“The Destiny of the Doctor”

The Destiny of the Doctor is a series of eleven audiobooks produced by Big Finish and AudioGo as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations. One book for each Doctor, they were published from January, 2013 to November, 2013, one book a month. Each book is read by an actor or actress who played one of that Doctor’s companions, except for “Night of the Whisper” which was read by Nicholas Briggs, and features a second performer playing an important guest role. The books in the series are listed below.

  1. Hunters of Earth, read by Carole Ann Ford (Susan Foreman)
  2. Shadow of Death, read by Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon)
  3. Vengeance of the Stones, read by Richard Franklin (Mike Yates)
  4. Babblesphere, read by Lalla Ward (Romana)
  5. Smoke and Mirrors, read by Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka)
  6. Trouble in Paradise, read by Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown)
  7. Shockwave, read by Sophie Aldred (Ace McShane)
  8. Enemy Aliens, read by India Fisher (Charley Pollard)
  9. Night of the Whisper, read by Nicholas Briggs
  10. Death’s Deal, read by Catherine Tate (Donna Noble)
  11. The Time Machine, read by Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald)

Each book is a self-contained adventure, but they are all linked together by the appearance of the Eleventh Doctor in all of them, contacting his previous incarnations to ask them to do something for him. In most cases, it’s a seemingly simple task such as, “Make sure this object doesn’t get destroyed.” Of course, much of the time, the message gets to the Doctor just before the object is about to be destroyed, so the Doctor must figure out how to prevent it. Even though the adventures are fun in and of themselves, the introduction of this plot point makes you want to keep reading the series, to find out what other things the Doctor needs done and why he needs them. (The realization of this was a bit jarring for me. I bought the entire series of books at once, then listened to the Doctors I was most interested in, namely the Tenth Doctor and the Fifth Doctor. The appearances of the Eleventh Doctor were fun, but I didn’t pay much attention to them. Then I listened to the Eleventh Doctor’s book, and at some point, he started talking about all the things he had asked his previous incarnations to do, and I smacked myself in the forehead and stopped listening to it, so that I could go back and listen to the other ten first. Sigh.)

Looking over the series as a whole, I enjoyed it very much: the adventures are fun in and of themselves. Some are better than others (my particular favorites are Babblesphere, ShockwaveNight of the Whisper, and Death’s Deal), but all of them are good. All of the performances by the readers and the guest actors were great, and if all audiobooks have performances of this quality, I’d buy and listen to more. (I’ve been told by more experienced audiobook listeners that quality varies quite a bit. Maybe these are great because all of the readers are experienced actors and very familiar with the universe? I don’t know.)

Reviews of the individual eleven novels below. I’ve included an intro for each novel, and spoilers are pretty minimal.

Hunters of Earth, by Nigel Robinson. Read by Carole Ann Ford, featuring the First Doctor and Susan Foreman

Early in the time that the Doctor and Susan spent on Earth, Susan is having problems fitting in and finding friends. A boy in her class named Cedric tries to help her fit in by doing things with her and listening to the Beatles with her, but her other classmates begin to turn on her as if controlled by something, attacking her physically and yelling, “Aliens get out!” She and the Doctor must figure out what’s causing all of this.

This is an interesting exploration of the difficulties a normal teenager has with finding her place among her peers, not even considering an alien teenager. As the danger begins to grow, the story does a great job of dropping hints as to what physically is causing the violent attacks without explaining who or why, letting you solve the mystery along with the Doctor. The mysterious Mr. Rook, a teacher at the school, throws a spanner into the situation, and you’re not quite sure what side he’s on.

I will say, though, that this book is completely worth reading for the sole purpose of listening to Ms. Ford. As I stated above, she reads the book and plays all of the character voices except for Cedric, who is played by the guest actor. This means you hear her reading the novel as well as playing Susan, the Doctor, Mr. Rook, and other minor characters, and she is superb. Ms. Ford was at least seventy-two at the time of the recording, and you can tell that from her normal reading voice, but when she plays Susan, she sounds like a teenager. Then she effortlessly switches into the stuffy, slightly offended cadence of the First Doctor – she was amazing as the Doctor! And then, as Mr. Rook, her formal, disdainful drawl is perfect. I’ve listened to all of the novels, and in my opinion, none of the readers is as perfect and talented as she is.

