“The Butcher of Brisbane”

161_The_Butcher_of_Brisbane“The Butcher of Brisbane” is the 161st audio in Big Finish’s main range, and features the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan, and Turlough. This is one of the best audios I’ve heard so far.

Spoilers ahead! I’m not writing out the whole plot because it’s too complicated and would really ruin some of the surprises.

While traveling, a mysterious force hits the TARDIS and pulls Nyssa and Turlough out. When the Doctor and Tegan trace back to where it happened, they land in 51st century Brisbane, but Nyssa and Turlough are nowhere to be found. They discover that the area has been destroyed and is considered extremely dangerous, and the people they meet up – a group of journalists with know them. They become embroiled in the problem that the journalists are investigating – what seems to be unethical experiments in time travel – that are occurring just as the world factions are coming together to form a globe-spanning alliance. As they find out more about this new alliance, they discover that the man who is leading the faction known as the Eastern States, Magnus Greel, is also about to get married – to Nyssa. The story is then all about figuring out what Nyssa is doing there, what’s going on with the time travel experiments, and trying to get the alliance to not dissolve into war.

Like I said, I’m not going to give many more details about the story, but if you’re familiar with the classic show, you probably recognize the name Magnus Greel: he was the villain in the Fourth Doctor episode “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” In that episode, the Doctor encounters Greel in Victorian London, where he’s been deformed and is dying from his travel in his time cabinet, which uses a destructive form of time travel called zygma energy. Assisted by a duped minion and a doll-like animated object called the Peking homunculus, he was draining the life force of kidnapped women to stay alive and power his experiments to heal himself using the time cabinet. The Doctor, of course, stopped him by forcing him into his own life-drain chamber.

This audio, then, explores Greel’s life before the events of “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” He’s a high government official in the Eastern States and wants to have his faction take over the world (even if it means World War Six), but he’s also dabbling in time travel on the side, through the efforts of an alien named Findecker, who insists that zygma energy is the way to do it. Findecker is dying from zygma energy exposure, so Greel also starts experimenting with draining life force from people, earning him the nickname “the Butcher of Brisbane.” The TARDIS crew become involved because of the zygma beam hitting the TARDIS in mid-flight, and the Doctor finds himself having to figure out what’s going on and try to help the victims of Greel’s and Findecker’s experiments without changing the history he’s already experienced with Greel in his previous incarnation.

Thus, the story has to work on two levels: it has to be a good story in its own right, and it has to fit itself into the history already established in “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” It does both of these beautifully, and it’s quite a thrill to hear about how all of the things in that episode came to be. The origin of the time cabinet and the Peking homunculus are explained, and the Doctor mentions that he exists elsewhere on the planet, working with the Filipino army in a previous incarnation. The Doctor even introduces himself to Greel as a Time Agent, explaining why Greel is so afraid of them in the TV episode.

Greel himself is a fascinating character. He’s ambitious and amoral, but he is still a likable person (unlike Findecker), and even though you can’t believe it at first, he really does love Nyssa. And, after all that happens, you can see why he’s become what he is in “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” The Doctor wins and everything is happy again in the end, but the story feels like a tragedy because of Greel and what you know of his fate.

This story is also unique because the Doctor has to constantly dance around the fact that he knows Greel’s future and has to make sure that things happen correctly for him. For example, there are a few instances in which people have to chance to kill Greel or take him prisoner, but the Doctor knows he has to live and has to escape in his time cabinet. There’s no external, hand-wavy reason for what the Doctor has to ensure, like “it’s a fixed point in time.” This time the reasoning is very solid: the Doctor must save everyone while allowing Greel to escape, because not doing so will change his (the Doctor’s) personal timeline.

All in all, this is a great audio, especially if you’re familiar with “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” I leave you today with the best quote from story, courtesy of Tegan, speaking to the Doctor. “Stop holding time’s hand! It’s bigger than you are. It can take care of itself.”

 

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A full TARDIS

Back when the TARDIS was full

Back when the TARDIS was full

I’ve been avoiding Series 8 spoilers like the plague, but it’s very difficult to not gain at least some information from headlines, not to mention the occasional discussions with friends. Luckily, I’ve managed to stay pretty clean about foreknowledge. A discussion that did come up this week was that it’s looking like they’re trying to draw parallels between the Capaldi Doctor and the Hartnell Doctor, specifically by filling out the TARDIS with a similar group of companions: a male teacher, a female teacher, and a female student.

