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.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com.

Click to order Starborn on CD or Download.

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

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Book Review – Doctor Who: The Rocket Men

  • Title: The Rocket Men
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: John Dorney
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Ian Chesterton, First Doctor, Barbara, Vicki
  • Cast: William Russell, Gus Brown (as Ashman)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/27/2018

**Spoiler Alert** John Dorney’s The Rocket Men very cleverly starts in the middle of the story and then uses flashbacks to fill in what’s going on. But unlike the normal “start with an exciting bit and flashback to explain it” technique, The Rocket Men flashes back and forth between the near “past” and the present, using a word, phrase or action to move from one time to the other and back again. It’s a very effective technique and the story flows extremely well – without being overly confusing.

The Rocket Men is a volume in Big Finish’s Doctor Who the Companion Chronicles series, and features William Russell as the First Doctor’s companion, Ian and Gus Brown, as the Leader of the Rocket Men, Ashman. The First Doctor (as played by William Hartnell on the long-running BBC television series, Doctor Who), Barbara, and Vicki are also featured in the story. The Companion Chronicles feature a story told from one of the Doctor’s companions’ point of views and are often more wordy, framed as a two-hander play.

The TARDIS lands on Jobis, an idyllic gas giant and tourist destination, with cities built on platforms in the air, floating luxury hotels, and even beautiful creatures to watch – such as giant flying Manta Rays in the skies, and insects that sparkle like diamonds. After a few days, the Doctor goes off to another platform to visit and share ideas with some local scientists. Ian books a tourist trip on a glass-bottomed boat. Barbara isn’t feeling well and decides to stay at the hotel. Ian checks to make sure he doesn’t need to look after her, but Barbara decides she’s okay and Vicki really wants to try the boat ride, so the three split up. On the boat ride, the tourists, including Ian and Vicki, are attacked. Ashman leads his fierce Rocket Men, a group of pirates who want to steal the “diamonds” from the sky. The Rocket Men wear brown leather and rocket packs on their backs – and they attack the barge. Once the attack is winding down, Ian is able to attack one of the guards, knock him out and steal his uniform and pack.

Later, and the first scene in the story as one listens to it, the Rocket Men have attacked the hotel and gathered up the people they haven’t killed. They demand that the companions of “The Doctor” turn themselves over. When Ashman starts to threaten innocent tourists – Vicki and Barbara turn themselves over. Ian struggles to not admit who he is and seems to be waiting for his chance for something. When Barbara is thrown out an airlock, he rushes the door and follows, then uses the jetpack he’s wearing to control his descent and direction. He rescues the terrified Barbara and takes her to a nearby platform. She cries. They hug.

But Ian and Barbara aren’t completely safe. Ashton attacks and he and Ian start to fight each other in midair. Ian gains advantage, but then Ashton deactivates his rocket pack and Ian starts falling. He’s rescued by a Manta Ray. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s been working with the local scientists. They manage to break through the Rocket Men’s jamming signals and get out a call for help. The local authorities wrap things up and defeat the Rocket Men.

This an awesome story – it’s full of adventure and fun, but the core of the story is Ian’s feelings for Barbara and her feelings for him. It’s a very romantic story – both in the traditional sense in terms of the adventure and the scope – with men with rockets strapped to their backs running around, gas giant planets, giant manta rays, and a floating hotel. It’s awesome. But it’s also romantic in it shows a relationship between Ian and Barbara. That’s extremely fun.

Highly recommended, especially if you’re a fan of the Ian-Barbara relationship from early Doctor Who.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com.

Click to order The Rocket Men on CD or download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: Here There Be Monsters

  • Title: Here There Be Monsters
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Andy Lane
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Susan, First Doctor, Barbara, Ian, First Mate
  • Cast: Carole Ann Ford (Susan), Stephen Hancock (The First Mate)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 5/15/2018

**Spoiler Alert** Here There Be Monsters is a story in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line of stories. The companion chronicles feature stories told from the companion’s point of view. This one is told by Carole Ann Ford as Susan. Susan’s never been one of my favorite companions (I preferred Barbara in the very first Team TARDIS). However, Carole Ann Ford does a really good job here, and she plays Susan in a slightly more mature fashion. This story seems to be set just before “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” – when Susan leaves.

The TARDIS is hit by some strange energy in space and has to materialize immediately. Upon landing the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara leave the TARDIS and find themselves on a spaceship occupied by a plant. The plant’s leaves follow them as they move through the ship, and they even find a secondary control room where the plant is operating the controls with vines and branches.

