Book Review – Doctor Who: Return of the Rocket Men

  • Title: Return of the Rocket Men
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Matt Fitton
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Dodo, Steven, First Doctor
  • Cast: Peter Purves (Steven), Time Treloar (Van Cleef)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/19/2020

**Spoiler Alert** The Return of the Rocket Men is a volume in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line and a sequel to The Rocket Men. However, really it’s just another appearance of the villainous Rocket Men who are space pirates, so if you haven’t listened to the first one, you can still follow this story. And this story is really about Steven – it fills in his history and lets us know who Steven really is. The story opens with Steven basically acting as a space trucker. He’s piloting a ship that hauls containers of supplies for a new colony world. Steven is shot down and his cargo stolen by the Rocket Men. The leader, Van Cleef, even tortures Steven by shooting him in the legs. But then Steven, much to his surprise is rescued by another Rocket Men. Steven cannot see the face of this benevolent Rocket Man because of his visor, helmet, and leather uniform. But as this mysterious man rescues Steven, Steven looks on in shock, the man turns and is shot in the chest by Van Cleef.

On the TARDIS, the Doctor is experimenting with a new device that can use the positions of the stars to tell the exact date, minus the year. Steven notes, in surprise, that it is his birthday. Dodo is excited by this news and rushes off inside the TARDIS to find him a present, then presents him with a diary for 1967. Steven thinks to himself that it’s a useless gift but thanks Dodo anyway. Soon the TARDIS lands on a frontier colony world, which looks abandoned. But they meet the colony leader, Carson, and his daughter, Carla, who urge the Doctor, Dodo, and Steven to take shelter. In a cave, they meet the colonists, men, women, and teenagers, there to prepare the first steps of the colony before the main ship arrives with a hundred people. But they are being attacked by a faceless enemy. Supplies are being stolen by raiders, pirates, even before they reach orbit. As the group discusses this, Dodo and Carla return to say a delivery is arriving. They rush to the cafe mouth as the ship ducks, weaves, and maneuvers it’s way before successfully landing. The ship successfully lands, and the colonists begin to unload supplies. Much to Steven’s surprise he recognizes the pilot, his name is Ford and he flew with him in the space trucking business. Steven now knows exactly what year it is – and he has cause to worry.

As the colonists unload supplies, the Rocket Men arrive by ship and a troop descends by their backpack rockets. Steven encourages the colonists to make a stand, especially as the last container of supplies includes devices they can easily use as weapons. The colonists are successful and capture about twenty Rocketmen. But then more appear on the ridges surrounding the plain. They hold the women and children from the caves captive. The leader, Van Cleef releases his men, kills one named Rameriz for “disobeying orders” and kills Ford. Then they take the women and children, including Dodo hostage and disappear.

Steven puts on Rameriz’s uniform and takes the flyer. He knows what he must do – he knows because it’s already happened. Steven is at peace with knowing he is doomed, but he will save his younger self. As he approaches the Rocketman’s base on one of the moons of the system, he receives a radio call from the Doctor – Carson has told him several of the women are competent pilots. Steven knows that if he can free the hostages and get them to a ship, someone will be able to fly them back to the colony.

Steven finds the hostages and sneaks in, telling Dodo she needs to wait for half an hour as well as the locking code for the container they are in. He also tells them where they might find a ship to return to the colony when it’s safe. Things play out as they did before. Steven hears two gunshots while talking to Dodo and knows it’s his legs getting shot out from him. Steven hides behind the ship, noting some of the protective tiles have fallen off it. He rushes out, challenges Van Cleef, who is startled by the ghost challenging him. He applies sealant medical foam to his younger self’s legs and gets him into the cockpit of his ship, turning on the emergency air supply and beacon. Steven then fights Van Cleef, turning the controls of his rocket pack to full – so he flies off into space. He’s shot by Van Cleef.

But Steven returns to Dodo and the others. Dodo is anxious and confused – so Steven shows her the diary – which now has a bullet hole in it. The crushed bullet falls out. Steven also puls out one of the ship’s tiles from the back cover – his insurance. But even though he is now alright and he and Dodo return to the Doctor and the colonists return to their colony, Steven is now considering leaving the Doctor and doing something else with his life. He’d discussed turning points in his life, how getting shot by the Rocketmen and spending three months in a field hospital had convinced him to join the service and fight in the war. Now he’s ready to move on to a new challenge.

Overall, this is a good story – it returns to the premise of the Companion Chronicles telling stories from the Companion’s point of view so we can learn more about them. Even though Steven’s always been one of the more boring companions to me – this story is good, it lets the listener learn who Steven is. Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Upstairs

  • Title: Upstairs
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Mat Coward
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Vicki, Steven, First Doctor
  • Cast: Maureen O’Brien (Vicki), Peter Purves (Steven)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/12/2020

**Spoiler Alert** Doctor Who Upstairs is a volume in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series. It features the First Doctor, Vicki, and Stephen with performances by Mauren O’Brien and Peter Purves. The TARDIS lands in an old, dusty attic in 1900, and the Doctor, Vicki, and Stephen step out to explore. But, before long, Vicki is bored and when the Doctor can’t even find the way down to the rest of the residence, even he must admit there’s really no point to this particular stop and they may as well leave. But the TARDIS crew can’t find their way back to the TARDIS. They discover the attic seems to go on an on. When they discover a 1950s-Era television console set, it’s Vicki who realizes the different rooms are in different eras – which will make it even more difficult to find the TARDIS and escape. The only other clue to the situation is that some rooms in the attic seem to be infected with fungus, some weird sort of mushroom.

