Story Review

The Ancestor Cell

This book may be the most significant milestone in the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures novels.  You should probably have the 8th Doctor’s soundtrack playing in the background while you read the book, at least while you read this post.

From the back cover (and the relevant TARDIS Wiki page):

The Doctor‘s not the man he was. But what has he become? An old enemy — Faction Paradox, a cult of time-travelling voodooterrorists — is finally making him one of its own. These rebels have a mission for him, one that will deliver him into the hands of his own people, who have decreed that he must die. Except now, it seems, the Time Lords have a mission for him too…

gargantuan structure, hewn from solid bone, has appeared in the skies over Gallifrey. Its origin and purpose are unknown, but its powers threaten to tear apart the web of time and the universe with it. Only the Doctor can get inside… but soon he will learn that nothing is safe and nothing sacred.

Shot by both sides, confronted by past sins and future crimes, the Doctor finds himself a prisoner of his own actions. With options finally running out, he must face his most crushing defeat or take one last, desperate chance for salvation…

I’m going to start this review in an unusual fashion, giving snapshots of some of my thoughts I jotted down while reading the book.  This way the heaviest spoilers will be reserved toward the end of the post.

Snapshots en route…

I’m over 100 pages in so far.  I still have no idea of the big picture yet.  The remembrance-flower-shaped* Edifice seems like a faction artifact but they have no record of it, so they’re assuming it’s from an overwritten past.
The Enemy in the Time War has been presumed to be from Earth but a key book discovered by a researcher suggests that’s a lie.
Fitz is holding his own pretty well with some Faction-friendly cultists on Gallifrey, though it seems they’re about to summon his alternate/original future self, Father Kreiner,** from the distant future, which could be interesting.  The Faction seem to have the bottle universe that the Doctor got from I. M. Foreman on Dust,** and are (trying to) travel back and forth from its universe and ours.
The Interludes are the most revealing, so far, featuring a Time Lord from the distant future trying to uncover the truth of the “Event” that started the war – presumably this very story.  This man had sent a ship to attack Earth – probably the black Seal of Rassilon we saw in Interference.**  We also get a cool snippet of Time War battle on page 27:

chance has been eliminated.  Each battle is fought and refought until time is so worn down it can no longer support the conflict, and collapses.  The hole is sealed, the battle moves on, never won or lost, merely re-enacted by both sides again and again.

* the Remembrance Flower was first mentioned by the Doctor in Dead Time.
** these are references to the two-volume story Interference.

Also there are 9 Gallifreys now: 8 clones of the original.
And Romana III is cold.
Oh, and the Klein Bottle concept was fun to look up.

On pages 129-130 = the Doctor’s butterflies are found, long dead, on the Edifice.  Theory: the Edifice is his original TARDIS!  [It was presumed destroyed in The Shadows of Avalon.]
Ah, by page 140 it’s confirmed!  And the dusty ghost of the 3rd Doctor, having chosen spiders as his “lookouts” for help on board, starts linking it all together.  Still not quite half way through the book, though…

Page 146 is the half-way point cliffhanger.  “And then all the Time Lords will join the Faction.” (It occurs to me to wonder if there’s a parallel between the Faction and the Free Time Movement in Big Finish’s Gallifrey series?)

Page 154 = the TARDIS (now the Edifice) effectively turned itself into a Paradox Machine, keeping the Doctor’s timeline on track despite the edit causing his 3rd incarnation to regenerate on Dust!  Chapter 26 as a whole is a big revealing scene about the Faction’s probably failure, the TARDIS’ heroism, and the future War.

Page 195 – Greyjan is described as the “Master of the Three Gallifreys” – it was 9 near the beginning and been steadily decreasing.  Alarming!
Page 197 – Only one other Gallifrey exists now, though Greyjan remembers ideas to create 8 or 9 as described early in this book.
(Fitz notices the changes too: the Panopticon has fallen from 6 to 5 to 4 sides/colleges.  It’s folding in on itself until nothing will be left!)

Page 200-1 postulate the nature of the Enemy: utterly alien beings from a different ‘Ancestor Cell’ as our universe’s life forms.  The Klein Bottle universe, in the vortex, is leaking energy, empowering the TARDIS/Edifice and attracting the Enemy after super-evolving them.  Crazy times.

