus and offers a grave warning and vision to one of the Doctor’s new travelling companions…
Deciding to return home for a while, George arrives a few hours after he left. And while the Doctor and Elisabeth take a trip around modern-day London, George has to face his mother again. He also learns that Nate is now working for Suntrap, and meets his enigmatic boss.
The Doctor and Elisabeth soon discover that alien creatures are using London’s water-supply to infect human beings and use them as hosts for the survival of their species.
The Doctor, George, Elisabeth, Nate and Susie have to put a stop to these alien visitors who aren’t necessarily villains and send them home again. For Susie though, learning about what her son has been doing is a little too much and she tells him she needs time to process it.
8. THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF WATTS: PART 1
Elisabeth Watts was supposed to die in the sinking of the Titanic. That what history recorded. A family, following the death of their surviving daughter, was supposed to be in mourning. They’d lose all their money and wealth and die penniless in a house that used to be full of love.
But Elisabeth Watts didn’t die in the sinking of the Titanic. And history recorded something different. She went missing and turns up on her family’s doorstep with two people her family never met. And Elisabeth’s sister, Amanda is still alive. Time is swirling around the House of Watts and the fabric of reality has been changed. And the Reapers are circling…
9. THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF WATTS: PART 2
With Elisabeth’s secrets revealed, her parents learn of the tragic deaths of their two daughters. But neither happened. The staff are being killed by monsters, eaten away as they try to fix the wound in time.
The Doctor is conflicted. He did the right thing saving Elisabeth, but history recorded her death. Cut off from the TARDIS and the future in tatters, the Doctor, George and Elisabeth have no choice but to go back to the Titanic on the day it sank.
Elisabeth knows she has to die to save everything she knows and loves. The cold depths of the ocean are calling to her like a siren song, but she’s got to get past the Reapers first.
10. PLANET OF NIGHTMARES
On the planet Spartox, people are having strange dreams. Horrible dreams. Nightmares.
The Doctor, George and Elisabeth arrive following a distress call. People won’t wake up. It’s a virus of sleep, with the people of Spartox dropping into sleep like flies.
It doesn’t take long before the Doctor and his friends feel sleepy and wake up in a strange realm, the realm of the Nightmare Man.
11. THE DYING EARTH: PART 1
The Suntrap arc begins to close with the Doctor, George and Elisabeth becoming embroiled in a plot by the evil Rani. She plans to boil the Earth and kill everyone, except for a lucky few in her TARDIS, disguised as a bunker.
With the Doctor, George and Elisabeth out of action, the Rani has won, the Earth and it’s inhabitants have been completely destroyed. It seems this time that the Rani has won…
12. THE DYING EARTH: PART 2
The Rani won. Her plan came to fruition and the Earth is dead. The Doctor is dead. So are George and Elisabeth.
Only Nate, who, along with a band of rebel survivors, can use his limited knowledge of time-travel to journey back and stop the Rani before she kills everything. His plan is to flood the bunker with the radiation before it can be used on the surface of the planet.
The problem is, the Doctor, George, Elisabeth and his younger self is still there and he goes too far back. Not everyone deserves to die here. But he has to change the future. Even if it means he becomes a bigger monster than the Rani ever was.
13. O’ LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM: CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
After the Rani and Suntrap, the Doctor takes George, Elisabeth and Nate on a mystery trip. Setting the randomiser, the TARDIS brings them back in time to Bethlehem.
It’s the furthest George, Elisabeth and Nate have ever travelled back in time and they are suddenly faced with Roman politics. And the Doctor has heard rumours of mysterious blue angels.
With angels appearing to the inhabitants of Bethlehem and beyond, the Doctor and the gang have to stop them from gaining a foothold in the town and then the planet.
So maybe this isn’t the best time for a pregnant woman and her husband to arrive, looking for a place to stay…
So there you have it. If I was in charge of Doctor Who, this would be the debut series that I would tell. I don’t know if I’d want the Doctor to male or female but the character would be written so that this doesn’t matter. With stories ranging from heavy-sci-fi to horror, to ones with a political message, though The Dying Earth/The Rani’s Masterplan would have the global-warming message as a part of the plot, not something that is tacked on at the end like Orphan 55.
