Story Review

The Blue Angel

Paul Magrs does it again.  Another zany imaginative story, another set of mysterious circumstances and characters, another adventure with Iris Wildthyme.

Plots

Like Interference before it, The Blue Angel follows multiple plots at once which don’t quite converge until the end.  As usual, the Doctor is separated from his companions, Fitz and Compassion, for much of the story.  Iris’ goings-on plus a Federation ship and command crew (obviously spoofing the crap out of Star Trek) also get featured prominently throughout the book.  The heart of the story is in the city of Valcea, where a powerful being called Daedalus rules over the fragile Glass Men and prepares to take over a transdimensional region called the Encalve.  As we slowly learn throughout the book, this Enclave is connected to the regular universe and an alternate Obverse via time-space corridors, like wormholes or threads connecting disparate realities, resulting in all sorts of mysterious incursions from universe to another, such a giant owls attacking old ladies in a British shopping mall.

And yet, amidst this chaos, there are several coherent plots being undertaken by various parties.  The crew of the Federation ship Nepotist are trying to protect the galactic federation from incursion from the Enclave; Ian (the titular blue angel) is trying to return to Daedalus his father; the giant owls are searching for the hatchling of a forbidden egg; other races of the Enclave are also pursuing their particular goals.  Paul Magrs paints several vivid pictures for the Doctor and company to interact with and explore but intentionally holds us back from the big picture – we never fully understand the entirety of what’s going on, or even how all the plot threads turn out in the end.  Like the Doctor and Fitz and Compassion, the reader is “saved” by Iris Wildthyme, chucked out of the Enclave and sent back to the TARDIS just before it’s too late.  It’s frustrating for people like me who most enjoy getting that big picture of the story world, but also intriguing – what follow-up might be offered in the next EDA book?  Magrs did write one more EDA book but it’s so far away from this in the series that one can’t count on it shedding any more light on this story, even though this book did have a number of references back to his previous (first) contribution to the EDA range, The Scarlet Empress.

The greatest unsolved mystery in this book is the “winter-time” plot thread which seems to be a set of alternative reality characters.  In these chapters/scenes, the Doctor lives in a small village with distant memories of his adventures.  Fitz and Compassion live with him, Sarah Jane Smith and K-9 as “Sally” and “Canine” live nearby, in the same building as Iris.  Somehow Sally writes a fiction novel of the “real” Doctor and Iris, much to their shock and alarm.  How this parallel plot connects to the rest of the novel is not established.  It is hinted that this is a dream world; it is hinted that this is the Doctor in his future, being looked after by Iris while he’s recovering from something; it could also be a metaphor for what happened in the book’s backstory between Iris and Daedalus that sets the events of the whole book in motion to begin with.  This, most of all, is what I hope gets some explanation in a future book, since it was such a prominent plot thread throughout the whole novel.

Characters

The new companion in this novel is Compassion.  Her character was introduced in Interference as an agent of the Remote, who work(ed) for Faction Paradox.  None of that backstory is rehashed in this book, though.  She is in rehabilitation, so to speak.  The trouble is, she was a rather bland character to begin with (as indeed all of the Remote ended up) who received a little character development through the Interference books, but now is sort of drowned out in the zaniness of Magrs’ story writing.  Compassion, despite her name, comes across as a rather cold, impassive, practical character.  It seems almost a step backward from where her character was going in the previous books.  Clearly the Doctor is trying to help her regain her humanity, but he’s not having any success in this story.  She can’t even regain a personality; she remains a quiet enigma.  I haven’t completely spoiled her story arc for myself, but I am aware that this character has places to go and things to do in these books eventually, so let’s just wait and see what happens next with her.

It was good and fun to see Fitz back.  It was worrying to see him turned into a bland Remote character through the Interference books, reduced to “code boy” and finally just Kode.  It seemed like a deus ex machina to have the TARDIS restore his original personality at the end of those books, except it was left vague as to how well that process would work.  Fortunately for this reader’s entertainment (and unfortunately for the suspension of belief), Fitz seems to be all back to his old self, complete with flirting with Iris and still chuckling over Sam Jones’ erstwhile crush on the Doctor some years before he met them.  As much as I liked the character of Sam when I started reading the EDA’s just over ten years ago, I think I have to admit I enjoy Fitz’s character even more.

In many ways, this book could better be described as one of the continuing adventures of Iris Wildthyme featuring the Doctor, rather than the other way round.  Iris is at the center of this story, in the backstory, and presumably in the unseen continuation and resolution of the situation in Valcea and the Enclave at large.  The Doctor gets called in, dragged around, and shunted off before he gets himself killed.  That’s why he (and, frustratingly, we) never quite get the whole picture sorted out.  It’s refreshing every now and then to get a Doctor Who story told from different angle from normal, and Paul Magrs (the creator of the character of Iris) obviously likes to feature his zany trans-temporal adventuress.  Having heard Iris in action in a couple Big Finish audio stories by this point, I was more able to appreciate her character without feeling like I had to take her too seriously.

