“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.

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“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.

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.

 

“The Inquiry”

theinquiryI’ve been busy the past couple of weeks, what with Thanksgiving and other distractions, and I’ve gotten completely hooked on Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call, so I haven’t had much impetus to write. Oh, and we just watched the third season of Grimm, which has been rather disappointing: its season-long arcs have been boring and it’s cut down on what it used to do best, which are its wesen crimes.  So, I haven’t had much chance to listen to many audios or watch episodes, and in fact, I listened to “The Inquiry” about three weeks ago, so this will be a short review, about the things I remember.

Lots of spoilers.

“The Inquiry” is the third audio play in the “Gallifrey” series. At the beginning of the audio, Romana discovers that someone has planted a data bomb in the Matrix, the Time Lords’ main computer, which holds all of the data of the history of the universe and the experiences of past Time Lords. It was rigged so that anyone looking into a specific event would set off the bomb, which would destroy a large part of the Matrix. It was already ticking, so there was only a certain amount of time to figure out who had set it and what to do about it.

Romana had been investigating the Timonic Fusion Device that had been stolen and used to blackmail her in “Weapon of Choice”. It was a device that the Time Lords had tried to build (codename Project Alpha) but abandoned because it was too dangerous, so she was trying to figure out why it existed now at all, so she went to the Matrix to find out the circumstances surrounding the project’s cancellation, and that triggered the timer on the data bomb. In his subsequent investigations, Narvin discovers that Braxiatel had set the bomb. When confronted, though, Braxiatel denies that he had done so.

With Leela’s help, the three Time Lords separately investigated the event and pieced together what had happened. The final test of Project Alpha had actually occurred and destroyed a planet and civilization, and the Time Lords covered it up, and Braxiatel planted the data bomb to prevent anyone from discovering the truth. However, these events also never happened, as someone sent in droids to steal the device before it went off, and the Time Lords covered that up by claiming that they had cancelled the project at the last minute. Since the Matrix exists outside of time, it recorded the true events and had the data bomb in it. Romana and Braxiatel then return to the event, stop the droids, and allow the real history to unfold.

I found this audio to be both interesting and dull. The acting and characters were superb as usual, but since a lot of it had to do with explaining a past event in detail, it got to be more talky than I usually like. One major thing that you learn in this is that Braxiatel has been secretly buying historical artifacts from civilizations across time and the universe, to preserve them in an extensive museum called the Braxiatel Collection (first referenced in “The City of Death”). Watching these civilizations fall, he’s been doing this to preserve some of the universe, to remember them. It’s a fascinating insight into him, as he’s showing that he’s willing to break from Time Lord laws and has some similarities to his brother.

Leela also has some of her story developed in this audio. You might remember that she’s mourning the loss of her husband Andred and upset with the Time Lords because they either won’t tell her what happened to him or won’t go find out. She starts to look into the Time Lord archives, and she finds that  Andred’s data is gone and that the last person to access it is Torvald, Narvin’s right-hand man.

I am still very much enjoying “Gallifrey” (though I’m taking a detour right now to listen to “Dark Eyes”, which I’ve been assured is brilliant), and I’m really getting to love the four main characters, but this one was not as interesting as the first two. I’m still looking forward to the rest, though.

 

 

“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.

“Square One”

squareone“Square One” is the second audio play in the first “Gallifrey” series. There’s really not much more of an introduction I can give for it here, so let’s just go to the description and discussion, shall we?

A few spoilers ahead. I’m not going to describe the whole plot.

While the Temporal Powers are responsible for overseeing time, lesser time-sensitve races want their say in the way the the universe is governed, and to work these things out, the Powers schedule a summit, where issues can be discussed and treaties can be forged. However, since the Powers, as well as the other races, really don’t trust each other all that much, they don’t want anyone, especially Gallifrey, to dominate the proceedings. So, they draw up a set of rules by which the summit must operate. The high leaders of the Powers or other races may not attend the summit, but instead must send lesser individuals to represent them. The actual proceedings are to be broadcast to the universe, but nothing outside the summit chamber may be released, so that the delegates can feel secure about meeting with other races and making treaties and alliances without the media watching. During the summit, the delegates cannot leave the planetoid, so entertainment is brought in to give them relaxation and recreation. Contact with their homeworlds would be limited. All of the security is handled by a secure network of droids, and any other computers or androids that are brought in have to be connected to the network, and any advanced circuitry disabled. The summit itself is organized by a Time Lady named Hossak.

