“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.

 

The clothes make the man

Peter Capaldi as the Doctor

Peter Capaldi as the Doctor

The BBC revealed the Twelfth Doctor’s outfit! I like it! Well, I suppose I’m not the best judge of this kind of thing, as I also like the Sixth Doctor’s outfit – it’s garish to be sure, but it’s just him. I’m sure that this has been said before, but the costume of the Doctor definitely reflects his personality, consistently throughout the series, even during the John Nathan-Turner era, when the clothes were more costume-y than usual. Last week, my British co-worker made fun of me for referring to the Doctors by numbers, saying that in Britain, they refer to them by actor names, so we’ll do that this time.

  • Hartnell: The grandfather, caring with a bit of arrogance
  • Troughton: The clownish hobo, especially with that big fur coat
  • Pertwee: The man of style and action
  • T. Baker: The Bohemian, always a bit ahead of everyone else and not caring what they think
  • Davison: The young gentleman sportsman
  • C. Baker: Arrogant and bombastic; who cares what anyone thinks?
  • McCoy: At first, a bit of a clown, his costume changed as his personality developed
  • McGann: Caring and compassionate, and quite the romantic
  • Eccleston: Angry and regretful, and back to being the man of action
  • Tennant: Geek chic, modern yet out-of-place
  • Smith: At first, young and eccentric, until he loses the Ponds, at which point he throws back to a dark version of McGann

If Mr. Capaldi follows the trend, it looks like his Doctor may be similar to Mr. Pertwee’s, which is almost exactly what I was hoping: I want him to be Mr. Pertwee’s man of action and style mixed with some (or even a lot) of Mr. C. Baker’s arrogance, almost to the point of being not easily liked. We’ll find out in time. Meanwhile, releases like this only just make me wish that August would get here sooner.

 

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“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.

Ramblings

The Sixth Doctor in Doctor Who: Legacy

The Sixth Doctor in Doctor Who: Legacy

Sixth Doctor released in Doctor Who: Legacy!! I’m stoked. First, it’s a new Doctor, yay! Second it’s a classic Doctor, double yay! There was a Reddit interview that had implied that the game was only going to be dealing with the reboot series for a while, so I am very happy that the statement didn’t apply to Doctors. My understanding is that the Seventh Doctor will be released soon. I am crossing my fingers for the Fifth Doctor in the next couple of months (though I hope he’s not a healer; I expect he will be, though). The Sixth Doctor is a gold character, and his special power is poison – does 3% or 6% damage each turn for five turns. I think it’s a very appropriate power for him.

One thing that I’m glad the show didn’t do is give the Time Lords too much psychic power. As far as I can tell, Time Lords have telepathy (ability to read a person’s mind and/or transfer thoughts to a person), but usually require touching the target to do it. They have some amount of mind control (the Doctor used it sparingly in the classic series, and the Master used it a lot), but they don’t have other psychic powers. The only instance of telekinesis happened when the Tenth Doctor was infused with the psychic energy of all of the people on the entire planet (“The Last of the Time Lords”), and there otherwise haven’t been instances of other Time Lord psychic abilities, though other species have demonstrated them (clairvoyance, precognition, psychometry, etc.).

This is a good limit. The Time Lords are more powerful than humans, but they’re not all-powerful and they’re certainly not perfect, giving them room to be good heroes and good villains. Moreover, even though their powers are difficult to use, requiring physical contact with the target, the Doctor limits himself with his power because he is morally opposed to reading another’s thoughts without a very good reason. This self-imposed limitation brings him closer to us humans, which makes what he is – the lone, vulnerable man doing everything he can to save the universe – even more heroic.

One thing that doesn’t come up much is that the different incarnations of a Time Lord can telepathically communicate with each other. It happens in “The Three Doctors,” and also happens in the graphic novel The Forgotten (though in that case, the separate incarnations were projections within the Matrix). The communication does take effort: in both cases, the all the Doctors had to concentrate to make contact; they can’t read each others’ minds casually.  I think it might have also happened in “The Day of the Doctor,” though not nearly as formally. Once Eleven refuses to fire the moment, both he and Ten say that the Daleks don’t know that there are three Doctors now. Immediately after this, War and Ten concentrate, then say

War Doctor: Oh! Oh, yes, that is good. That is brilliant!
Tenth Doctor: Oh, oh, oh, I’m getting that, too! That is brilliant!