The TARDIS crew follows the plant’s branches and vines until they find the main control room. There they find the captain of the vessel, a “vegetable life form” named Captain Rostrum. The ship is a Benchmarking Vessel, named Nevermore – which is punching holes through the galaxy, creating artificial black holes as an aid to navigation. The Doctor is appalled. Not only are black holes dangerous – but by punching holes through the fabric of space and time – Rostrum could destroy the galaxy. Rostrum steadfastly insists the process is safe and he must complete his mission. The Doctor insists he’s wrong and messing about with dangerous forces he doesn’t understand. Susan gets bored and wanders off.

Susan wanders off and meets a character we will later learn is called, “The First Mate”. The area this man is working in is dead – and the leaves are brown and falling away. Ian, Barbara, Susan and the Doctor had found similar dead areas in the ship while exploring. Susan and the stranger talk and he encourages her to spread her own wings, to live her own life, and to stop always accepting her grandfather’s word. While talking, Susan starts to feel weak. The First Mate then tells her the engines where he is working, emit radiation that’s dangerous to her – and she should leave. Reluctantly she does, and she returns to the control room.

When Susan arrives at the control room, she finds that everyone is staring out the viewport at a spaceship. The spaceship is attacking. As a scientific vessel, the Nevermore has no weapons, no defenses, not even shields. A group of missiles is heading towards the ship. However, just as it seems everyone is heading for certain death, a rip in space appears. This tear drags the missiles and the spaceship into it. Everyone on the Nevermore hears the message from the captain of the formerly attacking vessel. The benchmarking vessel’s artificial black holes had really messed up the ship’s home galactic system’s trade routes. This was viewed as an unprovoked attack. The Doctor uses this to try to convince Rostrum he’s right about the dangers of the benchmarking process but Rostrum doesn’t believe him. He is a stubborn vegetable.

Susan wanders off again, and this time she again ignores the First Mate’s warnings for her to leave when she feels ill from being near him. She ends up collapsing. Barbara finds her and gets her back to the control room.

However, the Doctor and Ian are now wondering about the dead areas in the ship, and they ask for a map of the dead areas so they can explore. Susan had told them all about the First Mate, but Rostrum insists no one else is on the ship – and that if there was, they must be part of the Doctor’s party. Soon, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan are searching for the First Mate.

They find him – and find he’s from the other universe, the one on the other side of the rip that’s appeared in space. The benchmarking process is devastating to his universe and he’s been sent to stop it. And because he’s from another universe, he drains energy from people in this universe, including Rostrum. So it’s the First Mate who’s caused the dead areas on the ship.

When the Doctor tells Rostrum this, he isn’t believed – after all, Rostrum can’t see the First Mate.
But Susan talks to the First Mate and with the rest of the TARDIS crew, they decide they must end the Benchmarking process. The First Mate can shift back to his “natural” state – which will destroy everything within a light-year. The TARDIS crew runs for the TARDIS and barely makes it. The TARDIS protects them from the explosion. The benchmarking ship is destroyed, and the rip sealed. Just before he is also destroyed, the First Mate sends out a message – praising the courage of the people he met on the other side of the universe, stating they are not monsters. However, he suggests that people from his own side of the universe not travel to the universe due to the basic incompatibility of their species (e.g. the energy-draining thing).

I liked this story. It runs a bit shorter than some Companion Chronicles but the comparison between early navigators trying to discover how to determine longitude when sailing, and the benchmarking process were really interesting. I also loved the idea of a plant crewing a vessel in space. Stephen Hancock brings the First Mate to life particularly well, even if at first I thought it was David Warner (he sounds just like him). Carole Ann Ford did a particularly good job as Susan too. Finally, this story harkens back to the Age of Discovery with its title, Here There Be Monsters – the old way of marking off the unexplored areas of maps. The Doctor, as he talks about the dangers of benchmarking, talks about the universe as fabric, with weak spots. And beneath the fabric is an unseen place – where monsters come from. The Doctor’s worry is the universe could be destroyed, at the very least – rips could allow the monsters through. The First Mate also states that in his universe it was assumed that the “other universe” was occupied by monsters. As both the Doctor and the First Mate learn – the Other is not a monster. All you need is to talk to someone in a non-threatening environment to learn that people are people no matter what. The audio also plays the captain of the other ship’s message, which assumes the benchmarking vessel is aggressive and attacking without reason, to the First Mate’s message that states that the damage was an accident, and the people of the other universe aren’t monsters but courageous – and helpful in ending the damaging program, against each other. The two messages are polar opposites. And it’s the First Mate’s message, the message from a being from another universe, that correctly describes the Doctor and his TARDIS crew, as trying to help. This was a good story and I recommend it.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com.

