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.

Doctor Who – Spearhead from Space Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Story Title: Spearhead from Space
  • Story #: 51
  • Episodes: 4 half-hour parts
  • Discs: 1
  • Network: BBC
  • Original Air Dates: 01/03/1970 – 01/24/1970
  • Cast: Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney
  • Format: Standard, Color, DVD, NTSC

“What are you a doctor of, by the way?” – Dr. Liz Shaw
“Practically everything, my dear.” – The Doctor

Spearhead from Space is known for its firsts and is almost what would now be termed a soft reboot of the series. It’s the first story filmed in color, and unusually for the series – the entire episode was shot on film and on location. At the end of the previous story, The War Games, the actor portraying the Doctor, Patrick Troughton left, as did his companions Zoë (Wendy Padbury) and Jamie (Frazer Hines), so as well as introducing a new Doctor, Spearhead from Space introduces a new companion, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, a scientist from Cambridge, and the Brigadier returns, still in charge of UNIT. Doctor Who will now be focused on Earth-bound invasion stories, set in the “near future” (something later forgot by the production team who seemed to assume the stories were contemporary to when they were made).

This story has the Doctor’s TARDIS arriving in a wood, the Doctor stumbling out, and collapsing. He’s brought to a nearby cottage hospital and is unconscious for much of episode one, and erratic for much for episode two. It isn’t until he takes a shower in the hospital and borrows some clothes that the Doctor seems to wake up – eventually working with Liz and the Brigadier to discover just what the mysterious landfall of meteorites and strange goings-on at Auton Plastics factory mean. The story develops somewhat slowly but fits together well, as bit by bit, UNIT, the Doctor, Liz, and other characters in the story, learn what is going on. UNIT’s radar station reports on the meteorites and the Brigadier tells Dr. Shaw a larger group landed earlier. Liz scoffs at the Brigadier using the word, “landed”.

Meanwhile, a poacher in the woods finds one of the “thunderballs” and buries it to hide it. UNIT is looking for the meteorites and finds the Doctor’s TARDIS. The Doctor is unconscious at the local cottage hospital. In episode 2, a salesman returns to his factory only to discover it mysteriously changed, his boss unreceptive to his hard work opening a new market in the US, and a letter of dismissal at his home. He later sneaks back into the factory and discovers an Auton who fires at him. Terrified out of his wits he runs out to the woods and into UNIT’s hands. One of the Brigadier’s men takes his statement. He later convinces the Brigadier something is wrong at the factory. Meanwhile, the poacher digs up his “thunderball” and transfers it to a metal box in his shed.

The alien in this story is the Nestene Consciousness, which has no form to speak of, only a hive mind stored in the hollow plastic-like balls that landed during the meteor shower. The Consciousness can animate plastic and co-opts the manager of a plastics factory. This story features store dummies breaking out of window displays, and plastic duplicates of General Scobie and other civil servants and military leaders. The salesman is instrumental in giving information to the Brigadier and UNIT that something is wrong at the factory – but he’s also killed by an Auton dummy. Eventually, his boss, the factory manager, who was under Channing’s control is also killed by the Autons. And when the Doctor and Liz construct a device to disrupt the signals animating the Auton mannequins and break up the Nestene Consciousness – Channing is revealed to be another Auton dummy. During the final attack, the device works fine on the basic Autons but doesn’t work on the Consciousness itself. The Doctor is attacked by tentacles coming out of a tank, and it’s Liz who, on her own must adjust the device until it works, which saves the Doctor and defeats the alien menace, so to speak.

They return to UNIT, and the Doctor bargains with the Brigadier, getting a job as scientific advisor to UNIT, with access to equipment and tools, plus essentials like clothing (since he borrowed his current outfit from the hospital) and a car (since he must return the borrowed red roadster he used in the episode). The Doctor gives the name of “Dr. John Smith” for his paperwork that will make him official on Earth.