You may also have noticed that by the end of the series, the Doctor is once again travelling with three companions, this time with Nate joining the crew, but I would purposefully make the stories bigger in scale and scope to allow for this, giving each character a moment to shine, not forgetting one or favouring one or two over the rest.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this pitch for my first series of Doctor Who! I’ve got plans for a further five series, which I will turn into articles like this throughout the coming weeks. I really liked doing this! I might even turn these story ideas into reality through the different ways I mentioned above. Who knows, but for now this was a great way of getting my ideas down! And should anyone from the BBC should be reading this article and are really impressed by it, then don’t hesitate to give me a ring!;)
As we continue our reviews for the Virgin New Adventures, these two books see the birth of a familiar format for Modern era viewers, the ‘Doctor-lite’ and ‘Companion-lite’ stories. Also, we see the return of the Cybermen in a book from the Cyber-Leader himself, David Banks.
BIRTHRIGHT: WRITTEN BY NIGEL ROBINSON
Birthright continues the run of books where the Doctor is trying to go on holiday and who can really blame him? None of the companions like him or each other particularly, neither can they work through their own issues as both Ace and Bernice are continuing to struggle with their pasts. But the Doctor can’t get too comfortable either, because, in a few books time, his past is going to start catching up with him too.
Birthright is also the first book to really focus on Ace and Bernice and shows us that they are just as capable of sorting out an alien invasion as the Doctor is, even if it’s not around to help them. Robinson had previously written for the Timewyrm set of adventures, contributing with the third outing. It was a book that I wouldn’t call essential but I really enjoyed all the same. Birthright is a big improvement on the previous outing from Robinson and it really helps that it’s more of a character piece than it is a high-stakes action-adventure.
After experience a disastrous event thanks to the TARDIS, Bernice wakes up to find herself in 1909 London where she finds out there is a serial killer on the loose. Oh and she’s in the care of Margaret Waterfield, the aunt of the Second Doctor’s companion Victoria, which I thought was a nice addition to the story, though things don’t end well for poor Margaret. Does anyone involved in Doctor Who just really enjoy killing off Victoria’s family?
Like Bernice, Ace finds herself stranded. But it isn’t London 1909. Instead, she’s stuck on an alien planet, Antykhon. She finds a human resistance fighting against the Charrl, insectoid creatures, who have conquered the planet. She also discovers an old hermit called Muldwych, who is helping the Charrl Queen to travel through time to infest another planet. All he needs is a component from the TARDIS and unfortunately for the Bernice, the TARDIS crash-landed with her in 1909 London.
While this holiday-series of books can feel a little lacklustre, I must admit that I did really enjoy Birthright, even though I wasn’t expecting too. It didn’t take me long to really get into it either, normally, the Virgin books take a while to get going. Here though, Robinson gives us the main mystery from the get-go and the shorter book really benefits from this. What I also loved was that Robinson put the companions so front and centre. Unlike most of her previous adventures, Bernice isn’t forgotten or locked up. Here she has to solve the mystery and putting her in the spotlight allows for some great character moments. It isn’t hard to understand why Big Finish chose to adapt this book in the late 1990s as the Bernice audio-range kicked off.
Of course, this does mean that Ace doesn’t get as much of a look in but given how many of the previous books have dealt with her and her Space Fleet days, Birthright works as a much-needed break for the character, instead just giving us the Ace we all know and love, without any of the emotional baggage that her character came within the Virgin days.
The Charll and their Queen are great villains too, mainly because they don’t want to be villains they are just trying to save their race from going extinct. The world of Antykhon turned out to be hostile to their life and has killed so many of them that it will only be a few centuries before the Charll is extinct. This, in turn, has forced them to take Muldwych hostage and exchange his freedom for their survival by travelling through time. And given their actions in this book, it is a strange idea that Robinson hammers home a few times that the Charll was one of the best, noblest and peaceful creatures in existence.
There is a secondary villain here too, the Charll’s human contact, Jarod Khan, who is much more forgettable, though he works well in the plot itself. It doesn’t take much thought for Ace and Bernice to outwit him, despite him having a big backstory with the Doctor and having been able to live for centuries.