If this really is intentional, I’m not really sure how I feel about this. First, there’s the obsessive fan in me that says that all parallels should be drawn to Troughton’s Doctor, since Capaldi’s Doctor is the second Doctor in the new regeneration sequence, not the first (Smith’s Doctor is the first). Ok, I just needed to write that and you can slap me for being way too silly now. Second, something just bugs me about drawing such obvious parallels, narrative-wise. Either there’s some big hand of fate causing events to repeat, which simply bugs me, or the Doctor is building his team the same way, which to me seems very un-Doctor-like. Ah well, either way, it really doesn’t matter what I think along those lines, does it?

On the other hand, it’s very exciting to have a completely new dynamic in the TARDIS, a full TARDIS, something we haven’t seen since Davison’s Doctor with Tegan, Turlough, and Kamelion (and really before that, Nyssa, Tegan, and Turlough, since due to technical difficulties, Kamelion didn’t get to appear very often). The Doctor started with a full TARDIS and more or less had three companions until Ben and Polly left and Victoria joined Jamie. From that point, there were one or two companions until Tegan and Nyssa joined Adric in Logopolis, and Davison’s Doctor always had three until Peri arrived.

A full TARDIS gives a lot more opportunity for developing companion relationships, something that was almost completely absent for Eccleston’s and Tennant’s Doctor’s runs. While their companions had fantastic stories, in all cases, the conflict was brought in from their families, and thus those stories had to be confined to Earth. Clara, of course, really doesn’t have a story other than how she’s tied to the Doctor’s timestream. We got to see what can be done with companions with Amy and Rory (and River), but what I’m really looking forward to are companions that don’t get along. One of the best companion pairings, in my opinion, was Tegan and Turlough. Turlough arrived with the intention of killing the Doctor (wow, for once, a companion who starts out not allied with the Doctor!), and Tegan was the only person who didn’t trust him outright. After he rejected the Black Guardian and really became a member of the crew, he and Tegan still were at odds. The relationship developed into more of a brother/sister dynamic, when they finally became friends but still sniped at each other.  This is the kind of thing I’d like to see with the new crew, a group of people who have to work out their relationships with one another.

I like Rory. He needed more air time.

I like Rory. He needed more air time.

There is one problem that can be introduced with a full TARDIS: what do you do with all of the characters each episode? It’s a lot easier to write a tight story if you only have two characters (the Doctor and his sole companion) to work with. Add in another full-time character and it gets difficult to find something for him to do every week, resulting in a character that seems to be only a hanger-on much of time (hello, Rory!). Add in another one, and now you’ve got four characters to keep occupied. An example of how this can go really wrong is “Terminus,” a Davison Doctor episode with Nyssa, Tegan, and Turlough. This was Nyssa’s final episode, so the story was focused on her, leaving Tegan and Turlough as more or less irrelevant. They spend the entirety of the second of the four episodes trapped in a crawlspace, and the show felt the need to cut back to them every few minutes to show them crawling five feet. They get out in the third episode, but for the rest of the story, they do very little other than Turlough getting yelled at by the Black Guardian every so often (probably to remind you that he’s supposed to be killing the Doctor). The writing and directing of Doctor Who has really changed over the last thirty years, so I doubt we’ll see Clara trapped in a crawlspace for forty minutes, but it’ll take very clever writers to keep all of the characters relevant in every episode.

(Ok, so a British friend of mine told me that they refer to the Doctors by their actors’ names. I’ve tried it here, and wow, that’s annoying. Back to ordinal numbers for me!)

Playing favorites

doctor-who-companions-63-13My husband asked me today to list my three favorite companions. Now, number one should come as no surprise to anyone who’s read what I’ve written before: Donna Noble is definitely the best. No question. No hesitation. Just the best. But the top three? That took a bit more thought, and I realized that I could probably name my top five, but I had a lot of problems with top three. So, here are my top five companions, not listed in order, except of course with Donna at the top. (I’m counting only traveling companions, not one-shots and few-shots like Jackson Lake, Wilfred Mott, and Craig Owens. Also please note that I’m not very familiar with the companions of the first three Doctors and a few of the other classic companions.)

Five Favorite Companions

Donna Noble: Donna was the perfect support for the Tenth Doctor. She acted as his conscience, and was the friend that he needed. She was always willing to defend her beliefs and was strong enough to stand up for herself, even against the Doctor. Both she and the Doctor grew while they were together.

Sarah Jane Smith: A strong, confident, fearless  woman, she was always willing to get right into the heart of the problem. She also worked well with all of the Doctors she met. I think a lot of Sarah Jane’s appeal had to do with her actress, Elisabeth Sladen, a woman who just sparkled on screen.

Vislor Turlough: One of the things I really like about Turlough is that he had secrets. His introductory stories were about his deal with the Black Guardian, which bound him to trying to kill the Doctor. The only other episode of his I have seen so far is “Planet of Fire,” and again, in that, we find out about his history on Trion, which he has guarded up until this time. He’s a survivalist, which makes him look a bit cowardly, but this makes him more realistic, as well as rounds out his character.