But within a few minutes, they hear singing and follow it to where a maid is washing herself in a small tub. The Doctor, Stephen, and Vicki question the maid. The maid is also suspicious of the strangely-dressed group. They soon also meet a valet. The valet explains that the servants who live in the attics have discovered two things – the giant mushroom, whom they call, Mr. Prime Minister and that the attics have been expanding for years, as the mushroom has grown. The servants decided to guide the feeding of the mushroom, in the hopes of creating the ideal leader to keep the British Empire from folding like all other empires before it.

The Doctor finds this to be preposterous, pointing out that they cannot turn a mushroom into a man, even if that mushroom is spread, through the Mycelial Network, through both time and space, making it nearly impossible to eradicate. Vicki prevents two maids from eliminating the TARDIS crew outright by referring to the Doctor as “His Grace”, Steven as “His Lordship”, and herself as “Her Ladyship”. They then get the crew to lead them back to the TARDIS. Once outside the TARDIS, the Doctor, with help from Vicki pulls a fast one, gets the three TARDIS crew members inside the TARDIS, and has Vicki introduce a new mushroom species to the attic which will push out the dangerous mushroom from its ecological niche. The servants and mushroom are kept out of the TARDIS and the Doctor and the TARDIS crew leave.

The good thing about Upstairs is that it does have a Sapphire and Steel or Twilight Zone feel about it, especially the first fifteen or twenty minutes as the TARDIS crew explore an ever-expanding, confusing attic and can’t find their way back to the TARDIS. But with no one to talk to other than themselves and no obvious threat, it’s also a bit boring. Once the TARDIS crew meet the various servants and the plot becomes clear, it also seems more and more ridiculous. Giant mushrooms, feeding on prime ministers and chancellors of the exchequer? It just seems so… silly. Also, with both Purves and O’Brien in the cast, and no one else to talk to in most of part 1, we could have gotten some great characterization, and that opportunity is completely missed. We learn a bit more about Vicki, but that’s about it. Plus, with nowhere to go, then getting hopelessly lost, the entire goal of the story is for the TARDIS crew to return to the TARDIS. Sometimes that can work, but more often than not the “why didn’t they just leave” story can fall very flat, especially when the goal becomes – “let’s just leave”. Overall, though the performances are good, I felt this was a very average story.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Sleeping City

  • Title: The Sleeping City
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Ian Potter
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Vicki, First Doctor, Barbara, Ian Chesterton, Gerrard
  • Cast: Ian (William Russell), Gerrard (John Banks)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/5/2020

**Spoiler Alert** The Sleeping City is a story in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series which tells new stories from the companions’ point of view. This time it’s Ian who is being interviewed by Gerrard who is implied to be a member of one of the British security services or the police. Ian and Barbara have returned home to England on Earth, but it’s the middle of the Cold War and their long absence has aroused suspicion. Gerrard wants Ian to tell him where he’s been, what he was doing, and more than everything to tell him about The Doctor.

After reviewing, briefly, how he and Barbara met the Doctor and Susan, and then how Susan left and they met Vicki, Ian tells Gerrard of their arrival on Hisk. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki are exploring a market, but when Ian and the Doctor protest to a market seller that they are only browsing and they have no local money a constable is called over. The constable asks why they don’t have local currency, then explains they should have received their commerce cards when they entered Hisk through the spaceport. Every visitor to Hisk is entitled to a 700 unit commerce card. The constable leaves then hands out the cards to each of them. Shortly after that, market trading is halted for the day because it’s time for Limbus – the shared sleeping, rest, and dreaming time. During the dream, everyone’s experiences and dreams are shared. They head to the Limbus Hall, and Vicki remarks that the machines are like the teaching machines of her own time and that she slept-learned all her ancient history. Vicki tries out the experience and enjoys it, remarking she had a castle and there were dragons, nice ones (she painted the nails of one of the dragons) and et cetera. She and one of the constables’ talks Ian and Barbara into trying it. The Doctor insists that he won’t try Limbus, that it would clash with his body chemistry. But this time, something goes wrong – they meet the market seller who was selling pastries, only to find him again in the market – but this time he is selling cakes. Only one of those cakes suddenly grows into a monster and attacks the cake seller. Everyone rudely awakens. The cake seller insists “It might not be a Harbinger”, but no one quite believes him. The constable informs Ian, Barbara, and Vicki that everyone who sees a Harbinger dies within a few days – by suicide. The TARDIS team is shocked, they decide to protect the market seller. They go with him to his stall, and Barbara eventually decides to help him make a cake – she sends Ian, the Doctor, and Vicki to other parts of the market to get ingredients. But when they return the seller is gone though he left behind his address. They have difficulty finding the apartment, but when they do it’s too late, the man is dead. The Doctor though insists he heard and even saw someone else fleeing the scene. the local constables don’t believe him.

At the next Limbus session, it’s Vicki who is attacked by a Harbinger. The Doctor insists something is wrong, and it makes no sense that Vicki would be attacked. He knows something is wrong. The Doctor launches an investigation. The Doctor, Ian and Barbara interview various people who had skipped the Limbus session and investigate years of mysterious deaths that were classified as suicides despite mysterious circumstances. Later that day, Vicki is attacked. The scene is told from Ian’s point of view and at first, he thinks the Doctor is attacking Vicki. Then he sees a figure between the Doctor and Vicki who is actually the one attacking her. They save Vicki. The Doctor realizes that the Harbingers come from Limbus, and are ordinary people of Hisk that are programmed to rid the community of any people deemed unworthy.