Page 237 – Mother Tarra quotes the 2nd Doctor at him (“nobody in the universe can do what we’re doing”).  Grandfather Paradox takes the form of the Doctor, but bald.
Page 240 – The Grandfather accuses the Doctor with a familiar line (not quoting exactly): “You flit about from one to another, never daring to stay in one place too long.”  This is almost exactly what Blon Fel-fotch Slitheen said in Boom Town!

Putting the Pieces Together

I originally thought Interference was the big climax in the middle of the novel series.  Although it does serve as a point of closure for some stories, like that of Sam Jones, it’s also a set-up for the next group of books that culminate here in The Ancestor Cell.

Piece #1: The Enemy

The title of this book is taken from a Time Lord theory developed by past President Greyjan the Sane who mysteriously took his own life shortly after taking office, and was resurrected by the Faction in this book.  He postulated (rather controversially) that all life in our universe derived from a single cell in the primordial era, an “ancestor cell”.  That explains why the cellular processes of virtually every known organism is so similar.  But there were other bio-cells back then which simply didn’t survive or evolve much, and it is finally explained that the Enemy in the coming Time War are a race that have been super-evolved by accident from a different ancestor cell.  They are therefore more utterly alien than anything imaginable, impossible to relate to, impossible to communicate with or understand.  It’s a neat theory, and only stands up to scrutiny by the fact that the Enemy is never seen or observed; only detected in approach toward Gallifrey and the effect of their first strike felt.

The accident that caused them to evolve millions of years overnight comes back to the bottle universe introduced in Interference.  It was presumably made by I. M. Foreman essentially for fun and eventually given to the Doctor, but the Time Lords stole it from the Doctor in the hopes of using it as an escape route if the coming War didn’t go well.  They hid it in the 4-dimensional Time Vortex for safe keeping.  Unfortunately, it’s a Klein Bottle, which means that the inside and outside connect to each other in 4-dimensional space, and therefore its contents were leaking all over the vortex.  Its strange energies enlived the ancient foreign cells and evolved them extremely rapidly.  Thus the Time Lords are actually responsible for the creation of their own Enemy.

Piece #2: Will the real Fitz Kreiner please stand up?

The Fitz who has been traveling with the Doctor since Interference is a “remembered” version of the original.  Faction Paradox’s pawn group, The Remote, reproduced by inserting raw biomass into a ‘remembrance tank’ and sharing their memories of the deceased until the tank has enough information to generate a new version of the deceased.  Of course, memories are fickle things, so people end up more and more stereotyped versions of themselves.  The Doctor had used the TARDIS to restore the Nth-generation Fitz back to his original self, which seems to have worked as far as we can tell, but caused Fitz periodic insecurity about his identity.

This comes to a final resolution in this book as is brought face to face with his original self, who had gone on to become a powerful member of the Faction, “Father Kreiner.”  Who gets the “real” claim to being the “original” Fitz Kreiner, and what does that even mean at this point?  It’s a great character moment for Fitz as he wrangles with his ancient original self and finally asserts himself as “real enough” based on personality and self-consciousness, rather than merely physical concerns.

Father Kreiner, too, finds himself wrestling with his hatred for the Doctor, and reconciling with their former friendship.  His true motives and loyalties don’t settle down until the end.

Piece #3: the Doctor’s TARDIS

It was pretty certain that the Doctor’s TARDIS really was destroyed in the beginning of The Shadows of Avalon.  The reader could hold out hope, but we were thrown no hints to justify that hope.  So it is a pleasant surprise that, as the Doctor and others explore the Edifice looming over Gallifrey, it turns out to be the dying remains of his original TARDIS.  Like in The Day of the Doctor, a dying TARDIS expands its external dimensions to match the size of the internal, though in this case it takes the appearance of a remembrance flower.