It appears that Muldwych will be making more appearances as the range goes on too and it’s heavily implied, though Robinson didn’t intend for it to be so, that Muldwych is a future incarnation of the Doctor, most likely the one who calls him Merlin, in a continuity nod to Battlefield. Stranger still though the Seventh Doctor does have knowledge of Muldwych, so maybe he isn’t the future incarnation of the Doctor. But who knows, with everything that’s just happened in The Timeless Children, maybe Muldwych is a forgotten incarnation of the Doctor. He certainly knows an awful lot about time-travel and the TARDIS. Who knows?
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Birthright but I actually couldn’t put it down. I appreciated seeing Bernice getting a lot of the action and plot to herself and it proved that she has just as much right to be there as Ace did. Robinson keeps the plot light enough and the book short enough that it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Birthright isn’t an essential book in the range, but its a lot of fun anyway.
ICEBERG: WRITTEN BY DAVID BANKS
Iceberg brings the ‘holiday-tetralogy’ to an end, this time with a ‘companion-lite’ adventure for the Seventh Doctor, as he finds his past beginning to catch up with him, squaring him off against a much more ruthless version of the Cybermen in a story written by the Cyber-Leader himself, David Banks.
Before Iceberg, I think Banks had only ever written a book on the history of the Cybermen for Doctor Who, trying to fix their complicated history and give it some much-needed order. One can’t help but think that Iceberg is the result of that book, as Banks covers events from The Tenth Planet, all the way to Silver Nemesis, in various passages, though much of the book takes inspiration from The Tenth Planet and Tomb of the Cybermen, not just in its cold location, but also the side-characters, one of whom is a relation of General Cutler, the horrible boss of the base the First Doctor originally met the Cybermen in.
What’s also important to remember is that the events of this book take place at the same time as the events of Birthright for Ace and Bernice. And its always fun to see what the writers thought the future was going to be. Iceberg is set in 2006, though it was 2006 that was a little more dystopian to 2006 we had in real life. In fact, the only thing that both 2006’s had in common was the Cybermen did, in fact, come back! Banks isn’t the first author to do something similar, but I think it offers an interesting insight into the state the world must have been in when a book was written!
The TARDIS, having split itself in two, one for Ace and Bernice and one for the Doctor, brings the Doctor to the Antarctic on board the cruise-liner SS Elysium. 2006 he finds himself in is in crisis as the magnetic field around the Earth is about to reverse, fortunately, there is a plan, a base, one familiar to the Doctor, is developing a machine that at the critical moment, will reverse the reversal and put everything right again. Unfortunately for them then that the Cybermen are waking up from years in the ice and are planning on taking over the planet. The Doctor and journalist Ruby Duvall have to join forces to stop the Cybermen and save the world.
The blurb for the book sounds terribly clichéd but is actually a lot of fun, even if it took me a while to get into the book without any familiar characters besides the Doctor. I’ve never been a big fan of ‘Doctor or Companion-lite’ stories, so I came to this book with a little trepidation. However, I shouldn’t have been worried, once the action shifts fully to the SS Elysium, the book really picks up, with Ruby, who proves herself an enjoyable stand-in-companion and it was actually quite refreshing to have a book that didn’t feature a TARDIS team who don’t like one another.
For modern fans, this book is rather reminiscent of Voyage of the Damned, with the boat finding itself host to a disaster of movie proportions. And I must give credit to Banks for making the Cybermen scary again here. There is one passage that has stuck with me after I finished reading it where Ruby is escaping in life and a Cyberman literally jumps from the top of the shaft onto the top of the lift and its hand explodes from the roof of the lift and tries to grab Ruby. It sounds less scary when I write it but the whole book felt like a Cyberman story that the television-show has always been too afraid to give us. I don’t think the Cybermen have ever been a credible threat since Earthshock, so it’s nice to see them blowing things up and killing people without mercy again.
And it was nice to see a Seventh Doctor who is actually enjoying himself, despite me not liking companion-lite stories. He only ever seems to be broody when Ace and Bernice are around, so it seems that whenever he is away from them, he seems to cheer up a lot.
