“The Dark Husband”

thedarkhusbandUsually, when I decide to listen to a Doctor Who audio, I look through the list of audios I own and choose one that sounds interesting. However, with a couple of hours to kill and no Internet connection, I pulled out my iPod and chose a random  audio to listen to, and it was “The Dark Husband”, the 106th audio in the main range, featuring the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Hex. Unfortunately, it turned out to be pretty disappointing.

Spoilers, of course.

For a bit of a break, the Doctor takes Ace and Hex to what he calls the greatest festival in the galaxy, on a gorgeous planet. When they get there, they discover that the planet is in the middle of a centuries-long war between the two different races on the planet, the red-haired soldiers called the Ri and the bald philosophers called the Ir, who both worship their god, Tuin. The festival does occur as scheduled, as it’s the one time when truce is called and all hostilities are set aside. The Doctor then announces that he actually knew that the planet had been at war and had come here to stop the war by offering himself as the Suitor. He’s immediately proclaimed to be the Dark Husband, and the search is begun for the Shining Wife, and the war is to end when the two are married.

As the search proceeds, the priests of Tuin tie the Doctor up to be sacrificed to the god by fire. Ace fights through the crowd and soldiers to get to him to free him, and is proclaimed to be the Shining Wife, the woman who shows the sought-after bravery. However, before the ceremony can continue, Hex then offers himself to be the Dark Husband, to free the Doctor from having to marry Ace (and possibly for his own reasons as well…) The two are then mind-controlled by the god, and the Doctor discovers that the marriage is followed by combat: the Dark Husband and the Shining Wife are destined to fight until one of them is killed.

Through talking to the Ri and Ir friends that he’s made, the Doctor discovers what’s really going on. The planet, Tuin, is the god that the Ri and Ir worship, and it wanted to create the perfect species but couldn’t decide which was better, strength or cunning, so it created the two races and had them fight each other. Since they couldn’t overcome each other, it then decided that once each side had its champion, the Dark Husband and the Shining Wife, the two would fight, and it would transform all of individuals on the planet into the winning race. The problem, of course, is that the two champions were human, so no matter which one won, the planet would not be able to transform the people into the champion’s race and the entire species would die. At the last moment, the Doctor’s Ri and Ir friends declared themselves the Dark Husband and the Shining Wife, then chose to die together, forcing the planet to create the species from both of them, at last uniting the two races into a whole.

The overall story was interesting enough, but it went at a plodding pace, with not much happening for most of the story. The side characters – the Ri and Ir friends – were rather two-dimensional, with the Ri soldier only interested in fighting and drinking and the Ir philosopher only interested in making snarky comments; this was disappointing because Doctor Who is usually really good at creating interesting, deep guest characters. It also felt really weird that the Doctor decided to offer himself as the Suitor when he really had no idea what that entailed at all. The war had been going on for thousands of years and no one had ever offered themselves as the Suitor, so you’d think that the Doctor would wonder why.

The one strength of the story was that it had humorous dialogue and the banter was great. It also gave me (someone who doesn’t listen to audios in the right order) a little taste of Hex, though I think I need to listen to some of his earlier stories to really see his character progression.

Bottom line, though, I wouldn’t recommend this audio; there are far better ones out there to listen to.

“Ghost Light”

GLight2“Ghost Light” features the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and is the second story in the rather excellent 26th and final season of classic Doctor Who. What’s really impressed me this season is that on top of the usual twisty-turny plot mechanics that we’re used to with classic Doctor Who (and is often lacking in modern Doctor Who), this season has a greater reach, with villains that have motivations reaching farther than just the story at hand and with more relevance to the Doctor and companion than just landing themselves in the trouble-of-the-week.

Spoilers, of course!

The Doctor brings Ace to 1883, to a house that Ace, when she was younger, had burned to the ground a hundred years later because she had felt something evil there. The house currently belongs to a strange man named Josiah Smith, who lives there with his ward Gwendoline, a housekeeper named Lady Pritchard, an explorer named Redvers Fenn-Cooper, who has gone insane, and a Neanderthal butler named Nimrod. Also visiting is the Reverend Ernest Matthews, who staunchly opposes the theory of evolution that Smith has been spreading. All of the people they encounter are very strange, and the serving staff carry guns, making this a very surreal episode.