For the Time Lords’ part, Lady President Romana sends Narvin as the Gallifreyan delegate, but she suspects that there is more going on, and she sends Leela to the planetoid with K-9, posing as an exotic dancer (Leela, not the tin dog). Arriving at the planet and settling into her role, Leela doesn’t find anything untoward, except for a very lecherous Nekkistani delegate named Flinkstab who tries to appropriate her for himself, until she finds another dancer, Lexi, dead. Though she realizes that the only person who could have done it is Flinkstab, she’s discovered with the body by the security droids and is immediately accused of the murder. And then she arrives at the planet and settles in to her new role, and when she meets Lexi, she realizes that she saw her dead. Later that night, as she’s dancing, Narvin is having a discussion with Pule, a delegate of the Unvoss, when Pule’s drink explodes and kills him, and the Time Lord is accused of the murder. And then Leela arrives as the planet and before settling into her new role, she knows that she’s living through the same day over and over, and contacts Romana to come figure out what’s happening.

The episode is an enjoyable story, with plenty of machinations and schemes to unravel. So far in this series, I am really loving how well-drawn the characters are. Narvin, who, as a more traditional Time Lord than Romana or Braxiatel, is always convinced of his superiority and is insulted to find that Romana used him to her ends. He rants and sputters at her about it, and she calmly shows him how she’s made him look better, not worse, for the role he played. Romana and Leela two strong women, completely opposites of each other but equally capable. Leela is not clever, but she sees clearly where others do not and is steadfastly moral and always brave. Romana is savvy and not blinded by the grandeur of being a Time Lady, and though she knows that her people don’t agree with her on a lot of things, she’s strong enough to stand against them when she needs to. And, having had more contact with other civilizations than most of the Time Lords have had, she’s more able to understand and predict the other Temporal Powers’ attitudes and actions.

I think one of the things that really appeals to me about these “Gallifrey” audios is that the audience is not being persuaded to think that the Time Lords are right or good. Since the story is being told from the Time Lords’ view, we have a predilection for thinking so, but as things progress, we start to see how petty and manipulative they are, and some of their goals are not necessarily good for anyone but themselves. This allows for a deeper exploration into the Temporal Powers, and makes for far more satisfying political storylines.

I’m very happy so far: I was eager to start listening to this series, and after two episodes, I’m still excited to hear more. I will say that audios take a lot of energy and concentration to listen to, because there aren’t any visual effects to distract you, so there are no pauses and the 1.5 hours of a play is thick with important dialogue, so I can’t really listen to more than one every couple of days, but I’m definitely loving them when I can.

“Weapon of Choice”

Gallifrey_Weapon_Of_Choice“Weapon of Choice” is the first in the Gallifrey range of Big Finish audios. I don’t know if it’s significant or not, but the Gallifrey range does not bear the name Doctor Who, possibly because the Doctor isn’t a main character in this line (perhaps he appears sometimes, but I’m not going to comment on that now). The series, as far as I know, is set mainly on Gallifrey (surprise!) and is centered around Lord President Romana and the politics of the High Council. I’ve been looking forward to listening to his range for a good two to three months now, and I finally received the CDs for the first three series in the mail (they weren’t available for download), and well, here we go!

Spoilers, of course, though more about the general series itself than the episode.

There’s a bit of backstory that comes out in the episode that you need to know. In order to oversee time, the Time Lords form a coalition called the Temporal Powers between them and three other time-sensitive races, whose names I can’t remember except for the Monans. As you can probably expect, there’s a lot of political maneuvering between the races, as each has its own goals and schemes, but the big point is that the Time Lords aren’t the only ones watching over the universe anymore. One of the things that the coalition did was establish a planet where lesser races were sent if they attempted unauthorized time travel. (Not the whole race, just the individuals who were involved.) The planet’s name is Gryben, and when the coalition investigates the offending people’s case, if the people do not agree to abandon their pursuit of time travel, they are confined to Gryben for the rest of their lives. Thus, Gryben is a rather lawless place, full of multiple species just trying to survive. Among those people, a group of dissidents called Free Time have arisen, trying to rebel against the Time Lords and their allies to obtain the right to use time as they want.