The Doctor comes up with a plan to create his own Limbus, having Ian and Barbara build the dream world using their memories of Earth. This will replace the faults in the Hisk dream world. And it will stop the dream programming that turns people into monsters, monsters that everyone is programmed to ignore. It turns out Ian isn’t back on Earth at all – he’s still on Hisk, and his interrogator is the last remains of the fault in the Hisk programming. Ian and the Doctor convince the Hisk interrogator, really a representation of a program, that he must update and improve the Hisk world. And not ever destroy people because he thinks they are unworthy or lost. It seems to work.

The Sleeping City was an average story. At first, Hisk seems at an ideal place – everything is shared within the city and they make their money from trading with other cities. The constable who explains this points out, if they bought and sold items within the city, they’d only be taking from themselves. The entire planet is built into trading zones, and the Limbus sessions in each zone are staggered, so someone is always in Limbus. Within a zone, Limbus strengthens the community, and this is shared with the other zones. But the dark side is the AI that keeps Limbus going has gone a bit wonky and decided to kill off the members of the society that don’t fit in. It’s a dark concept and doesn’t quite make much sense. The story also is mostly about Vicki and Ian and Barbara is almost a ghost. She’s mentioned, here and there, but I kept wondering where she was. Still, William Russell does a brilliant job as Ian and John Banks is very good as Gerrard.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Wanderer

  • Title: The Wanderer
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Richard Dinnick
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Ian Chesterton, First Doctor, Barbara, Susan
  • Cast: William Russell, Tim Chipping (as Grigory)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 02/26/2020

**Spoiler Alert** I don’t give out 5 Star reviews lightly. My reviews usually top-out at four stars, and to earn five, something has to be extraordinary. The Wanderer, a story in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles audiobook/play lines is extraordinary. I loved every minute of it. My second listen wasn’t to catch any details I’d missed (I listen to audios while commuting) but because I just really wanted to listen to the story again. Immediately. It was that good.

The story begins with Ian reflecting on how the phrase, “Nomadic Lifestyle” conjures up romantic ideas of Arabian Nights, riding across the desert on camelback, but the reality is quite different, then he mentions one true wanderer he and Barbara met on their travels. Then his wonderful telling of the story transitions into the story itself. The TARDIS lands, we quickly find out, in Siberia in 1900. It’s extremely cold, though the local carters who give the Docter, Susan, Ian, and Barbara a lift to the nearest village remark that it is Springtime.

As they arrive in the village, they meet another wanderer, dress in robes, gathered in at the waist by a rope. He is called Grigory, and the people call him Staritz, meaning Elder, leader, healer of his people. Everyone is just getting to know one another when a man rushes up, asking for aid. He’s a local lumberjack and his sons have taken ill. The Doctor offers his services and they wander off, making the trek to the logging camp. But when the Doctor opens the door to the simple log cabin, he is taken very ill and collapses. Ian reflects that it reminds him of the Doctor getting radiation poisoning on Skaro. Barbara and Susan stay with the Doctor and the other two sick men while Grigory and Ian return to the village for medicines and aid.

At the village, they find the healing woman and obtain basic herbal remedies, they also obtain more lanterns then head back. But when they reach the cabin they find it’s been ripped apart, Susan and Barbara are gone, the two loggers have died, and the Doctor is still ill. But he recovers enough to tell Ian that he’s being affected by chronon radiation. There’s a device in the nearby boathouse that’s alien – and leaking radiation.

Barbara arrives and fills in some details. The Doctor starts to recover a bit. Susan was poisoned by the radiation, it affected her mind, she ripped up the room, then took off. Barbara ran after her then returned. The Doctor’s notebook contains information about the alien device. He’s recovered enough to tell Ian a little bit about it – it’s supposed to be a recon device, gathering information – but it’s malfunctioned. The interaction of the chronon radiation and the device’s original purpose means it’s recording Earth’s future at a rate of 1000 years per day. And anyone who touches the device is overwhelmed, either by the radiation itself or by a sonic blast of literally too much information. The two men who died touched the outer surface of the device and were poisoned. Susan touched the inside, became stuck to it by some force, and Barbara had to pry her off, but she still wasn’t stable and ran off. Grigory hears all this and touches the device. He’s knocked out but recovers. The Doctor manages to free the device’s homing beacon and reverse it. He gives it to Ian and asks him, Barbara, and Grigory to find the alien spaceship. As Ian and Grigory walk through the woods, it becomes clear Grigory wasn’t unaffected by his encounter with the alien device. He’s now seen the next thousand years of Earth’s future but not his own fate. The description really reminded me of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”.

“I can see: Alexander, Kaiser Wilhelm, Bolsheviks, a Great War
Revolution, Armistice, Stalin, Nazis, Hitler, a Second World War
Television, Computers, Space Flight, Gagarin, Berlin Wall, Cuban Missiles
A Tenth Planet, Aliens, Invasions, Lunar Bases, Men on Mars, The Doctor!”
– Grigory Rasputin

And a little later, Rasputin continues to describe to Ian how he sees the Doctor through time.