Spearhead from Space starts off a new era for Doctor Who. It introduces Dr. Liz Shaw and changes the direction of the show. The cost savings of staying on Earth with contemporary settings, like offices, and 1970s London, were put into car chases, effects, large-scale practical attacks, and a grander scale for the stories. Spearhead from Space is almost like a pilot in introducing these ideas: there’s a chase scene with the Doctor in a wheelchair, UNIT makes an assault on the Auton Factory, the setting is meant to be slightly futuristic but since people still use corded phones (and pay phones at that) and in one scene all the reporters are male – there’s an old-fashioned quality to it too. But it definitely starts to establish the new rules and new patterns for the next three years. Pertwee would play the part for five years, but only regain the time and space traveling abilities of his TARDIS after the tenth-anniversary special, The Three Doctors. The story itself is a bit slow in spots, but the four-episode length helps it from being extremely slow. I liked that Liz actually saved the Doctor herself without any assistance, but I didn’t like that she gets no credit for this, not even a thank you from the Doctor. Still, this is a great place to start with when watching the Third Doctor, or even for starting to watch Classic Doctor Who.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Binary

  • Title: Binary
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Eddie Robson
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw, Childs, Cpl. James Foster
  • Cast: Caroline John, Joe Coen, Kyle Redmond-Jones
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/13/2018

Binary is a story in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line. The Companion Chronicles features stories told from the point of view of the companion. Although many audios in the line feature one of the Doctor’s companions telling someone a story about “a time when I was with the Doctor”, this one is in the present tense and it is more like Big Finish’s completely produced audio plays, as it features two guest players as well as Caroline John as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, a companion of the Third Doctor as played on the BBC television series by Jon Pertwee.

Dr. Shaw is sent to examine an alien computer by UNIT. The three previous people sent to examine it have disappeared. When Liz arrives she meets Childs, a UNIT soldier – she thinks. She begins to examine the computer and disconnects what she thinks is an automatic defense system. She and Childs are shrunken down and transported inside the computer.

Once inside, Liz finds she can communicate with the computer using the terminals inside. The computer points her towards the maintenance system. She and Childs are attacked by “drones” antibody-like beings. They find the body of one of the previous UNIT officials. When she and Childs are threatened with attack by a large number of drones, Liz orders the computer to make a new tunnel and seal it behind them. The tunnel takes them directly to the problem. The system that makes the maintenance drones is broken. Drones are coming out of the system and dying immediately. The few that survive are in horrible pain, unable to think clearly or perform their tasks. This is why the computer cannot repair itself – it’s maintenance and repair system is broken. Childs becomes pushy about Liz fixing the computer, but she isn’t so sure. She’s afraid this alien computer might be used for bad things. As Childs becomes pushier, Liz gets even more suspicious. She lobs a piece of pipe at him, and not only does he fail to catch it – it drops right through him. He’s an image, created by the computer. Liz asks him to explain why he lied to her instead of explaining what and who he was, but he doesn’t give her a satisfactory answer. Eventually, he disappears.

Liz returns to one of the terminals – and finds Foster there. She gets another communication from the Doctor. All his efforts to disable the force field surrounding the computer have failed. He advises her to start smashing vital components in the hope of destroying to force field from the inside, and eventually the entire computer.

Liz thinks this might be a good idea, and gets directions from the computer itself for the force field generator – but it’s too far, and it’s surrounded by drones. She gets directions for the computer core and finds it closer and easier to get to. She and Foster make their way there, but once they arrive, Foster becomes very pushy about her destroying the computer. So she hesitates – and tries the same trick, throwing a pencil through Foster. He goes through him – he’s another projection, this time of the computer’s Fail-Safe, which wants the computer destroyed rather than in enemy hands. Liz objects again.

She manages to repair the computer maintenance system, using directions from the computer itself. She then gets herself out. Once she’s safe and normal size in the UNIT lab, the computer disappears. Liz explains to the Doctor that she has freed a slave. The Doctor, though a little perturbed that she didn’t out and out destroy the computer, accepts this in the end.

This story is basically “Doctor Who Does ‘Fantastic Journey'” in an alien computer. But it is never the less an interesting story. I liked that they have three actors in the story. However, we only ever hear two of them at once – Liz and either Childs or Foster. This emphasizes the point of the story, that Dr. Elizabeth Shaw knows her own mind – and she isn’t going to do what anyone else tells her to do. In fact, Childs and Foster’s bullying is what clues her in that neither is to be trusted. Dr. Shaw is also struggling with her decision – should she leave UNIT and return to Cambridge. She decides to stay with UNIT. Recommended.

