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.
Doctor Who The Faceless Ones the animated version is released on the16th March 2020 on DVD and Blu-ray and to celebrate the BFI (British Film Institute) on the London Southbank ran a special event, Attending were actors Frazer Hines and Anneke Wills who starred in the serial which was first broadcast in six weekly parts from 8 April to 13 May 1967
Before the traditional start to the event, the quiz for the audience the BFI hosts Dick Fiddy (BFI Archive Television Programmer) and Justin Johnson (Lead Programmer for BFI) allowed promotion of an upcoming one-day charity event:
G’Day of the Doctor is running on Saturday, 9 May at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in SE11 London (one of London’s most iconic LGBT+ venues ) from 1pm-6pm where there will be various fan groups working together raising funds for victims of the Australian wildfires. Inspired from an idea by Katy Manning who is there alongside other celebrity guests attending the event. It was revealed that they will be also be showing a special screening in colour of episode 2 of the Dalek Masterplan. Tickets go on sale from the 9th March but get them quick as numbers are limited to 150.
Message from Ben Craze
This story has three companions Jamie, Ben and Polly. There was a certain poignancy with the absence of Michael Craze ( who played Ben) as this was the last story for Ben and Polly but Justin Johnson had a surprise to show the audience. A video message from Michael Craze’s son Ben and his family who couldn’t be at the event. It was a delightful and adorable clip also including Michael Craze’s young granddaughters before the credits started for episode 1.
Animating The Faceless Ones
Anne Marie Walsh, the animation director, from BBC Studios, came to the stage along with Mark Ayres who is a frequent contributor to the rescoring of new Doctor Who releases. Anne Marie Walsh also directed previous animations such as the Macra Terror and the mini-episode of Wheel in Space. Both Anne Marie and Mark were keen to point out the differences in animation compared to live-action. Anne Marie used the existing live episodes for reference in drawing characters and also inspire dynamism for animation as it is cut differently.
The original camera scripts which survived were used as inspiration but there was not an attempt to copy shot for shot what the live episodes would have been. Animation has its limitations for long shot movement such as people running. They tended to concentrate on mid and close shots when animating. Personally I think the animation itself is more successful with some characters than others in this production and the style wasn’t entirely to my taste. Asking Anne Marie for her inspiration for the style of animation she said it was very much the comic book style and Martin Gerraty, who did the graphic design work to remove creases from faces and clothes.
Talking about how animation and sound is a collaboration Mark Ayres explained how the soundtrack was taken from off-air recordings made by a fan Graham Strong. He was a young fan in the 1960s and their quality was better than the original BBC master 16mm film although he confirmed the opening and closing credits were taken from the master. The soundtrack was sent to the animators who created storyboards from the camera script. Where Mark added sound it has been used to enhance certain scenes such as location action shots which would have been shot without sound.
The Faceless Ones reviewed
Only two original live episodes 1 and 3 exist in the archives and although a black and white animated version is available as extra content the event organisers decided to show the complete colour version to an eager audience. For a taste check out Trailer for The Faceless Ones
As a very long story, I do think for animation The Faceless Ones adaption could have quite easily been slimmed into 4 episodes. Watching the full animation for over two hours in one sitting on a big screen I found quite tiring, to be honest, and I think it’s best watched in the serialised nature it was intended as the credits are there for every episode. The set-up for the story is quite slow at the beginning with the Doctor trying to persuade the commandant about the disappearances but on the plus side, we get time to know the characters such as Blade, Ann Rock, the commandant which is a luxury modern Who doesn’t always give us.
Having animation makes me concentrate more on the audio and I enjoyed the commandant very much and Captain Blade for different reasons. Captain Blade gave me the shivers through the voice and the animation made his eyes quite harsh and staring. With the commandant as has happened previously, there are bits in scripts you never imagined are comedic when you are on your own but suddenly you see them through other people’s eyes and because they are laughing it becomes funny which is what happened.