I’ve actually had quite a problem trying to write this review because it relies so heavily on the surreality of the situation, the reveal of all of the secrets, and the motivation behind the main villain. It’s difficult to talk about it without rewriting the entire plot out, and I really don’t want to do that, so I’ll try to hit the major points here. Through the first two episodes of the story, you encounter strings of images that simply make no sense, from the Neanderthal butler to the gun-toting maids to the transformation of the reverend into an ape to the owner who seems to consider all of this perfectly normal. You’re just as confused as the Doctor as things begin to develop: there’s a spaceship beneath the house, in which an observer called Light arrived millenia ago to catalog all life on Earth. When it completed its work, it went into sleep, and its servant, the survey agent now known as Josiah Smith, continued to experiment. His current plan was to overthrow Queen Victoria to take control of the British Empire and make it a better place. The Doctor releases Light, who is upset that life on Earth has evolved, making his catalog obsolete, and decides to extinguish all life on the planet to stop it from changing. While the Doctor argues with Light and convinces it of the futility of opposing evolution, causing it to dissipate, Josiah Smith’s experiment control, a being named Control, rebels against him and gains the upper hand, and leaves with Cooper and Nimrod in the spaceship.

Now that summary doesn’t sound particularly interesting, or coherent for that matter, but that’s part of the brilliance of the episode. You spend the nearly the first half of the story trying to make sense of all of these strange things going on, and you find that they do make sense, though it’s sense on a more grand, cosmic scale. Then there’s the story of Light. I am fascinated by stories of nearly-omnipotent beings that are bound fast by rules that are barely comprehensible to humans (which is one of the reasons I love Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman). Light has only one purpose, to catalog life, and when he’s stymied by evolution, he can’t handle it. The only weakness to this episode, in my mind, was Smith’s plan. It’s very interesting that his purpose was to make the Earth a better place, but the method, taking over the British Empire, was odd.

Add to all this the Doctor. Not only was he in his fine manipulative form, his purpose for coming here was to investigate an important event in Ace’s life. He wasn’t just wandering as he normally does. Other than possibly “The Key to Time”, the latter half of the Seventh Doctor’s run has the most coherent and intricate storyline of the classic show, revolving around his relationship with Ace, and this episode is significant in establishing both Ace’s past and how much the Doctor treasures her, setting up the emotional basis for the next episode, “The Curse of Fenric.”

Sometimes I feel that every time I watch an episode of Doctor Who, I have to rethink who my favorite Doctors are, because the one I’m watching always pops to the top. After a bit of time, the list usually reorders to my usual favorites, but the Seventh Doctor keeps bubbling up the list, because of episodes like this one.

“Battlefield”

I find it very interesting that my non-fan friends are surprised when I tell them that such-and-such episode is not very good. For some reason, they think that if I’m a fan of the show, I must love every episode, and to me, that’s a very unrealistic expectation. In any fiction of a serial nature, some installments will be good and some will be bad, and they don’t always have the same type of quality. I love “Human Nature’/ “Family of Blood” because I feel it’s one of the best stories in the entire show, but I’ve probably seen “Smith and Jones” more often, simply because it is such a fun adventure. This goes for the classic show as well: you can’t run a show with seven different lead actors over twenty-seven years without some variation in quality.

Merlin and Morgaine

Merlin and Morgaine

And so we come to “Battlefield”, the first episode in the very last season of classic Doctor Who, featuring the Seventh Doctor with Ace as his companion. I watched it completely fascinated, and while I’m not sure that this was a good episode plot-wise, it was a lot of fun and I came out of it smiling.

Spoilers ahead! Not a complete episode synopsis, but instead a recap of the elements and twists.

When the Doctor and Ace arrive in present-day England this time, there’s a nuclear missle convoy stalled near a lake, and UNIT is called in to take care of it. Though the current brigadier, Brigadier Bambera, is on the scene, the Brigadier, our faithful Lethbridge-Stewart, is called in to assist. However, unknown to the Doctor or UNIT, men in chain armor begin appearing in the area.

To make a long story short, Morgaine, a sorceress of great power, comes to Earth from her dimension to find King Arthur, who supposedly is in a state of suspended animation beneath the nearby lake. Ancelyn, one of Arthur’s knights, comes to Earth first to defend Arthur and wake him, while Mordred, Morgaine’s son, chases him. When they (separately) encounter the Doctor, they immediately recognize him as Merlin; though they knew him with a different face, they could identify him simply by the power in his form.