Click this link to order Here There Be Monsters on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Library of Alexandria

  • Title: The Library of Alexandria
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Ian Chesterson, First Doctor, Barbara, Susan
  • Cast: William Russell, Susan Franklyn
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 03/15/2015

Doctor Who – The Library of Alexandria is from the Big Finish Companion Chronicles line. The Companion Chronicles started with one person reading or telling the story (and sometimes a second guest reader), however, this play, as a more recent one (it’s from Season 7), though it still only has two people playing the parts, also has music and sound effects. One thing I like about all the Companion Chronicles is that they really do feel like Missing Adventures. I enjoy that.

This First Doctor story features William Russell telling the story of the time he, Barbara, Susan, and the Doctor spent a few weeks enjoying Alexandria. Susan Franklyn plays the part of Hypatia, a Greek Philosopher, but I’m pretty sure she’s also playing the parts of Barbara and Susan. (One critique I had was at times it was difficult to tell which character was speaking – Hypatia or Barbara.)

Of course, it’s a Doctor Who story, so of course, our characters’ vacation cannot last long. And it’s the Doctor who urges they all leave in the TARDIS before the Great Library is destroyed.

One problem with this story is the lack of surprise – we know the Library is going to be destroyed – and Ian, the Doctor, and Barbara all know it’s going to be destroyed. Ian and Barbara even know they can’t change anything, Barbara’s tried that before and it’s been a disaster.

The story does, however, supply a typical Doctor Who-style explanation for what really happened to the Library, but for some reason, it just seemed very, very predictable.

On the other hand, William Russell read and acted the story well. The Library of Alexandria really felt like Hartnell-Era Doctor Who. And other than occasionally having trouble figuring out if the speaker was Barbara or Hypatia – all the voices and characters were distinct.

I give this audio a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order The Library of Alexandria on CD or download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The 12 Doctors of Christmas

  • Title: The Twelve Doctors of Christmas
  • Series: BBC Books – Special Themed Short Story Collection
  • Author: Various
  • Note: Includes paintings for each story
  • Characters: One story per Doctor, with companions
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/22/2016

The Twelve Doctors of Christmas is a wonderful, wonderful book. Everything about this book is just awesome and it would make for a great Christmas gift for Doctor Who fans young and old. The presentation of this book is impressive – it’s a cloth-bound hard cover with incredible full-color art paintings – one per story. There is one short story per Doctor and one painting per story. The paintings are bound in groups, though, rather than as front pieces for each story, so you read four stories then get four pages of gorgeous art. Still, the full-color paintings are beautiful and aptly illustrate each story.

There are twelve short stories in the collection – one per Doctor, and the stories also feature many of the Doctor’s well-known companions. Each story also has a theme of Christmas – but it’s interpreted by the various authors in a broad way, so we get stories that range from Barbara and Ian “going home for the holidays” to the Seventh Doctor and Ace trying to rescue a crashed alien from Macy’s at Christmas (after hours) and trying to also save the few workers in the store. All the stories are inventive and approach the Holiday differently. It’s a wonderful collection.

This was an uplifting and fun read – and I could see myself re-reading it every year. It’s a beautiful presentation as a book, a great gift, and an enjoyable read. I simply loved it – and it was good to read at this time of year.

Stories, Doctor, Companion(s), Authors

  • All I Want for Christmas (First Doctor, Barbara, Ian) – Jacqueline Rayner
  • A Comedy of Terrors (Second Doctor, Jamie, Zoë) – Colin Brake
  • The Christmas Inversion (Third Doctor, Jo Grant, UNIT) – Jacqueline Rayner
  • Three Wise Men (Fourth Doctor) – Richard Dungworth
  • Sontar’s Little Helpers (Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough) – Mike Tucker
  • Fairy Tale of New New York (Sixth Doctor, Mel) – Gary Russell
  • The Grotto (Seventh Doctor, Ace) – Mike Tucker
  • Ghost of Christmas Past (Eighth Doctor) – Scott Handcock
  • The Red Bicycle (Ninth Doctor, Rose) – Gary Russell
  • Loose Wire (Tenth Doctor) – Richard Dungworth
  • The Gift (Eleventh Doctor) – Scott Handcock
  • The Persistence of Memory (Twelfth Doctor) – Colin Brake