DOCTOR: Very well. Next, I believe Chameleon Tours to be merely a front, a cover. COMMANDANT: For what? DOCTOR: For the mass kidnapping of young people. COMMANDANT: And is all this supposed to be taking place in my airport?
There was a hilarious visual joke included where Ben, The Doctor and Jamie are hiding in a photo-booth from the police/authorities and someone draws back the curtain and they all put on a big cheesy smile. There are also little things added as in-jokes to the animation such as a wanted poster in the police station with Roger Delgado, a newspaper headline with Magpie Electricals defeated as a headline plus some others to keep an eye out for.
The introduction of Samantha was an interesting development bringing a human personal element to the story. She brought out a protective Jamie which was endearing at times. They worked really well together and brought much-needed spark and warmth against the chameleon’s coldness. Her introduction though did mean that Ben and Polly
SAMANTHA: There’s something funny going on here. JAMIE: Why? SAMANTHA: My brother’s vanished, and that lot just couldn’t care less
were side-lined which is such a shame for their last story as Polly finding the dead policeman could have been made of a lot more of for her character. I think it is a crying shame they were not used more fully considering they were paid up to Episode 2 of Evil of the Daleks. I’ve always liked the Duchess and the “well that’s marvellous” cockney. Both were likeable people but not made more memorable in this story if that makes sense. Their goodbye seemed a bit sudden and stilted.
DOCTOR: You really want to go, don’t you? BEN: Well, we won’t leave, Doctor, if you really need us. POLLY: The thing is, it is our world. DOCTOR: Yes, I know. You’re lucky, I never got back to mine. All right, then. Off you go. Now go on, Ben can catch his ship and become an Admiral, and you Polly, you can look after Ben.
Although the Chameleons seemed to submit rather meekly to the Doctors terms considering everything they did, in the end, I still really enjoyed the story. I have listened to the audio and watched the two surviving episodes with the location filming at Gatwick which really helped to lift the story and its better structured than the 5th Doctor story Time-Flight.
Anneke Wills and Frazier Hines Interview
Animation and voices: Both came to the stage for an interview and Q & A after the complete story had been shown and noting Polly’s last line in the episode said she would spend her life looking after Frazer Hines. Both seemed delighted with their animated representation for this story noting how the animation is getting better and better. Anneke Wills spoke about how she has also done an audio reading of the BBC Faceless Ones book and had challenges with creating the voices of Samantha, Jamie and had shed a tear at the final scene. Frazer Hines loved doing a different accent as he could then separate his characters.
Working on Who: Both discussed how they would rehearse for part of the work and then record which compared to the way production is now filming in blocks. It was a luxury really Anneke recalled but they learnt to work with different actors. The recording was done with the director in a gallery and Frazer recalled how one director Morris Barry had changes made to a set because his cameras were in the wrong position. With time constraints in-studio he was furious with a live take where The Doctor and Jamie reach out for Victoria but end up holding hands in Tomb of the Cybermen. Neither Patrick or Frazer warned him they were going to do it although it was planned by the actors.
Favourite stories: For Anneke, it was the Smugglers and she recounted the pleasure of her and Michael Craze spending a night in a pub in Mousel in Cornwall when as young actors without any money they never got a chance to have a holiday. She has recently read The Smugglers for BBC audio which is coming out in November. For Frazer, he cited the Highlanders as it was his first story. He has spoken to Ann Marie Walsh about it but it may not see the light of day due to a reluctance to draw the tartan kilts!
Leaving in the Faceless Ones: Anneke remembered the filming at Gatwick and the first studio session and then they were just gone. With Frazer’s entrance, Michael Craze had been anxious at another male lead. For Frazer, he didn’t feel any competition as he knew Michael from auditions. Anneke acknowledged there were probably too many companions so in a story such as The Moonbase Jamie became consigned to bed with a fever imagining the Phantom Piper. She knew that the character Ben was being phased out and due to loyalty to Michael Craze decided to leave as well. She had also taken advice from her partner Michael Gough that as an actor it was best to be flexible and take new opportunities
Available for the event. On the back, the postcard has the BFI & BBC Studios Logo and the event date. Autographs were extra as with previous recent releases there was a special postcard produced by the BFI for the event showing an amazing cover. Before the signing with actors Frazer Hines and Anneke Wills, we were advised there wouldn’t be any selfies allowed, presumably due to the current concerns regarding coronavirus COVID-19. There was still a long queue to see them both and chat though before another fantastic BFI event ended.
