“Masquerade” and “Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories”

As I’ve noted before, I jumped ahead to the most recent Big Finish main range audios to keep up with the current stories, with plans of listening to all the others as I obtain them. For the early stuff, I’m trying to go in order, but then some synopsis captures my attention and I’m off the beaten track again. It doesn’t help that I’m buying them out of order. Anyway, I recently listened to “Masquerade” and “Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories”, and here’s my thoughts on them.

Spoilers of course. Always spoilers.

masquerade“Masquerade” is the third in a trilogy of Fifth Doctor stories, with Nyssa and Hannah Bartholomew, a new companion that the Doctor first encountered two stories ago. The story begins with the famous “Doctor”, a friend of Voltaire, visiting the estate of the Marquise de Rimdelle in 1770 France. The Doctor’s niece Nyssa senses the presence of something out in the fog, something she calls the Steamroller Man. And there’s a dead man in the cellar who tells the Doctor that the Steamroller Man is coming to smash the manor and kill everyone. Now, you can’t listen to a story set up like and not know that something odd is going on. It turns out that this is a computer simulation-type thing created by human scientists who are trying to work on a way for humans to survive long space trips, such as colonization trips to new star systems. Something’s gone wrong with it this time, though, and they soon find out that it’s been co-opted by a group of alien races who had been displaced by human colonization and are trying to get revenge and trying to stop human expansion. They plan to use the simulation to destroy the humans, first here, then on Earth. (It’s a bit too involved to explain how this would happen.)

I will admit I wasn’t giving the audio my full attention (I was playing Diablo 3 while listening to it), but it really wasn’t very riveting. Though there were a few misleads and cliffhangers along the way, it was pretty straightforward. Nyssa was very important during it, trying to counsel the scientists as they came to grips with the things that were happening to them. I think the thing that I didn’t like about the play was that I felt no sympathy towards the aliens. They were right to be angry about the injustices they had endured at the hands of the humans, but they were otherwise unreasonable and single-minded. It would have been a far better story if it had emphasized the moral conflict the Doctor would have when considering both sides of the story, but that was more or less ignored. The ending of the story and the departure of Hannah, however, was very well done and quite emotional.

breakingbubbles“Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories” is a series of four short plays, “Breaking Bubbles”, “Of Chaos Time The”, “An Eye for Murder”, and “The Curious Incident of the Doctor in the Night-Time”, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri. I’ve only listened to two anthologies of shorts so far, this one and “Circular Time“, and so far I’ve enjoyed both of them quite a bit. Part of it is that it’s nice to have bite-sized chunks of the Doctor to enjoy every so often. But I do think that both of these anthologies have had a couple of exceptional tales.

“Breaking Bubbles” and “An Eye for Murder” were good stories. In the first, the Doctor and Peri find themselves in the garden of Empress Safira Valtris, and they soon find that she’s actually a deposed empress, living on a prison ship. Because she’s royalty, she can’t be harmed (assassinated or executed), so she lives in what’s basically a holodeck, giving her the comforts of royal life. Her captors immediately take the TARDIS crew prisoner, as they assume they’re here to help Safira escape. Well, the empress is trying to escape, and she does nearly do so, but when things go awry, it becomes apparent that her planned bloodless escape is about to turn very bloody, and the Doctor convinces her that this is not the way she wants it. In the second, Peri is mistaken for a mystery writer and is co-opted to find the author of threatening letters at a women’s college in England on the eve of World War II. Among the faculty is at least one Communist sympathizer and a Nazi sympathizer. This was probably the weakest of the stories in the set, dealing with the politics within the college. There was an alien threat, too, but the focus of the story was on the faculty.