“The Doctor is woven through the Tapestry of Time, keeping it safe against all manner of enemy: Others of his kind, denizens of Hell and other planes,
Soldiers from distant worlds and home-spun foes,
Plastic people, Men of Metal, Creatures of Carbon, Silicon, and Calcium,
Egyptian Gods, werewolves, ghosts, and vampires,
So many nonsensical things with unpronounceable names, like scrambled Roman numerals.
If they are as ungodly as I suspect, then The Doctor must truly be a Staritz.” – Grigory Rasputin

After a short walk, Ian and Grigory come across a small, squat, frog-like spaceship. Hearing a scream, Ian hides behind the ship then sneaks around it. He sees three aliens, short and stocky, but powerful, like their ship, with four arms, and a tail that curves up over their heads from the back and ends in a nasty stinger. Essentially, they seem like intelligent, walking scorpions. One of the aliens is holding Mikhail prisoner (the father of the two loggers who found the device earlier). Ian makes himself known and Grigory runs off. The aliens demand Ian tell them the location of their Ranger. They kill Mikhail and bring the unconscious Susan out of the spaceship, threatening her. Ian demands them produce and set free Barbara, but the aliens ignore the demand (because they actually haven’t seen her). The aliens threaten Ian, but he points out that if they kill him, they will never find their Ranger. He also tells them the device was damaged in landing and it’s making the humans here sick. But he’s scanned, the aliens find the homing beacon on him, then he and Susan are returned to the ship and tied up. then the aliens (four of them now), leave. Susan opens her eyes. She’s awake, uninjured, and no longer affected by the poisonous radiation from the Ranger device. Just as she and Ian try to figure out how to get themselves free, the door opens. It’s Rasputin, who lets them out. He’d run off so he wouldn’t be captured and he could let them free.

Everyone ends up back at the boathouse, where the Doctor and Barbara are waiting, including the four aliens. The Doctor tricks the aliens into handling their device, but because it is malfunctioning, it turns the aliens into petroleum puddles. Grigory is suddenly overwhelmed by the info-dump of a thousand years of future history, screams in agony and collapses. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan gather the villagers and they haul the alien spacecraft by horse to a nearby river and drop it in to hide it. The Doctor takes the alien device (what’s left of it) and Grigory into the TARDIS. Grigory is cured of the radiation poisoning by exposure to the time vortex, and the Doctor wires the device into the TARDIS console. He returns Grigory to the garden outside the palace in St. Petersburg, after assuring Ian that Grigory will not remember any of the events he experienced. But when the Doctor tries to program the TARDIS to return Ian and Barbara to 1963, the alien Ranger finally gives up the ghost and goes “poof”. Barbara is upset at first but then accepts it. Ian is depressed that he and Barbara will still be doomed to wander, but he realizes that as long as he’s with her, she is his home, so it’s all right.

I loved this story! Loved it – every though a short summary makes it sounds somewhat grim, it’s actually a very enjoyable and fun story, with lots of laugh-out-loud moments. Ian’s somewhat sardonic narration is absolutely perfect. And you gotta’ love that Ian meets a man, dressed as a monk, named Gregori, in Russia, in Siberia, in 1900 – and it NEVER crosses his mind this guy might possibly be Rasputin until Rasputin mentions his last name. That bit was hilarious – and it’s so Ian, he can be quite clueless sometimes, but it a totally loveable way. Also, Ian being a bit depressed at the end of the story because of the possibility of finally going home is dangled in front of him and then it’s snatched away until he realizes that wherever Barbara is is his home is perfectly priceless. The entire story is just filled with little gems here and there, bits of dialogue, situations, that just really work. They suit the characters, break the tension, get you to laugh, but never make fun of or demean any of the characters. I also enjoyed the beginning where Grigory is a very rational man, but also a man of faith who believes he has a destiny. This isn’t presented as ego, but as a common thing – that everyone, no matter who they are, wants to be remembered. The Wanderer is a truly enjoyable story and I highly recommend it.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Time Vampire

  • Title: The Time Vampire
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Nigel Fairs
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Leela, Fourth Doctor
  • Cast: Louise Jameson, John Leeson
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 02/19/2020

**Spoiler Alert** The Time Vampire is a dramatic audio presentation in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line. It is also a sequel to The Catalyst. However, although the wrap-around story continues the wrap-around from the previous volume, with Leela prisoner of the Z’Nai, held in painful suspended animation half-living and half not, the majority of the story takes place much earlier.

The story opens with the Doctor and Leela in the console room. The Doctor is working on K-9, building Mark II because he states that K-9 has been unstable lately. But Leela is adamant that if the Doctor takes K-9 apart he will be killing him. The Doctor says he is improving K-9 and once he transfers over K-9s memory wafers he will be the same but improved. Leela wanders off but finds K-9 in the old wooden console room in the TARDIS. Then things get a bit weird. She hears someone in pain, but K-9 says no one is there. Leela asks K-9 questions, but he keeps saying he has to assimilate instructions, his memory is overloaded, and he must reboot. Leela is completely confused by this. But then the TARDIS lands.

Leela leaves the TARDIS and finds herself on a planet, in an opulent building, where all the people are wearing gold cloaks. From this point the story moves back and forth in time as the building, indeed the entire island is moving back and forth in its time stream due to a time paradox. This does make for a frustrating listen, especially when listening during one’s commute. I don’t want my Doctor Who stories to be too simple, but the back and forth nature of this story was extremely confusing and required several listens before it truly made sense. Anyway, the Island, or Leela and the Doctor are moving back and forth within the timeline of this island.