Finally, the Doctor himself… again, because this book is more about the adventures of Iris, there’s a lot left unsaid about the Doctor and his general context and situation.  The fact that he had been infected with a Faction Paradox DNA virus thingy in the previous book was not mentioned here, nor were there any clear signs of its dirty work.  We’re still being held in suspense regarding what is going to happen to him, what he has found out about the Faction or the Time Lord’s future war, or the universe-in-a-bottle that he presumably stole from I.M. Foreman.  He takes a beating, though, injured by the destruction of the Glass City, separated from the TARDIS and his friends for a potential eternity, and ending up very angry with Iris for pushing him around.  Again, we just have to wait and see what happens in the next book to see how he’s coping with everything the EDA writers are throwing at him, and what will come of all the revelations of the previous few books…

Advertisements
Story Review

The Silver Turk

The Silver Turk, was written by Marc Platt, who also authored Spare Parts.  Both of these stories feature the earliest (Mondasian) iteration of the Cybermen, so it kinda shows where his enthusiasm lies.  While not as groundbreaking as Spare Parts, this story also has an exciting situation: two Cybermen have mysteriously ended up on Earth in the 1870’s and are struggling to survive.

This is also Mary Shelley’s first trip in the TARDIS, and it’s unusual in that the Doctor takes her to a future time in which she would still be alive.  A lot of this story centers on developing her character as a traveling companion as she experiences the confusion of how to understand her age in the future, the oddity of traveling so instantaneously without journeying in between, the thrill of new discoveries, and the confusion of what it means to travel with a veritable stranger like the Doctor.  Her brief abandonment of him towards the end (and her subsequent warming back up to him) felt to me a little forced – other companions such as Rose had their “omg” moment of realizing they’d run off with a strange man, and the “I don’t even know you!” line felt cliche to me even though I can’t remember off the top of my head which other companion(s) went through that sort of adjustment crisis.  It was also challenging for me, as the listener getting used to the new companion’s voice, to keep straight Mary from another female character.  Many Big Finish companions have more distinctive accents or voices that I’m able to latch on to more easily.  I’m sure I’ll do better with this on a re-listen or in her next two stories.

As for the Doctor, this is an interesting step back into his 8th incarnation’s history.  His travels with Mary are set in the midst of his travels with Samson and Gemma whom we only meet in Terror Firma (as far as I know) and we’re told he traveled with them before Charlotte Pollard.  So the entirety of his Big Finish lifetime hasn’t happened yet.  And indeed here we have a more cheerful and even romantic 8th Doctor, akin to his demeanor in the books and his early adventures with Charlotte.  It must’ve been a fun contrast for Paul McGann after recording his adventures with Lucie Miller and their tragic conclusion to revisit his earlier less battered persona.

Finally, the story itself.  This could have felt like a knock-off.  The scenario of these two Cybermen thinking they’re the last of their kind could’ve led to yet another New Who Dalek story – throughout the 9th and 10th Doctors’ tenures nearly every Dalek story was a “this is the last of them!  What will they do?” scenario.  But Marc Platt knew not to play that card: these Cybermen did think that they were the last of their kind, and that is critical to the plot, but it was not the central point of the story itself.  Instead the focus was on drawing us into the mysterious identity of the Silver Turk (a Cyberman), its relationship with its self-proclaimed creator, and with another person hounding them who also turns out to have another Cyberman in his possession.

Also, much to my unexpected delight, the story continued the fun practice in Mary’s Story of using elements from the novel Frankenstein.  You can see how, in the Doctor Who universe, Mary is garnering ideas for her story from her travels with the Doctor!  Once again, as in Mary’s Story, lightning is harnessed to restore life and energy, this time for the Cybermen rather than the monstrously injured Doctor.  There was also quick reference to the Cyberman and his “creator” fleeing to the North Pole – also a course of action toward the end of Frankenstein.  I haven’t read that book in about 15 years, so there may well be other references I’ve missed.  Perhaps there will be more in the other two stories with Mary Shelley?  I look forward to finding out!

One last thing.  The Doctor Who theme music is amazing in this story.  It’s like that one 12th Doctor story where it got all into rock guitars, but also a throwback to the 8th Doctor movie with the orchestral setting and the placement of the “Middle 8” (the oft-skipped section in the major key) before the usual “doo-wee-oo” theme.  Yeah, I’m a musician; I notice things like that.  Seriously this is miles ahead of the standard 8th Doctor theme music in Big Finish up to this point.