Banks proves himself to have a lot of knowledge of the Cybermen and acquits himself well in writing prose. His Seventh Doctor feels like Sylvester McCoy and not a cheap knock-off version or a completely different version of the character like he has felt in many other of these books. I also really liked Ruby Duvall, who does turn up again in the future range with a book called Happy Endings. What makes Ruby’s character even greater is that the Doctor gives her an opportunity to travel with him, but because of the broken version of the TARDIS, the police-box dematerialises before she can get there.
Maybe that’s for the best though, Ace and Bernice still don’t like each other, so I’m not sure throwing another companion into the mix would have been the best idea. And most of the books don’t know what to do with Bernice, so I don’t imagine they’d have been able to handle yet another traveller.
Some readers and fans say that Iceberg is one of the more ignorable books of the range and while it’s true that you won’t miss out if you decide to ignore this one, you’ll be rewarded if you do give it a go. From scary Cybermen to a genuine-Seventh Doctor, to a fun new ‘companion’ in the form of Ruby, there is a lot to enjoy here. It’s a shame then that David Banks didn’t write for the range again.
Dear reader episode 8 of series 12 and it’s an adventure where our Tardis crew are jaunting about eavesdropping on writers and poets. Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Claire Clairemont is a group of literary friends enclosed together in a haunted house. But this is not an ordinary house. Did the episode chill the blood or inspire sleep? Let’s open the shutters and take a peek in on Villa Diodati
Episode 8 Spooky goings-on at a Swiss Villa
I am so glad that I don’t read spoilers anymore it is so much more fun when you get the surprises. I’m really not a fan of classic horror stories as a rule for purely personal squeamish reasons but together with the direction, The Haunting Of Villa Diodati had plenty of interesting things going on to suggest classic horror. Maxine Alderton delivered a wonderful script full of the expected and unexpected which I loved. Its strength was in setting up the atmosphere and the characters really quickly before the precredit sequence.
The way the story opened with a dark night, thunder, lightning, the wind howling and rain and everyone looking out of the window. It’s all the expectations from a hundred scary films set up with a very atmospheric scene with the suggestion from Mary Shelley for Lord Byron to tell a ghost story.
The script gave in a few words who these characters were with each other. Lord Byron insulted Doctor John Polidori, Claire Clairmont’s nervousness at ghost stories, Mary Shelley delighting in teasing her step-sister. As Lord Bryon recited from tales of the dead the direction as the camera followed behind the nursemaid putting the baby to bed served to emphasise what you cant see.
All the creepiness such as creaking doors, flying vases, skulls in cots, hands running around continued until the arrival of the “visitor “which kept up the tension. Initially when we had the interesting idea with the house within a house, which I thought was a clever way of heightening the claustrophobia I did think of recursion and M. C. Escher’s Print Gallery showing a distorted house as used for inspiration in “Castrovalva”.
I enjoyed finding out about all four of the characters at Villa Diodati. The production felt authentic to the strengths of what the BBC does well regarding historical dramas, so observations on the look of the house, the clothes and the manners, script observations of the societal norms. One has to remember that they were these writers were relatively young. The scene of them teaching the “Fam” the dance and gossiping about their companions was a great way of the script using exposition but also saying something about their concerns using the “social media” of the day. The scandal of the day where Mary Shelley had eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a married man, or Lord Bryon who had a reputation with the ladies would have portrayed them as non-conformists in a society governed by social rules.
I really liked Mary, who at this stage is probably 18 or 19, totally loyal about and to her “husband” and has a natural concern for her baby William. Her distress trapped on the stairs at not being able to get to her son was palpable. Later she had to see Percy and there is that moment when you can see the genesis of the idea of the Frankenstein’s monster as she saw Ashad’s incomplete suit. When she appealed to Ashad as a father that felt touching in her desire as a mother and wife to save Percy and just for a moment I hoped he and it had pity… but ultimately the Cyberman was lost of his soul way before he became one. He was a fanatic.