Shadow of Death, by Simon Guerrier. Read by Frazer Hines, featuring the Second Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, and Zoe Heriot

The Doctor, Zoe, and Jamie land on a planet which inexplicably exists orbiting a pulsar. A human expedition has landed here to investigate the ruins of a city on this planet, to try to figure out who built it and how they managed to survive. The extraordinary effects of the pulsar has caused time pockets on the planet, and so the members of the expedition are trapped in time zones that run at different rates, and meanwhile, a strange shadow is hunting people down and killing them.

This is one of the most interesting of the books because of the time games it plays, with areas of time running far faster than others (for example, standing in one time zone, the characters see other characters in a different time zone that are acting normally but look like statues). Because of this, everything is very mysterious until the Doctor figures out what’s going on, and in this case, he’s really the only one who can resolve the situation. There was only one disappointing thing about this audiobook: due to the quality of Mr. Hines’ voice, he sounded far more like Mr. Davison than Mr. Troughton, and it was very difficult to not picture the Fifth Doctor as the Doctor in this book.

Vengeance of the Stones, by Andrew Smith. Read by Richard Franklin, featuring the Third Doctor, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, and Lieutenant Mike Yates

During a routine flying exercise, a squad of RAF pilots in Scotland encounter an unidentified energy discharge and one of their planes is lost without a trace. The Brigadier and the Doctor arrive to investigate, seconding Lieutenant Mike Yates, who is very familiar with the area. They find the missing pilot, delirious and walking across the countryside, and follow him to a circle of standing stones. They find that the mysterious phenomenon is linked to the multiple menhir circles scattered around the area.

Getting a bit of backstory on Mike Yates was definitely a treat, but unfortunately, the rest of this story was rather predictable and banal. It wasn’t bad; just average. I did like the ending, as it wasn’t a good, happy, everyone-lives kind of ending.

Babblesphere, by Jonathan Morris. Read by Lalla Ward, featuring the Fourth Doctor and Romana

The Doctor and Romana land on a human colony which was gone to seed. They discover that the colony developed a computerized mindlink technology to help people collaborate with each directly, to become more productive, but they succumbed to the temptation of oversharing, making it compulsory for everyone to join the network so that everyone’s thoughts were broadcast to everyone at all times. The addictive information-sharing crippled the colony, as people stopped working and taking care of themselves as they sought the latest information about everyone else.

This story was Facebook/Twitter gone wild, and while it went a bit beyond the believable sphere, it was a great dystopian portrait of a society destroyed by the thoughtless spread of technology. The book was enhanced by the superb dialogue written for the Doctor and Romana; they were clever and hilarious, perfectly in character with their portrayals on the TV show. A couple of the elements of the story were a bit predictable, but did not detract from the overall enjoyment.

Smoke and Mirrors, by Steve Lyons. Read by Janet Fielding, featuring the Fifth Doctor, Adric, Tegan Jovanka, and Nyssa

The Doctor is summoned to an amusement park in 1920s America, where his friend, Harry Houdini, requests his assistance in investigating some phenomenon he’s been unable to explain rationally: as a stage magician who’s seen things with the Doctor that have always had an explanation, he knows that if he can’t figure it out, it’s likely that it’s caused by something extraterrestrial and may endanger the world. While investigating, the Doctor and Houdini are separated from the other companions, and both groups are attacked.

While there’s plenty to explore and figure out in this story, the real tale here is Houdini’s – him and his relationship with the Doctor – and while it’s interesting, it’s a little too pat. However, there’s lots of danger and running and great problem-solving by both the Doctor and his companions.