You can probably tell that “Of Chaos Time The” is an unusual story from its title. It starts out with the Doctor wondering where he is, why he’s there, and who the person with him is. It’s not that he’s woken up in a strange place: he’s on his feet, running down a corridor with a person he doesn’t know, and that person is obviously following his instructions. He then finds himself in a completely different situation, again with another person he doesn’t know. As the story proceeds, he finds that he’s jumping in time, within one length of time in his life, going in random order through a series of event that Peri and everyone else is experiencing normally. As he’s going through things in the wrong order, he has to figure out what’s going on, why it’s all happening, and how to start it. As the story progresses (and I’m not going to divulge the story, because this is a great one to listen to without spoilers), he inevitably sees later parts of the story and figures out what he needs to do in earlier parts to both make the later parts happen as he saw them and solve the situation. The base story is interesting in itself, though nothing particularly memorable; it’s the time jumping that makes it wonderful. This story is a masterpiece of temporal trickery.

The final story, “The Curious Incident of the Doctor in the Night-Time”, is remarkable because of how it was presented, and it was easily the story I enjoyed the most. The main character in this one is a boy, Michael, and he’s also the narrator for most of it. He’s making an audio diary of the events that happened to him, and from the beginning, it’s obvious he’s autistic, and his observations and thoughts about the things that happened are striking. His father, a hardware/garden store worker, loses his job and blames Michael, because he thinks Michael told his boss that his father had stolen his collection of 129 garden gnomes from work, and later that day, his father gets killed while fishing to let off steam. Michael, however, notices that there are now 130 garden gnomes and realizes something is wrong.  He goes to investigate, and this is how he meets the Doctor, who is also investigating the gnomes. In true Doctor Who style, it turns out that the gnomes are actually malicious aliens who had been frozen on Earth to lock them away from the rest of the universe, and the 130th gnome was there to release them and destroy the planet.

The real story here, though, is Michael’s journey through the story, dealing with his disability and with his father’s death (which he is unable to understand for quite a while, and then unable to accept when he finally does understand). I’ll admit that I don’t know much about autism, but at least in my opinion, the portrayal of the character and his difficulties was beautiful. I would recommend getting this audio release for this story alone. It’s that good.

And that’s the main range for now. Next time, I’ll be switching gears a little, because I just received in the mail the set of CDs I’ve been waiting for: the Gallifrey range. I’m eager to hear more of Romana and Leela, and finally meet Narvin and Braxiatel.

 

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“11 Doctors, 11 Stories”

11 DoctorsAs part of the 50th anniversary celebration, the BBC released a series of eleven short stories, one for each Doctor and written by eleven different authors of note, then published it this month in a collection called Doctor Who: 11 Doctors 11 Stories. I’m only now getting into the alternate Doctor Who media and am very apprehensive about buying things, because I can never judge the quality of the material beforehand, but so far, in general, I’ve been pleased with the books, comics, and audio plays so far, and this collection is no exception. I enjoyed all but one of the eleven stories.

Here’s the list of the short stories (in Doctor order), with a brief setup of the situation in the story and maybe some opinion. No real spoilers.

“A Big Hand for the Doctor,” by Eoin Colfer: Ok, I have to admit, I didn’t finish this story. I really couldn’t stand the writing style and gave up  halfway through. My husband says it’s a good story, and I will try to finish it some other day.

“The Nameless City,” by Michael Scott: This story is hard to describe without giving things away – even summarizing the first scene will be a spoiler – so I won’t try. It’s very Second Doctor, letting him act the fool while he figures out what’s going on, and Jamie is also very Jamie.

“The Spear of Destiny,” by Marcus Sedgwick: The Third Doctor and Jo Grant investigates a (surprise!) spear in a local museum that seems to affect time in weird ways. As befits the Third Doctors, there’s more action in this story than a lot of the others, and it also takes a stab (sorry!) at showing how legends and myths are made.

“The Roots of Evil,” by Phillip Reeve: The Fourth Doctor and Leela land on an enormous tree floating in space that houses an entire colony of people. The concept behind this story and its setting is very cool, though I was a little disappointed with the motivation of the villain. The trip, though, is worth it.