Ten already said that having three Doctors was a great advantage, and then he gets the final revelation. It could easily be that they thought it through and figured it out at the same time, but it really does sound like they read the idea from Eleven.

Who knows? I like the idea and choose to believe it. I love it when they use old ideas again, and I especially love it that they didn’t spell it out, leaving it as a fine story for those who don’t know, but a treat for those who do.

Greetings and a few mutant Daleks

Well, apparently the Doctor Who: Legacy Facebook page found my mini-strategy guide and posted it, deluging this blog in views! I don’t think I’ve ever had anything I’ve written reach more than a few people. Thanks very much for visiting! I hope the strat guide helps!

Sadly, I don’t have anything really interesting in mind to say today to all these visitors. Ironic, huh?

We watched “Revelation of the Daleks” this weekend, a Sixth Doctor/Peri episode. It wasn’t a very strong episode. Ignoring the DJ that interrupted the action every five minutes (I mentioned him in a previous post), the story went along pretty well after the Doctor and Peri finally got to the necropolis; before that, the episode spent way too much time following them as they walked. I’ve noticed that the classic episodes love to have many different factions warring with each other, so that you never quite know who to trust. In this episode, there was Davros and his Daleks (ok, you know he’s gotta be the main bad guy), the corporation running the necropolis, the girl in love with the main mortician, the morticians who were getting suspicious of the necropolis’ leadership, the rebels who were infiltrating the necropolis, and the assassin and his squire. All of these characters kept you in suspense for quite a while.

The overarching plot didn’t work well, but there were some gems along the way. I think the thing that really didn’t work for me was that Davros was demanding money from the corporation running the necropolis. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone in Doctor Who care about money. It might have worked better if Davros had made it clear that he needed more money to fund his project (creating Daleks from human bodies in suspended animation), but even then, no other evil villain in the show has ever cared about the financing of his empire.

The first thing that did work very well was why Davros was stopped. You might have noticed that he was creating Daleks from humans. That’s not exactly something that Daleks would like, since part of their credo is racial purity. Near the end of the episode, real Daleks show up and kill the mutant Daleks, then take Davros back home to punish him. Never mind the fact that if none of the other events in the episode had happened, the Daleks would have stopped Davros anyway: the show stayed true to its canon and gave a reason for the real Daleks to appear and actually choose not to fight the Doctor – Davros was a bigger threat.

The second good thing was the way that the assassin and the Doctor worked together while imprisoned by Davros, through expressions and gestures. The assassin character in general was well-characterized and had a very interesting backstory, and had a noble death.

I think the worst thing about this episode was Peri. She spent the entire episode complaining. The last time I saw Peri was in “The Caves of Androzani,” in which she did complain a lot, but had a fantastic story with Sharaz Jek. I’m hoping that her general characterization is more like in Androzani than like in this episode.

I will say, though, that this is the first Sixth Doctor episode I have seen, and I like him. He is arrogant and obnoxious, and a man of action. He’s very different from all of the other Doctors I’ve seen, and yet is still the Doctor. Brilliant!

Nine more hours, clever boys and girls, and the Fish Doctor!

I’ve held out. “The Day of the Doctor” came and went two days ago, and even though I have been able to download the episode (on BBC iPlayer using a VPN spoofing my IP address as one from the UK), I have stoically refused to watch it. I will be watching it for the first time tonight, at the local theater, in my Fifth Doctor costume. I’ve stayed off the internet, not even visiting my own Facebook page, to avoid spoilers. I’ve rewatched the original trailer (but not the second one) and The Night of the Doctor but otherwise stayed away from the teaser clips and other material. I just have to survive for nine more hours.

It’s actually been pretty easy. We re-watched “Nightmare in Silver” and “The Name of the Doctor” to get back into the right timestream (ha, see what I did there?). But otherwise, it’s pretty much been a stress-free weekend. I’ve spent my time reading a music theory textbook (it’s actually really good, if you’re into that kind of stuff on a beginner level), fixed up bits of my Fifth Doctor costume, including coming up with a way of getting my fake decorative vegetable to lie flat instead of flopping around on my lapel, and worked a little on a fanfic that I’m trying to write and will probably scrap because it’s not coming together.

