My favorites from the expanded universe – Dec 2014

Fish Doctors

Fish Doctors

Last year, around November, I wrote a post listing my fifteen favorite episodes of Doctor Who. I then repeated the exercise in May, and it was very interesting seeing the changes in attitude and perception over the course of six months, considering that at least some of my initial enthusiasm for the show had worn off and I had seen more of the classic episodes. So I decided I would try to do the same post every six months.

This is not that post.

That’s mostly because it takes a huge amount of time to compile that post, and so I plan to do that tomorrow. In the meantime, I’d like to start another tradition here at Maius Intra Qua Extra, and that’s to list my favorites bits of the expanded universe, that is to say, from the audios, books, comic books, etc.; basically, anything that’s not the TV show. Now, I’m going to qualify this by noting that I have not seen even 5% of what’s out there, so this is a selection of favorite items from very small list of works. Hopefully, in six months, the list will have grown substantially.

These are not listed in any particular order.

 

Audio Plays

The Light at the End, by Nicholas Briggs: The Big Finish contribution to the 50th Anniversary celebration, this audio is simply brilliant. With five Doctors (and their companions!) getting trapped by a fiendish plan to destroy them, they band together and each do what they do best to unravel the plot and turn it around. The story is solid, riveting, and fun, the performances are perfect, and the entire feel is just so classic Doctor Who. I would honestly consider this the real 50th Anniversary story, not “The Day of the Doctor”, except, well, keep reading and you’ll find out why, if you don’t already know.

Of Chaos Time The (from Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories), by Mark Ravenhill: In one of four short plays featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri, the Doctor finds himself running down a corridor with someone he doesn’t know, who apparently does know him and has been following his orders for some time. The Doctor is figuring out the puzzle right along with you, and it’s a spectacular adventure in temporal trickery.

The Chimes of Midnight, by Robert Shearman: In this chilling tale, the Eighth Doctor and Charley find themselves trapped in the servant’s area of a manor house in the 1920s on Christmas Eve, reliving the same hour over and over again. It’s surreal and creepy Doctor Who at its best. And remember, Christmas isn’t Christmas without Mrs. Baddeley’s plum pudding.

Revenge of the Swarm, by Jonathan Morris: This sequel (or is it prequel?) to “The Invisible Enemy” (a Fourth Doctor TV episode) finds the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Hector encountering the Swarm again, this time going back in time to influence its own genesis. In addition to expertly wrangling the timelines to make the two episodes fit together, it has a lot of action and suspense, and pays homage to the original episode in multiple ways.

The Kingmaker, by Nev Fountain: The Fifth Doctor, with Peri and Erimem, travel to the past to find out what happened to the two princes that were imprisoned in the Tower of London by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, but they get separated, with the companions in one time zone and the Doctor in another, three years later. The Doctor must unravel what has happened to his companions and try to find and rescue them, while they are forced to live through the intervening years. The puzzle, plot, and characterizations in this audio are top-notch. (This is the first audio I’ve heard so far that’s managed to make a nod to the modern show.)

 

Audio Books

Dead Air, by James Goss: This audiobook takes advantage of its medium, weaving a story about a sound-based enemy that revels in silence and darkness. Read by David Tennant and written in first-person for the Doctor, this story is intensely personal and dark, and Mr. Tennant does a fantastic job doing the voices of all four characters, of different accents, ages, and genders. If there’s any Doctor Who audiobook to get, this is it.

Shockwave (from The Destiny of the Doctor), by James Swallow: The Destiny of the Doctor is an 11-book set, one story for each Doctor. The final story, for the Eleventh Doctor, is based on all the previous stories, so if you want to read that one, you must read all the rest. However, the rest are all standalone stories. Most of the stories in the series are good, but this one stood out for me. Read by Sophie Aldred, the Seventh Doctor and Ace are trapped on a planet that’s about to be destroyed by a solar wave and must flee with the other humans. This book took great care to describe the surroundings and the action, heightening the tension and adding so much to the already riveting story.

 

Books

The Krillitane Storm, by Christopher Cooper: I didn’t expect this book to be anything but a nice adventure, and I was pleasantly surprised. The action is fast-paced and the alien incursion that the Tenth Doctor is investigating turns out to be anything but simple. In addition, this story explores the culture of the Krillitane, showing them to be a complex society and shedding light on the motivations of the Krillitane we saw in “School Reunion”.