The Island is on a planet, a planet the Doctor has been to before, a planet the Doctor knows is doomed to be destroyed by the Z’nai, whom he and Leela met in The Catalyst. Leela meets a tourist guide who is showing people around an old sea fort – the most haunted place on the planet. The tourists are annoying and the tourist guide, well, he’s a tourist guide. He does show off a ghost at one point, which lets the Doctor realize who he is and what he did. The guide is the son of a chef who was on Interplanetary One, a spaceship that encountered the Z’Nai under Humbrackle’s father. The senior Humbrackle was a good man and a good emperor – he was fascinated with art, poetry, architecture, etc. The senior Humbrackle also embraced diversity and forging alliances with other species in the galaxy. But his son is a Xenophobic hater, essentially – he is so insistent that everyone be exactly like him, not only does he wish to wipe out entire species, but he has the few survivors of his armies’ attacks converted into clones of himself. The Doctor warns this Humbrackle to change his ways, but the younger Humbrackle doesn’t listen – this leads to the events in The Catalyst. But in The Time Vampire, the people on the planet where Leela and K-9 are are waiting for the Z’Nai to arrive, as the Doctor puts it, “They think the Z’Nai are coming to sign a trade agreement that was proposed under the Senior Humbrackle. But the Junior Humbrackle will destroy them. The entire planet will burn. It’s one of the great disasters of the galaxy.” When Leela mentions changing something that hasn’t happened yet, the Doctor insists it can’t be changed because it’s fixed. The Doctor also realizes to his horror that he is also on the planet, with Lord Douglas, and he “really doesn’t want to meet himself”, especially if the fabric of time is weak. There is the typical running around and gathering of information of most Doctor Who stories, although it occurs out of order.

It turns out that the “ghost” the tourist guide shows off is a trapped Time Vampire, a creature created by a time paradox, and a creature that can destroy with a touch by aging people to death. One of the people in the tourist group saw her family die when she was four years old after an encounter with a time vampire – so she now hunts them, destroying as many as she can. When she attempts to destroy this one though, K-9 kills her. The tourist guide himself was the son of a chef on Interplanetary One, but he snuck into the previous Doctor’s TARDIS, stole his cloak and stole something else – which he uses to capture the Time Vampire and force her to appear at his will to amuse the tourists – like a caged bear. The true identity of the time vampire makes sense, links to the wrap-around story, and isn’t really a surprise, even on first listen.

Overall, I thought The Time Vampire was too confusing. And the central question of the audio play, Who or What is this Time Vampire? isn’t really as much of a surprise as it should be. I also felt really bad for the planetary leader who strikes out into the galaxy, meets the Z’Nai under the Senior Humbrackle, starts arrangements for a trade agreement that should help her people, and then is burned in the worst possible way both literally and figuratively. Why should her entire planet be destroyed because Junior Humbrackle hates everyone who is different than him? That’s terribly unfair. And it’s not like she was warned that the Z’Nai had suddenly become Xenophobic maniacs out to destroy the galaxy – no one told her anything. Leela does scream at her that the Z’Nai are her enemy, but she does so after the Doctor is accused of trying to assassinate the leader with his sonic screwdriver. Needless to say, it’s a bit of a misunderstanding, but who’s going to believe the companion of an assassin? So although it is worth listening to this audio adventure a few times, overall it’s not one of my favorites. However, Louise Jameson and John Leeson are excellent performing the audio adventure.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Catalyst

  • Title: The Catalyst
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Nigel Fairs
  • Director: Nigel Fairs
  • Characters: Leela, Fourth Doctor
  • Cast: Louise Jameson, Timothy Watson
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 02/06/2020

**Spoiler Alert** The Catalyst is a story in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series, and it is an early one. The story features Leela of the Sevateam as she tells the story of one of her journeys with the Doctor. The wrap-around story has Leela, captured, held prisoner, and being tortured by a member of the Z’Nai, a fierce, prejudicial, and evil warrior race. The main story has the Fourth Doctor and Leela encountering the Z’Nai in Edwardian England. It works much better than the framing story.

The Doctor brings Leela to a country manor house in Edwardian England to “teach her some table manners”. After an awkward dinner, Leela and the spoiled young daughter, Jessica, explore the servants’ hall and the cellars. They discover a hidden “trophy room” belonging to Jessica’s father and the Doctor. It turns out that her father had traveled with the First Doctor for a time. But it isn’t just “certificates and cups” as Leela refers to a trophy room that the two women find. An alien is imprisoned in the room, held in a stasis and decontamination field.

Jessica finds and presses a button that wakes up the soldier, though he is still trapped and unable to move. The soldier claims he is the last of his people, that they were destroyed by the Doctor. Leela doesn’t trust the soldier and leaves to find him to find out more about the situation. Jessica refuses to leave the room with Leela, telling her she wants to learn from the soldier. It will be a fatal decision.

When Leela and the Doctor return – the soldier has been released, and Jessica is dead. Tracking the soldier – they find both of the Douglas family’s servant girls are dead, as well as the butler and Mrs. Douglas. Leela and the Doctor find the warrior, who goes on and on about the Doctor “causing” the disease that wiped out his people. But the Z’Nai that the warrior leads (he is the Emperor, not a simple soldier) are Xenophobic, prejudicial, and arrogant – they had been wiping out everyone who was not Z’Nai when the Doctor and Mr. Douglas encountered them. And even on their own planet, the Z’Nai had opened purification camps, where those who did not agree with the Emperor’s hatred of everything and everyone different from himself were killed or converted into soldiers – clones of the emperor. Clones that looked, sounded, and thought exactly like the Emperor. Almost immediately after finding the Z’nai emperor Humbrackle, he collapses, a victim of the disease that killed the clone Z’Nai. The Doctor and Leela take him into the TARDIS for medical treatment then return him to his stasis field in the house.