Dem Bones Dem Bones
Mary is someone emotionally intelligent enough to withstand Lord Bryon’s rather rebellious and self-indulgent nature. His mementoes such as the skeleton and plume suggested a deep admiration of the military although his character lacked some conviction when confronted by the more bizarre. I must say though I absolutely loved the creepy hand bursting through the painting and moving along the floor. One of the highlights is when Doctor Polidori was going to get his gun and the hand appeared at the door. The expected slapstick as it attacked Ryan was funny as was the Doctor tasting the skeleton.
The wicked and the divine
I enjoyed Yaz’s conversation with Claire Clairmont and I’m guessing Yaz does have hero-worship of some sort about the Doctor. Given her inner issues when younger with bullying, joining the police presumably to make a difference I can see how she wants to be more fearless, curious and adventurous like the Doctor. Whether its anything deeper emotionally I couldn’t say.
Claire Clairmont though had a major teenage affection, bordering on obsession for Lord Bryon “We have an exceptionally strong attachment” she commented. Its wasn’t a relationship of equal regard as he was shown enjoying toying with people and considered his charm would always carry him through life. Lord Bryon’s relationship with Claire Clairmont at this point would be a dismissive one.
Caught by Yaz trying to break into Lord Bryon’s bedroom looking for letters about herself Claire would have been of similar age to Mary, only18, and probably desperate to know if the older Bryon cared about her. Lord Bryon’s sorrow at Fletcher’s death allowed me to feel a pang of sympathy for him. It’s an interesting idea that she wanted someone not “dull and boring” as in January 1817 the real Claire would go on to have a child, Allegra, with Lord Bryon and neither, would there when the child died aged five years old in 1822.
Having the Tardis fam arrive in the middle of the evening and be let in when the group were together was probably the only point I found a bit incongruous especially as there wasn’t anything on the psychic paper. I did wonder at the Doctor’s decision to bring her crew to visit the Shelleys. Offering “quality historical experiences” I guess it is a unique perk and she wanted to share those opportunities with others. Saying that Graham quoting Dickens was especially funny and the comedy from him reacting to events around him with the ghosts, with looking after Polidori, his interactions with Claire and Fletcher (I loved Fletcher’s constant eye rolls), as well as the banter with the Doctor, had me smiling.
Graham is loving life with the Doctor and Bradley Walsh reminds us every week that he is a proper actor and not just a game show host. Talking of Doctor Polidori his pomposity did allow for some lovely dark comedy between him and Ryan, as he challenged Ryan to a duel. The aghast look on Graham’s face at the thought of being a second is priceless.
POLIDORI: Fletcher! You will be my second. FLETCHER: Oh. POLIDORI: Will Mister O’Brien be yours? GRAHAM: No. RYAN: Cheers, mate. GRAHAM: No, what I mean. No, because there’s going to be no duel. I absolutely forbid it. Oh. (Polidori steps forward menacingly. Ryan raises his fists.) RYAN: Oh! What’s up? What’s up? POLIDORI: I shall return with my pistol. (Polidori heads for the door.) RYAN: He’s getting a gun. He’s getting a gun. He’s getting a gun.
The modern Prometheus
The arrival of the lone Cyberman was a supreme moment. I never saw it coming but it was signposted first when the nursemaid Elise saw the light of the apparition outside. I liked the gradual build-up with mentions of it as an apparition of a death god. The inhabitants of the house were so busy with the mystery within the house they probably put the apparition outside to one side. But I loved the arrival of the lone Cyberman and how quickly the story changed to become about the retrieval of the Cyberium.
MARY: Dark. Charred by fire. Suspended over the water like a death god rising from Hades.
He was an ominous figure but a really interesting one without the emotion inhibitor and I was impressed at how angry he was. I’ve never liked the cold logic of the Cyberman so seeing a disturbing: battle-scarred version with a monstrous human face peering out is an intriguing option. That the lone Cyberman remembered his name as Ashad lulled you into a false sense of security that Mary’s appeal could succeed. That he spared the child because he was a “useless runt” but slit his own children’s throats took my breath away as did the death of Elise and Fletcher. It was brutal but in keeping with the Cybermen. He was Frankenstein’s monster incomplete emotionally as a human and not a fully converted Cyberman either
Jodie had a great performance for this episode, probably one of my favourites this series. She is like one of the Scooby Doo gang investigating a mystery and I enjoyed her put-downs of Bryon who was attracted to her mind, also seeing her trying on the plume and really wanting it. As soon as the lone Cyberman appeared she grit her teeth and was strong, forceful and determined. Jack’s warning flashed through my head and I liked how Yaz challenged the Doctor.