Story Review

The Company of Friends

This is one of those special little Big Finish releases where instead of a regular 4-episode story, it’s a set of four single-episode stories unrelated in plot but united in theme.  The theme is simple: the 8th Doctor having an adventure with a friend.  The idea of this bundle of short stories is inspired in part by a famous “company of friends” who took turns telling ghost stories, one of which became the famous work of literature, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

For a continuity nerd, The Company of Friends is a veritable playground.  We see three companions of the 8th Doctor who’ve only been with him in printed media (never on tv or on audio before), one new companion (the aforementioned Mary Shelley), and a couple beautiful shout-outs to other companions of the 8th Doctor.  Sam Jones, Fitz, Compassion, Trix, Anji, (Stacey and) Ssard, Charlotte Pollard, Izzy, Lucie Miller, Gemma (and Samson), and Mary Shelley are all mentioned explicitly in either Fitz’s Story or Mary’s Story.  This is a big deal for Doctor Who continuity because in 2013’s Night of the Doctor, the 8th Doctor names his Big Finish companions up to that point (Charlotte, C’Rizz, Lucie, Tamsil, and Molly, “friends and companions all”…) thus acknowledging those story ranges as canon. It remained uncertain if the 8th Doctor books were going to be considered canon too, or not.  This set of short stories forges an explicit link showing us how the books and audio ranges fit together.

Thus these stories are also a joyful experience for fans of the books!  We get to see Bernice Summerfield with the 8th Doctor again, we get to see Fitz given voice for the first time ever, and Izzy from the comics gets a voice too.

As both a continuity nerd and a fan of the Eighth Doctor Adventures books (EDA’s), I couldn’t help but really love these stories.

Benny’s Story

This was the most “normal” of the four short stories.  Prof. Bernice Summerfield is minding her own business, doing an archaeological dig for some stuck-up noblewoman on a deserted planet when they unearth what the boss is looking for: a TARDIS key.  It is used to summon a TARDIS (the Doctor’s of course) and so he stumbles into a strange brief escapade alongside Benny while a crazy women tries to “liberate” the soul of the TARDIS.

There are certainly a lot of elements to this story that feel familiar – many people have tried to steal the TARDIS before, there have been a lot of stories of misguided rich people doing stupid things with powers beyond their comprehension, and so on.  But given that Benny is an archaeologist, the story-telling tropes used to bring her and the Doctor back together for a moment are quite appropriate.  And there are references back to Benny’s past with the Doctor, too.  Mostly the 7th, of which I’ve only read and listened to about four stories thus far, and one with the 8th – The Dying Days – also on my to-read-someday list.

Fitz’s Story

A funny story, indeed!  Fitz is the longest-running companion in the EDA’s, meeting (almost?) every other companion in those books.  He’s also one of the most unique companions in all of Doctor Who lore: he’s male, he fancies himself a hero though he’s not particularly heroic, he smokes, he drinks, he’s a womanizer, and he’s from 1963 even though his character was written in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Captain Jack Harkness started out in a similar way, but quickly developed in a different direction than Fitz.

Fitz is a genuinely funny character.  This story was almost over the top in my opinion, albeit with good reason.  Fitz introduces himself in a James-Bond-like way, something he does at least twice in the books (Demontage and Autumn Mist); and he claims to be the real brains behind the Doctor’s facade, similar to one point in the books where he briefly pretends to be the Doctor (The Blue Angel).  The accent used by his voice actor is a bit heavier than I had expected.  But not being a native of London, let alone England, I can’t put too much stock in my ill-informed estimations.

He and the Doctor get to rescue a world from a possible alien invasion in this story, which is such a straight-forward story concept.  But what makes it fun, and especially good for the 8th Doctor and Fitz, is the entanglement with the local media and the plays upon the “who’s in charge?” question as Fitz sets himself up as the real hero.

Izzy’s Story

I’ve never read any Doctor Who comics, or any comics at all, really, so Izzy was a new character for me.  It seemed appropriate, though, that a comic book character was herself a comic book geek, and the adventure she and the Doctor got into involved a missing comic book release and its villains appearing in reality.  Izzy, being a comics and sci-fi geek, and rather fast on her feet when it comes to the very alien, comes off a character of similar caliber to Bill Potts and Lucie Miller.

The blending of Izzy’s comic-book-stories with the “real” goings-on with her and the Doctor was not a plot device I usually enjoy much.  But again, these short stories are more character-focused, and seeing these strange comic book beings unfold through the eyes of one of their greatest fans, Izzy, helped newbies like me keep up with what was going on.

Mary’s Story

The last episode of this anthology returned to a darker more serious tune.  In the TV movie, when the 7th Doctor regenerated into the 8th, the Frankenstein motif (“it’s alive!!”) was used as a rather heavy-handed parallel.  In this story, the exact same motif is used all over again, but this time as central to the plot.  Many elements of Mary Shelley’s classic novel show up throughout this short story.  The Doctor is resuscitated in the same way as Frankenstein’s monster, a monster is unleashed, the stirring up of an angry mob is mentioned, and the final line at the end of the story is hilarious: “Frankenstein is the name of the monster, not the name of the Doctor.”

All this with the “company of friends” of Mary, her husband Percy, her half-sister Claire, the poet Byron, and Dr. Polidori in their proper historical location, initially just telling ghost stories.  It’s a fun little romp, though the group of five characters sometimes makes the story feel a bit cramped.  At the end, the Doctor invites Mary to go traveling with him for a while, setting up a handful of Big Finish stories that would be made a year or two later.

I look forward to seeing what Big Finish has in store for this young aspiring novelist from our history!