Trouble in Paradise, by Nev Fountain. Read by Nicola Bryant, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri Brown

Unlike most of the other stories in this series, in this one, the Eleventh Doctor’s message comes at the very beginning, asking the Doctor to obtain an energy source called an omniparadox. His search lands him on the Santa Maria just before Columbus makes landfall at Hispaniola and encounters the natives for the first time. Columbus finds the Doctor and Peri on the ship and assumes that the Doctor is a native chieftain who has somehow snuck on board, and starts trying to figure out how to manipulate this savage into finding gold and treasure for him.

This book reminds me very much of the other Big Finish audios in which the Doctor meets historical figures. Columbus is portrayed in a very over-the-top manner as an ambitious man who’s completely full of himself and jealous of anyone who might be better. I can imagine that if you aren’t used to this type of character in Doctor Who (and I can’t think of any in the modern TV show), this audiobook will be very off-putting. The Doctor’s dealings with Columbus are very enjoyable, but the final conflict was not very interesting and ruined an otherwise fun and campy story.

Shockwave, by James Swallow. Read by Sophie Aldred, featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ace McShane

The Doctor and Ace land on a space station orbiting a human-inhabited planet that is about to get destroyed by a shockwave pulse from its sun. The population of the planet has mostly been evacuated, and there’s only one ship left, the Obscura, and because of the time winds around the star preventing the TARDIS from dematerializing, the Doctor and Ace must flee the star with the rest of the humans.

Unlike the other books, which concerned themselves mostly with the actions and interactions of the characters, this one took the time to describe the planet and its destruction, painting a vivid picture of what was happening and heightening the tension as the ship attempted to outrace the shockwave. Add to this the distrust the humans have for these two people that appeared out of nowhere and have no identification, and the mystery of why the Doctor landed here in the first place, and you’ve got a great story. Ms. Aldred did a fantastic job voicing her Ace, of course, as well as the Scottish rolling Rs of the Doctor.

Enemy Aliens, by Alan Barnes. Read by India Fisher, featuring the Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard

In 1930s London, the Doctor receives a message from his future self about an etheric disturbance, but the message is cut off, only telling him that William Tell is important. He and Charley investigate the disturbance and discover a sideshow performer named William Tell who claims to have an eidetic memory, but when he performs on stage, he gets his details wrong. When he’s murdered in front of the audience, Charley is blamed and she and the Doctor must clear their names.

An action tale with a pre-war feel and multiple people with different goals, this is a good basic Doctor Who adventure. What I really enjoyed about this particular book, though, was the author’s style. The story is told entirely from Charley’s point of view, and her descriptions and internal monologues are entertaining. She’s human, so she doesn’t think like the Doctor, but she has an unusual style of seeing the world, and she really appealed to me. Time to listen to more of her audios, I think.

Night of the Whisper, by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright. Read by Nicholas Briggs, featuring the Ninth Doctor, Rose Tyler, and Captain Jack Harkness

On a planet called New Vegas, run by a businessman (read: mob boss) by the name of Wolfsbane, the Doctor, Rose, and Jack investigate the corruption of the world, as well as the sudden appearance of a vigilante called the Whisper who seems bent on bringing justice (read: death) to all evildoers.

I really enjoyed this story. It begins with a nice pulp fiction, dime-store detective novel feel, but by the end, it’s back in familiar Doctor Who territory, exploring the gray areas of evil, crime, and justice. Along the way, there’s plenty of action and comedy.

The thing that really made it, though, was Mr. Briggs’ portrayal of the Ninth Doctor. You might recognize him as the guy that voices the Daleks and the Cybermen (and other monsters) throughout the run of the modern show, but he’s been working as an actor and writer on Doctor Who properties since the 1980s, and has directed a number of Big Finish audios. His impersonation of the Ninth Doctor was, to overuse a particular word, fantastic. It was a delight to hear the Ninth Doctor (who is to me the rarest Doctor, the one we’ve seen the least of) again, and I was completely enthralled. If the BBC ever lets Big Finish do Ninth Doctor audios with a different actor (because we all know Mr. Eccleston won’t do it), Mr. Briggs will certainly be able to carry that torch.