Doctor Who The Faceless Ones is released on 16th March 2020 from £12.99 (DVD) and £17.99 ( Blu-Ray)
As some fans might know, after leaving the Doctor and joining UNIT, Martha Jones then turned up for a few episodes of Torchwood Series 2. Across three outings, Reset, Dead Man Walking and A Day in the Death, Martha proved herself to be a great addition to the Torchwood gang. Whether it was due to behind-the-scenes issues or Russell T. Davies just wanted her in the middle arc for Series 2, Martha never turned up in Torchwood again. But now, thanks to the wizards at Big Finish, that’s all changed.
The end for Series 2 of Torchwood, was a massive shock, not only for the team themselves but also for the viewers. Dissected from Tim Foley sees Gwen Cooper paying Martha Jones a visit to ask her for help. Gwen has a body that needs looking over in her boot, but things are going to get worst before they get better.
Dissected also marks the first appearance of Freema Agyeman in the world of DoctorWho since her brief appearance at the end of The End of Time. And one wonders why it’s taken so long to bring her back into the fold, Agyeman proves herself to be highly adept at the audio format, instantly stepping back into the role of Martha. I’ll admit, Martha didn’t really do it for me on the television, I think anyone coming in after the mistake of a love-story arc with the Tenth Doctor and Rose, was going to suffer and she did work better for me in the Torchwood framework. So it’s nice to hear her back now and I’m hoping to get a Torchwood boxset with her involved.
But I’m also hoping that Agyeman’s appearance here means that we’re going to have a set of three Tenth Doctor stories which reunites Agyeman with David Tennant. Here though, she’s paired with Eve Myles’ Gwen Cooper, and rightly so, Foley focuses much of his story on the relationship between the pair. Foley wastes no time in giving them some interesting back-story, why didn’t Martha stay in touch and who exactly is Martha at this point in time?
The sub-plot concerns the re-appearance of the Chameleons, or at least I think it is a re-appearance of them since 1967’s The Faceless Ones. With an alien who can shape-shift, Foley does bring in elements of things like Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, though keeps this side of it light, only really focusing on it at the end, and it does wrap itself up quite quickly. Normally I would call an audio out on this but because the story never really focused on it in the first place, I wasn’t too bothered, I just really enjoyed hearing Gwen and Martha getting their friendship off the rocks for the hour’s runtime!
Foley has a great handle on the characters. Myles has been with Big Finish for many years now and her character is always written brilliantly and I was pleased to see that continue, with Eve effortlessly stepping into the role time and time again.
Foley also manages to capture the character of Martha brilliantly and Foley has quickly become one of my favourite writers from Big Finish. He takes the time to explain how Martha’s engagement fell apart and the start of her relationship with Mickey. He also explains how Martha gets where she is at The End of Time, with her having seemingly died in an explosion, though Gwen will keep her secret!
Dissected is a great listen that starts off a little slow and then gets really going, once you get into the relationship between the two characters. The Chamelion story plot is wrapped up pretty quickly but it wasn’t a big part of the story anyway and it doesn’t hinder the resolution in any way. Instead, this is a well written, character-driven piece, that also effortlessly explores the differences between Torchwood and UNIT and its great to have Martha finally back into the fold.
I’m really hoping that Big Finish gets to do a lot more with her in the near future!
What you have to love about Doctor Who is it has never been afraid of tackling difficult subjects and the other week during Children’s Mental Health Week a timely episode dropped into our televisual post-boxes as the “ Fam” returned to Sheffield to visit friends and family. It is following a pattern set in the last series where after a number of adventures our companions touched in with the home. “Can You Hear Me” was a far more introverted tale with a complete change of pace from the previous week’s episode rather than a global adventure.