Story Review

Gallifrey series 2

I was just recently thinking what a shame it was that Mary Tamm, who played the 1st Romana back in the 70’s, doesn’t get to continue playing Romana in the audio stories since her story is continued only with the second incarnation’s Presidency on Gallifrey.

Ha ha.  Spoilers.

She came back in Gallifrey series 2!  At first, it was just a brief cameo in the first episode: she was a matrix projection the first incarnation.  But finally at the end of the extra-long finale story, Imperiatrix, she returns as a reincarnation of an ancient Time Lady villain.  So, technically, Mary Tamm isn’t playing her original Romana character, but a reinvention of her person, but it’s still great fun to hear her back.  But perhaps I should start at the beginning.

Gallifrey series 2 is another round of stories of political intrigue as Gallifrey under Romana’s presidency continues to open its borders and its academy to various alien races with time travel technology, and various factions both within and without Gallifrey work to stop this and return to the old ways, or in the case of the Free Time terrorist group, utterly destroy the Gallifreyan hegemony of power over the time vortex.  Again we’ve got Romana, Leela, their K-9’s, and handful of Time Lord officials as the main players in the ongoing drama.  To a large extent, it continues from the events established in series 1 (namely the discovery of Andred, the Free Time terrorist threat, and the political machinations against Romana’s presidency).  But it also introduces one major new element to the situation: Pandora.  She was a Time Lord President in the ancient past who’d made herself Imperiatrix, started a war, and was eventually defeated by her own people and erased from history, though her mind survived in the matrix.

Plot Overview

It begins with the episode Lies, where Pandora is discovered in a hidden partition of the matrix, and she very nearly takes over Romana’s mind.  It takes the combined efforts of K9 and Narvin, the Coordinator of the CIA, to push Pandora back into the Matrix.  In this course of this story we are given a fascinating take on the seemingly-random regeneration from the 1st to the 2nd Romana.  Apparently, the 1st Romana had become aware of manipulation of her bloodline by Pandora, and became infected with the desire to become the next Imperiatrix.  Braxiatel, then her tutor, blocks that information from her conscious mind, but when Romana was tortured by agents of the Black Guardian in The Armageddon Factor the knowledge resurfaced, and she subsequently decided to regenerate to scramble and re-bury that knowledge & desire.  It’s a neat explanation, and settles well into established canon without having to rewrite anything.

The second episode, Spirit, is more focused on the present and the future.  Romana and Leela retreat to a vacation planet to work out what to do next.  Leela wants to leave Gallifrey, but it’s revealed that being around so many Time Lords has been keeping her body young unnaturally long; she’d age quickly and die if she left.  A strange plot device to keep her around, if you ask me, and I’m not sure if this idea shows up elsewhere in Doctor Who lore, but I’ll believe it.  They spend some time “relaxing” according to one another’s preferences in turn – an almost cliche bonding experience storyline – but in the course of this the planet is violated by a mysterious TARDIS with an even more mysterious occupant, who they figure out is from the future, but is too physically destroyed to be identifiable.  There’s also an amusing (fake) romance story between incidental characters on the side which gives an extra flair of world-building to the vacation planet.

The third episode, Pandora, sees the return of the titular character as she attempts to escape the Matrix by infiltrating K9 and other Time Lords such as the thus-far-hapless Castellan Wynter and even Cardinal (now-becoming-Chancellor) Braxiatel.  Analysis of the “broken man” from the previous episode is the big mystery being worked out here alongside the developing story of Pandora’s escape attempt, and the overall results hit with a bang: one main character is dead and another is banished from Gallifrey forever.  Apparently Braxiatel is also a recurring character in the Benny Summerfield stories, so at least we get the comfort that he goes on to have an interesting life away from home.  Inquisitor Darkel (the same from series 1 and from Trial of a Time Lord) also pops up at this point as an increasingly-significant character.  She didn’t like Romana’s presidency in series 1, and now her plottings against her are beginning to advance.

Episode 4, Insurgency, takes a sudden different perspective by focusing initially on a group of students at the Academy.  At first I thought this was going to be a story like Babylon 5’s A View from the Gallery, looking at the grand-scale events entirely through the eyes of lowly ordinary people. But as it turned out, the students were presented to us listeners to give us a sense of what’s happening on the ground as a result of the political issues: first one race and then another is being targeted by Gallifreyan xenophobes, and slowly the student body divides into racial factions and chaos ensues.  Leela’s temporary post as a lecturer was a bit hard to buy – I can understand her having much wisdom and experience to share with students, but in lecture format…!?  But her interaction with the students is an important aspect of how this story is told, so I’ll forgive the contrivance of her tutorship.