The CD includes trailers and a panel interview of the cast and director.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website:

Click this link to order Binary on CD or download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Sentinels of the New Dawn

  • Title: The Sentinels of the New Dawn
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Paul Finch
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters:  Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw, Richard Beauregard, Third Doctor
  • Cast: Caroline John, Duncan Wisbey
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 03/29/2018

The Sentinels of the New Dawn is a story in the Big Finish Companion Chronicles line. The story is told by Caroline John and Duncan Wisbey (as Richard) and features the Third Doctor as played by Jon Pertwee on the British television show. An older Dr. Liz Shaw is interviewed by a new UNIT soldier about “her involvement” in New Dawn. Liz explains that she both was and wasn’t involved and that there are no records at UNIT about New Dawn. Then she tells the story of herself and the Third Doctor going to Cambridge to check on Liz’s mentor, who has developed a time dilation device. Liz is both unsure if such a device will work as intended to allow time travel, and worried about the dangers. The Doctor declares the device won’t work for travel, but it will open a time window for observing the past or the future. However, the window cannot be moved, so it will only show what happens in the room.

No sooner than he says this than the device is turned on and he and Liz are sucked through a time corridor. They awake in 2014, where a Conservative far-right group known as New Dawn is planning a take-over of the world using nefarious means. They’ve used the time window technology to raise money, recruited the rich and powerful, and obtained a weaponized Ebola virus from an African dictator who has joined their cause. And the cause? To bring the world back to “perfect” medieval times, with the Sentinels as the absolute power and “leaders”. The Doctor and Liz are appalled. They meet another scientist who has doubts about the cause he’s joined. In the end, the Doctor, Liz, and their scientist ally defeat New Dawn and return to Liz’s present where they destroy the device and all of her mentor’s notes.

Liz finishes telling her story to the UNIT soldier and answers his questions. As he leaves – we learn who this “soldier” really is.

This is an excellent Companion Chronicles story, especially the punch-to-the-gut ending. Caroline John does an excellent job performing and telling the story. The story is interesting and relevant. I liked it very much. Highly recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website:

Go here to order Doctor Who: The Sentinels of the New Dawn on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: Shadow of the Past

  • Title: Shadow of the Past
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters:  Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw, Sgt. Marshall, Third Doctor, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart
  • Cast: Caroline John, Lex Shrapnel
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 03/13/2018

The Shadow of the Past is a story in Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line, which features Caroline John as Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw and for this story, Lex Shrapnel as Marshall. An older, retired Liz goes to Unit Vault 75-73/Whitehall to look in to something from her time with the Doctor, she meets a young UNIT officer and tells him her tale.

A younger Liz is at UNIT when a spaceship crash is reported. She, the Doctor (the Third Doctor, as played by Jon Pertwee on the television series, Doctor Who) and UNIT troops head out to Kent to investigate. The Doctor is keen to try to rescue the pilot. Liz is a bit more cautious – insisting on contamination suits at least, and the Brigadier and company – well, this is a tale set early in the third Doctor’s time, so the Brigadier and the Doctor are still feeling each other out. Liz and the Doctor enter the spaceship – and Liz is overcome by the smell – the pilot is smeared all over the interior of the space ship.

Liz leaves and the Doctor rushes out and to his TARDIS at UNIT HQ. At UNIT, he reports another problem, a Mim invasion fleet is heading for Earth. The ship must have been a scout. Liz and the Doctor return to the control center set up by UNIT near the spaceship – only for the Doctor to remark by radio that Earth’s defenses are disabled and the Mim invasion can invade.

In the present, the older Liz explains to Marshall the properties of sponges. As long as you keep them in seawater – they can reassemble themselves. Cut them in half – and they will reunite. Whirl them into soup and they will reassemble. Even whirl two different sponges together into soup – and they will reassemble into the two original sponges – given enough time.