“Tip of the Tongue,” by Patrick Ness: During World War II, the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa land in an English town in which the children are playing with a new toy that hooks to your tongue and speaks the absolute truth about yourself and what you are thinking. This is one of my favorite stories in the book, because it explores the effect the toys have on the people’s lives; this kind of introspection is one of the things that Doctor Who can do so well. The Doctor is almost completely incidental to the theme.

“Something Borrowed,” Richelle Mead: The Sixth Doctor and Peri Brown attend the wedding of the son of a friend, a species that performs a physical transformation similar to regeneration except only when they get married. This story is a simple adventure, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun read.

“The Ripple Effect,” by Malorie Blackman: The Seventh Doctor and Ace are stuck in a space-time bubble and have to blow up a star to push themselves out of it, but this has unforeseen consequences. The concept of this story is fantastic, and the Doctor and Ace get into a fascinating philosophical argument, but I didn’t like the resolution. It was a good enough story, but it really could have been a lot better.

“Spore,” by Alex Scarrow: The Eighth Doctor lands in an American town and discovers that what seems like a space virus has killed all the inhabitants. I really liked the atmosphere of this story and the final resolution was interesting.

“The Beast of Babylon,” by Charlie Higson: The Ninth Doctor makes friends with a girl on a planet that is attacked by cosmic creatures. As he would say, this story is fantastic. It develops the character of the girl and the nature of the threat gradually, keeping you reading to find out how it all fits together. There’s also a very cool tie-in to the Ninth Doctor’s first television story, “Rose.”

“The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage,” by Derek Landy: The Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones land in the story from a book that Martha read when she was a child. You might think this is a revisit to the Land of Fiction, but it’s not. This is one of the weaker stories in the set, because the first couple of parts are uninteresting (it tried and failed to set up a creepy, surreal atmosphere) and the very final part of the resolution is unsatisfying (the previous parts of the resolution were cool).

“Nothing O’Clock,” by Neil Gaiman: The Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond arrive on Earth in 2010 only to find that the entire planet is uninhabited. Remember at the top that I said that the stories were released individually and then as a collection? Now, if you don’t want to buy the collection, I will urge you to buy this one story. It is completely worth it. This is absolutely a wonderful story. I won’t tell you any more about it, because you have to read it.

“The Light at the End”

the light at the endMy current project at work is something purely visual, requiring no verbal or critical thought, which is unusual for me, because my previous projects all involved writing, usually documentation. While I’m working, I’m usually listening to music because it’s something that isn’t intrusive; I can continue to work and write with music in the background. However, I realized yesterday that while I’m working on something purely visual, I could be listening to something with actual narrative. I had purchased some Big Finish Doctor Who audio plays a week or so ago, so I downloaded one (luckily, work has a high-speed connection) and played The Light at the End while I worked, as an experiment to see if I could be productive while listening. (The result, by the way, is that I think I was more productive than before, because while my visual mind was working, my narrative mind, which is usually wandering far away and often distracting me with thoughts of “you should go look that up on the Internet!” was absorbed in listening to the story. I finished more work than I normally do in an afternoon.)

I had never listened to any audio plays of any type before this. Well, ok, when I was a kid, the morning radio program my mother used to play every day had two short humorous bits called Chicken Man and The Story Lady, which were about five minutes apiece and were short skits. But as far as I know, the U.S. doesn’t have a tradition of radio plays that lasted into the era of television, while the UK does. If you look on the BBC iPlayer website, there are radio dramas playing every day. Is there radio drama at all in the U.S.? I don’t really know, and I wouldn’t even know where to look.

So, I went into The Light at the End without any clue as to what to expect. I knew that it wasn’t an audiobook (another thing I’ve never experienced, but that will change soon), and that the original actors for Doctors Four through Eight were in it, as well as some companions, but beyond that, it was a fresh new experience for me. And it was a great one!