The final part, Imperiatrix, is longer than other stories.  It features the death of K9 Mark I, the almost-death of Leela and her decision to leave Gallifrey, and the almost-death of Coordinator Narvin.  The stakes are high throughout the story: a bomb has gone off in the Academy, killing many (mostly-alien) students, Inquisitor Darkel is on the road to getting herself elected President, Pandora is manipulating Romana to get herself free, Leela is following Narvin’s tracks searching for the academy bomber, and the mystery of Andred’s murder is being unraveled.  As I said at the outset, Pandora manifests herself at the end of this story as the body of the 1st Romana, and the two Romanas essentially instigate a Gallifreyan civil war between them, as both lay claim to the title of Imperiatrix.  The actual ending is a cliff-hanger with the 2nd Romana being sent to prison and Leela breaking off their friendship and deciding to leave Gallifrey to her likely death.

The Characters

Romana and Leela are the main characters throughout.  Romana’s character development is noticeable: with each story she becomes more and more desperate.  A recurring motif is her lack of friends (“Presidents can’t have friends”) and her loss of allies.  She turns to Leela in friendship as they bond in Spirit, and she feels very alone after the departure of Braxiatel in Pandora.  In Imperiatrix, most of Romana’s dialogue sounds like she’s constantly out of breath.  If this were television, it’d probably be overacting, but I don’t know how else they could show her increased fear, isolation, and desperation.

Leela still struggles, as in series 1, to understand her place on Gallifrey.  She wants to leave, but she’s growing towards forgiving Andred for his actions in series 1.  She respects Romana, but she’s growing in understanding of how much Romana respects her in return.  They’ve become a good team, but she’s still a fish out of water, and knows she always will be, so that tension is always there.  As this series leaves her, she considers her life to be over; there’s nothing left for her to do except join Andred in the peace of death.

The other characters who show up along the way were easier for me to keep straight than in series 1.  Either there were fewer of them this time around, they were more distinctly characterized, or I simply got better at remembering them.

Braxiatel was a faithful ally of Romana throughout, though even he had his secret ambitions and awkward history with her.

Andred was on the road to healing his original personality, though he was so plagued with his mistakes in series 1 that he never fully reconciled with anyone, making his death all the more tragic.

Narvin was a character I especially enjoyed.  He has the voice of a smooth-talking double-dealer, and his sense of guiltiness is thrown about constantly, but in the end he was man of the job more than anything else, which meant being loyal to a President he very much dislikes.  He’s kind of like a Severus Snape character: we all expect him to be the villain, but ultimately he’s a sort of hero by the end.

Darkel was a strong character; always the villain, but always keeping appearances above board.  I felt it was a bit of a shame to make the Trial of a Time Lord inquisitor into a villain, but on the other hand using the same character helps us old-school fans invest in the character all the more.  Besides, she didn’t really get much personal characterization in her role in the tv show back in the day, anyway, did she?

Overall Thoughts

I hadn’t been planning on buying series 3, but I think I need to, now.  At the time of writing this there are 8 series of Gallifrey stories, so there’s certainly a lot more to listen to.

The “timey-whimey” storytelling that was prevalent in series 1 is much less complex here.  Perhaps that focus when to characterization instead?  Works for me.  Maybe in the later series they’ll manage to do both?

Story Review

Interference (themes & parables)

Let’s start with the author’s own introduction to these books in his Foreword.

Interference is, for the most part, a political thriller.  But ‘political’ is a loaded word, especially here in the Doctor Who universe.  Let’s be honest, everyone expects us New Adventures writers to be left-wing right down to our DNA.  ‘Political’ usually means that Sam’s going to spend the book lounging around in a Greenpeace T-shirt, that Ace is going to start sharing her childhood memories of the Miner’s Strike, and that Prime Minister Thatcher is going to be revealed as the Valeyard in a wobbly rubber mask.

So here’s my personal disclaimer.

Interference doesn’t have a left-wing agenda, any more than it’s got a right-wing agenda.  And neither have I, come to think of it.  My handy desktop dictionary tells me that ‘politics’ means ‘the complex of relationships between people in a society’, and, as you’ll soon be finding out, that’s what Interference is all about: the systems that hold our cultures together, regardless of who we’re supposed to be voting for.

In a nutshell, what I’m saying is this.  Interference may not be a manifesto, but it isn’t exactly escapism, either.  It’s about us.  All of us.

I think the word I’m looking for is ‘fable’.

Indeed, Lawrence Miles has written a fable, or as I might term it, a parable.

Interference is a very interesting pair of Doctor Who books.  Like several of its EDA predecessors it’s rather heady – unashamedly digging into the psychology and culture of the antagonists (the Remote and Faction Paradox) – and it provides some jarring questions of the Doctor’s principles of when (and when not to) get involved in things, especially on Earth.  It’s also not afraid to make casual use of foreign or alien technology from an alien perspective, rather than just give Sam or Fitz’s view all the time.

But most compelling of all is the concept of interference:

  • The Doctor interferes wherever he goes – what does that make him?
    • His interference countered what others intended for Ace in the NA books.
    • His interference helped create the Sam Jones he travels with.
  • The Faction interfered with their human servants, The Remote.
  • I. M. Foreman has interfered with his own lives, and (inadvertently) the Doctor’s.
  • Television and other broadcasts are made less clear by interference.
  • Interference patterns seem to be a mode of transport for the Remote.