Picking up the story with young Liz, she and the Brigadier realise the person that invited the invasion fleet in – isn’t the Doctor. The entity reveals itself to be a huge purple beast – and attacks the UNIT soldiers and officers. The Brigadier orders Sgt. Robin to take Liz to UNIT HQ, find the Doctor, the real Doctor, and return. Liz protests but Robin insists she go with him.

At UNIT HQ, Liz realises she has a key to the TARDIS and enters. The Doctor is unconscious on the floor of the TARDIS. Liz realises the pilot of the ship wasn’t dead after all, but it attacked the Doctor, taking his shape – and as the recovering Doctor explains, it poisoned him as well. But he takes energy from the TARDIS to speed his recovery then uses the TARDIS to call the Time Lords. A man in a bowler hard and pinstripe suit appears, and Liz and Robin convince the Time Lord representative to help. The Time Lords return the Mim invasion fleet to the Mimsphere, but the representative says the Doctor and UNIT will have to deal with the Mim agent themselves.

The Doctor also explains that the Mim, as the name implies, are Mimics, shapeshifters, but they are also incredibly dangerous and violent. Liz realises that she had tried to shut down the nuclear weapons UNIT had but was dragged away by Robin – the Mim then finished her work, shutting down the weapons. But they can’t trigger a nuclear explosion in the middle of Kent.

The Doctor, Liz, and Robin return to the control center and talk to the Brigadier. They come up with a plan to get the Mim to return to it’s spaceship and to get a device inside.

As Liz explains to Marshall – that’s the spaceship here in the vault. She also mourns the death of young Robin and the other UNIT soldiers killed in the conflict. As she continues to talk to Marshall, pointing out how he reminds her of Robin – even looks like him, Marshall puts it together.

The rest is a spoiler, but you can probably guess where this one is going.

Still, I liked this Companion Chronicles story. It was a pleasure to listen to a story featuring Dr. Liz Shaw but its a bit bittersweet too, since she has subsequently passed away. That is one sad bit about the Companion Chronicles line, it can be hard listening to stories told by Doctor Who actors who have recently passed away. Shadow of the Past is a straight-forward Third Doctor story. A spaceship crashes, there’s an invasion, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that UNIT and the Doctor defeat it. But it’s still a good story. The surprise at the end is a surprise, but it makes total sense once you know. Caroline John does a very good job telling the story and she plays well off Lex Shrapnel. Recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website:

Click this link to order Shadow of the Past on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Blue Tooth

  • Title: The Blue Tooth
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Nigel Fairs
  • Director: Mark J. Thompson
  • Characters:  Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw, Third Doctor, Capt. Mike Yates, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart
  • Cast: Caroline John, Nicholas Briggs
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 02/02/2014

Caroline John reads this audiobook by Big Finish, The Blue Tooth, part of the Companion Chronicles line. I thought the storyline would have something to do with alien control of Bluetooth™ technology, however, it doesn’t – though the Cybermen are involved eventually. Dr. Liz Shaw looks back on her time at UNIT, and considers when she decided to quit. She had gone to Cambridge to visit one of her university friends, only to find her friend missing and the friend’s cat brutally slain.

Before long, the Brigadier and Captain Mike Yates arrive, investigating not only Jean’s disappearance but the disappearance of several scientists and even support personnel from Cambridge. The investigation leads to a mysterious blue living metal, a really bad dentist, Cybermats, and a crashed Cyberman scout ship. It’s an intriguing story.

My only qualm about this one was that I found it a bit gross. I know it seems weird to describe a story in audio format as gross – but it is. This story is a bloodbath, in more ways than one. I also found the title a tad too literal.

Anyway, This is still my favorite Doctor Who range, and this story is enjoyable. Recommended, but it’s not for younger listeners.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website:

Click the link to order The Blue Tooth on CD.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Scales of Injustice

  • Title: The Scales of Injustice
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Gary Russell
  • Characters:  Third Doctor, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Liz), UNIT
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/21/2014

This original Doctor Who novel features the Third Doctor (as played by Jon Pertwee) and Dr. Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw and the Silurians again. References abound not only to “Doctor Who and the Silurians”, but also “The Sea Devils” and “Warriors of the Deep”. And, as always, meetings between apes and “Earth Reptiles” do not go well.