Episode 7 Gods, monsters and nightmares.
Drawing on a tradition of myths and mythical creatures
Since I was a little girl I’ve always loved the Greek stories written by classical authors such as Homer about gods located on Mount Olympus who oversaw and guided the lives of mortal humans. Drawing on beliefs of the time in worshipping multiple gods, to ensure a blessed life mortals would be given quests to complete. Stories would show these mortals being tested where human frailties would displease the gods in some way who would punish them. In this episode we no longer have humans worshipping gods but immortals still exist of a similar stature Zellin and Rakaya dispensing their own brand of “injustice” creating nightmares for immoral amusement. As the Doctor points out at one point these beings have a sense of entitlement and have entirely lost any connection with the mortals they tower over.
I do love the idea of having immortals in Doctor Who, especially discovering a pecking order where Immortals need “our games” as “Eternity is long” It adds a structure to the Who universe and there was a nice call back to classic Who in this episode as the Eternals, the Guardians and the Toymaker got a mention.
If there is a downside the run time didn’t give much opportunity to see either of them at work menacing the Earth populace in any major way. Gods and Immortals need to show their power. Zellin was second fiddle to Rakaya played by Clare Hope Ashitey which was a mistake. She is a local girl from my part of London and I’m loath to say but found her quite wooden as Rakaya compared to Ian Keller. The script didn’t give her a lot of development to be fair as she only played a part as the bait to draw the Doctor to her prison. Zellin was however played in a very creepy way by Ian Gelder who I thought completely inhabited his role, menacing Yaz and Ryan’s friend Tibo during sleep. I loved how he would appear suddenly, dressed in robes, like a Roman statesman in various bedrooms. Imagine being a little girl reassured by her mum there isn’t a bogeyman and Ian Keller appears with tattoos.
It is the stuff of nightmares especially at night wherein the dark fears are heightened. I would have been terrified especially if he had appeared and not said anything. That would have been even more creepy but we have to remember the time the programme goes out. I liked that Zellin mentioned that the humanoid structure wasn’t his form creating black smoke when he disappeared. I haven’t mentioned yet the dissected fingers which were such as a disturbing idea. I liked the imagery of fingers in the ear as in religious terms fingers, connected to hands have represented power. I think as fingers flew through the air a few times over the episode the image did lose some of its power and probably became slightly comical.
The mental health angle
As someone who had depression as a teenager then intermittently in their twenties and worked their way through I didn’t pick up the mental health message strongly enough on first viewing. Maybe it was because I watched with another Who fan where new episodes go through a kind of shared expectation filter. Your personal experience becomes diluted so I did have a slight surprise when the BBC action line came up at the end. I usually only see it after episodes of Casualty and EastEnders so I had to rewatch the episode again as I felt I had missed bits of the episode. On second viewing, I think I appreciated the themes of the episodes far more although it isn’t typical Doctor Who material as a rule.
Tibo was the male character affected by depression. Meeting Ryan’s best pal Tibo allowed for a nice contrast between the two young men and I liked their close relationship. Ryan is normally the shyest of the group within the confines of the Tardis so a positive development was seeing him in relaxed surroundings in his home town with people he knew. Ryan’s kind caring side came out as he tried to support his depressed friend, who seemed to be struggling through normal life. It was such a good step later and a message of hope to see Tibo talking to a group of men at the end of the episode where they were all showing solidarity with each other’s feelings. Mental illness is something that people don’t talk enough about and sharing experiences is so important.
Of course, this is Doctor Who so sci-fi villains are to blame for the nightmares shown but in reality, people’s anxieties or stress won’t be caused by an Immortal but by different contributing factors.