The Doctor figures out that a future incarnation of himself visits their dimension and defends Arthur, and leaves hints to his former self to try to find and protect Excalibur, the artefact Morgaine needs to open the portal between dimensions. They discover the Doctor’s spaceship beneath the lake, but Arthur is long dead. It then becomes a race to convince Morgaine that Arthur is gone, so that she ends her war.

The plot itself is not as twisty-turny as many of the Seventh Doctor’s episodes, but it was still interesting, as you find out just what Morgaine is after and why, after all these years, she still wants to battle Arthur. Morgaine is also very interesting in her own right. She has a very solid sense of honor, even stopping to pay respects in a graveyard to the fallen soldiers from World War II, even though she had nothing to do with their conflict. At the end of the episode, when she is mourning Arthur’s death and frustrated with her centuries-long quest that she threatens to fire off the nuclear missiles, the Doctor dissuades her by appealing to her sense of honor, explaining what the missiles will do and pointing out that they are not honorable weapons of war.

The appearance of the Brigadier, the first (and only) one since “The Five Doctors”, wasn’t wasted. He starts at home, where he’s living a happy life with his wife Doris, and she’s upset that he’s being called back for a mission, even though he’s retired; she is, of course, afraid of him getting injured or killed. The Doctor is very happy to see him, and they solve the mystery together, but when Morgaine’s big monster, the Destroyer, appears, the Brigadier knocks the Doctor unconscious and faces it himself, knowing that the Doctor would not want to kill it and wanting to spare his friend the onus of having to do so. Doris was very right to worry: the Brigadier faces down the Destroyer and kills it, but nearly dies himself. It was a glorious last episode for the Brigadier, fighting as Earth’s Champion.

Ancelyn and Brigadier Bambera

Ancelyn and Brigadier Bambera

Another side plot which was fun to watch was the relationship between Bambera and Ancelyn. At first, Bambera views Ancelyn as an enemy, while he attempts to disarm her with rogueish banter. At different times, they argue and duel and fight, but by the end, they have formed a strong friendship with hints at future romance. One of the strengths of the classic show is that it takes the time to develop the guest characters, and this episode continued that tradition.

There’s nothing deep or profound about “Battlefield”, but it’s a great example of a fun and satisfying episode. It’s probably a great popcorn muncher, and if you’re anything like me, it’ll leave you happy.

“Master”

masterIt’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve been busy in the meantime: listened to one audio and watched two episodes. I seem to be on a Seventh Doctor kick and am enjoying it immensely. I always list my favorite Doctors as the Tenth, Fifth, Eighth, and Ninth, in that order, but whenever I watch/listen to the Seventh Doctor, I have to re-evaluate that. I might have to put him into third place (and then bop him out of it when I listen to more Eight Doctor). On the other hand, why rank them? That’s the wonderful thing about Doctor Who: even though the Doctor changes, they’re all wonderful.

Today’s audio is “Master”, the 49th in Big Finish‘s monthly range of Doctor Who audios, featuring the Seventh Doctor with no companion. I gather that for the months leading up to their 50th audio, they released audios exploring the backgrounds of major antagonists. The first was “Omega” with the Fifth Doctor, the second was “Davros” with the Sixth Doctor, the third was “Master” with the Seventh Doctor, and the last, the 50th audio), was “Zagreus” with the Eighth Doctor. So far, I’ve enjoyed all of this series, and the “Master” is no exception, and I have high hopes for “Davros”. (The ratings on The Time Scales say that “Davros” is the best, so that’s even better.)

Non-spoiler review first.

The story starts out with a birthday celebration between three normal human friends. It seems to be set in the Edwardian era (or something similar) and everything seems to be normal, but this is a Doctor Who story and you know that it can’t stay that way. Even more so, this is a Seventh Doctor episode, so you know you’re going to be misled at some point, and this doesn’t disappoint. Without spoiling anything, you know that the Master must show up sometime (this audio is named for him, after all), and that’s really what you’re anticipating all the way through. The real thrill, though, is that you find out a lot more about the relationship between the Master and the Doctor, and the reveal of the real story is slow and tantalizing. I think the only quibble one might have with this audio is that it’s all talk, no action – you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for a story about fighting aliens. And I think that’s a good thing: the Seventh Doctor excels at intrigue and manipulation, and that’s what this story is all about.

