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 Many Lives of Doctor Who

  • Title: Doctor Who: The Many Lives of Doctor Who
  • Authors: Richard Dinnick
  • Artists: Mariano LaClaustra, Giorgia Sposito, Brian Williamson, Arianna Florean, Claudia Ianniciello, Iolanda Zanfardino, Neil Edwards, Pasquale Qualano, Rachael Stott, Sarah Jacobs (Letterer), John Roshell (Letterer), Fer Centurion (Inker), Color-Ice (Colorist), Carlos Cabera (Colorist), Adele Matera (Colorist), Dijjo Lima (Colorist), Enrica Eren Angiolini (Colorist)
  • Line:  All-Doctors Crossover Special
  • Characters: First Doctor, Second Doctor, Third Doctor, Fourth Doctor, Fifth Doctor, Sixth Doctor, Seventh Doctor, Eighth Doctor, War Doctor, Ninth Doctor, Tenth Doctor, Eleventh Doctor, River Song, Twelfth Doctor, Ian, Barbara, Susan, Jamie, Polly, Ben, Sarah Jane Smith, Romana II, Tegan, Nyssa, Turlough, Peri, Ace, Josie Day, Jack, Rose, Alice, Bill Potts, Thirteenth Doctor
  • Collection Date: 2018
  • Publisher: Titan Comics
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/19/2019

**Spoiler Alert** Doctor Who The Many Lives of Doctor Who” is a series of vignettes and short stories, one per Doctor, plus a War Doctor Story, a story with River Song, and a few pages with the 13th Doctor. Each of the stories adds to the idea of the Doctor regenerating into who she will be, for example, the number 13 comes up several times, though in the Thirteenth Doctor’s pages she mentions she isn’t actually the 13th Doctor. The Fifth Doctor story as the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa, and Turlough in the cloisters on Gallifrey where they are supposed to be chasing down a renegade Time Lord. But when they find him, he talks the Doctor into helping him use some Gallifreyan tech so he can regenerate. The Doctor agrees, and the other Time Lord regenerates into a woman. We also see both the fourth Doctor, with Romana and the Seventh Doctor, with Ace, solving a problem by meeting someone earlier, which they will do after they did it. The graphic novel itself is very short, and some of the vignettes are only a few pages, while others are full, albeit, short stories. I enjoyed this graphic novel though, and it whetted my appetite for the next two graphic novels in Titan Comics 13th Doctor series. The only flaw in the book is it’s almost too short. Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Starborn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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: The Beginning

  • Title: The Beginning
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 1 CD
  • Author: Marc Platt
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Characters: Susan, First Doctor, Quadrigger Stoyn
  • Cast: Carole Ann Ford (Susan), Terry Molloy (Stoyn)
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/08/2018

I listened to The Beginning at the beginning of this week, but it was a good and enjoyable story in the Big Finish Companion Chronicles line, even if the details are a bit fuzzy now. The Beginning starts with the Doctor and Susan on the run on Gallifrey, they find a TARDIS in a repair/junk shop and leave. The Doctor and Susan are refugees, fleeing their home, because “their home is no longer their home”. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones on board their TARDIS – Quadrigger Stoyn, who is meant to be dismantling the TARDIS engines is also on board when the ship takes off. They discover this when the TARDIS makes a rather ungraceful landing. Stoyn is not the nicest person, and he clearly buys the Gallifreyan party line – whatever it is. The audio doesn’t make things crystal clear, but we can assume a few things: Gallifrey is now supporting isolationism, Stoyn and others have a negative, ethnocentric attitude towards “outsiders” and “aliens”, and although it isn’t stated outright – the Time Lords may even be racist in their attitudes towards others.

The TARDIS half materializes and half crashes on the Earth, but not the Earth we know – and aliens call Archayons are seeding Earth to make it a garden but with the precision of a formal English garden rather than the wildness of a forest. They are doing this from the moon apparently. At first, the Doctor hopes to obtain help from Stoyn (after all he should know how to fix their TARDIS), and a power source from the Archayons. But as it turns out, the Archayons are much darker than they appear, and Stoyn’s price is higher than the Doctor is willing to pay.

The second part begins with Susan waking in a lunar ambulance that is heading to Giant Leap base. She watches the First Contact video shown to her by her nurse, and wonders where her Grandfather is. She can hear his warnings in her head, but she doesn’t know where he is. The ambulance is attacked, the nurse and medical doctor are killed, but Susan finds her grandfather unharmed. They manage to warn Giant Leap base that the ambulance is infested with deadly parasites, but then they see Giant Leap base being attacked. The Blue Lightning clearly is an Archayon weapon. Somehow the Doctor and Susan get to the TARDIS and return to the Archayon base, which is now attacking Earth and the moonbase. Apparently, the Archayons are upset that their order has been upset by untamed life in the millions of years that they were frozen. Still, the Doctor and Susan manage to warn the Earth, which is well-prepared to attack back and even destroy the Archayons weapons and base. Stoyn, who has sided with the Archayons, is left behind and the Doctor and Susan leave in the TARDIS, which has a new power cell and is sort of working. They visit another planet.