Ace McShane: Ace was a rough-and-ready street urchin, a great complement for the educated, sophisticated, and cunning Seventh Doctor. She was straightforward and unapologetic, and sometimes her decisions would cause more trouble than they would solve, but that’s how she was.

Rory Williams: Rory was loyal to the Eleventh Doctor without being obsessed with him, an important contrast to Amy. Thus, his motivations were far more complex, and it also allowed him to be a less than perfect companion: he was fearful of danger, worried for Amy, and distrusting of the Doctor.

Honorable Mentions

Tegan Jovanka: I haven’t seen enough Tegan, I think. She’s brash, blunt, and obnoxious – in short, a lot of fun.

Barbara Wright: I’ve only seen two First Doctor episodes, but I really loved Barbara in both of them. She’s not a sympathetic character, but she’s confident and takes charge when she needs to.

Companions I Don’t Like

Rose Tyler: Not a popular opinion, I know. I liked her a lot more in series 1, but in series 2, during the show’s “let’s see how silly the Doctor can be when he’s in love” stage, she’s insufferable. She’s whiny and selfish, manipulates the Doctor when she can, and treats everyone else like crap (especially Mickey, but also Jackie). Her writing was also erratic, portrayed as a strong, take-charge person in one episode and a cringing coward in the next. During the Darlig Ulv Stranden scene, I cried for the Doctor, but was glad to see Rose go.

Melanie Bush: I’ve only seen her in “Time and the Rani,” which was a terrible episode, but Mel made it so much worse. I am hoping she turns out to be better when she’s in a non-terrible episode.

Clara Oswald: The “Impossible Girl” arc was interesting, but Clara herself has no character. She simply seems to exist as a deus ex machina for stories in which the Doctor doesn’t win. And then suddenly we find out that she fancies him, with no previous, in-character clues. I’m hoping she’s treated better in the new series.

 

“Arc of Infinity”

We finally viewed the end of the Omega arc in “Arc of Infinity.” I was actually a bit surprised at how much I enjoyed this episode, since the first one, “The Three Doctors,” was rather weak – it involved way too many crazy dictator enemy rants, minor characters complaints, and wandering corridors/wilderness fillers to be involving. Even the bickering between the Second and Third Doctors couldn’t save that episode.

Peter Davison as Omega.

Peter Davison as Omega.

“Arc of Infinity” had a lot of incomprehensible technobabble, since it involved another Omega plot to return to Gallifrey from the antimatter universe, and that was a bit difficult to follow. It’s main strength was the part of the plot set on Gallifrey. The High Council detected that something from the antimatter universe was trying to enter N-space and that it was using the Doctor’s biodata to do so. In order to break the link, they ordered the termination of the Doctor, even though the Doctor pointed out to them that the only way the entity could get the biodata was if someone on the High Council was helping it. Thus, a lot of the plot had to do with political maneuvering among the council members and the Castellan’s investigations into the matter.

Omega’s plans involved coming through to N-space on Earth, so part of the story involved two hitchhikers who inadvertantly get involved. This drew in Tegan, who had returned to her normal life and was visiting her cousin, one of the two hitchhikers. Thus, when Omega finally did make it through, he appeared in Amsterdam, in the form of the Fifth Doctor. (Two Peter Davisons! Twice the awesome in one episode!) Up until this point, Omega had been portrayed as he had been in “The Three Doctors”: insane, megalomanical, and desperate. As he starts to roam in Amsterdam, he observed the day-to-day lives  of the people, and smiled, the implication being that his joy in being home actually was overcoming his insanity from thousands of years of isolation. This was a very interesting character development, which unfortunately truncated because his Fifth Doctor body began to decay and needed to be destroyed before he turned back into antimatter and exploded. This was the only bad part of the episode: once Omega realized that he was reverting to antimatter, he began running from the Doctor (who was trying to destroy him before he exploded and destroyed the earth). Apart from the question of why he would run, since he was doomed and there wasn’t anywhere to run to, the running sequence took about fifteen minutes – way too much filler. If instead they had used the time to explore Omega’s return to sanity and had him face the fact that he had to be destroyed or returned to the antimatter universe (and/or have the Doctor realize that he had to destroy a now-sane individual), this would have been a superb episode.

All in all, though, it was a fun episode, and the Doctor got to have some great interactions with the Time Lords, which is always a treat. Nyssa got the chance to shoot a few people, and Tegan rejoined the crew of the TARDIS. The one thing that would make Omega’s arc great: a new episode in which Omega returns, played by Mr. Davison. It’s been established in the audio plays that Omega survived this episode in the Fifth Doctor’s form, so it is possible. Come on, Steven Moffat, do it!