Spoilers! And this time, I really mean it. This audio conceals its secrets well. I’ll warn you that I cannot do this storyline justice in this summary.

The story opens with Inspector Schaeffer and his wife Jacqueline visiting their friend Dr. John Smith to celebrate his birthday. John is disfigured and suffering from severe amnesia, such that he can’t remember anything of his life before he was found in the town ten years earlier; thus, this is his tenth “birthday”, meaning the tenth anniversary of his arrival in the town. He became a doctor in the town and was bequeathed the house he’s living in when someone he saved passed away, and lives in it with his maid, Jade, even though it’s rumored to be haunted. The inspector discusses his current case – a number of prostitutes found dead in the town with their hearts cut out of their bodies – and Jacqueline, a high-born woman, talks about her charity work in the town, but otherwise, the three have a nice time together. There are a couple of strange incidents in which the inspector rants about how the depraved people in the town deserve to die and Jacqueline dismisses the poor people as not worth anything, but they recover and everything seems fine.

A thunderstorm whips up outside, and Jacqueline sees a face at the window. The trio go outside to fetch the man, who has been hit by lightning, and bring him in. While John speaks with him, he visibly heals from his wounds, and he introduces himself as the Doctor. Now, this is the part that I can’t really describe adequately. John realizes that the Doctor is the key to everything: why he’s amnesiac, what’s going on, and how he’s going to figure out who he is. As they talk, and as events progress, the Doctor begins to reveal everything: John is the Master, the Doctor’s oldest friend but also his ancient enemy, and though he knows himself as a good man and doctor, in the past he was evil. The Doctor also tells him the story of the moment the Master turned to evil. When they were children, they were inseparable friends, but they rebelled a bit against the life of a Time-Lord-in-training, choosing to run from the academy and play in the forests. One day, one of the other children, who would bully them, found them, grabbed one of them, and held his head underwater in the stream. The other boy got angry and, wanting to save his friend, grabbed a rock and brained the bully, killing him instantly. The two boys then buried the bully and promised never to mention the incident, but the boy chose to embrace death, and that was birth of the Master.

As the story progresses, however, the inspector and Jacqueline continue to have problems holding onto reality. The inspector, who always championed the good and righteous, reveals that he in fact was the person who has been killing the prostitutes, believing that they are purely evil. Jacqueline, who believes that everyone is worthy regardless of birth and wealth, starts treating the maid, Jade, poorly, because she’s just a servant. Jacqueline and John also reveal that they are in love, which angers the inspector. John starts to realize that everyone has personalities within them that they keep hidden, but this house seems to be bringing out. The Doctor realizes that it’s all revolving around Jade, and identifies her as the incarnation of Death. This is when it all comes out.

Back when the two boys were being bullied, it wasn’t the Master who killed the bully: it was the Doctor. That night, as he was agonizing over what he’d done, Death appeared to him and gave him the choice of becoming hers or letting his friend become hers. He chose the latter, and the Master became Death’s. More recently, the Doctor made a deal with Death to give the Master ten years of a normal, happy life, in exchange for at the end, the Doctor would have to kill the Master. John Smith’s tenth birthday was the end of that ten years.

The Doctor, of course, refuses to kill John, and instead, Death gives John a choice: kill the inspector and become the Master again, and allow Jacqueline, the woman he loves, to live; or kill Jacqueline to remain as John.

And that’s the story, more or less. This audio was fascinating. Of course, you start with wondering who John Smith is, especially since you know this audio is about the Master but “John Smith” is usually the Doctor’s alias, but even though the first part of the story is just the conversation between the inspector, his wife, and John, it’s still interesting and riveting. Then, as the secrets start to come out, you learn more about the Doctor’s and the Master’s history and relationship. And the unraveling of the three humans’ lives is just horrible. This was also my first exposure to the concept of the Master being Death’s champion and the Doctor being Time’s champion, and it made me want to learn more about that story arc. I would definitely recommend this audio, as a great story and performance, as well as an exploration of the Doctor and the Master.

“Revenge of the Swarm”

revengeoftheswarm_cover_large“Revenge of the Swarm” is the 189th audio play in Big Finish’s main range, and features the Seventh Doctor, Ace, and Hector. It turns out that this audio is a sequel to another story, and deals with Hector’s backstory, but I found it very enjoyable even though I knew nothing about either.