Death’s Deal, by Darren Jones. Read by Catherine Tate, featuring the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble

The Doctor and Donna follow a distress signal to a planet called Death’s Deal, which has the reputation of being the deadliest planet in the universe. Soon after being joined by a group of thrillseeking sightseers who pay for the ability to claim that they’ve touched down on the surface of the planet and survived, the tourists’ ship and the TARDIS are swallowed by huge monsters that burst out of the ground. The Doctor must keep everyone alive while trying to locate the TARDIS.

While this is not the most complex of the novels, it’s full of action and vivid descriptions of this violent and rather inexplicable world – after all, how could an ecosystem of organisms completely bent on destroying everything around them, including each other, actually survive? The characterizations and dialogue were spot-on, and I really enjoyed this book, particularly because both the Doctor and Donna were perfectly written.

The Time Machine, by Matt Fitton. Read by Jenna Coleman, featuring the Eleventh Doctor

The Doctor visits Oxford University in 2013 to investigate a professor who is building an actual working time machine, centuries before humans discover time travel.

I’m not writing any more of a teaser, because it’ll just give away the plot. We know from the previous books that the Eleventh Doctor is up against something very dangerous and enlists the help of his previous incarnations to defeat it, and the tie-together is pretty incredible, and if you’ve made it this far through the audiobooks, you don’t want to miss this. However, the lead-in is pretty straightforward, and if you’re wondering if this book is worth it if you haven’t listened to the previous books, I’d have to say, probably not: the cool thing about this story is how all the rest of the books led up to it.

Ms. Coleman does a great job of playing the Doctor: while she’s not particularly convincing (and that’s no insult to her: I’d say very few people could play Mr. Smith’s Doctor well), she still captures his eccentricity and enthusiasm. I think she did the Eleventh Doctor’s voice through all of the books, because they all sounded the same.

 

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Grounded

Just a little food for thought…

At the beginning of “Rise of the Cybermen,” the TARDIS crashes in Pete’s World. Why? The Doctor says, “The time vortex is gone. That’s impossible. It’s just gone. Brace yourself! We’re going to crash!” So, Pete’s World doesn’t have a time vortex. The TARDIS travels through time and space by going through the time vortex, so if there isn’t one, it can’t travel in time. It can travel in space because it can fly normally (and it’s pretty darn fast, since, in “Journey’s End,” it tows the Earth from the Medusa Cascade back to the solar system in less than a minute) and it can dematerialize to hop between universes, but time travel in Pete’s World, at least by TARDIS or vortex manipulator, is impossible. (Ha, maybe zygma energy might work in that universe.)

The other question is, are there Time Lords (other than the Metacrisis Doctor) in Pete’s World? Probably not. Before the Time Lords created the time vortex, they were simply Gallifreyans. Either the Gallifreyans never created the time vortex, in which case they don’t have the power they have in the Doctor’s universe and are not “lords” of time, or the time vortex was created but destroyed, so any existent Time Lords no longer have their primary tool to watch over and manipulate time.

Ok. That thought’s been bugging me ever since the David Tennant celebration in the theater. I’m done now. That is all.

“The Keeper of Traken”

keeper_2065I’ve been plagued this week with pains in my mousing hand, probably from trying to carry too many things for too long last Sunday, so I took the day off from work. The problem is, staying at home is pretty boring when you can’t use your hands. What to do? Doctor Who, of course! I spent most of the day listening to the audiobooks from “The Destiny of the Doctor” series, finishing the first seven, so only four more to go. Expect a discussion of them by the end of the weekend.

On our third attempt to watch “The Keeper of Traken,” we finally succeeded! Back in September when we first starting watching the classic Doctor Who episodes, I wanted to see the Fourth Doctor to Fifth Doctor regeneration, so I ordered from Amazon the “New Beginnings” trilogy consisting “The Keeper of Traken,” “Logopolis,” and “Castrovalva.” When it arrived, I popped “The Keeper of Traken” into the DVD player, and it didn’t work. The other two discs worked, so we knew it wasn’t our equipment. We watched the other two episodes and returned the trilogy, and sadly, Amazon didn’t have any other copies of it. My husband was especially disappointed because Nyssa is one of his favorite companions and he really wanted to see her genesis episode.