I had been afraid that I wouldn’t be able to follow what was going on without any visual cues. Who was talking? What were they doing? Can you really see what people are doing? I found that the writers and actors paint a very complete picture of what’s going on. First, the Doctors are all very distinct. Tom Baker and Colin Baker have very unique voices. Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor has a different accent from everyone else and rolls his Rs magnificently. Peter Davison and Paul McGann sometimes sound a bit similar, but you can usually tell from the words that are put in their mouth which is which; the Doctors all have different personalities and this extends to the way they speak and the words they choose. The companions were harder to distinguish simply by voice (except Leela; no one sounds like Leela), but again, their dialogue was very in-character. Second, the audio plays have sound effects that explain what’s going on, from explosions, to footsteps moving around in stereo, to fogged dialogue to denote dream sequences or characters being spirited away. Third, if something’s not clear, it was made clear in the dialogue, e.g. “Oh, look, here comes Ace.” Thus, I can definitely see that the script was written with its medium in mind, and I found that it was just as enjoyable as a TV episode.

I also very much enjoyed the story itself. (No real spoilers here, other than what you can glean from the episode’s summary and list of actors.) Something’s going wrong in an English town on November 23, 1963, something that will end in catastrophe, and the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Doctors, along with their companions, are trying to figure it out and fix it. Of course, part of the charm of this story is that you have five classic Doctors interacting with each other, but the story is robust and a lot of fun, compelling you to stick around to see just how it all comes out. All of the actors do a great job of bringing their characters to life, and you can really picture them swaggering around (for the Doctors, at least). Ace’s and Peri’s youthful enthusiasm were especially delightful, and, for me anyway, it was nice to meet Charley Pollard for the first time. I would also like to note that the play also provides some very sweet surprises for fans.

Since I was working at the time, I didn’t really get to pay too much attention to the technobabble details of the plot, so I plan to relisten to this sometime, and I’m really looking forward to it. I think this is a great audio play and was a terrific choice for a first-time listener. And, as the classic Doctors’ complement to “The Day of the Doctor” 50th anniversary special for the modern show, it was a great tribute to the old show.

“Prisoners of Time”

A comic cover from the series

A comic cover from the series

I received my hardback copy of the graphic novel Prisoners of Time yesterday, and spent a good part of the early evening reading it. It’s a good comic, and I would definitely recommend this graphic novel to any Doctor Who fan (though not as much as I would recommend The Forgotten).

Spoilers ahead! (Maybe – I don’t really think I’m spoiling anything.)

First, if you’re put off by the $34 price on Amazon, you should know that it’s a compilation of twelve comic books and it comes in a very well-bound hardcover printing. Each of the first ten issues is an adventure of the first ten Doctors. Then, at the end of each adventure, a mysterious figure appears and kidnaps the Doctor’s companion, and that’s the overarching plot: who is this person, and why is he doing it? The eleventh issue brings the Eleventh Doctor into the story, and it and the twelfth issue are the resolution to the series.

In my opinion, the strength of the series is the set of Doctors’ adventures. Each one fills the entire issue, so you basically have a nice long story to see each Doctor. Each story is crafted carefully to match the feel and character of its Doctor. For example, the First Doctor’s story is an historical tale, the Third Doctor’s story has a lot of action, the Fifth Doctor’s story is a moral tale, and the Tenth Doctor’s story has quite a lot of running and dodging. In general, the art was excellent (here’s a link to the line drawings of my favorite page), except for the Eighth Doctor’s story, which had absolutely terrible art. It actually bugged me quite a lot, since the Eighth Doctor really didn’t get a fair shake on television, and here he got the short end of the stick again (though his story was just fine).

Oh, and the first three pages of the Tenth Doctor’s story brought a tear to my eye.