Book Review – Doctor Who: Venusian Lullaby

  • Title: Venusian Lullaby
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Paul Leonard
  • Characters:  First Doctor, Ian, Barbara
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 4/19/2013

I was greatly disappointed with this book, especially after the last one I read in the Doctor Who Missing Adventures line was so good. Paul Leonard attempts to write a solid hard SF novel and drop the First Doctor, Barbara and Ian into his story. Perhaps he would have been better off writing an original novel or series of novels. This book has a series of problems (1) as a reader I spent way too much time trying to figure out what was going on… there simply wasn’t enough exposition, (2) The Doctor, Barbara, and Ian should have abruptly turned around and left – the second they realised everyone on the planet (namely Venus) was due to die (3) far too much time is spent “running around” – The Doctor, Barbara, and Ian keep getting separated and as a reader I got frustrated because all I wanted was for them to meet up again and leave, and finally (5) because this is a prehistoric Venus, like three billion years ago or something we know from the beginning that the culture and people of Venus are doomed – this oddly has the dual effect of distancing the reader from the characters and reducing any sense of anxiety, from the beginning we know what will happen.

Any one of those “problems” could have been addressed and written in such a way as to enhance the novel rather than make it worse. After all, a lot of the televised episodes of Doctor Who have ample “running around” or characters being split up, having separate adventures, then joining up again. It can be handled well, or at least better, than in this novel, where it simply doesn’t work.

Or, the knowledge that we “know” that Venusians never landed on Earth could have been used to create “anxiety” about their fate, after all, several of the best episodes of Doctor Who involve a known historical fact and the Doctor’s role in it. But instead in Venusian Lullaby plays out like something the reader simply doesn’t care about.

Overall, quite a disappointment.

Book Cover for The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

  • Title: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Christopher Bulis
  • Characters:  First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, Susan
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/27/2013

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is part of Virgin Publishing’s Doctor Who Missing Doctor Adventures . The Missing Adventures were companion books to Virgin Publishing’s The New Adventures line. Both series were published following Doctor Who being put on hiatus by the BBC in 1989. The Missing Adventures feature Doctors 1-6, and are independent novels. The New Adventures feature the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and later Bernice, in an inter-connected series.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is great fun and I really enjoyed it, much more than I expected to enjoy it. The First Doctor (William Hartnell), Ian, Barbara, and Susan, set down on what appears to be an idyllic forest glen — Barbara and Ian even think they may have finally made it home to 1960s England. Well, until they find a body burned to a crisp, and a village with similar burn damage. Ian convinces the Doctor they should head back to the TARDIS at least for the night, because the forest is too dangerous. The Doctor, for once, agrees. But he also decides to take a short cut back to the TARDIS, and they encounter a downed spacecraft that’s been over-grown with forest. The Doctor, Susan, and Ian investigate briefly, but soon Ian and Barbara convince the Doctor they can leave the spacecraft alone for now and return to the TARDIS. One the way back, they are attacked by a dragon.

Yes, a dragon. When they reach the TARDIS, it’s doors are jammed and they cannot get inside. However, though Barbara is injured, they are rescued by a knight. Before long, the four are involved in the affairs of Albion, literally a fairy-tale world of magic and wonder. On Albion, knights and castles, witches and wizards, fantastic creatures, and magic all exist. Susan and the Princess Mellisa are kidnapped by flying monkeys and taken to the Dark Tower of an evil wizard. Ian, and the Doctor, join a quest of a knight, elf, dwarf, and leprechaun to find the mystical Helm of Merlin to defeat the evil wizard. Barbara, recovering from her dragon injuries, starts to investigate the situation on Albion (or Elbyon as the natives call it) while staying at the castle, but eventually wonders off and into her own adventure. As wild as this description sounds, the story was great fun. There are references to classic fairy tales and fantasy novels, including Baum’s Oz, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and CS Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The story itself moves quickly, and again, is just fun to read.

Of course, the Doctor, manages to figure out what’s going on for real, which I’m not going to spoil. However, this novel does, even with the fantastic settings, by it’s end, fit into the Doctor Who universe. Highly, highly recommended.