Also the plot involves political intrigue between Parliament, the Glasshouse (the UNIT hospice), and C19. Someone wants to discredit the current head of the Glasshouse and take it over, turning it into another Vault making weapons from alien technology and in some cases from aliens themselves.

Dr. Liz Shaw finds herself embroiled in these plots when she’s contacted by a Dutch investigative reporter, who, unfortunately, turns out to be a C19 agent. Meanwhile, the Doctor is running around chasing Silurians, hoping for a better result than the last time.

The Silurian plot seems very repetitive, but it turns out slightly better than normal for most stories involving the intelligent previous intelligent species from Earth. The other main purpose of the novel is to give Dr. Liz Shaw a better send off. I enjoyed that part of the book. Actually, this book seems to be more of a book about Liz than about the Doctor – who does very little, and is mostly ineffective. Not that the book reverses the standard Doctor and Companion roles entirely – Dr. Shaw doesn’t come off as a Super Woman, but it’s a different take on an original novel.

I have the e-book version, and the cover looks like one of the Target novelisations. It was also very short, only 191 pages in e-book format. I don’t know if I read a condensed or abbreviated version, or what, but I think if it had been a bit longer, the story could have been expanded a bit, resulting in a better story. This was more like a novella.

Update: This story has been re-published in paperback as part of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of Doctor Who. I have the reprint but have not re-read that version to see if it’s longer and/or more complex than the e-book.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Eye of the Giant

  • Title: The Eye of the Giant
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Christopher Bulis
  • Characters:  Third Doctor, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Liz), UNIT
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/28/2013

NOTE: Spoilers

The Eye of the Giant moves like a freight train. It’s a fast-moving adventure story.

The Eye of the Giant is part of Virgin Publishing’s Doctor Who Missing Adventures original paperback novel series. I read the e-book version. The story features the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee), and Doctor Elizabeth Shaw (Liz), and UNIT, including Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, Sgt. Mike Yates, and Sgt. Benton. The novel begins with Liz and the Doctor working on the TARDIS council. They are interrupted by the Brigadier, who delivers a strange artifact found inside a shark in waters off New Zealand and Australia. Liz and the Doctor investigate, soon launching a time bridge to 40 years in the past.

Meanwhile, 40 years ago, a millionaire’s yacht heads for the mysterious island of Saltuna. Aboard the ship are the millionaire founder of Paragon Studios, Marshal Grover, his second wife, Nancy Norton (an actress), his daughter, Amelia, from his first marriage, Paragon’s leading man, Montgomery, Paragon’s leading director, and his cameraman, and Professor Steinberg – whom Grover’s promised a chance to investigate and make discoveries on the island, and their servants, as well as the ship’s rather large crew. The ship is heading for the island, when they are hit by a mysterious something. They manage to make it to shore, but the ship is damaged and will take days to repair.

Steinberg is excited about this since he will be able to investigate the island. He hopes to make enough discoveries to regain his status in the medical and scientific community after one of his previous experiments killed a patient.

The director, cameraman, and leading man are also excited about filming Nancy’s new film on the mysterious and exotic island. However, Nancy, who shows herself to be a spoiled brat, isn’t excited. She wants nothing to do with filming on the island, and urges her husband to leave as soon as possible.

Nancy is right in a strange way: the Island is occupied by strange, giant, creatures. A huge, giant snake attacks Nancy, but she is quickly rescued. Soon giant crabs come out of the water and fight some giant bats. Other members of the ship’s crew find giant ants.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Liz travel through the time bridge, hoping to find the origin of the mysterious artifact they are investigating at UNIT HQ. They arrive very near a volcano on the island, escape, then encounter the group from Paragon Studios. Sgt. Mike Yates also soon follows them. In trying to find the Doctor and Liz, he meets and rescues Amelia.

Before long, it becomes apparent that a UFO had crashed on the island several years ago, the pilot had been carrying stolen medical supplies. One of the ampules had broken, causing the giantism on the island. The pilot, however, had fallen down a hole, and the environmental controls of his suit had failed. Years later, Amelia Grover falls down the same hole, Mike Yates rescues her and they find what they think is a native statue. Later in the book, the alien is re-animated. However, he’s not your typical evil Doctor Who alien, like the Daleks or Cybermen. Rather he’s an old-fashioned thief who simply wants to repair his ship, get off the island and planet, and to sell what he stole.