A few months later, we subscribed to Netflix, and one of the first discs we added to our queue was “The Keeper of Traken”: we would finally get to see this episode. The disc arrived and… it didn’t work. We have multiple DVD and blu-ray players, and it didn’t work in any of them. Just our luck. So, back it went to Netflix with a “This disc is broken” post-it on it.

Last month, I reordered “New Beginnings” from Amazon, and this time, the disc worked! So, we finally got to watch it.

Spoilers ahead.

Having just returned from E-space with his new companion Adric, the Fourth Doctor is summoned to the tranquil and harmonious planet Traken by the Keeper, the elder of the planet who keeps the peace on the planet through powers granted by the Source. He’s dying and will be passing on his powers to the next Keeper, but he knows there is danger and wants the Doctor’s help. An evil creature called Melkur landed on the planet years ago and, though it was captured as a statue and isn’t a threat, the Keeper is concerned about it. Meanwhile, a consul named Tremas is about to marry his love, Kassia, but he is also likely to be named the Keeper’s successor, which worries Kassia, as he won’t be able to be her husband if he becomes the Keeper.

It’s impossible to describe more of this episode without revealing the whole plot, so if you don’t want to know what happens, skip ahead to the next paragraph. Since the arrival of the evil Melkur and its calcification as a statue, Kassia has been taking care of it, and she becomes influenced by it, doing things it suggests because she believes it is helping her. She starts out trying to subvert the the Keeper process because she wants to keep Tremas as her husband, but more and more, the statue causes her to manipulate people so that Tremas cannot become the Keeper and the consuls choose Kassia to be the Keeper instead. By the time she realizes that the statue is not helping her (she can’t keep her husband if she’s the Keeper either), the statue is able to fully control her. The Doctor and Adric spend the episode trying to prove that they are not the evil saboteurs the Trakenites think they are and figure out who is subverting the Keeper succession and why.  Finally, the Doctor discovers that this has all been engineered by the Master, who is at the end of his final incarnation and wants to take the Source to extend his life. The Doctor is able to foil his plans, but unbeknownst to him, the Master merges with Tremas and leaves in his TARDIS.

I think I really enjoy episodes like this one in which the Doctor is considered to be hostile, so he has to not only solve the problem at hand but do so while trying to clear his own name. It adds a bit more tension to the overall story, simply because everyone is hunting him. It causes more twists and turns in the plot, too, as different characters come to trust or distrust him as events occur. The episode also handled the supporting characters well. Since Traken is a harmonious planet with no conflict or distrust, the Trakenites are incapable of understanding deception, and so they jump to conclusions very quickly on flimsy evidence.

This episode was also Adric’s first adventure outside of E-space, and he was instrumental in saving the day. One thing I noticed was that both he and Nyssa were very technologically capable, something that modern companions are incapable of, as they are always human. It was nice having companions that actually understood the science and technology they were faced with and could build a device to accomplish what was needed. Interestingly, Tardis Data Core notes that this is the last episode of Doctor Who that did not have a single human in it.

Overall, this was an enjoyable episode: not one of the best, but better than average. It also sets the stage for the next two episodes, as it introduces the characters who are going to be instrumental in the Doctor’s regeneration and recovery. The only one who is not in this episode is Tegan, and she arrives very quickly in “Logopolis.”

 

“The Mind’s Eye”

Bf102_mindseye_big“The Mind’s Eye” is #102 in Big Finish‘s main range of Doctor Who audios, featuring the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem.

In a not-too-spoilerific synopsis, the Doctor and his companions find themselves on a jungle planet where the plants trap and kill people by inducing a dream state as they grab and immobilize their victims. While the Doctor and the human research team investigating the plants try to save Peri and Erimem, we also get to see the worlds that Peri and Erimem create in their dreams, the worlds that they would like to live in.