A lot of spoilers ahead (this one really requires a full story synopsis)!

First, let’s start with Hector. From what I could gather from the audio, Hector is better known as Hex, a companion who was also a good friend of Ace, but in some previous audio (probably very recently), his memories were captured in a bottle, and then the bottle was smashed, leaving him as a blank slate, with no memories and a different personality than Hex. I’m not quite sure how long he’s been Hector, as Ace seems to know him quite well (or maybe she knows Hex quite well and is very sympathetic toward Hector) but Hector doesn’t yet know much about himself or his problems. He’s certainly not yet that familiar with either the Doctor or Ace.

“Revenge of the Swarm” is a sequel to the Fourth Doctor story “The Invisible Enemy”, in which the enemy was the Swarm, a rapidly-evolving virus with the Nucleus as its central mind. I haven’t seen this episode, so all I know about it comes from listening to the audio, so I really can’t tell you much more, except that the Swarm takes people over and wants to expand and grow. The Doctor finally defeats it and believes it is dead.

Of course it’s not dead. It’s been weak, hibernating without a Nucleus, without a driving intelligence, in the TARDIS computer, waiting for a malleable mind to come within reach. It finds Hector, who’s very vulnerable since his memory and self have been largely removed, and takes him over, and he sends the TARDIS back in time to a space station orbiting Saturn which has been quarantined because it contains a very deadly virus, the most deadly virus known, the one that the Swarm evolved from. While the Doctor is immune to the virus due to his previous encounter with the Swarm, Ace immediately gets infected, and the space station personnel send her, cryogenically frozen, to a research station to get cured.

The main scientist at the research station has a secondary motive, though, to get a live culture of the virus from Ace and experiment on it. She knows that the virus kills all other viruses and bacteria in the host, so she wants to genetically engineer it to create a virus that isn’t deadly to humans but protects them from all other diseases, so that they can explore the universe without fear of alien diseases. The Doctor, realizing that the Swarm caused them to come here because it wants to change the course of history and clone the Nucleus so that the original goes on to be killed by the Fourth Doctor while the clone lives to try to take over the universe separately, cures Hector, and the three of them cause the station to cleanse itself with fire to destroy the Swarm. Unbeknownst to him, though, the Swarm uploads the clone into the station’s computer before the firestom.

Hector, however, hasn’t really been cured. The Swarm re-emerges in him, and he sends the TARDIS back to the research station but two hundred years in the future, when it has become the hub for the hypernet, the Internet of the future that controls the energy and information that flows between all of the human colonies all over the galaxy. He then steals the TARDIS’ dimensional stabilizer and runs off. The Doctor realizes that the Nucleus plans to use the dimensional stabilizer, which controls the materialization of the TARDIS, to drain all the hypernet and convert it into real matter and then download itself into it. As it continues to drain, it continues to grow until it has taken over the entire universe. I’m not going to describe how the Doctor finally defeats the Swarm, but I’ll discuss a little bit of later.

Part of the fun of this episode was that in order to deal with the Nucleus when it was in computers, the characters had to enter the computer, much like in the movie Tron, except that only their minds are uploaded, not their entire bodies; they’re even given motorcycles to ride to escape the Swarm’s hunters. It’s made very clear that dying in the computer will kill them in reality (their bodies would be left mindless), though I have to wonder if the Doctor would have just regenerated if that happened. The whole computerscape does give Ace some chance to show off her personality, as her motorcycle has a cannon and she has a great time blasting Swarm drones from the sky. But in general, the story was very engaging, especially because of its deft use of time travel. It was very clever to clone the Nucleus so that one bit goes on to be the Swarm that the Fourth Doctor encountered while the other bit continued on in this story.

However, one of the best parts of the story dealt with Hector and his first introduction to the more interesting characteristics of the Seventh Doctor. In order to defeat the Nucleus, the Doctor splits the group up to accomplish different tasks, with Hector and the Doctor going into the computer to do their task. They flee the Swarm hunters on motorcycles, but they’re not fast enough, and the Swarm attacks Hector, starting to tear him apart; they don’t attack the Doctor because they know he has immunity which will attack the Swarm and harm the Nucleus. Luckily, the allies on the outside download Hector and the Doctor into their bodies just before Hector dies in the computerscape.