Eventually, the Doctor helps accomplish this, as well as getting the yacht off the island, with her remaining passengers and crew. The aliens from whom the first alien had stolen the medical supplies, shoot down the ship, and the ship’s power core lands in the volcano, causing the eruption that history records happened and destroyed the island. Liz, the Doctor, Mike, and the Brigadier and his rescue party all return to HQ.

The novel could have ended there – it really should have. But when everyone returns to the present, they find a strangely altered Earth, where Nancy Norton is leader of the world, and her cult of personality has her treated as a goddess. Returning to the past, the Doctor, Liz, Mike, and Benton, must prevent or change Nancy’s fusion with the alien. They do but at a high cost of additional lives lost on the ship, including Nancy’s and Amelia’s. However, the timeline returns to normal, and the Doctor and company return to their UNIT HQ.

This was a quick and enjoyable read. However, it should have stopped when well enough ahead. I didn’t care for the last 80 pages, and I thought Nancy’s Cult of Personality wildly improbable. The method of fixing the problem was, of course, even more depressing. Still the book is a fun romp, and a quick read. I enjoyed it.

Women in STEM Panel Chicago TARDIS

I spent the  weekend at Chicago TARDIS – an annual convention for Doctor Who fans in the Chicagoland area. On Friday, during one of the early panel discusssions someone mentioned that there would be a panel on Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) during the Pertwee Era. And after that panel, someone asked me why I was excited about it. (I had whoopped in approval and done the air-punch thing at the mention of the panel). Anyway, I talked to the woman running the panel on Friday, for about half an hour, about a lot of the issues surrounding women in STEM – and some of the changes and additional opportunities for girls now compared to say, the 1980s.

The panel discussion was on Saturday, and it was more of a lecture/presentation rather than a panel discussion, but it was still an excellent panel. The presentor,  Adrienne Provenzano, was also a NASA Solar System Ambassador, a volunteer who talks about NASA and is interested in Space Science. She mentioned not only STEM but STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Humanities, and Math. And really though she didn’t go into a great deal of detail about STEAM education – it really sounds like a good start for re-vamping public education in the US. Everyone today needs to know real science, they need to not only learn how to use technology by picking it up and using  it, but they need to know how it works. Practical engineering is a needed skill – especially hands-on basics in engineering is something students need to study in high school – so they will be interested in studying it in college. The US really needs to bring the Arts back into schools – art appreciation, music appreciation, cultural appreciation, but also actual hands-on arts like drawing, painting, pottery, crafts, theatre / drama, music, choir – we’re getting a generation that had no exposure to drama, music, and art in school – so they don’t care when arts budgets are slashed or theatres are closed. And finally everyone needs to know math, which is both a practical skill and the foundation of many of the sciences.

Adrienne’s presentation first focused on four areas for women in STEM:  Visability, Mentorship, Opportunity, Work environment.  All of those are important for both getting young girls interested in STEM – but they are also important because negative experiences in any one of those areas can drive girls and women out of STEM – and if an individual girl experiences two or more in a negative way – they will most certainly be turned off from the STEM fields.

Visability – Girls need to see women in roles that aren’t traditional gender roles. They need to be taught about Ada Lovelace, and Mde Curie, and other women in the sciences, computers, math, etc rather than having the female inventors and women in STEM swept under the carpet and being invisible because they aren’t taught in grade school and high school history classes. But girls also need too see women in their lives in the STEM fields. And girls need to see fictional women in STEM who can be roles models – because even though they are fictional – if it’s a realistic character and role, it can be inspirational. That’s one (of many) reasons why I love Felicity so much as a character – is because that a young girl can see her and say,  “Mommy, I want to be Felicity when I grow up” – and that’s actually possible (well, they can learn coding, and programming, and networking, and various other fields in IT), as I discussed in my post on Felicity Smoak as Role Model. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, notably in my post about the importance of women-centric TV, but I didn’t have that as a kid. I’m not in the than the “women are teachers or nurses” generation; but I’m in the group after that where acceptable occupations were: teacher, nurse, doctor, lawyer, cop. If none of those sounded appealing it was really difficult to figure out what you wanted to do. My generation had people who invented their own jobs – because they didn’t like the way things were being done, but there were also people who re-invented themselves a lot – going back to school, learning new careers, becoming creative professionals, etc.