The overall story is pretty average, with its somewhat predictable twists and turns, if you’re familiar at all with Doctor Who stories. The supporting characters were well-performed, but rather shallow. To me, the interesting part was seeing the dreams, especially Erimem’s, because I’m not very familiar with her character and it told me quite a bit about her, and prompted me to go to Tardis Data Core to find out more. I have listened to at least one other audio with her (“The Kingmaker”) but it didn’t touch on her history or personality at all, unlike this one.

I think I’d like to see a bit more meat in these audios, more situations in which the Doctor must make a moral choice or teach the companions or supporting characters something important, or stories which deal with the companions’ histories more. This particular audio was really very straightforward, with the evil very recognizable and not nuanced at all. While this was a fine adventure and I enjoyed it, I’ve heard better.

Human stories

My husband is the best in the world. Upon hearing that I wouldn’t be able to see the Doctor Who Experience during my trip to England, he suggested that we change the trip to later in the year, so that the Experience would be open and we would be in England for the convention Dimensions 2014. Then, when he heard it would cost $750 per ticket to change our plane reservations, he said, “Sure, go ahead.” Now, that’s just way too expensive, but he didn’t even think: he just said yes, because he wants me to do the things I want to do on my trip. He is really the best in the world.

I spent much of yesterday kind of mooning around because of the news about DWE, so my husband also cheered me up by popping in a bunch of Donna episodes to keep me entertained, and it was wonderful. He even chose “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” one of the most fun episodes but one that he avoids like the plague because of his flying-stinging-insect phobia. We also watched “The Fires of Pompeii,” “The Sontaran Strategem,” and “The Poison Sky.” The only downside to this is that after watching so much Donna, we are always heartbroken that she only got one season and that in so many of her episodes, she’s marginalized by another companion returning.

The lonely genius

The lonely genius

In this particular viewing, though, I was very impressed by the subplots in “The Fires of Pompeii” and “The Sontaran Strategem” / “The Poison Sky.” Starting with the latter, while I knew that Luke Rattigan was a very important character plotwise, I never really realized how much his character developed over the episode and how well Ryan Sampson portrayed him. Luke is a hyperintelligent human, so much so that he can’t relate to regular humans and feels isolated as well as superior to them. His entire plan, to take other extremely intelligent teens to a new planet while the Sontarans destroy Earth, is half-motivated by his desire to start a new, advanced race of humans and half-motivated by wanting to strike back at the people who treated him so poorly. Morality isn’t even a consideration to him, and even when his students abandon him, choosing to stay with their families, he’s unable to understand why and continue to insist on his own superiority – he continues to act truly in character. It’s not until he’s betrayed by the Sontarans that he  begins to understand what everyone’s been trying to tell him, that no matter how intelligent he is, he doesn’t know everything and the human equation still eludes him. Once he realizes that he’s still a human, and more or less still a child even though he’s cleverer than everyone else, he grabs the opportunity to correct the things he’s done, saving the Doctor’s life in the process. While the episode is about the Sontaran invasion, the real story is his.

Similarly, while “The Fires of Pompeii” is about the Pyroviles’ plot on the top level and the education of Donna about the moral choices the Doctor must make on the second level, there is another story behind it all that’s just as captivating. Because of the purchase of the TARDIS, the Doctor meets a Roman family: Caecillius the marble merchant, his wife Metella, and his two teenage children, Evelina and Quintus. In just a couple of minutes of screen time, we see dynamics of the household very clearly. Caecillius and Metella are only concerned with their status in the community, and as such, they’re proud of Evelina because she’s going to be accepted into the Sybilline Sisterhood. They ignore their son, who they feel is lazy and embarrassing, and treat him like a child, while lavishing praise on their daughter. Quintus is definitely not ambitious and rather irresponsible, but he has a cool head on his shoulders and he recognizes that whatever it is that’s happening to Evelina, it’s not good. He’s disgusted by his parents’ lack of concern for her welfare.