11 Doctors, 11 Stories: This is a compilation of novella adventures by various authors, one for each Doctor. It’s now available as 12 Doctors, 12 Stories with the inclusion of the Twelfth Doctor story, but I haven’t read it, so it gets its former title here. Some of the stories are better than others, but in general, this is one great collection. My favorite of the bunch is the Eleventh Doctor’s “Nothing O’Clock” by Neil Gaiman.

 

Comic Books

The Forgotten, by Tony Lee: The Tenth Doctor finds himself trapped with Martha in a museum that contains only items relating to his long history. A mysterious figure steals his memories, which starts to kill him (“A man is the sum of his memories; a Time Lord even more so.”), and he remembers stories from his previous incarnations to get them back. This comic not only presents new short stories for each incarnation, but also has a great overall arc and a wonderful resolution.

 

Other

The Five(-ish) Doctors Reboot, by Peter Davison: This is what I think deserves the label of the best 50th Anniversary work. The story of Mr. Davison, Mr. Baker, Mr. McCoy, and Mr. McGann (at least for a little bit) trying to get into “The Day of the Doctor”, it’s superbly written and acted, and pokes fun at every trope and every person associated with Doctor Who. It shines with love for the show, its history, and its fans, and it’s simply delightful.

 

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“Dead Air”

deadairI’ve been spending more time than usual listening to audios because I hurt my thumb last week (not even sure how), so I’ve been avoiding doing anything that might  jar it. I’ve found that playing on my iPad while listening to audios is a fantastic way to rest a thumb. The most recent thing I’ve listened to is the audiobook Dead Air, written by James Goss and narrated by David Tennant, and it was absolutely fantastic.

I’m going to try to talk about it without spoilers, because honestly, it’s that good and you want to go into it without knowing what to expect.

Dead Air is an audiobook, not an audio play, which means, like The Destiny of the Doctor, the reader is reading the book and doing the voices of the characters. Unlike most audiobooks, which are usually written novels or novellas being read out loud, Dead Air was written for the audiobook format (probably even with the knowledge that Mr. Tennant was going to be the reader), and Mr. Goss took full advantage of it. The story is told in first person by the Doctor, and so it’s intensely personal. The Doctor describes landing on a boat off the east coast of London in the early 1960s; the boat is pirate free radio, broadcasting the “subversive” rock’n’roll that was not allowed on approved radio stations.  He’s there chasing down a rogue weapon called the Hush that was designed to kill using sound: as its victim makes more sound (for example, by screaming), the more it tears the victim apart. The boat’s transmitter is broken and the Doctor knows that if it gets fixed, the weapon will be able to broadcast itself across the world and destroy it, so he must find and neutralize the weapon before the transmitter is fixed.

The Doctor of course meets the occupants of the boat, two DJs and another girl who works on the boat taking care of them, and he must protect them against the Hush. The story itself is a great Doctor Who story, but where this audiobook excels is how it uses its format. Much of the boat is dark and quiet, so since you as the listener can’t see what’s going on anyway (this is an audio!), you’re drawn into the dark and feel like you’re right there. As the Doctor is describing the situation, you’re listening hard for the Hush, and, well, all there is behind the Doctor is silence, which is terrifying. And the ending is spectacular. It’s inventive, and it pulls you into the Doctor Who universe like few other stories have. I might liken it to “Blink,” in which part of its brilliance comes from the way it invites you, through brilliant camerawork, to stare at the Angels to keep them from moving. When watching that episode, you feel like you’re in the show. Dead Air does the same thing.

The other part of this audiobook’s brilliance is Mr. Tennant’s performance. The narration is done by the Tenth Doctor, and you know what he sounds like, but there are three other characters, each with a different pitch, quality, and accent, and he switches between them effortlessly (yes, that’s four different voices and accents). And he manages to keep them all separate while portraying a huge range of  human and Time Lord emotions.

In short, this is a brilliant audiobook and I definitely recommend it to anyone. I got it on Audible.com (that’s part of Amazon), in some promotion where I received it free – I believe that if you have an Amazon account, you can get one free audiobook from Audible.com, so that you can try out its service. What are you waiting for? Go get Dead Air!

 

“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.