Book Review – Doctor Who: Love and War

  • Title: Doctor Who: Love and War
  • Series: Doctor Who The New Adventures
  • Author: Paul Cornell
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 6/18/2020

Love and War is a Doctor Who tie-in novel from Virgin Publishing Company’s Doctor Who The New Adventures featuring the Seventh Doctor as played by Sylvester McCoy and his companion, Ace (aka Dorothy McShane). The first half of Love and War I really liked. In the far future, an empty planet is discovered that is so perfect it’s named “Heaven”. It becomes an intergalactic graveyard for both Humans and Draconians, who have finally brokered a peace after a very long and deadly war. There are also, now that the war is over, small human and Draconian settlements on Heaven. The Doctor and Ace arrive, though Ace is out of sorts because she’s still dealing with the death of a friend. The Doctor is also acting, well, weird. On Heaven, Ace meets the Travellers, a group of people who travel from place to place, with no fixed abode and little past or future. They share leadership responsibilities and make all decisions together, through consensus in ‘Puter-Space, a type of Virtual Reality. Ace is particularly taken with a male traveler named, “Jan”. She thinks she’s in love with him during much of the novel. And she loves him because he reminds her of the Doctor but he’s human. She’s also hurting from losing her mate.

The Doctor meets Dr. Bernice (Benny) Summerfield, an archaeologist who is investigating a huge arch, which is a ruin left by the extremely old and extremely dead former civilization on Heaven. The Doctor is also trying to find an obscure banned book, which frankly feels like a McGuffin at first, though it does fit into the plot.

All of this is fine, and honestly, an entire book of the Doctor and Ace on vacation on a paradise planet would have been fine, especially as the two really need time to catch their breath. Or even a fairly standard alien invasion would have been fine. But it turns out that Heaven is a farm world for the Hoothi, an alien species that farms entire worlds for “meat” which they then form into slaves, spaceships, etc. The Hoothi are a fungoid species and anything or anyone infected by their spores becomes one with the Hoothi and they can be controlled by these very weird aliens. The Hoothi can also raise the dead, use them as soldiers, slaves, workers, etc.

Essentially, about halfway through the book, it turns into “The Doctor vs. Zombies”, which has the problem of “how do you kill something that’s already dead”? To make matters worse, no one is reliable because anyone can be or could have been infected with spores at any time and become an agent of the Hoothi. The Doctor warns Ace about getting involved with Jan, but, unfortunately, she interprets this as jealousy.

Needless to say, the Doctor, through some colossal manipulation manages to outwit the Hoothi and defeat them, saving Heaven in the process, for the most part. But the victory comes at a high and personal cost for Ace. The book ends with her not even willing to go into the TARDIS, and running off with Bernice instead.

I liked the beginning of this book – but the fungus-creatures and zombies were too much for me. I’m not a fan of horror really and this book got a little too gross. Still, even though I can only give it a rating of 3 out of 5, I recommend it, at least for completeness sake, since Doctor Who the New Adventures is a long-running and interconnected series.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Nightshade

  • Title: Doctor Who: Nightshade
  • Series: Doctor Who The New Adventures
  • Author: Mark Gatiss
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 5/23/2020

**Spoiler Alert** Doctor Who: Nightshade is a novel in the Doctor Who The New Adventures line from Virgin Books. The New Adventures feature the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and take place after the Classic Series episode, “Survival” (1989). In the novel, Nightshade, in the 1960s, strange things are happening in the small town of Crook Marsham: a retired actor who played Professor Nightshade on television is attacked by one of the creatures he fought on his television show in his retirement home; a woman is haunted by the spirit of her brother who died in World War I; and other strange occurrences happen. And even though people can enter the village – no one can leave.

The Doctor and Ace arrive, but the Doctor is ready to just settle down and retire instead of getting involved. While Ace explores the village and meets a young man named Robin, the Doctor heads to a nearby monastery for some well-deserved rest.

There is also a large radio telescope on the moor. The small staff there is studying the constellation of Orion, specifically looking for novas to study. Yet their instruments keep getting overwhelmed by some sort of strange signal. Also, Holly and Vijay, two members of the staff are having an affair, much to the dismay of their racist co-worker, Hawthorne. Fortunately, the director of the work at the radio telescope, Dr. Cooper is much more reasonable.