Just another modern family

Just another modern family

Throughout the episode, the relationships within the family changed as events unfolded. Quintus first demonstrates his love for his sister by trying to tell his parents that the vapors are hurting her. He shows his bravery, first in assisting the Doctor and then defeating the Pyrovile in the house, and begins to see that he has a lot more worth, if he would work on developing it. Caecillius and Metella finally begin to see that whatever it is that’s happening to Evelina, it’s destroying her, and that while they couldn’t prevent the events of the episode, a lot of trouble was heaped on their house because of their ambition. In the epilogue, Caecillius and Metella have established themselves as marble merchants in Rome, and while they are still ambitious, they now care for their daughter and son for themselves and not for what their children can do for them. Evelina is leading a normal life (and making the same choices as any other teenager), and Quintus has found a purpose that he can believe in.

These are the kind of Doctor Who stories, or really, sub-stories, that add the real meat to the show. It reminds me very much of “The Robots of Death,” in which the Fourth Doctor and Leela were secondary to the main story of the relationships between the episode’s guest characters and how they developed due to the events they became embroiled in. Caecillius’ family’s story was only a minor plotline and was the third thread in the episode, but because the characters were drawn so distinctly and developed so well, you quickly begin to actually care for them. They’re not just characters introduced to help the plot along, and this magnified the emotional impact of the final conflict – the Doctor’s refusal to save them, and then his change of heart – to make this one of the best episodes of the modern show.

Just my luck

I probably never mentioned this, but my best friend and I are planning a trip to England in September. It’s the first trip out of country for both of us (well, that’s not quite true; I went to Victoria, BC in March, as a dry run of using my shiny new passport), and we both are very excited. Our itinerary includes London, Bath, and, of course, Cardiff, since we’re both fans of Doctor Who.

You might know where I’m going with this.

I found out yesterday that the Doctor Who Experience announced that it will be closing its doors for renovation, to change the Experience so that it reflects the Twelfth Doctor instead of the Eleventh Doctor as the current Doctor. When are they doing this? Starting September 1, and going for six or more weeks.

That’s right. The entire time we’ll be in England.

That’s pretty much ruined my weekend. I really really wanted to see the Doctor Who Experience. I don’t know what to do. We might be able to adjust our plane tickets for some other time, when the Experience is open, but that might be expensive. I expect that instead, we’re going to just cut Cardiff out of our trip altogether and choose somewhere else to go (maybe Scotland).

Sigh. Just my luck.

The adventures of Sarah Jane

UsjaS3Promos-0001This week, we did something that we’ve been putting off for a while: watched some episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures. I ordered the disc with “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith” from Netflix, so that we could finally watch the episode with the Tenth Doctor in it, and then added the disc with the Eleventh Doctor’s episode, “The Death of the Doctor.” We received the disc about two months ago and promptly ignored it, mostly because we had so many other things to do, including re-watch the Eleventh Doctor’s full run. After paying for Netflix for two months for one disc, we popped it in this week and watched all of the episodes on it: “Prisoner of the Judoon,” “The Mad Woman in the Attic,” and “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith.” And I’m happy to say, I loved it.

Now, SJA is a children’s show, aimed, I believe, at the young teen crowd, and that’s one of the reasons that my husband didn’t like it as much as I did. He’s not fond of children protagonists and plotlines that revolve around children’s problems, like figuring out whether or not your friends actually like you or are just tolerating you. I don’t have a problem with this kind of thing, and I found the show to be fun and engaging. That said, I really don’t like the character Clyde Langer, but the rest of it was great.

SJA seems to be structured like “filler” DW episodes, without an overarching season plot (but I could be wrong, as I haven’t seen a whole season), and this is probably the thing I like about it most: it’s a series of adventures, where the main characters get into a situation and solve it within the episode. It’s nice in modern TV to have longer story arcs, but it’s not necessary if the individual episodes are well-crafted to be fulfilling stories, and this is probably a good thing for a children’s show, not requiring the kids to follow an arc over several weeks or months. The show is about Sarah Jane defending the world from aliens with three teens, her “son” Luke Smith, and Rani Chandra and Clyde Langer, two kids who live nearby. The creators seem to have taken the character of the Doctor and broken him up into his component parts to create them: Luke is the hyperintelligent tech geek, Rani is investigative and compassionate, and Clyde is the smartarse. Sarah Jane is still Sarah Jane – willful, spunky, clever, and brave – though instead of being the companion, she’s the leader.  Add in the alien supercomputer Mr. Smith and the tin dog K-9, who together serve the purpose of the sonic screwdriver by giving the team the information they need as well as a little bit of firepower in a pinch, and you’ve got Doctor Who.