And most interestingly, the Remote listen to broadcasts in order to make decisions, like how people in real life are subliminally effected by tv, advertisements, the radio, and so on.  This is a very prominent aspect of the books; the people of the Remote are total anarchists in that they have no cohesive society, let alone government, but nevertheless remain a functional cultural unit by means of “the media,” their central transmission center from where all their information signals originate.

Sam Jones is sucked inside the media, eventually, and the Remote get to watch how she would react to different situations, trying to learn why she thinks the way she does, and how her system of morality works.  To the Remote, Sam (and virtually everyone else in real life) is a baffling collection of contradictions: why is it easier to sacrifice a planet full of people than one close friend? why is it easier to sacrifice yourself than a baby?  They finally learn that Sam has convictions, principles.  This moral resolution then becomes part of the media, and it splits the Remote society in two as everyone starts developing principles and coming to differing conclusions about whether their mission is worth continuing or not.

This comes off as a(n almost heavy-handed) critique of our real life societies that are so profoundly influenced by what we see and hear in the media, yet we also cling to moral resolutions (be they a political cause, a religious faith, philosophy, or whatever else).  Heavy-handed or not, it is a thought-provoking question; how much is my thinking and view of the world influenced by my prolific Facebook use?  How different would I be if had spent more time reading books than watching tv as a teenager?  What messages and ideas am I internalizing with the music styles that I listen to?  And how does all this clash with my sense of self, my faith as a Christian, my cultural perspective as an American with an English parent?

There is an awful lot of interference in the media; people want their ideas to be heard and proliferated.  There are arguments, there are contradictions, there are civil debates, and there is intentional subterfuge to undermine one worldview or another.  Just how free is free will, when it’s nearly impossible to determine all the influences upon one’s life?

Or, more simply, how bizarre must one person’s perspective seem to another person who has been listening to different signals and has developed different moral principles?

I am very aware that many of the things I preach as an Anglican minister sound pretty ridiculous to, say, an atheist.  But how does the media give us common ground for understanding, or divide us into increasingly polarized factions?

Interference is a darn good story, and gets you thinking about life.  I highly recommend it.

Story Review

Interference (characters & plots)

Arguably the most epic Doctor Who story ever put to print is the twovolume story Interference, by Lawrence Miles.  I think it’s worth sharing the table of contents for these two books, to show how this story is told.

Interference Book One: Shock Tactics

FOREMAN’S WORLD: MORNING ON THE FIRST DAY

WHAT HAPPENED ON EARTH (PART ONE)

  • Gibberish (introducing Mr. Llewis)
  • One of the Good People (how Sam Jones got to be where she is today)
  • Travels with Fitz (I)
  • A Day in the Life (18 August)
  • Four Rooms (running around… etc.)
  • Travels with Fitz (II)
  • Unfortunate Episodes (Sam finally gets into television)
  • Dog Out of a Machine (six characters in search of some exits)
  • Travels with Fitz (III)
  • The Smith Report (getting to the bottom of things…)
  • Another Day in the Life (19 August)
  • Travels with Fitz (IV)
  • Definitions (Sam learns a thing or two about the Remote…)
  • Nowhere is Better than Here (at last, Anathema)
  • Travels with Fitz (V)
  • One Girl and Her Ogron (the beginning of a beautiful friendship)
  • Faster than the Speed of Dark (Ancient Gallifrey: The Mini-series)
  • Travels with Fitz (VI)
  • The Last Day in the Life (20 August)

FOREMAN”S WORLD: AFTERNOON ON THE FIRST DAY

WHAT HAPPENED ON DUST (PART ONE)

  • Moving Target (it’s always high noon somewhere)
  • Explain Earlier (how times change)
  • Patterns in the Dust (the Doctor takes coffee while history unfolds)
  • The Show (Sarah Jane Smith is not amused)
  • A Fistful of Meanwhiles (what everyone was doing just before the big fight)

FOREMAN’s WORLD: EVENING ON THE FIRST DAY

Interference Book Two: The Hour of the Geek

FOREMAN’S WORLD: MORNING ON THE SECOND DAY

WHAT HAPPENED ON EARTH (PART TWO)

  • The Darker Side of Enlightenment
  • Travels with Fitz (VII)
  • Realpolitik
  • Sacrifices, Episode One
  • Travels with Fitz (VIII)
  • Rewired
  • Sacrifices, Episode Two
  • Travels with Fitz (IX)
  • The Nature of the Beast
  • Multiple Homecoming
  • Travels with Fitz (X)
  • Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation
  • Voodoo Economics
  • Travels with Fitz (XI)
  • Indestructible, Ms Jones?
  • Cool
  • Travels with Fitz (XII)
  • Coda 1: Coming Down to Earth

FOREMAN’S WORLD: AFTERNOON ON THE SECOND DAY

WHAT HAPPENED ON DUST (PART TWO)

  • How I Was Made
  • Face-Off
  • Army of Me
  • Building the Perfect Monster
  • Control
  • Coda 2: Interference Patterns

FOREMAN’S WORLD: EVENING ON THE SECOND DAY

– – –

As you can see, there is a lot going on these books, and the chapter headings are intentionally blatant about where you are in the story.  At first I thought this was going to be a bit silly, but it turned out to be helpful for keeping track of things.