The overarching story, unfortunately, wasn’t the best. The villain really wasn’t very believable and required a number of pages of exposition to explain why he was doing what he was doing. (Perhaps, if they had shown a little bit of the exposition at each of the kidnappings, it would have been better, as the reader would have had the chance to try to figure out who he was.) The resolution of the story was a lot of fun, so that made up for the unsatisfying villain. The other unfortunate part of the series is that with the eleventh issue being part of the resolution, the Eleventh Doctor didn’t get his own adventure. In addition, because his entire purpose was to confront the villain, he wasn’t given his usual sparkling, schizophrenic dialogue, and the art did not convey the energetic, manic movements that define his character. He was the only Doctor that wasn’t written well.

In comparison, let’s look at The Forgotten. In that graphic novel, which, to be honest, is a lot shorter, each Doctor got an adventure, but they were each only a few pages long, with the story between the adventures about the Tenth Doctor trying to figure out what’s going on. The adventures were all well-crafted and suited to their Doctors, and then the overarching story was engaging. The villain himself was a bit contrived, but fit very well with the setting of the story (surprisingly, considering the difficulties the author had in rewriting the story, as the Tenth Doctor’s story in the TV show changed over the course of the comic series’ publication and he had to reconstruct the story to match). The actual confrontation with the villain and resolution were actually somewhat similar to Prisoners of Time, but less chaotic and more personal.

In general, The Forgotten did much the same thing as Prisoners of Time, but better; however, I think that if you read Prisoners of Time for the adventure stories and don’t worry about the entire plot, you’ll enjoy it a lot. Thus, I definitely recommend this graphic novel.

“The Forgotten,” redux

I mentioned a few days ago that I had written a post about the Doctor Who graphic novel The Forgotten but it (the post) was pretty terrible, so here’s a second go at it. This time, it’ll be more of a review, but without spoilers until you get to the section marked “Spoilers.”

The Forgotten is a Tenth Doctor story, in which he and Martha wake up in a museum without the TARDIS. They have no idea where they are or how they got there, but as they look around, they find that the museum is devoid of people but full of artifacts from the Doctor’s long history – including things as old as a Voord helmet – and even a room displaying all of the outfits and iconic tools/accessories (such a bag of jelly babies and a cricket ball) the Doctor wore throughout life. Soon after discovering this room, a mysterious figure wipes the Doctor’s memories of all but his current life. Like the Fifth Doctor once said, “A man is the sum of his memories. A Time Lord even more so,” and this memory wipe causes the Doctor to start to die. To combat this, Martha gives him an object from each of his incarnations and he uses it to remember them.

The story’s framework is about exploring the museum and figuring what it’s for, and eventually discovering the mysterious figure running it, but the fun part are the memories. The graphic novel presents one short story for each incarnation, and while it restores to the Doctor the memory of that incarnation, it also helps him solve the problems at hand. All of the stories are entertaining, and the characterizations capture each of the Doctors very well. The wrap-up of the overarching story is also very good, and there are some great surprises there. Probably the only thing I didn’t like about this was that they had to switch artists for one issue, and I wasn’t fond of his style. In particular, his Tenth Doctor has rather curly hair and doesn’t look like the Tenth Doctor at all. His style worked well for the Fifth Doctor story, but not for the Fourth Doctor’s.

If you like graphic novels (and if you think that comic books are lowbrow, think again – some graphic novels are great literature; I refer in specific to The Sandman by Neil Gaiman), I definitely recommend The Forgotten

And now some spoilers.

One of the absolute coolest things about The Forgotten is the story of how it developed, which is written in the back of the book. The comic was started when Martha was the companion, but due to the episodic nature of comics, the entire story lasted so long that the last issue would come out after Donna had already left the Doctor. Thus, the author, Tony Lee, had to rewrite the latter half of the story so that it matched the current TV show while already having published the first half. You can see this happening as you read the the graphic novel. There are small details that are inconsistent with the show (such as Martha claiming that there are two doctors traveling in the TARDIS) that make sense at the end, when you find out what happened. I’m sure that having to revamp the story was not a fun task, but I’m guessing that it made it more complex, and essentially more Doctor Who, in the end.