THE DOCTOR: Words matter! One death, one ripple, and history will change in a blink. The future will not be the world you know. The world you came from, the world you were created in won’t exist, so neither will you. It’s not just his life at stake. It’s yours. You want to sacrifice yourself for this? You want me to sacrifice you? You want to call it? Do it now. All of you. Yeah. Cos sometimes this team structure isn’t flat. It’s mountainous, with me at the summit in the stratosphere. Alone. Left to choose.
The bitterness at rejecting his solution spoke of a huge understanding that she was the only one able to decide the best course on the current circumstances. I like the fact that she has to be the overriding monitor of events because there is no one else. That she showed Percy his death was a cruel choice in the short term but it saved established history.
Shelly’s poetry and writings influenced many other writers and political thinkers and who knows how that would have changed had he died. She saved Percy Bysshe Shelley but at what cost to the future? I loved the dilemma she faced and her braveness in taking the Cyberium although it was inevitable as the Cyberman stated that she would have to give it back. Ashad would have taken it from Percy Shelley without her there without a thought. It was such a neat conclusion setting up a fantastic premise to fix future events in the next episode.
A beautifully gothic tale of monsters and monstrosities 9 /10
More viewing figures and a new Escape Room announced – A Dalek Awakens.
This is it, we’re at the end of Series 12 and what a ride it’s been. Does the finale deliver everything it was hyped up to be or are we strolling off down “…Av Kolos” lane?
Thank you all for listening this week. Next week we are doing a Series 12 recap review, pulling out our favourite and not so great bits. Until then have a great week and remember – Allons-y!
Our last Virgin New Adventures review saw Ace returning to join the Doctor and Bernice before semi-betraying them in Lucifer Rising. These two novels see her character kind of going back to her television persona and the Doctor and Bernice slowly beginning to trust her again. And White Darkness and Shadowmind see the debut of two writers who would go onto have a very big input into the many different Doctor Who novel ranges, David A. McIntee and Chris Bulis.
WHITE DARKNESS: WRITTEN BY DAVID A. McINTEE
I love horror movies. Love anything horror and I can’t get enough so I really love it when Doctor Who does dip its toes into the horror genre. And I also love the Doctor Who historical adventures. So in many ways, White Darkness should have been a hit with me. And while this was certainly a good book, I felt a little bit empty after putting it down.
White Darkness also kicks off the ‘unofficial’ series of holiday novels which sees the Seventh Doctor trying to get himself, Bernice and Ace to somewhere where they can all have a relaxing break from the dangers of the universe. But this is Doctor Who so each book has terribly predictable results, there are some people who just can’t get catch a break, especially if you happen to be a part of the darker Virgin New Adventures!
McIntee shows off how adept he is at his historical accuracy, it was an element I really enjoyed in one of his future novels, The Wages of Sin and I appreciated his care at looking into the origins of the zombie myths and the roots of that in Haitian society. McIntee also takes careful consideration to rightly pronounce it as ‘zombis’, which is how it should be properly pronounced.
It is also clear how much inspiration McIntee took from three films, I Walked With a Zombie, White Zombie, and Hammer Horror’s The Plague of the Zombies all of which focus a lot of the action on Voodoo, which has a big part to play in Haitian society and all those them show zombis as they are traditionally seen in Haitian society as slaves. And like some of the characters in these films, poor Bernice gets a chance to know what it’s like to be zombis, although she luckily manages to escape becoming one before its too late. But it does continue the mistreatment of her character, which has been the biggest running theme of these books so far, never mind the Timewyrm or Cat’s Cradle!