As I noted in the “snapshots” above, the TARDIS had taken on the function of a sort of paradox machine, protecting the Doctor’s timeline from the Faction’s infection when they caused his 3rd incarnation to regenerate in the wrong time and place.  This staved off the infection of Paradox, allowing the 8th Doctor to resist longer throughout this book despite being face to face with increasingly powerful Faction members.  The longer the TARDIS maintained the paradox though, the more energy it took, which is why it finally burst a few novels ago.  Nevertheless, it clung on to life, drifting back to Gallifrey, and a sort of dust-ghost of the 3rd Doctor ran the place until the Doctor returned in person.

By this point, though, the TARDIS is practically dead.  Its caretaker spiders are out of control, viciously killing everyone who comes aboard (except for the Doctor), and it threatens to collapse, potentially destroying several star systems worth of space around it.  Its effects are felt throughout the book, which is why there’s a great deal of speculation early on regarding its origin – if it’s a Faction weapon or sent by the Enemy or what.

Piece #3: The Faction’s Conquest of Gallifrey

With the threat of a Time War looming ever heavier on the minds of the Time Lords, more and more ancient cults and superstitions started reappearing.  Early in this book we are introduced to a group of students dabbling in Faction Paradox-like rituals which summon Fitz, then later reconstitute President Greyjan, and finally summon Father Kreiner.  It turns out that one of the students is actually a Faction agent, Mother Tarra, using the body of a now-dead young Time Lady.

Things escalate from silly to serious, as more Faction characters emerge.  They believe they’re in the final phase of recruiting the Doctor to their cause.  They plan to use the Enemy’s first strike as an opportunity to seize control of Gallifrey and fight the War their own way.  They plan to use the resurrected Greyjan to hand control of the Matrix over to them so they can move their Eleven Day Empire and shadow parliament to Gallifrey and transform the entire world into a Faction bastion.  They anticipate using the Edifice as a weapon too, though the Doctor keeps the truth about that from them as long as possible, as it would reveal his last source of freedom from their influence.

Towards the end, when the technically-non-existent Grandfather Paradox begins to manifest himself physically, he does so as the 8th Doctor’s future self: bald, angry, hardened.  Like the 5th Doctor and Nyssa in Plague of the Daleks he is prepared to fight to make sure his ‘past self’ will become himself.

The End

Like the Last Great Time War with the Daleks, the Doctor is faced with a choice: watch Gallifrey fall to its enemies who will go on to infect and destroy the entire universe, or destroy Gallifrey and its enemies in one blow.  All he has to do is cut the last strands of life in his dying TARDIS and it will destroy everything.

Below, on Gallifrey, the Faction are using the Matrix to overlay their reality upon the Time Lords’.  The Enemy has begun its first strike of the Time War, slaughtering countless Time Lords across the city.  His 3rd Doctor ghost says there are three solutions but only has time to list two before Grandfather Paradox silences him: either give in to Paradox or destroy everything.  The third solution, presumably, would have been the magic bullet to defeat the bad guys and rescue Gallifrey, but it is never stated nor figured out.  And so, with the Grandfather desperately trying to stop him, the Doctor finally chooses option #2.

In the aftermath, Compassion manages to rescue a Time Lord technician, the Doctor, Fitz, and a piece of the destroyed TARDIS.  She drops the Doctor off on Earth with the TARDIS remnant, which will regrow itself in about a century if kept near him.  His memory is addled, but he’s alive.  She drops Fitz off on Earth in 2001 to meet up with the Doctor when he should be recovered.  She then runs off with Nivet the technician to explore the universe, a welcome end for her character after going through so much suffering, especially in this book where both the Time Lords and the Faction nearly killed her in the process of trying to capture and subjugate her.

So now we’ve got a memory-less Earthbound Doctor for a while, and we’ll just have to see how he recovers.

Story Review

The Three Companions

For about a year, largely in 2009, the monthly range of Big Finish stories came with a series of 10-minute short stories.  Like the original television stories they began by having individual episode names and switched over to numbered episodes under the overarching name The Three Companions.

It begins simply with Polly and the Brigadier writing back and forth, the former having discovered the latter’s connection with the Doctor thanks to Jo Grant (married name Jo Jones) accidentally blogging about him and the Doctor and the TARDIS.  There is some amusing back-and-forth for a while as Polly is surprised by the fact that the Doctor regenerated again – indeed it’s like 1960’s Doctor Who coming to terms with what it became in the 70’s and 80’s!