I also rewatched “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” for the first time since finishing all of the Eleventh Doctor’s episodes, and it was very cool to see how well they seeded River Song’s story in that episode. Beyond the obvious line of the Doctor and River meeting each other in backwards order to each other, River mentions the crash of the Byzantium. They also make sure that you know that Ten sees her one more time before he regenerates, which explains why she recognizes him.

There was one other very interesting parallel to this episode, one that I am absolutely amazed was planned out this far in advance (this episode was aired in 2008, and its parallel did not appear until 2013). We all know that Clara Oswald is “the Impossible Girl,” and that her tagline is, “Run, you clever boy, and remember.” At the end of “Forest of the Dead,” when River arrives in CAL’s world, the following exchange takes place.

CAL: It’s okay, you’re safe. You’ll always be safe here. The Doctor fixed the data core. This is a good place now. But I was worried you might be lonely, so I brought you some friends. Aren’t I a clever girl?
EVANGELISTA: Aren’t we all?
RIVER: Oh, for heaven’s sake. He just can’t do it, can he? That man. That impossible man. He just can’t give in.

The clever girl.

The clever girl.

The roles are switched. The Doctor is “impossible” and CAL, the computer who has saved River to her memory banks, is the “clever girl” who must continue running and continue to remember. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but look at the dialogue. The mention of the clever girl and the impossible man don’t need to be there, and the first really doesn’t fit with what we know of CAL’s personality – she was never self-referential. I choose to believe that Mr. Moffat put this in intentionally, a seed that germinated into the storyline of the Doctor and Clara.

One thing about the 50th anniversary that I did find, watch, and highly enjoy was The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. Apparently for about two weeks before “The Day of the Doctor,” Peter Davison was tweeting hints about this mini-episode from the account dayoftheFishDr, and it was released on Saturday. I’ve watched it three times in the last day, and I hope that “The Day of the Doctor” is anywhere near as good. I also hope that it will be included on “The Day of the Doctor” blu-ray release (but I highly doubt it).

The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, hereafter referred to as FDR (which is what the Fish Doctor calls it) was written and directed by Peter Davison (and produced by Georgia Moffett under her married name, Georgia Tennant), and is a tale of Mr. Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy trying to become part of the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special. The title refers back to the 20th anniversary episode, “The Five Doctors” (which I wrote about here), in which the First Doctor (played by Richard Hurndall), the Second Doctor, and the Third Doctor join the Fifth Doctor in an adventure. This episode is “Five(ish)” because Tom Baker got stuck in a time eddy again and Paul McGann wanted to go with the other three to get onto the show, but he had too many scripts to read and shows to shoot.

(There’s an awesome symmetry between “The Five Doctors” and FDR, in that the first has the Doctors up through Mr. Davison, and the second has (almost) all the actors from Mr. Davison forward. Still sadly no appearance from Mr. Eccleston.)

The Doctor surrounded by Cybermen.

FDR spoofs Doctor Who while also underlining the difficulties actors have in getting parts they want. It’s filled with Doctors and companions, behind-the-scenes people (including both Steven Moffat and Russell T. Davies), actors we know and love and their families, and references, both overt and subtle, to this wonderful show. Sylvester McCoy carries with him a umbrella at all times. Mr. Moffat has a dream very much like the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration hallucination (and it ends with a hilarious line from Matthew Waterhouse). Also, when he erases all of the voicemail from Five, Six, and Seven, his phone says, in a Cyberman voice, “The Doctors have been deleted.” My favorite is a quiet reference to “The Five Doctors”: Mr. Davison, just before running away from someone, says, “Sorry, must dash.”

Perhaps one of the coolest touches in the script was from the two classic Doctors who don’t chase after the 50th anniversary special: Mr. McGann, who wants to join the chase but can’t because he’s got a show to shoot, and Tom Baker, who only appears in footage from “Shada.” And now we know why they didn’t: The Eighth Doctor was shooting his own mini-episode, and Mr. Baker didn’t have to search for a part in the special. (Yes, I got slightly spoiled on that. Oh well.)

I’m not much of a film buff and couldn’t tell you if Mr. Davison’s directing was any good, but the script was marvelous. It’s a treat for fans and I laughed aloud a number of times. I have a very soft spot in my heart for Mr. Davison – Five is my second favorite Doctor, “Time Crash” is one of the best episodes ever, and I am currently highly enjoying All Creatures Great and Small – and FDR is just raising him in my estimation. Thanks for the wonderful tribute to Doctor Who, Mr. Davison!