At the end of the adventure, Hector figures out what happened: earlier in the adventure, the second time the Doctor cured Hector, he gave him some blood to give Hector immunity. The Nucleus didn’t know about this, so the Doctor took Hector into the computer, telling him their task would be easy, but actually intending for the Swarm to attack him and unknowingly get infected by his immunity, which then attacked and destroyed the Swarm. The Doctor deliberately did not tell Hector, because he knew Hector wouldn’t do it if he knew, and thus the Doctor made the decision for him, risking his life, allowing him to get torn apart by the hunters, and nearly killing him.

This is a main trait of the Seventh Doctor, manipulating events and being willing to sacrifice people when he can’t know if they’ll survive, and it was beautifully handled in this story. Hector gets understandably angry, and doesn’t back down even when Ace defends the Doctor, saying that what he does is always for the greater good, and Hector has to reconsider whether or not he can stay with the Doctor and trust him; this conflict is left open. This scene was fascinating, as you’re watching Hector figure out both who he is and whether he can condone what his friends are doing.

So, this story was a great adventure supported by great character development and an inspection into the morality of the Seventh Doctor, and it sets up for an interesting next adventure, where we will hopefully see how Hector deals with the Doctor and Ace in further perilous situations. I’m always impressed how these audio stories are so well-designed for their Doctors, as this is exactly the kind of thing that Seventh Doctor is best for.

“Human Nature” (no, not that one)

Yes, that's the Doctor feeding bullets into a machine gun fired by a schoolboy. No, I have no idea why they're looking in different directions.

Yes, that’s the Doctor feeding bullets into a machine gun fired by a schoolboy. No, I have no idea why they’re looking in different directions.

Quite a while ago, probably about three or four months even, I bought the Virgin New Adventures Doctor Who novel Human Nature, written by Paul Cornell. As you probably know, it shares its title with one of the best episodes of the modern show, “Human Nature” and its second part, “The Family of Blood.” That’s because the episode, also written by Paul Cornell, was an adaptation of the novel, which involved the Seventh Doctor and his companion Bernice Summerfield, for television with the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones. I was put off by it at first because of its style (understandable as it was published in 1995, before even the  Eight Doctor’s movie came out) and because I had never before seen anything with Bernice (Benny) as the companion, but by the end, I have to admit, I liked it a lot. However, I will warn you right now that there’s no way to discuss this novel without spoilers.

I’m going to say up front that it’s not fair to evaluate this novel against its namesake modern show episode. Just like any piece of media, it needs to be considered on its own, but even then, comparing it to one of the absolute best Doctor Who episodes ever created isn’t fair at all. The novel and the episode share some basic ideas – the setting, the idea of the Doctor making himself human,  a family of aliens hunting him to steal his Time Lord essence – but they really are very different.

At the start of the novel, the Doctor is Dr. John Smith, a teacher at Hulton College, a school for boys outside of the town of Farringham. He’s used a piece of alien technology to hide his Time Lord self in a small red sphere (at one point, it is mistaken for a cricket ball). Benny pretends to be his niece, an artist living in the town, and she hides the sphere in a tree in an abandoned orchard. Dr. Smith is a bit strange, somewhat forgetful, a pacifist among former soldiers with a blatant disregard for rules and tradition, and the schoolboys as well as Headmaster Rocastle consider him unreliable. He strikes up a friendship with the science teacher, Joan Redfern, which blossoms into love. Meanwhile, a family of aliens called Aubertides (shapeshifters – they could take the form of any being they came in contact with) come to find the sphere: they want to take the Time Lord essence for themselves, and while they can’t just steal it from a Time Lord, they can steal it while it’s stored in the sphere. Before they can find it, though, it’s found by a schoolboy, Tim Dean, who becomes influenced by the sphere, gaining some telepathy and future sight. As the Aubertides start killing people in the town to find the sphere, Benny convinces Dr. Smith that he’s really the Doctor, but he decides to simply let the Aubertides have it, as he doesn’t like the man he’s supposed to become and he’s content with his life with Joan. Eventually, the sphere itself shows him the future, that the Aubertides, with the power of Time Lords added to their own, conquer the Time Lords themselves, and he sees Flavia and Romana die horribly rather than give up the last Time Lord secrets, in their last attempt to save the universe from them, and that (along with some other events) change his mind. He becomes the Doctor again and defeats them.