For the most part The Three Companions forms three stories: Polly’s, the Brigadier’s, and Thomas Brewster’s.

Polly’s story includes the 2nd Doctor, Ben, and Jamie.  They land on an abandoned planet and run across an automated system that’s meant to get the colonists (employees of a mega-corporation) evacuated off-world.  They also run across a shady character running a salvage operation.

The Brigadier’s story involves a brief trip with him and the 3rd Doctor.  They end up in a strange artificial world that features all sorts of periods of history, and re-uses the same characters over and over, including people who look just like Polly.  And there’s a nasty monster lurking there, called a Coffin Loader.  The man who’s supposed to looking after the place is finally tracked down, and he tries to sell out the Doctor and steal the TARDIS.

Brewster’s story ties this all together.  The semi-villain of the previous two stories turns out to be his current employer, just using different cover names each time.  A Coffin Loader monster is loose in London, and Brewster has to navigate some complicated dealings between his employer and another alien involved in the whole scheme.

Honestly, I wasn’t crazy about this story as time went on.  I think you need to bunch it together and listen to the whole thing to figure out what’s going on in the last third of The Three Companions; getting 10 minutes every month (or even every week at the pace I was listening to them) just isn’t enough to remember what happened before.  The characters were good, and the interaction between the classic characters was priceless, and the tie-in to Joe Jones and her husband was fun, and the narration by the three voice actors were all quite excellent.  It was just the overall plotting that I struggled to keep up with towards the end.

But if you ignore the plot development and take the first stories on their own terms, it’s still really good fun.

Story Review

Charlotte Pollard series 1

Charlotte Pollard, Charlie to her friends, has a spin-of series!  Actually, there are two, but this is a crash-course overview of the first box set.

These are four one-hour stories that tell the story of Charlotte Pollard after the events of Blue Forgotten Planet, where she finally leaves the 6th Doctor without memory of her.

The Lamentation Cipher:

  • This story takes place at/around a strange spacio-temporal anomaly, “The Ever and Ever Prolixity”
  • She meets Robert Bucham though his memory of meeting her is erased twice.
  • The Viyrans call her their friend and “need” her.
  • A rogue Viyran (I’m guessing from their future) dies helping her escape to the Prolixity.
  • Charlotte is apparently “more important to the universe than she knows”.
  • The Viyrans commit themselves fully to her recapture.

The Shadow at the Edge of the World:

  • Charlotte wakes up in a forest with a group of women who are going crazy
  • they’re on the run from Slatherins, silver ape-like creatures
  • eventually Charlotte discovers she’s in Scotland in the late 1930’s, a few years after she originally left
  • finally they arrive at an ancient temple and meet a viyran expedition who don’t recognize Charlotte.  they explain that the slatherins are infected humans (men) who mutated, and the women are being observed to learn why they’re immune
  • in the temple Charlotte and a Viyran see an arm of the Prolixity – a portal connected to it somehow, from which the virus came and through which (somehow) Charlotte’s escape pod got shot
  • rather than being recruited by this group of Viyrans, Charlotte hurls herself into the portal to see where she ends up next
  • A Viyran communique arrives after she leaves, ordering that Charlotte must be recaptured because she “holds the key to universe havoc and despair, for she possesses the lamentation cipher.”

The Fall of the House of Pollard:

  • Charlotte is trapped, formless, in an empty void but eventually is able to communicate with a “Mr. Dee”
  • Lord Richard Pollard and what’s left of his household is on the verge of bankruptcy
  • Richard wants to be left alone, living in denial
  • Mr. D shows up at the house, having heard the voice of Charlotte, and with great difficulty convinces them to let him in and summon her spirit
  • Charlotte eventually is rescued via her psychic link with Mr. Dee, years after she was believed dead on the R-101.
  • It’s a touching reunion, and harrowing, as Charlotte learns the destitution caused not only by the stock market crash in 1930 but also the doctor and detective bills in the aftermath of the airship crash.
  • The Viyrans track her there and burn out the brain of Mr. Dee attempting to wipe his memory of Charlotte Pollard
  • Charlotte gets to have her “be proud of me” send-off with her parents, though her parents’ memory of her visit is sadly wiped
  • She is told by the Viyrans that she has the lamentation cipher, but she doesn’t know what that means
  • Epilogue: Richard Pollard decides to sell the London house instead of the country house, with a new investment idea (leftover from Charlotte’s suggestion) that will restore their fortunes; the family is trying to get back together – the good impact that Charlotte’s visit had managed to survive even though they completely forgot they ever had Charlotte at all!