But even though she finds herself getting mistreated all over the place, Bernice does get a big part of this book to explore the historical setting and McIntee’s exploration of one of the darker aspects of World War 1, with a submarine of German soldiers hiding out on the island, and trying to get involved in the society and Voodoo practices. This is also an Ace story, with the Doctor almost surplus to requirements here. Lucifer Rising saw her in full vengeance mode, but now that is all out of her system it’s nice to see Ace going back to her Nitro-9 throwing, baseball bat swinging escapades! White Darkness also sheds some light on how she is dealing with her past pre-Love & War, and it was nice to get into her head a little bit, something that these books didn’t have too much time to do in other novels.
McIntee also includes a character, Richmann, an American assassin, who is largely irrelevant to the plot except for showing Ace the type of person she’ll become if she doesn’t buck her ideas up. In that respect, he is perhaps the most important part of the plot, as Ace struggles with who she was and who she has become. But trying to fit Richmann into the plot, proves a bit of a struggle and unlike all the other characters on offer here, he doesn’t really play any part in it.
And despite this being a brief book, I was impressed at the care and attention McIntee took in keeping this dark part of history authentic. Taking place in WW1 is horrible enough, but McIntee doesn’t shy away from showing racial relations historically accurate, much in the same way Rosa did, over twenty years later. Still, this is a Doctor Who book so I was taken aback by some of the nasty insults used, no way would that be allowed in print these days but the beautiful setting contrasted the horrible tensions and human relations perfectly and one has to wonder what is worse, zombis stalking the countryside or the evil characters around in this time. Luckily though, much the Thirteenth Doctor and her gang, The Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice are on hand to bring bad-guys down and tell them off for their language.
White Darkness gets off to a slow start. But like all good historical stories, it takes a while to get to the main bulk of the action. Once it gets there, I really enjoyed it, as well as the references to many of the zombie movies made over the many decades of horror-cinema. White Darkness also marks a turning point in the relationships between the Doctor, Ace and Bernice, they are finally getting along and following on from the events of Lucifer Rising, allows this TARDIS team, a much needed fresh start.
SHADOWMIND: WRITTEN BY CHRISTOPHER BULIS
Shadowmind continues the four-books that are loosely connected by the idea of the Doctor wanting to take his companions on holiday to various disastrous effects. But it also marks the debut of a run of somewhat lacklustre entries to the range. And while few of the Virgin New Adventures I would so far say were essential Doctor Who reads, Shadowmind is certainly one you can skip over. In fact, the only reason I finished it was I was a train back from a break in London and nothing better to do!
Actually, that’s not entirely fair, Shadowmind is acceptable, which isn’t a bad place to be, it’s not great but its certainly not reaching the lows of The Pit. In fact, we’ve had a few decent books in a row now and this one is engaging, even if it is a little long for its material. It’s not a large book, but the plot can’t really stretch to its two-hundred-something page count. Author Christopher Bulis gives us an interesting villain in the Shenn and their leader, the Umbra, which I won’t spoil what that is. Previous books have given us creatures with hive-minds before, like the Hoothi in Love & War, but Bulis makes sure these ones actually have a personality.
Bulis, who would go on to write many novels that dealt with the continuity of the show, playing in the mythos of the show, manages to give us a convincing take on Ace, someone who is still struggling with her past like a Star Fleet soldier, but someone who is trying to be the woman she once was, it’s certainly the most convincing take on that aspect of her character I’ve read so far and Bernice gets a taste of the military life and rises to the occasion wonderfully.
Bulis should also be praised for giving Bernice an easy time here, she doesn’t have to put up with the levels of abuse she has done in previous adventures and she gets plenty of the plot to prove how good she is and how she should have been written since Paul Cornell introduced her in Love & War. And the Doctor is far less manipulative here. He still keeps the secrets of the adventure to himself until the end, but given how the villain has a hive-mind, any secrets he divulges would give away how he is going to defeat the baddie, so his motives are understandable here.
So Shadowmind isn’t bad really, just inconsequential. I understand an old baddie is coming up in a book called No Future and they’ve been manipulating things behind the scenes for a while. There are some cracks beginning to form again for the new TARDIS team here, though it isn’t going to be as bad as it was in Lucifer Rising, no ones betraying one another. But Shadowmind can certainly go down as a fairly decent entry into the Virgin New Adventures range, but you won’t miss out if you decided to skip over it.