When the Doctor and Leela return to the Edwardian House, a Z’Nai warship arrives. It’s arrival causes the windows and door frame of the house to blow out. The Doctor is knocked unconscious by a flying piece of wood. The warriors attack and kill Mr. Douglas, the only one left alive by Humbrackle. One of the soldiers attacks Leela after she tells him she doesn’t know the date because she is a time traveler. Leela fights back and the soldier immediately becomes very sick from her touch. The other soldiers shoot down the infected warrior. There’s a massive fight between Leela and the soldiers – but when she touches them, they die. The Doctor wakes up and trying to mitigate the fight, but he is attacked as well. Leela spits at the soldier attacking the Doctor – and the soldier dies. At the end of the fight, all the soldiers are dead from the now airborne virus. The Doctor tells Leela she’s become a carrier, a catalyst. The Doctor burns down the house and all the evidence of the invasion and the Doctor and Leela leave in the TARDIS.

In the wrap-around story, an ancient Leela is still held prisoner by a Z’Nai warrior. It speaks as if generations of Z’Nai have existed, as clones, destroying everyone that is not Z’nai in their path, all the so-called “lesser” species. Leela remarks that the Z’Nai used to leave a panel open in their armor, exposing their skin. The warrior remarks they no longer follow such absurd customs, but he likes to remove his helmet and look someone in the eye before killing them.

Overall, The Catalyst is a good story, but it’s about average for the Companion Chronicles. Basically, it’s War of the Worlds fierce, genocidal, alien race is knocked out by the common cold (or some sort of virus). I also found it strange the Doctor would use “carrier” and “catalyst” as synonyms. A carrier is someone who carries a disease or genetic defect but isn’t affected by it, such as a carrier for color blindness or hemophilia or typhoid. A catalyst is a chemical substance that causes a chemical reaction – but isn’t affected by the reaction. Not really the same. And for the Doctor to explain what a carrier is to Leela by saying it’s like a catalyst probably made the idea as clear as mud to her. And yet again – Leela dies at the end of the story, but of extreme old age after being imprisoned. The central story worked, but I felt the wrap-around story did not and wasn’t even necessary. The listener gets all the information they need from the dialogue in the central story, so the wrap-around wasn’t needed. But this is an early story in the range. I still recommend it, especially if Leela is one of your favorite companions because Louise Jameson is terrific performing this.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Last Post

  • Title: The Last Post
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: James Goss
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Dr. Liz Shaw, Dr. Emily Shaw, Third Doctor, 
  • Cast: Caroline John, Rowena Cooper
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/31/2019

To be completely honest – I listened to this audio in October or early November sometime, but I did listen to it twice, still, I’ve probably already forgotten a few details. The Last Post is part of Big Finish’s The Companion Chronicles which tell stories from the companion’s point of view and fill in gaps from previous eras of the series. Set in the Third Doctor’s first season, The Last Post features Dr. Liz Shaw and her mother, Dr. Emily Shaw, as well as mentions of other members of Liz’s family. The story opens with Liz and her mum meeting for a long-overdue meal. Her mother presses Liz for details on her new hush-hush job, and when Liz is hesitant to reveal any secrets, her mother points out she’s signed the Offical Secret Act multiple times. Liz decides she can mention where she works, only to have her mother answer, “Oh, you work for UNIT!” Liz is flabbergasted to learn her mother knows about UNIT, but she responds that she is on “a lot of committees”.

The rest of the story is told mostly through exchanges of letters and phone calls. In between updating her mum on her adventures with the Doctor, Liz tells her mum that she seems to have uncovered a conspiracy or at least something strange. People are dying, strangely, but they also are being warned of precisely when their life will expire. The Doctor ignores Liz’s findings and her mother suggests the deaths are coincidences at first.

However, eventually, the Doctor joins Liz in her investigation, only to be stung by some weird metal scorpion. Liz’s mum also seems to know more than she initially stated. When she starts to feel that one of her committees is going too far, Dr. Emily Shaw tells her daughter about the precise nature of her committee’s work. Dr. Shaw tells Liz that in the wake of World War II, the government began to collect and analyze data, chiefly concerning life expectancy. The more data was collected, the more addicted to data collection the government became. Eventually, computers were used to collate and analyze the data. A computer was developed with the intent to predict life expectancy. But it instead predicted the end of the world – earning the computer the nickname, “The Apocalypse Clock”. This Clock predicted, precisely the deaths of individuals – but with their deaths, the end of the world was pushed back – granting them more time. When Dr. Emily Shaw receives a letter warning her of her death, only for her to be rescued by the Doctor, it’s the catalyst for Liz, Dr. Shaw, and UNIT to put an end to the “The Apocalypse Clock”.

The exchange of letters and phone calls is a wonderful framing device for this story and Dr. Emily Shaw is a great character. The Apocalypse Clock is spooky and would have been a better title for the story than, “The Last Post” (which refers to the elder Dr. Shaw’s “last” letter to her daughter). The story is also bittersweet since it’s the last story Caroline John recorded for Big Finish before passing away. Still, with all of that – it’s an excellent story and I recommend it.

Book Review – The Martian Invasion of Earth (audio)

  • Title: The Martian Invasion of Earth (based on War of the Worlds)
  • Series: Big Finish Classics
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: HG Wells (original novel); Nicholas Briggs (adapted screenplay)
  • Director: Nicholas Briggs
  • Cast: Richard Armitage, Lucy Briggs-Owen, Hywel Morgan, Ewan Bailey, Richard Derrington, Helen Goldwyn, Christopher Weeks

The Martian Invasion of Earth is Big Finish’s full audio play adaptation of War of the Worlds. They couldn’t use the actual title due to copyright reasons. The audio play is an adaptation of the original 1897 novel and thus is set in the UK. Herbert Wells and a scientist named Ogilvy are studying meteorites in the night sky when one seems to become a shooting star. They track it to a field or common in the country and find a fallen cylinder. Herbert hears movement inside the burning hot cylinder and goes off to find help. He finds a guy with a cart who completely and totally doesn’t understand the urgency of Wells’ request for help. This will be a reoccurring theme, as nearly everyone our main characters encounter who represent “normal” working people are complete idiots.