The Viyran Solution:

  • It begins with Charlotte spacing herself, as she wants it all to end now.
  • Charlotte is told that one of the time viruses has mutated and escaped to the dawn of time, causing a secondary infection: “life” itself.  The Viyrans are planning to destroy life’s ability to change and adapt at the dawn of time.  The Proloxity is actually a creation of the time virus that they’ve learned to control over the past two years.
  • Robert B. is there, working for them, but secretly working against them.
  • Robert’s father spearheads an attack on the Viyran ship, enabling Robert & Charlotte to escape.
  • She is now age 2,900-something, or age 23, depending how you look at it.
  • Robert finds the weird Viyran from the first story.  Its mission is to stop the present Viyrans from destroying all life.  He reveals that the Lamentation Cipher is the Creators’ fail-safe that destroys all the Viyrans, to be used if their mission is compromised.
  • The Viyrans give their invaders a last chance to surrender, and they arrogantly refuse; so the Viyrans overpower the soldiers and recruit Mr. Bucham and Dr. Millicent.
  • Charlotte returns to the Viyran commander, hoping to bluff her way into convincing them to abort their mission.
  • The weird future Viyran reveals to Robert he actually infected Charlotte with a virus to stop the Viyrans.  They are overpowered by it and she makes her escape again.
  • Mr. Bucham takes the Viyran’s “palasia” hoping to make money off it and is promptly melted and dies.
  • Charlotte is trapped in an airlock and is stuck: either be captured and allow the Viyrans to regain their memory of their plan to destroy all life, or die so she can save the universe.  (This is the spacing scene at the beginning.)
  • The future Viyran saves Charlotte’s life by giving her his protective suit.  He then sacrifices himself to seal the Prolixity forever.
  • The Viyrans pick up where they left off before their madcap scheme was made, back to their usual program of tracking and neutralizing viruses, now with Dr. Millicent Bellinger as their human assistant instead of Charlotte.
  • Charlotte and Robert run off together, one last trip through the prolixity to goodness knows where!

All in all, it’s a well-formed story in four parts.  Big Finish has made a lot of “box sets” like this, and I’ve only listened to a couple of them so far.  Despite being a spin-off for a long-standing Doctor Who companion, I think this set actually may be pretty accessible to the first-time listener.  All you have to know is that Charlotte used to be a companion to the Doctor (don’t even need to know which ones!), and the rest is pretty self-explanatory.  She makes a few wistful references to the Doctor and the travels together back in the day, but she’s her own main character now.  Prior knowledge of the Viyrans is helpful for getting into this story, but probably not required.

Would I recommend this set?  Well, it depends what you’re looking for.  Series 1 has some good stories, fun characters, complex plots formed by the villains (insofar as the Viyrans are the villains here), and provides a satisfying addition to Charlotte’s story.  So if you’re a Charlie fan, this is definitely worth checking out.

Oh, and it’s available for free on Spotify.  So you can check it out for free if you want!

Story Review

The Architects of History

The Klein trilogy ends with the exciting adventure, The Architects of History.  This title, even before getting to the story itself, is perfect for Klein and the 7th Doctor, who have been vying for control of the TARDIS and respectively putting or keeping the timeline on its proper course.  With Klein’s successful capture of the TARDIS at the end of the previous story, it is clear that she has embarked on a journey to re-write time such that the Third Reich will be victorious once again.