One of the main things I liked about this book was the depiction of the Aubertides. The Family of Blood always seemed a little two-dimensional, as all they seemed to want was immortality; there was always the question of why they didn’t continue to reproduce. The Aubertides were born from a queen, who buds every so often. Each bud is only able to reproduce six times, and once those six individuals died, that bud was dead. Thus, these aliens were desperate to get the sphere to not only live longer, but also give themselves the ability to reproduce more: each bud would create six bud, each of which could produce six buds, etc. Then, once they acquired the TARDIS, they would be able to create their own army and invade anywhere in space and time. Each of the Aubertides had distinct personalities: one jumped in with the most violent solution to any problem, while another was strategic in nature and spent much of his time holding the first one back. That second one often had to make plans around the first one, knowing how he would react in situations and trying to use it to his advantage (or mitigate the problems he could cause before they could happen).

Probably the hardest thing to get used to in this novel was Dr. Smith himself. Unlike John Smith in the TV episode, who was thoroughly human with no Doctor traits, Dr. Smith was obviously influenced by the Doctor’s personality. Thus, he wasn’t quite human and said and did some strange things, which throws a number of people off, but also didn’t quite sit right with me, if only because if the point was to hide his Time Lord self away in the sphere, why was he still so like the Doctor? Also, his romance with Joan was not particularly emotional, almost cold, and once he realized who he was and had to make his decision about what to do, though he decided to give up the sphere to stay with Joan, his discussion of it was rational and logical. When he changes his mind, again, there’s no fear or sense of loss, and it just didn’t ring true. I suppose this reaction might stem from knowing the TV episode, but I can’t shake the feeling that it should have been more emotional.

The novel did shock me, however, with its violence and gore. This is something that I think that we forget when watching the TV show, either classic or modern: there’s a lot of death in Doctor Who, and it’s extremely sanitized on screen. In the classic show, people get shot by laser guns and simply collapse. If they’re eaten by a monster, it’s a full-body chomp with no blood. In the new show, it isn’t much different. In “The Name of the Doctor,” the Whisperman reach into the bodies of the Doctor’s companions to rip out organs and it’s barely shown. Instead of agonized screams, we’re treated to funny lines from Strax. In the books and audios, while they can’t show you what’s happening, they don’t pull punches with their words and sound effects. In Human Nature, the schoolboys are excitedly defending their school when the Aubertides attack with a tiny projectile that attaches itself to the boy next to Dr. Smith. The boy turns to him and apologizes, and his head explodes. Dr. Smith is drenched in blood, and all of the schoolboys are sprayed in a fine red mist. The next few paragraphs describe them as they deal with the horror, Dr. Smith hugging the headless body as blood continues to spurt from its neck. While I certainly wouldn’t want to see this in the TV show, I do think that it glosses over the violence, inuring us to it, since there are rarely any consequences for the Doctor and his companions, even though the Doctor is supposed to care deeply about every single death that occurs – NPCs die all the time and not much more than a sad glance is spared to them. It was refreshing to see how much the violence in this story affected the characters.

All in all, this was a good novel, though the style of writing hasn’t aged well over the last 19 years. I’m not sure whether or not I want to read more of the Virgin New Adventures, as they do depart a little from the canon established by the modern series and don’t mesh well with it on some points, but on the other hand, so far all three Paul Cornell stories I’ve been exposed (Human Nature, “Father’s Day”, and “Human Nature” / “The Family of Blood”) to have been excellent and I am eager to read more of his work.

 

“Colditz”

It makes me giggle… I get a regular number of hits on my blog per day, and it displays on my dashboard when I log in. Then, I publish my review for Dead Air and tag David Tennant, because a large part of that review had to do with his spectacular performance, and my readership triples. I guess you have to give the readers what they want! Well, I’m not a click-whore, and even though David Tennant is again a part of this post, I’m not going to tag him, because this one’s about the character he plays, not him. Ha! Bucking the system! I’m such a rebel!

Much of my time lately has been either devoted to playing Doctor Who: Legacy or listening to audios. We did finish our rewatch of the Eleventh Doctor’s episodes, up until “The Day of the Doctor,” but I really don’t have much to say about that. I liked the seventh series better than I did the first time I saw it, but still not all that much. *shrug* So, my blog post, at least for the last few days, have been all about audios.