Development of the “Fam”
There were criticisms of series 11 that the companions didn’t get enough decent characterisation and thankfully this episode through the nightmares Zellin creates addresses that showing the inner life of our companions. Personally I would have liked to have seen this episode probably sooner in the run this series or even last year, especially for Yaz and Ryan. What it gave was a snapshot via their return to Sheffield of how much they were all changing since they started the journey with the Doctor. For Graham, you could sense when he was playing cards with his pals how much he is enjoying Tardis life as a replacement for the loneliness he would otherwise have felt like a widower. His health has been good so far too but his anxiety in the nightmare that his cancer had returned highlighted how much it is felt like a very real concern for people who have had the disease even with an all-clear.
I love how his anxiety was punctuated by a deliciously cold Sharon D Clarke, back as Grace, venomously hissing “Why didn’t you save me? “. Graham’s guilt was shown all over his face through the anguished “Let me try again”.As he is usually such a funny character I’d like to see a lot more of Graham’s inner turmoil shown. There was a lot of reaction to the scene where Graham talked to the Doctor about his fears about cancer and her awkward response. As a character where the Doctor has lived through regeneration and seen so many different things she could have said something more positive but I do understand the intention of the scene, which the BBC defended, of showing how difficult some people can find those types of conversation. I just never expected the Doctor to be that person given what we know over almost 60 years.
Mandip Gill really needed this episode to show her character’s motivation to be who she is. In series 11 although we met her family she felt the one without a decent reason to be there so it was good to see why Yaz become a policewoman and reveal the dynamic between her and her sister. Sonia is her little annoying sister usually but it was lovely to see Yaz and Sonia really do care about each other. If Sonia hadn’t called the police who knows where or what situation Yaz would be in today. The moment where Yaz gave the policewoman the 50 pence piece was such a fuzzy warm moment. Yaz can see change as a positive thing and she is growing in confidence throughout this series tackling things on her own.
Ryan, in contrast, seems to be in some kind of conflict over his travels in the Tardis, missing home, his friends, more than the others. A great point he made was how the travels in the Tardis are changing them all as people whereas his friends at home aren’t changing at the same rate. Ryan wanted to be connected to his old life more than the others and have those roots. It’s interesting that he was shown as scared of changing the visions of an old Tibo set in motion an idea that Ryan had his doubts. Is Ryan outgrowing the hustle-bustle of adventure the Tardis and set to leave?
Structure and Direction.
Years ago I read a fantasy book by one of my favourite authors Clive Barker called Weaveworld. It is about a magical world called the Fugue that is hidden inside a tapestry from both inquisitive humans and hostile supernatural foes. Two normal people become embroiled to protect the Fugue and it is beautifully written. I didn’t dislike this script as mixing fantastical elements and every day can work but I can understand why this episode has created a marmite reaction for people with a mixed reaction online.
There were some unnecessary elements within the story which distracted from a strong script. What does including Tahira, the visit to the medieval hospital the Birmaristan or the setting of Aleppo contribute really to the story? Seeing the fears and anxieties of the companions within this episode was such a positive I would have liked to have seen more of that and less of any supporting characters. The Chagaska could have belonged to one of the Tardis crew who then conquered their fear. I did also find some of the narrative choices such as the speed at which Yaz’s story unfolded made her story more difficult to follow than it should have been. I did like most of the direction of the story.
There were some interesting flourishes such as the animated story of the planets of how the inhabitants trapped Rakaya. Certain scenes such as how Zellin appeared in the bedrooms, the Tardis and the washed-out greyed out scenes for Graham’s nightmare, the appearance of the Dregs was really effective. Zellin’s dismembered fingers pouring sedative into the ear were also quite spooky to be fair. Oh, I also liked the split-screen used for the conference call.
There were definitely good ideas in the episode but too many elements thrown in which didn’t allow the script to flow as well as it could. The story and battle of the Immortals probably deserved a separate episode dedicated to them, without the issue of mental health included. However, I’m really pleased that Doctor Who has acknowledged there needs to be a conversation regarding the impact mental health issues have on an individual. Did its themes make an impression on you? Post your thoughts on here or on Twitter. Let’s talk.
Episode 7 Immortals pass through the story but the companions shine 7.35/ 10
P.S Has anyone commented yet that all the episodes have been set in some way on Earth?