This story takes place in 2044, the centenary of the Reich’s golden age, according to Klein’s edited timeline.  But it becomes apparent that this is not simply an edited timeline, it is a constantly re-edited timeline, for Klein has established a Bureau of Temporal Affairs under the direct authority of the Fuhrer, and their responsibility is to learn the nature of all threats to the Reich in the future and then nip them in the bud in the past.  All the way from lowly individual insurrectionists who dare to breed with genetically unsuitable partners, to full-scale Dalek invasions, they deal with it all.  And my are they feared!

One of the unfortunate side-effects of this arrangement is that some of the Reich’s most decorated war veterans have had nearly all of their battles pre-arranged for them, so when the shark-like Selashians arrive and attack the Nazi Moon Base (haha, seriously) the General in charge kind of falls to pieces.  He doesn’t really get his act together until the final episode of this story, at which point he’s powerfully defiant against his conquerors and unafraid to do his worst.

There is a lot of obfuscation in this story, as multiple characters are under cover.  Klein’s own loyalty to the Reich is waning as she’s beginning to think more of her retirement (and the fact that despite training others, she’s still virtually irreplaceable).  One of the main characters turns out to be an unwilling Selashian spy.  Another turns out to be the traveling companion of the (7th) Doctor in this timeline.  The Doctor turns out to be from the original timeline, having somehow replaced the one native to this alternative one.

(That is convenient for the story, of course, but I couldn’t help but feel that this flies in the face of how alternative timelines and edited histories typically work, both in Doctor Who and in general theory.  In this story, the original-timeline Doctor literally replaced the alternative-timeline Doctor, and had to spend a great deal of time trying to bluff his way through the plans that his alternative self had already orchestrated.  On this count alone, I’m kind of irked by this story.)

Where the temporal physics are a bit weird, the character interaction is fantastic.  Three major characters end up forced to work together, ready to betray one another at the slightest opportunity: Klein who essentially just wants to escape with the Doctor before she gets killed, Richter who is her assistant and fanatically loyal to the Reich such that he’s ready to mutiny against her, and Rachel Cooper who’s the Doctor’s companion in this timeline.  All three of them want to find the TARDIS before the Selashians do.

The layers of who’s involved with whom are also well played.  There are accusations of Salashian spies among the human ranks which are proven false, only to reveal there actually was one all along – not on the list of suspects.  Klein initially assumes the Doctor enabled the Selashians to travel through time and attack the Moon Base, he knows nothing about it, but it’s later discovered that his alternative self in fact had struck a deal with them after all.

Inevitably, this timeline has to be un-made.  At least three fantastic pre-death scenes shine out in the final episode.  General Tendexter finally finds his courage and will to sacrifice himself to destroy the Selashian military leaders, laughing in the face of death.  Rachel has a touching face-off with death alongside a Salashian soldier, lamenting a fate worse than death: being rewritten such that she never gets to know any excitement in her life, never getting to meet the Doctor.  And, of course, the final face-to-face between Klein and the Doctor.  It is time for him to dematerialize her, to remove her from history so the timeline can be reset.  He doesn’t want to commit the execution.  She believes this will finally prove to him that they are basically the same: ruthless protectors of the world(s) they believe in.  This is “visually” emphasized with the revelation that the alternative timeline Doctor’s TARDIS is black with grey roundels inside, like the Master’s TARDIS as seen in the 1980’s.The_Master's_TARDIS[1]This is not only one of the Doctor’s darkest moments in this incarnation, but also one of his most uncertain moments: it is not clear to him and Klein whether her erasure will restore her original timeline or our Doctor Who timeline.  The temporal paradox that began all this, as detailed in Klein’s Story, doesn’t make the answer readily obvious.

In all, the Klein trilogy is a great character examination for the 7th Doctor, and a rare opportunity to see him traveling with a villainous companion.  The handling of the science fiction wasn’t quite what I expected in this final story, but it was still a good story.

Story Review

Rise and Fall

Sometimes it’s nice just to have a Doctor Who story where there is no villain, just a curiosity to be observed, puzzled over, appreciated, and move on.  Rise and Fall is one such story.  It is the first of Big Finish’s “volumes” of Short Trips, originally released in 2010, it features the 1st Doctor and Ian, and is read by William Russell (who played Ian).