Colditz“Colditz” is #25 in the main range of Big Finish audios, and features the Seventh Doctor and Ace. They land in Nazi Germany and are immediately captured and imprisoned in Colditz Castle, famed for being the prison to which repeat escapees from other POW camps are sent. This audio is known for being David Tennant’s first appearance in a Doctor Who story, playing Feldwebel Kurtz (a feldwebel is a sergeant), recorded back in 2001.

First, an opinion on the audio with minor spoilers.

This audio is a bit of an enigma. It introduces the character Elizabeth Klein, a high-ranking Nazi officer who appears to know what a TARDIS is but doesn’t have any interest in it. She’s instead interested in the Doctor himself, and her story is very interesting, well-written and well-acted. On the other side, the depiction of Colditz Castle and Ace’s internment there is uneven at best, and completely unbelievable at worst. Without going into much more detail, I’d have to say this audio comes out to be pretty average, worth listening to a few very good performances and for Klein, but not a keeper.

Now, discussion with major spoilers.

A Nazi prison camp. Not just any Nazi prison camp, but a specially-created high-security one. The concept itself brings to mind a gritty, dark story, of cruelties and despair, into which Ace is thrown while the Doctor is ripped away from her. The story does attempt to go in that direction: I was amazed (and impressed) at Kurtz’s threats to Ace that he was going to come to her room at night and rape her. He didn’t say it outright, but it was heavily implied, and I could not believe that Doctor Who would even touch on such a subject.

However, the atmosphere never materialized. It didn’t take very long for me to get the impression that when Big Finish came up with the idea of setting a story at a Nazi prison camp, the author immediately did research on them by watching Hogan’s Heroes. It’s true that only the POWs who escaped multiple times from their first camps were sent to Colditz and that they continued to scheme to escape once they were interned at the castle, but the prisoners in the audio seemed almost happy to be there. The background sounds were almost party-like, and the prisoners talked freely of their next plans to escape. They even had equipment, such as radios, secreted away from the rather ineffectual Nazi guards.

Then Ace is added to the mix. She maintains that she’s not a spy but is unable to explain why she’s in Germany in the first place, and the Germans accept that without blinking. Whenever she comes into contact with the Nazi officers, she mouths off and refuses to do anything they ask or command, and she’s never so much as even slapped for her insubordination. The German officers – Kurtz and his superior Schafer – sputter at her, but that’s about it. It was so unbelievable that at some points, I was rooting for the Germans, that they would grow a backbone and smack Ace around a bit.

The real meat of the story is in the events surrounding Klein and the Doctor. She knows about the TARDIS because she comes from an alternate future in which the Nazis won the war; they have the TARDIS but don’t know how to use it, and she’s come back to get the Doctor to force him to teach her. He realizes he needs to shut down the alternate future, and he does so (I won’t say how, but it’s very indicative of the Seventh Doctor’s manipulative nature), but in the process, Klein challenges him, asking why he’s the one who gets to decide which version of history is the one that stands, and why she and all the people in her timeline must be sacrificed for it. The Doctor doesn’t waver throughout the discussion, but it should raise such questions in the listener’s mind.

Many of the minor characters were rather, well, unbelievable. One of the prisoners, a journalist, promises to help Ace escape, but gets cold feet just before they put the plan into action, and instead of telling her that he won’t do, he goes to the Germans and rats on his fellow prisoners, so that they are captured and punished. Why? I have no idea. Mr. Tennant’s Kurtz was actually very interesting, an unapologetically despicable character (and well-portrayed; if you’ve ever wanted to hate Mr. Tennant, this is the performance to listen to). A small-minded man, devoted to the Third Reich and reveling in his power over the prisoners from his rank as feldwebel, his hands are still tied by the Geneva Convention, which requires him to treat the prisoners fairly. He’s ambitious, but not very smart, unable to play the games needed to rise in rank or become trusted by the commandant. All of this results in him brandishing his power about and simply being exceedingly cruel to everyone he can. Ace and the other prisoners play on his paranoia to manipulate him, which works sometimes and backfires other times. He was quite a horrid man, but he didn’t deserve his gruesome death, torn in half as the TARDIS dematerialized with him halfway in the door – another shocking scene that I was surprised to find in Doctor Who. If the audio had had the nerve to maintain this kind of atmosphere, allowing the Germans to dominate and preventing Ace from owning the camp, it would have been one of Big Finish’s best.