Spoilers in the next four paragraphs. Skip ahead if you don’t want to know.

The first episode we watched was “Prisoner of the Judoon,” in which a Judoon captain with a dangerous prisoner in custody crash lands and has to re-catch the prisoner. The prisoner has the ability to take over other creatures, and takes control of Sarah Jane to get into a nanotechnology firm to get nanites to build him a spaceship and then destroy the planet. Since the Judoon, as we know, are  just a little bit thick, Clyde and Rani have a lot problems steering the captain towards finding the prisoner. It’s up to Luke to save the day, as he uncovers why the prisoner revels in destroying civilizations and reverses the nanites’ destructive programming. Sarah Jane, once freed, tries to help the prisoner overcome his anger, but fails, which is a refreshing bit of reality – you can’t solve everyone’s problems in just a few minutes of soft words. The depiction of the Judoon was also perfect, as the law-abiding and imperceptive mercenaries we saw in “Smith and Jones.”

Next up was “The Mad Woman in the Attic,” and this episode was just superb. The “mad woman” is Rani in 2059, isolated and regretful after having lost Sarah Jane, Luke, and Clyde due to her own actions. In the current time, she is feeling ignored and underappreciated by her friends, and so she goes to investigate the claim of a demon-sighting by herself. I really don’t want to spoil the story of this one, because it really is a fantastic episode. It sets up the initial antagonist, and then twists it around – nothing is as it seems. The story teaches Rani a lot about how she fits in with her friends and how it’s not all about her. The episode also refers to the Last Great Time War, which astonished me; I was not expecting SJA to refer to such heavy DW subject matter.

The last episode we saw was “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith,” which, as I mentioned before, has the Tenth Doctor in it. Sarah Jane falls in love with a man named Peter Dawton and is about to get married to him when the Doctor, who throughout the episode had been trying to land the TARDIS at Bannerman Road, bursts in to try to stop the wedding. Too late: the Trickster appears and locks Sarah Jane and Peter in one second of time and the Doctor, Luke, Rani, and Clyde in another, to keep the Doctor from saving Sarah Jane. Turns out, Peter had been on the edge of death when the Trickster appeared to him as an angel, offering him his life in exchange for marrying Sarah Jane, an action which would remove her from her alien-fighting lifestyle and leave the planet open to chaos. Peter reneges on the Trickster’s deal, sacrificing himself to save Sarah.

sarahjaneadventuresThis was in a way the weakest of the three episodes overall, as a large part of it was devoted to the Doctor running around with the kids, pointing the sonic screwdriver in random directions to follow Sarah Jane as she moved around in the second she was trapped in; they wasted his appearance in this episode, as he honestly did nothing other than wait until the plot brought him back to Sarah Jane to tell her what was going on. On the other hand, the Doctor got to be the exuberant Doctor that he didn’t get to be through a lot of his last series. The ending of the episode was completely worth it, though. First, Peter’s decision and sacrifice was beautifully handled. Second, the parting of the Doctor and Sarah Jane was tragic: the dialogue mirrored their parting in “The Hand of Fear,” and since the episode was set just before The End of Time, we know exactly where the Doctor is heading, and his final expression as Sarah Jane walks off is heart-rending.

At the end of the day, SJA is an entertaining show, offering adventure and aliens and one of the most endearing characters ever to ride in the TARDIS, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it. I’m not sure when I’ll get to watch more of it, as there are still so many classic Doctor Who episodes to watch, and I want to move into Torchwood, AND this last episode of SJA has really sparked me into wanting to watch me some Tenth Doctor again, but I am definitely looking forward to starting SJA from the beginning. Donna may be my favorite companion, but there is no one like Sarah Jane Smith. We miss you!