Following their unpleasant run-in with the French Revolution, they arrive on an idyllic planet, apparently uninhabited, and the Doctor acts as if he actually had a hand in steering the TARDIS here so they could relax for a bit.  Susan and Barbara are inside the TARDIS for the duration of the story; only the Doctor and Ian wander outside to enjoy the scenery.  An open savanna, rolling hills, and a pristine lake surround them.  And then the ghosts appear.

Well, they’re not ghosts, but ghost-like alien faces appear around them for the briefest of moments; first a couple, and soon many, and then hundreds and thousands at a time.  Ian and the Doctor are quite perplexed.

The story then shifts narrative perspectives a few times, giving us the picture from the view of the natives.  At first they are a primitive people offering food sacrifices to the life-like statues.  They’ve learned to build huts modeled after the TARDIS exterior, and they wear clothes modeled after those of Ian and the Doctor.  Then they are a more developed civilization where someone is theorizing utter blasphemy: that the Unmoving Ones are actually alive and moving infinitesimally slowly.  Then they are an advanced industrial race with revolutionary colonists on the moon, lurching into war, destroying themselves.

The Doctor and Ian, meanwhile, get glimpses of this civilization appearing around them, always barely visible as things appear and disappear too quickly to process.  Even the landscape eventually changes somewhat.  When it ends up a wasteland the Doctor confirms the earlier theory: the locals live in a different “time stream.”  They make a comment about the rise and fall of a civilization due to war, and return to the TARDIS to go elsewhere.

Complete with a hint of a morality lesson at the end, this really had the vibe of a classic 1st Doctor story.  It was more about exploration than about adventure, more about mystery than about the Doctor being a know-it-all, more of a situational drama than an epic.  There is not really any character development, as such; it’s more like a visit, a brief memory, a “short trip” in the TARDIS.  If nothing else, Rise and Fall captures a sort of metaphor for life in the TARDIS – people only get to pop in and out to see snapshots of the universe, and find that for all the strange wonders out there (like variable time streams) there is so much that is the same (the self-destructive power of war).

Story Review

Death in Blackpool

Death in Blackpool is very much a transition story.  By its cover art and release date it seems like it belongs to season 3 of the Eighth Doctor Adventures by Big Finish.  As Lucie’s farewell story it both wraps up season 3 (and in a sense, all three seasons to date) and sets up for season 4.  By its official release numbering it’s the first story of the 4th season.

The story begins as one might expect a “Christmas special” to start: Lucie wants to go home and visit her family for Christmas, the Doctor takes her there but misses, landing at the same diner where Lucie’s Auntie Pat used to work, as seen in the stories The Horror of Glam Rock and The Zygon Who Fell To Earth.  Instead of a feel-good story about people coming together at Christmas (as is the prevailing tradition for televised Doctor Who), this story takes a rather darker turn, exploring the horrors of terrible family secrets being revealed on Christmas night, resulting in betrayal and hurt feelings.

In short, this is the story where Lucie finds out that her beloved Auntie Pat is actually her Zygon husband who took Pat’s form after she died.  Pat and the Doctor kept this a secret from Lucie at the time so as not to spoil her positive memories of her favorite Aunt.  Of course, this backfires terribly, and causes Lucie to walk away from the Doctor, preferring to remember him as he was, rather than try to live with the betrayal of trust.

And this takes place in the course of a an out-of-work Santa impersonator is trying to bum a meal off the family, a Zygon exile (called a Zynog) is hunting Auntie Pat, and Lucie is hospitalized after a car runs her over.  For a good portion of the story, it’s as if Pat is the Doctor’s companion, rather than Lucie, as they work together to sort out everything going on, stop the attacker, and save Lucie.

The only person who gets a happy ending is the Santa man, who’s promised a new job in customer relations at the hospital, or something like that.  Everyone else is either dead or left.

There is one very curious feature of this story, regarding the Doctor’s character, that bears noting.  When he catches the aggressor Zynog in Auntie Pat’s body, he poisons it with a saline solution preemptively, knowing that the body was not likely strong enough to recover anyway.  It is rare for the Doctor to make a direct move toward murdering a villain, much less the 8th Doctor!  He is very compassionate to the dying Zynog, showing a perfect bedside manner, despite its guilt in attacking Lucie and killing Pat, but the fact that he killed the Zynog at all, and especially pre-emptively, is a sure sign that something in the Doctor’s psyche is taking a different turn.  Like in the first half of the novel series, enough suffering makes the 8th Doctor start to crack into violence eventually.