Eventually, a group of people gathers near the cylinder to help and begin working to get around or through the pit that surrounds the cylinder. One is the scientist, Ogilvy, who insists that any culture advanced enough to travel to another planet must be advanced and peaceful, therefore they must help. One of the workers falls into the pit, and the crowd tries to get him out. Even soldiers arrive in case the cylinder is a threat. The creatures inside do emerge and before long they attack the soldiers with their heat ray, a sort of invisible laser. Ogilvy is one of the first to die, as do many of the soldiers.

Wells and his wife, Amy, return home. The next day, it’s clear there is great danger from the cylinders as the Martians are now in metal machines that attack with their heat rays and clouds of deadly black smoke. They are also turning the countryside red by leaving behind some type of red weed. Wells urges Amy and his servant to leave. They get in a dog-cart and run, but during a storm spot a  Martian machine literally on the warpath. There’s an accident and the servant girl is killed, as is the horse, and the cart is destroyed and useless. Amy and Wells survive and begin to walk, hoping to find safety by getting to the coast. Herbert mentions his brother, Edward lives in London and that the Martians seem to be heading towards the city.

Meanwhile, near London, a woman named Agatha is trying to escape in her hot air balloon. She’s being swamped by other people who also want to escape. Edward Wells stops one of the men attacking Agatha and the two escape in the balloon. They are later attacked in the air by Martians, but Agatha sacrifices her nearly dead mother-in-law to escape. They reach the coast and try to get to a ship. Succeeding they will be at the center of a battle between the Royal Navy and the Martians and in the middle of a fleet of civilian ships that are trying to escape.

Herbert and Amy are simply trying to escape. They stay overnight at the house of a cleric, who loses it when he sees the actual Martian invaders. Amy and Herbert see people frozen and unable to move, then forced into pits. Herbert is even able to look inside an abandoned and partially scraped cylinder and finds dead beings with two arms, two legs, and a head – in other words, beings that resemble humans. They are the food of the bulbous Martians. The cleric attempts to give Amy to the Martians to save himself, but Herbert stops him.

Amy and Herbert leave, see that the Martians are moving to London, and attempt again to reach the coast. Herbert reflects that it makes sense the Martians would want to take over the greatest city in the greatest Empire on Earth. Once they reach the channel, Herbert and Amy strip to their underthings so they don’t drown, and attempt to swim the channel. They duck underwater to avoid the heat ray of the Martians. They are eventually picked up by a ship and get to France, where they run into Daniel, an Army sergeant they met before. He’s assembled a rag-tag group of soldiers and civilians to fight the Martians. Their idea is to shoot large guns straight up to hit the underside of the Martians – which is how they accidentally defeated one of the machines. It’s a good plan, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work as the guns explode instead, killing the men who load and aim them. Amy and Herbert see lights in the sky.

Meanwhile, Agatha and Edward are in the midst of a sea battle. A naval captain goes against orders to protect the civilians, ordering not only his ship but the others in his fleet to stop the Martians and protect the civilians. They shoot the Martian ships and even ram one of the machines – destroying it. Agatha and Edward see lights in the sky.

Amy is nearly panicked as she realizes there are Martian machines in the sky. But then, suddenly, everything stops. And the Martians simply collapse their ships and machines crashing to the ground. In a spoken coda, Herbert explains the Martians succumbed to Earth bacteria from the air they breathed and the human blood they drank. People returned from exile to the North of England, and the continent. Food was sent from the Continent and America to aid the recovery and things quickly returned to normal. But Herbert fears a second attack and urges that the government and scientific community keep an eye on the skies.

This was an excellent presentation of War of the Worlds – a familiar story since it’s been adapted many, many times. The British setting, which of course, is the original setting adds to the story as you have people in horse-drawn carts and on horseback battling Martians. But throughout the story, pretty much everyone Herbert and Amy meet is a complete and total idiot. They do occasionally get help from others, only to have that same person do something dumb because of their fears or just not quite understanding the situation. Edward and Agatha fair somewhat better – the Naval captain who does what’s right to save people instead of following his orders to retreat is one of my favorite characters (he also sounds like Captain Picard). But I wanted to see a fortunate reunion between the brothers Wells and for Amy to meet Agatha and that didn’t happen. I found myself wondering if Edward and Agatha even survived. I also found their story romantic! But overall, this is great story and I really enjoyed it. Recommended!

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Jigsaw War

  • Title: The Jigsaw War
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Eddie Robson
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Jaime, Second Doctor, Moran
  • Cast: Frazier Hines, Dominic Mafham
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 01/04/2014

**Spoiler Alert** Big Finish’s The Companion Chronicles focuses on the companions, who tell their own stories. The Jigsaw War starts with the Doctor’s companion, Jamie, being held and questioned in a cell. Someone wants to know where the Doctor is, what his plans are, how he is helping the Unhelt, the inhabitants of the planet. But this isn’t your typical interrogation – as Jamie moves back and forth in time, even becoming the interrogator – while his interrogator is now the prisoner. a being called Side tells Jamie if he puts the scenes in order he can create a code that will open the door, a door only he can see. Jamie does put his experiences in order – but he doesn’t key in the entire sequence – realizing that if he does, he will be truly trapped.

As to Side, he is a Fifth Dimensional Being, the Unhelt’s god, who feeds on the emotional upheaval of the Unhelt and the Humans who are repressing and killing them. The Unhelt didn’t attack the complex where Jamie is being held. Everything is an elaborate game. Solving this puzzle lets Jamie and his captor escape.