At the beginning of the episode, a Free Time dissident steals an experimental weapon called a Timonic Fusion Device and takes it to Gryben. This was a device that the Time Lords had once tried to build but found that it was too dangerous and unstable and had abandoned it, and they had thought that all knowledge of it had been eradicated, but obviously not. The other Temporal Powers don’t trust the Time Lords, that their intentions were noble (after all, the only way anyone could have built one now would be if the Time Lords were behind it, right?), and Romana has to get the weapon back. She sends a CIA agent named Torvald, Leela, and K9 to the surface of Gryben to infiltrate the Free Time movement, and there they find an even more sinister plot hatching.

The story itself was interesting and compelling, but what really made the episode was that it set up Gallifrey and its politics. Personally, I don’t know much about the Time Lords other than what I’ve seen in the TV show, but there’s a huge history and storyline going on there, and it is fascinating learning about it. So here’s a bit of the characters and setup.

The thing about the Time Lords as we’ve seen in the TV show and audios is that they’re imperious, conservative, and so absolutely sure they’re doing the right thing. They do have a reason to be this way, of course, since it was revealed in “Zagreus” that Rassilon decided what the future until the end of the universe should be, and so their defense and maintenance of the Web of Time boils down to making sure that what Rassilon chose is what happens. They’re used to being the overlords of the universe and expect that everyone will accede to them. With this coalition of Temporal Powers, though, they’ve ceded some of their power to other races, and now they have to work together with them.

Romana is at the center of this. She’s a strong, clever Time Lady, but it’s very obvious that she’s learned from the Doctor to see things from other angles and to consider other viewpoints, to care about things other than the rules that Rassilon laid down and the glory and power of the Time Lords. As Lord President, she walks a fine line of setting Time Lord policy while also trying to change Time Lord attitudes towards what she feels is a better path. She’s a fascinating character, because she doesn’t wholeheartedly embrace the Doctor’s ideals (and that’s a good thing, by the way: the Doctor is as insane as the Master, by Time Lord standards [and to be honest, by human standards as well], and his beliefs and motivations are not what Time Lord policy should be based on), but she definitely incorporates some of his viewpoint into hers while maintaining her own steely personality and values.

Then there’s Coordinator Narvin. He’s the head of the CIA (Celestial Intervention Agency), which is a secretive organization dedicated to preserving the Web of Time at pretty much any cost. They do the things that the Time Lords can’t be seen to do, due to their non-intervention policy. Narvin advises Romana, but he is a straightforward action type, often unable to grasp the political maneuvering that surrounds the Lord President and the Temporal Powers.

Cardinal Braxiatel rounds out Romana’s inner circle. From the audio itself, you can tell that he’s a wise Time Lord, someone who knows what’s going on throughout Time Lord society, and has extensive knowledge of history. An interesting tidbit that is not mentioned in the audio (but you would know if you were familiar with other audios, particularly the Bernice Summerfield line) is that Braxiatel is the Doctor’s older brother, and has always been fascinated with exploring the universe and investigating history, though he approached the idea very differently from his younger brother. Romana relies on him for advice, as she knows that he’s got his fingers everywhere (like Petyr Baelish in A Song of Fire and Ice, though not greedy or amoral).

Lastly, we have Leela, the Sevateem human and former companion of the Doctor who left him and remained on Gallifrey to marry the Time Lord Andred. In this episode, Leela is trying to find her path after Andred vanished without a trace. She interpreted the Time Lords’ claim that they didn’t know what happened to him as a lie and began to distrust them. Romana convinces her to go on this mission for them, and afterward, became Romana’s bodyguard. She provides a straightforward, honest, and blunt foil to the maneuverings of the Time Lords.

With these four characters driving Gallifreyan politics and relations with the other Temporal Powers, the Gallifrey range holds quite a bit of promise of drama and adventure that’s far different from the regular Doctor Who fare, and I’m very much looking forward to all of this storyline.