Plot 1: Foreman’s World

The story is bookended by a meeting between the 8th Doctor and a mysterious woman named I.M. Foreman.  They’re telling each other the story of what just happened to each of them – the Doctor in his Earth-based story, and I.M. Foreman in her Dust-based story.  At the beginning, middle, and end of both volumes, the narrative returns to these two characters as they try to sort out what has just happened, though it’s clear the Doctor is the one mostly trying to work it all out, seeking Foreman’s side of the story for clarity.

Plot 2: Earth

The Earth-based story features the 8th Doctor, Sam, Fitz, and Sarah Jane Smith & K9 in 1996.  They’re investigating an alien arms deal going on, on behalf of UNIT, but quickly become separated into their own different adventures which don’t come back together until towards the end of book two.  The identity of all the antagonists are not clear for a while, as they each have to figure out who the Remote are, what their relationship to Faction Paradox is, and who the Doctor’s captors are.

Plot 2a: Imprisoned

The 8th Doctor spends most of these books in a prison cell, first with a fellow prisoner, and later all alone until his rescue.  His torture is brutal, and the technology used against him makes it difficult to believe he’s still on Earth in 1996 at all.

Plot 2b: Investigating

Sam is investigating “the Remote” in England, and quickly teams up with Sarah Jane Smith (and an Ogron, of all monsters!) to work out who they are, what the technology is that they’re selling to Earth governments, and what happened to the Doctor and Fitz.

Plot 3c: Isolated

Fitz gets captured by the Remote early on, and finds himself stranded on a human colony several centuries in the future.  He travels with a group of servants of Faction Paradox for a few years before his fate is sealed and his “remembrance” is left for the Doctor and Sam to discover in their own time.  (I’d explain more, but would prefer to keep this review low on spoilers.)

Plot 4: Dust

The planet called Dust is on the outer edge of the Milky Way Galaxy and both is and represents the decaying dumpsite of society.  Everything is dying, except for hope and aspirations which are long-dead.  A mysterious traveling freak show arrives outside a town, attracting the populace to explore it, and the 3rd Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith also arrive and get caught up in events.  Faction Paradox also is nearby, preparing an assault on the planet, and the traveling show is led by a strange blind man who calls himself I.M. Foreman.

Putting the Pieces Together

In all, this is a pair of books with several plot threads that run in tandem with each other in at least three different time zones.  The blatant organization of the books helps the reader keep straight the chronology of events as certain characters and groups travel through time forward and back.  This is another example of the “timey-whimey” storytelling style, before Steven Moffatt became infamous for it.  And despite the complex weaving of these adventures, they all come together very succinctly at the end of book two.

Interestingly, one may also be able to read just the Earth portion of each book, or just the Dust portion of each book, and have them make sense independently.  But it’s in putting them together that the full narrative is realized, and it’s in the Doctor’s and I.M. Foreman’s retrospection on that full narrative on Foreman’s World after the fact that allows us to process the full impact of all that happened.

And yet, there are questions left unanswered at the end of the books – more mysteries to be explored in later books in the EDA series.  How successful was/is the Doctor’s rehabilitation of Fitz?  What exactly was Faction Paradox’s involvement in Sam’s life before meeting the Doctor, and what will happen to her now she’s gone?  How does this book’s change to the 3rd Doctor’s regeneration story reconcile with Planet of the Spiders? Is the 8th Doctor now a servant of Faction Paradox?

The Pieces That Were Put Together

Despite the questions, a lot of previous multi-story arcs have been tied up.  We’ve seen a more complete accounting for the mystery of Sam’s pre-Doctor life hinted at in Unnatural History.  She’s also finally gone home, as she resolved in Autumn Mist.  Fitz has matured quite a bit in this story, from the sex-hungry smoker he started out as when he was first introduced.  The Doctor, too, has come to terms with his human-like regeneration and romantic side out loud (as described in my previous post).

We’ve also gotten further insight into two major features of the EDA books: Faction Paradox and the Time Lord War.  The Faction, introduced in Alien Bodies (if I recall) and brought back to our attention in Unnatural History, now have a clearer past in Gallifreyan history.  They have ties to the Time Lord Vampire cult dealt with in Goth Opera.  They have a base in London called the Eleven Day Empire.  The Time Lords, meanwhile, are revealed to be embroiled in a nasty war that has them so concerned that they’re looking for a means of escape from the universe as a backup plan.  Although this war is in the Doctor’s future, relative to his “home time” on Gallifrey, hints of it and its effects are trickling back upon him now.  This, too, was hinted at in Alien Bodies, and will crop up again throughout the EDA books.  In my own sense of fan theory, this mysterious war comprises one of the Time Wars that the modern tv show looks back upon.  But that’s another post for another time.

I’ll be writing about the Intereference books one more time, looking at the their themes, and with a real-world consideration as well.