This is a new and different take on how the Doctor and Susan left Gallifrey. I liked the idea of the two being refugees. The Archayons are unusual creatures – looking like glass peanuts, with the ability to flow together to form structures or do work, then flow apart as individual beings. However, in part two they become almost cardboard villains – so determined to not only seed life but orderly life they can’t see the forest for the trees. Stoyn, whom I also encountered in Luna Romana is a weird character – played by Terry “Davros” Molloy – he flips between government functionary to nearly radical “anti-alien” activist in a sense. He’s probably meant to suggest the type of people the Doctor and Susan are fleeing, but it feels off. When Classic Who visited Gallifrey, it was often shown to be a rather boring and stuffy place. But Gallifrey also seems to have an awful lot of corruption and political intrigue too. So in some aspects, the character of Quadrigger Stoyn doesn’t quite fit in with that. But then, The Beginning clearly indicates that something’s happened on Gallifrey – something serious enough that the Doctor and Susan are literally fleeing for their lives.

Recommended.

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

Click the link to order The Beginning on CD or Download.

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

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Anachronauts

  • Title: The Anachronauts
  • Series: Doctor Who Companion Chronicles
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: Simon Guerrier
  • Director: Ken Bentley
  • Characters: Sara Kingdom, Steven Taylor, First Doctor
  • Cast: Jean Marsh, Peter Purves
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/25/2018

**Spoiler Alert** The Anachronauts is a two-disc story in the Big Finish Companion Chronicles line. It features the characters of the First Doctor, Steven, and Sara Kingdom and takes place during “The Daleks Master Plan” aired story. The Doctor, Sara and Steven are in the TARDIS when there is a collision with another vehicle. The TARDIS crash lands on a desert island and meets the crew of the other ship – which has been completely destroyed in the crash. This other ship was an experimental time ship. The TARDIS is nowhere to be seen. The new crew and the Doctor’s crew join together, although the time pilots don’t entirely trust the Doctor and company. They trek through the jungle, in the rain, find a cave, and locate the TARDIS food machine – sitting by itself in the jungle. Sara and Steven are convinced the TARDIS broke apart in the crash. The two groups stay in the cave overnight.

During their stay, however, they are attacked by what can only be described as a Banshee – a wailing figure with long, white hair. The Doctor calls this figure a “Time Sprite” but says it’s a myth, a fairy tale, something that does not exist.

The next morning the Doctor and Steven head out to find the TARDIS. Sara stays behind. The Doctor leads Steven straight to the time pilot’s ship, which he wants to investigate – where they run into the “Time Sprite” again. They return to the cave, only to find Sara missing. Steven confronts the time pilots and gets shot.

Meanwhile, Sara and the female leader of the Time Pilots climb a cliff to get a better view. The Time Pilots leader takes readings to try to determine where they are, then sets a homing beacon. Sara gets hurt climbing back down and Steven gets shot confronting the Time Pilots.

In part 2, after a bit of a review, Sara and the leader of the Time Pilots return to their ship for medical supplies for Steven. When they get back – Steven is fine, it’s as if he was never shot. Sara falls asleep and wakes feeling better than ever, her broken arm healed.

The Doctor tells everyone the Island was an illusion, a dream – and they all wake on the floor of the TARDIS. But the leader of the Time Pilots attacks – trying to pilot the TARDIS and eventually firing a gun – at Steven.

Sara and Steven wake up in the dark and fog in a city devastated by war – and on the run, pursued by armed police, they quickly find shelter. They are in East Berlin in 1966. They hide, and run, but are eventually picked up by the police for having no papers. They are interrogated but can’t say anything – Germans and Russians in 1966 aren’t going to believe they are time travelers. They are jailed but escape. They are captured again. Sara tells Steven they will betray each other, betray the Doctor, just to get the torture to stop. So Steven decides to get ahead of the game and tell the Stasi he and Sara wish to defect. To back up his claim, he hands over a piece of paper with basic scientific information from his own (future) time period.

Sara and Steven are taken by car to a house in the suburbs and told to wait. Sara, meanwhile, every time she and Steven are jailed, is freaked out by hearing a creature and claims to see it outside the house. Steven tells her she’s imagining it. When the Stasi come around, asking questions and offering the two a house and a weekly allowance – Steven suddenly becomes belligerent. He refuses to answer questions. Sara is perplexed.

The two are separated, and when Steven return to Sara, he apologizes and tells her it’s not real – this whole scenario is fake, like the one on the island. And, he tells her – she’s also not real, part of the illusion. Sara screams but fades away. The Doctor, what Sara had seen as a mysterious creature, pulls Steven out of the illusion. They rescue Sara from her dream, which was quite the happy one.

In the TARDIS console room, the Doctor explains they were in cells in the TARDIS – continuing to heal from the collision, and that the time pilots are still in cells. He pilots the TARDIS to the Cobalt Moon, long after all the cobalt is mined, and drops the time pilots off. There is a beautiful pink sea and sky, and a nearby city – the pilots will be fine. The Doctor, Sara, and Steven return to confront the Daleks.

Peter Purves (Steven) and Jean Marsh (Sara) take turns narrating each of the four parts of this adventure, but also play their own characters during the sections that the other is narrating. And Peter also plays the First Doctor. So, this story – with music and sound effects as well, is closer to a full-cast audio drama than the typical, performed, audiobook style of the Companion Chronicles. This is also a good story – plenty of twists and turns, with excellent performances by Peter Purves and Jean Marsh.

Recommended.

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

Click this link to order The Anachronauts 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!