This is also a harbinger of things to come; season 4 gets increasingly intense as it goes along.  I’ll be reviewing almost all 10 of them here over the course of the summer.

Story Review

Klein’s Story & Survival of the Fittest

So the Doctor is traveling with a Nazi now, from an alternate timeline.  The first story in this trilogy is continued immediately in the one-part Klein’s Story.  It is, simply, Dr. Elizabeth Klein telling the (7th) Doctor her backstory – how she came to work on alien technology in the 3rd Reich in the 1960’s, how she got her hands on the TARDIS, and eventually used it go back to Colditz Castle where she first met him and Ace and her timeline got prevented from occurring, leaving her stranded in the past in a foreign timeline.

Functionally, this little story enables you to enjoy and understand the Klein Trilogy without having listened to her original story, Colditz.  But it goes deeper into her character and history – the officer she worked with and loved, the mysterious Johann Schmidt who had the key to the time machine and aided her research on its mysterious function.

In her version of history, the Third Reich, having conquered Europe and Africa, was beginning to fracture somewhat, and needed something big to shore it up, and following the death of Adolph Hitler, research on alien jetsam and flotsam was finally authorized.  When Klein learned about the time machine, she lobbied to get access to it, was mysteriously contacted by a Johann Schmidt who gave her the key, and then accepted his aid in researching the machine.  For a long time they worked together until finally he led her to realize that she could take it back in time along its flight log to find the Doctor before he got shot and force him to teach her how to operate it fully.

Of course, Johann Schmidt is played by Paul McGann, and the pseudonym is obvious, so the audience knows (and the 7th Doctor quickly suspects) that this is the alternative timeline’s version of the 8th Doctor.  Klein realizes this too, at the end of her recollection, and is very angry at the Doctor for effectively tricking her into traveling back and enabling history to be rewritten around her such that her timeline was erased.  But then her anger subsides as she realizes that the Doctor was doing the same thing as she – protecting the world he knew.  She seems to accept this, the Doctor is pleased with her progress, and the story ends.

I’m not convinced she’s ‘cured’… are you convinced?  Is anyone fooled by this?

Survival of the Fittest is a nifty three-part story that takes place some time later, after several named adventures (and probably plenty unmentioned).  The Doctor and Klein arrive on a planet with a beautiful view of the Milky Way and inhabited by giant insects that communicate by pheromones, which the TARDIS can translate, as usual, though the limitations of that form of communication are explored and exploited very smartly throughout the story.

The initial mystery is the question of what wiped out the majority of the underground nest so thoroughly and how the post-disaster hatchlings will survive now.  When Klein discovers a canister of nerve gas she surmises that the deadly enemies are humans like her, which immediately gets her bustled out of the nest into the forest beyond, where she finally meets a couple people responsible for this.  Surprisingly to me she rails against them in defense of the insectoid natives – perhaps she has been reforming after all?

The story takes on a further layer of character development for Klein as she recognizes fascist ideology in the mix as the human party is dealing with galactic “geo-police” above them and wiping out the insects in order to expand.  Seeing her old party’s ideas echoed in the far future – such as lebenstraum (living space) and ubermensch (superman, a superior race) – gives her ammunition against the Doctor’s liberal ways.

To my complete surprise, the Doctor was shocked when Klein steals the TARDIS at the end of the story and runs off without him, leaving him stranded with a few thousand agitated warrior insects and a spaceship with a crew of one to escape with.  This is the 7th Doctor, the master planner, who in an alternate timeline allowed himself to get shot so he could regenerate and infiltrate the victorious Reich in order to fix history.  This is the Doctor who broke his companion’s faith in him in order to defeat an enemy, who traps Evil from the Dawn of Time in a chess match.  And now he gets the rug pulled out from under him by a Nazi.

Well, I guess even he makes mistakes sometimes.  We’ll see how this resolves next time…