Character Review

The Doctor: Humanity and Romance

One of the bombshells in the Doctor Who TV movie that rocked the world of fandom (and still rears its head from time to time even today) is the apparent revelation that the Doctor is half human (on his mother’s side).

At first it was just a throwaway line, easily there to provoke a laugh.  But then it came up again as the Master observed the Doctor’s biosigns in the TARDIS, and the Doctor’s half-humanity became a major plot point towards the furtherance of the Master’s schemes.

To folks like me, just kids at the time this aired, it kind of made sense.  It explains why the Doctor favored Earth so much.  It explains why he travels with humans most of the time.  It explains why he doesn’t get along with the rest of the Time Lords all that well.  I had never read any of The New Adventures books of the previous several years, which firmly grounded the Doctor’s origins in an entirely alien (Gallifreyan) background.

Most of Doctor Who canon basically swept this plot point under the carpet.  It never came up in the new show, it never came up in Big Finish.  But the writers of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, from BBC Books, as the immediate heirs to the continuing Doctor Who franchise after the tv movie, had to grapple with this major interrupt to established canon.  Among the books in the first couple years of the series, hints are periodically dropped that the Doctor may or may not be part human.  Sometimes he suggests that he is.  Sometimes he suggests that he’s lying.  Agents of Faction Paradox, a sort of ex-Time Lord cult, also observe strange threads in the Doctor’s biodata that provide contradictory information regarding his family background, as it were.  There is even a theory (with evidence from tv, audios, and books) that Time Lords can regenerate into different species.

But finally, at the end of the epic two-volume book Interference, where many plot arcs resolve, we come across this golden bit of dialogue that very nearly settles the matter:

‘Now you can answer a question,’ she said.  The Doctor cocked his head at her, so she kept talking.  ‘Your travelling companions.  Like Sarah Jane.  Like Sam.’

‘Yes?’

She felt that smile tugging at the edge of her mouth again.  ‘Do you ever get… urges?’

It was hard to describe exactly what happened to the Doctor’s face at that point.

‘I’m only asking because of the state your body’s in,’ I. M. Foreman told him.  ‘There’s a lot of material in your biodata I don’t think I recognise.  And I think some of it looks a lot more human that it’s supposed to.’

‘Sometimes,’ said the Doctor.  Suddenly all the character had gone out of his face.  He’d stopped acting, the way he usually did only when he was asleep.  For once, he was telling the absolute truth.  ‘Only since I regenerated into this body,’ he added, a little too quickly.  ‘It started after the change.  It wasn’t an urge, as such.  It was just a feeling that… there was something missing.  That there was an element to my life I’d been ignoring.’

‘Love?’ suggested I. M. Foreman.  The word sounded flat and stupid in her mouth.

The Doctor shook his head.  ‘Romance, I think.  The excitement of being close to someone.  The need to exchange ideas on a more personal level.  To be able to tell someone what you really believe.  To express things in ways that make sense only if you’re attached to another… well, if you’re attached.’

‘But not Sam?  I mean -‘

‘No.  It wouldn’t be fair on her.  It wouldn’t be fair on any of them.  I come with a lot of baggage, you know that.  Time Lords come fitted with all sorts of inbuilt features.  All sorts of protocols, all sorts of defences.  And I’m more complex than most.  I can’t afford to let anybody get too close, not even another Gallifreyan.  Certainly not a human being.’

Interference – Book Two, by Lawrence Miles, pages 258-259

What we find here is an affirmation that the 8th Doctor is part human in his biological makeup, but it’s a trait that is new to his person, not a matter of his actual origins.  And furthermore it links up to the second big change in the TV Movie: the Doctor’s romantic side.

In a way, bringing a (even partially) romantic element to the character of the Doctor was inevitable.  And especially since each incarnation is (intentionally) different from the previous, now was the time to do it.  The 7th Doctor was arguably the least romantic of all his predecessors, especially as his character developed in the books and audios.  So now it was time for a romantic, who could charm the ladies and begin the tradition of companions and Doctors kissing each other – virtually a trope of the modern tv series since 2005.

The 8th Doctor kissed Grace, and she asked him to do that again.  Sam Jones fell in love with the Doctor and then ran away because it was super awkward.  Charlotte Pollard fell in love with the Doctor and then got angry because when he said “I love you too” he didn’t mean the same thing she meant.  This lovely dialogue with I. M. Foreman, quoted above, sets out a brilliant premise for the 8th Doctor’s romantic nature, and also for subsequent regenerations (especially the 10th Doctor alongside Rose and Martha).

As a fan who was never remotely a shipper of “Ten and Rose”, as they say, this insight is very satisfying.  Yes, the Doctor wants to connect with his other people more closely.  Yes, starting with the 8th incarnation he is willing to go to greater lengths (even in his biodata) to associate and identify with humanity.  Yes, he sometimes wants to have a special love-like connection with his traveling companion(s).  But he knows, at the base of it, he is far too old and far to complex for any human to handle an actual romantic relationship with him.

As Missy put it in World Enough And Time, “that’s cradle rocking!”