The Jigsaw War is complex, but not as confusing as one might think. It’s a good story. Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Starborn

  • Title: Starborn
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Jacqueline Rayner
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Vicki, First Doctor, Barbara, Ian Chesterton, Violet
  • Cast: Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), Violet (Jacqueline King)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/19/2018

**Spoiler Alert** Starborn is a story in Big Finish’s Doctor Who the Companion Chronicles line. The story is told by Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) one of the First Doctor’s companions with help by Jacqueline King as Violet. The story features the First Doctor (as played on the BBC television series by William Hartnell), Ian, Barbara, and Vicki – but it’s really Vicki’s story. The Companion Chronicles tell stories from a companion’s point of view and often consist of a companion somehow telling a story to someone else for some reason.

This story begins with Vicki running through the rain in London to the TARDIS. She calls out and pounds on the door but no one answers her. The woman with Vicki, Violet, insists that Vicki will die if she enters the TARDIS and also tells her that as a medium she has a contact who must speak with her. Vicki is skeptical but follows Violet to her rooms.

During the seance, Vicki first hears from “Crispus” a Roman citizen killed for rebelling against Nero. Vicki is, of course, skeptical about this, but after a bit of back and forth between this Control and Violet, she hears from another spirit. This spirit claims to be Vicki from the future, a Vicki who is dead.

This spirit tells Vicki of her next trip in the TARDIS. She, the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara materialize on another planet – the planet is lit by a thousand suns, and the TARDIS crew must wear dazzle hoods to prevent blindness. The Doctor also has each of them wear bracelets that are personal air conditioners. They meet a young woman, Annet, with silver hair who appears to be glowing. She explains the suns in the sky provide all the power for the planet and they communicate through streaks of light. She also explains that nearly everyone on the planet has some “star blood” in them and they are known as “Starborn”. Every so often, one of the stars in the sky will die. One of the Starborn will take its place, ascending in the sky to become part of the star network, providing power. The new star can communicate with the other stars, feeling the thoughts of loved ones who have become stars. Annet is Starborn and one of the stars is about to flame out – when it does, she will take its place. Annet says her mother ascended when she was twelve, and she knows she will be able to communicate with her when she ascends. Annet also tells the TARDIS crew that not only must a Starborn take the place of the dead star, but the gap causes energy to drain away, and if it’s not plugged – the entire network will drain through the gap and the planet below will die.

The Doctor and crew stay for the ascension ceremony and manage to secure an invitation to watch, even though strangers are normally not allowed. The star dies, and Annet is ready to take its place. But another black area appears in the sky, a pirate ship – crewed by female pirates. The pirates appear at the ceremonial grounds and knock most everyone out with a flash-bomb grenade. Only the TARDIS crew are unaffected. Annet falls from the pillar where she had sat waiting for her time to ascend. The Doctor orders Ian and Barbara to take the girl to the nearest town to find a doctor. Vicki thinks this is silly, as the Doctor is, well, a doctor – but it seems to be a ploy or distraction on the Doctor’s part. Vicki suggests someone else take Annet’s place as the now unstable network is draining away – and the pirates have placed a mirrored box on the pillar where Annet was. The Doctor takes one of the personal air conditioner bracelets, punches the button to lower it to the coldest setting, and throws it at one of the mirrors in the box. All the mirrors explode from thermal shock. Vicki suggests someone else take Annet’s place – but the Doctor is hesitating. Vicki, then, as her spirit tells Vicki herself in Violet’s room, takes Annet’s place. It’s actually working – until the Doctor throws his ring in the beam of light from the stars instead. Vicki falls to the ground – and presumably meets her death.

But Vicki’s figured it out – she knows whoever is telling her this story isn’t a future version of herself. She’s her this person refers to “Vicki” as well as Annet and Vicki as “the three of us”. Obviously, there was a third person there. Vicki also finds some of her descriptions of the Doctor’s behavior and even her own to be out of character. She then discovers this “dead spirit” is one of the pirates – she’d been sent to gather information about the planet and to find a way to steal their energy. But she became friends with Vicki and Annet and gradually realized that the pirates who raised her were selfish and cruel. Well, they were pirates. The pirate, whose name was Stella, threw herself into the beam and it was going OK until the Doctor threw his ring, then she fell instead of ascending – and died. The Doctor’s ring balanced the power long enough for Annet to return and take her rightful place. Stella tries to convince Vicki to destroy the Doctor’s ring so that she can ride out the paradox and survive. Vicki, knowing time travelers cannot interfere, refuses.

Stella’s time bubble collapses – and Vicki and Violet forget everything that happened. Vicki returns to the TARDIS.

Episode 1 and Episode 2 of Starborn are very different. The first episode describes this really beautiful though also very different society. With this being a First Doctor story he doesn’t condemn this different culture or try to prevent the “sacrifice” of young people becoming stars. He accepts that the culture works that way, and understands that Annet is honored and willing to become an actual star. And, as she says, she will see her mother again.

In Episode 2, some pirates show up. The pirates are greedy and want the planet’s power for themselves. And if a beautiful planet and its people are destroyed utterly in order for them to get some power – they simply don’t care. It becomes clearer in part two that whoever is telling this story to Vicki – it’s not Vicki herself. Among other things, she refers to “the three of us”. And there are other clues. So not only does disc introduce some pirates showing up out of nowhere – but it presents a bit of a mystery.
I liked Starborn more than I expected to and this story, like the rest of the Companion Chronicles, is highly recommended.

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Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!