As the situation becomes more desperate and people start dying, the Doctor and Ace get involved and the Doctor tries to help. But this creature that remains unseen, attacks people through their memories – feeding on regret, sadness, guilt, and anger. And the Doctor has plenty of regrets. When the mysterious creature uses Susan against the Doctor he barely escapes. The situation becomes desperate, a nursing home aid accompanies a busload of seniors out of the village but their driver becomes overcome by sickness and crashes the bus. The driver dies but the seniors and Jill are alright. A visiting BBC reporter entering the village sees the accident and helps get everyone to the monastery. The Doctor reads up on the history of the village in the monastery and tries to discover what might be plaguing the village. Ace helps but also becomes friends with Robin. But the arrival of several seniors ultimately leads to a horrific creature attack when someone makes the mistake of starting a sentimental singalong.

As more people die in the village itself, the Doctor has everyone gather in the church, which has the effect of putting all the food in one place. He also spends time at the radio telescope, examining the signals that Dr. Cooper and her team found. But it’s at the monastery that he encounters the creature, which has taken over one of the local young men the Doctor tries to talk to it. He discovers the creature is old, nearly as old as the Earth itself, which formed around it. And the history of haunted castles and such in the village is due to the creature.

Later, however, as the situation gets desperate, the Doctor, Holly, Vijay, and the actor, Trevithick, go to try to communicate with the creature. It’s a disaster as Holly dies, and Trevithick sacrifices himself so the Doctor and Vijay can escape back to the radio telescope. But the Doctor finds out how to get the creature to leave. He tells the creature he can get all the energy he wants from the exploding star, a nova. The creature uses the radio telescope and leaves, heading to outer space and back in time as it follows the explosion that occurred nearly 300 years ago. Ace and the Doctor head back in the TARDIS and see the creature arrive in the 1600s where it causes a fire at a castle. The creature then heads into space to the nova – and eats up all the energy of the star. It follows another energy trace to a supernova and eats that up too. But eventually it gets trapped by the gravity of a black hole.

I enjoyed Nightshade. The Doctor is in a bit of a mood, due to previous events in the series, but the events in the village and Ace help bring him out of it. He’s much more fallible in this story, which fits with the Seventh Doctor – for example, he never should have brought Holly, Vijay, and Trevithick with him when he tries to communicate with the creature. Having the village gather in the church is less of a disaster – because, although the creature attacks it, no one dies. But having a radio telescope as a major set piece also reminds the Doctor of how his Fourth incarnation died, so that hangs over the novel, effectively.

Nightshade has a spooky quality to it – Holly, though she’s fallen in love with Vijay, cannot forget her previous fiancé who died. Trevithick remembers the most successful time in his life, playing the lead on a spooky BBC television children’s SF show (sound familiar?). Various characters remember past friends, relatives, situations, that they regret or that make them sad – which makes them vulnerable to the creature. Even the Doctor isn’t immune. Ace actually uses her complicated feelings about her mother to her advantage to fight off the creature. And the story takes place in an isolated village, on a moor, which adds to the spooky factor. Nightshade is an atmospheric novel, well-written, with great guest stars, and I also liked seeing a more vulnerable Doctor who can make mistakes. But the story is also clear and understandable, something that can be hard to find in the Doctor Who New Adventures line from Virgin Books. I recommend Nightshade.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Women Who Lived

  • Title: Doctor Who: The Women Who Lived
  • Author: Christel Dee & Simon Guerrier
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 3/30/2020

Doctor Who The Women Who Lived is a large coffee-table book with gorgeous full-color art for each character described in the book. But not only does it include all of the Doctor’s awesome female companions – it also includes friends, acquaintances, and one-time “companions” from the various specials or single stories of Doctor Who. But unlike the title says – these are not simply the women who lived, because companions famous for dying such as Sara Kingdom and Katarina are included. The book also includes villains and enemies of the Doctor.

Doctor Who The Women Who Lived lists each woman it discusses alphabetically and starts the description of each person with “there was a girl who” and then something positive that defines that character. Even the enemies of the Doctor, such as Mercy (from “The Next Doctor”) and Missy are given a positive spin, though their negative aspects are discussed eventually. Not only are careers discussed, but what made each person special and memorable to the Doctor and each person’s special abilities and personality are discussed too.

Doctor Who The Women Who Lived is an excellent reference book about the Doctor’s female companions – who they are, where they came from, their careers, and most importantly who they were as people that made them special and in the cases of most of these women – how they came to travel with the Doctor. However, it’s a little unusual to read a discussion of Barbara without also discussing Ian or Zoë without discussing Jamie. The other unusual thing about the book is that in some cases the book reveals a character’s entire fate it a way that may spoil a story if one hasn’t seen it. The entry for Samantha Briggs (“The Faceless Ones”) is especially bad this way. And it’s a hefty coffee-table book with beautiful art. This book is a must-have for any Doctor Who fan and makes for an excellent gift for young women. Highly recommended.

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.