In terms of Doctor Who – the Pertwee Era had Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, scientist, Jo Grant – really a sort of secret agent want-to-be (but she also developed and grew-up a lot), and Sarah Jane Smith,  journalist. Especially with Liz Shaw, simply by being there – as a scientist, using lab equipment, understanding what the Doctor was saying – she’s inspiring girls to stay interested in the sciences.

With Jo – and I must say here that I love Jo, and meeting Katy Manning this weekend was simply incredible – she’s a wonderful person, but anyway, Jo’s introduced as a bit ditzy – but she’s also very young. And she grows and learns, and the Doctor takes the time to teach her and mentor her. Though she’s hypnotised by the Master in “Terror of the Autons”, in “Frontier in Space” she’s completely able to resist the Master’s hypnotism. So she had obviously asked the Doctor how to avoid being hypnotised – then practiced until she got it. Jo also in “The Green Death” marries a professor, in part, who reminds her of the Doctor.  And, when she returns in The Sarah Jane Adventures, she’s become a ecologist, and she’s even more developed as a character.

Sarah Jane is actually the character I find the most difficult to sometimes discuss (made infinitely harder by how wonderful Elisabeth Sladen was as a person and actor) because I always felt she started out strong, but ended weak. In her last story, “The Hand of Evil”, she leaves the TARDIS in a candy-striped jumpsuit, carrying a stuffed animal – she looks very young. The Sarah Jane Adventures makes up for that in some way, showing her with a career, and an adopted son, and really being the Doctor to three young people whom she mentors in their adventures. Still, I like Pertwee-Era Sarah Jane, but not so much with Tom Baker-Era Sarah Jane.

Mentorship is something that was mentioned also – and the need for women to have mentors – of both genders. I think it’s extremely important for students to have teachers who encourage them. It’s not coddling and it shouldn’t be – but also, there’s no need to tear-down or bully the next generation. In the panel, it was pointed out Pertwee mentored all of his companions – and that was true too. Though at times, he might seem a bit paternalistic – it comes accross, really, as a more loving father than a hinderance. It can be a fine line, and there’s a need for individual adaptation there as well. Some students like competition and challenge, and while I don’t think anyone really wants anything to be too easy, some students really don’t like being forced into competition and do better in a cooperative environment – which, incidentally, prepares them to be successful later in life in teams at work.

Opportunity – We can’t have more women in STEM fields if they aren’t hired. It’s as simple as that. And for some young women, constant rejection will cause them to choose fields other than STEM, or related to STEM but less prestigious. An audience member in the panel, who was in the biological sciences and studying to be a doctor, said that many women choose to be a Physician’s Assistant rather than a doctor – a choice sometimes due to work environment – the need for less hours and more flexible hours because of family and other obligations.

Work Environment – No one likes to work in a toxic work environment. No one enjoys being bullied or harassed, or even subtle (and largely non-actionable) but still clear indications from co-workers that “we don’t want you here”. There are all sorts of areas where how one is treated at work can cause one to want to quit and do something else. Conversely, a positive, supportive atmosphere can help one to grow and achieve more and go on to do better things. Also, as Adrienne pointed out, it needs to start in school, college/university, and graduate school as a part of mentorship that the mentors – of either gender – encourage female students to publish research papers, attend conferences, apply for grants, even apply for jobs. Once in the professional environment, women still need to be encouraged to move their careers to the next level rather than just settling.

There was a lot more to the panel – both about women in STEM, the gender gap, women graduating from college and even graduate school with STEM degrees but not working in STEM fields, or the specific fields women choose to work in over others, and even the need for more people in STEM jobs. It was an excellent panel. I think it maybe could have used more discussion (such as having two people on a panel discussing, with audience participation) but it still was awesome to have at Chicago TARDIS this discussion – and I really liked how the discussion was connected to the Pertwee Era of Doctor Who.