Book Review – Doctor Who: The Menagerie

  • Title: The Menagerie
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Martin Day
  • Characters:  Second Doctor, Jaime, Zoë
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/20/2013

The Menagerie is part of Virgin Publishing’s Doctor Who – The Missing Adventures paperback original novels series. This one features the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Zoë, and Jaime, which is one of my favorite Doctor and companion combinations. However, the story is just, well, to be frank, pretty awful actually.

The Doctor decides to take his companions to a low-technology world for a nice vacation. The TARDIS lands, and the three wander to the local village and enter the pub. Within minutes, the place is raided, and the three are split up. The village where they have landed is in the iron hands of the Knights of Kubris – technology-hating religious zealots who have not only banned all technology and science, but also live “only in the moment”, banning the study of the past, and forbidding any planning for the future.

OK, it may sound like Tea Party paradise, but the problem is the first half of the book is very slow going, as it feels like one grand lecture that goes on and on. The Knights position is completely untenable. to live without science and technology is pretty much impossible – and wrong. But to condemn the study of history, and make it a crime to discuss what you’re having for dinner tomorrow, much less your plans for the weekend… It’s just not a natural state of affairs.

And if you think the anti-science nature of the Tea Party is just plain wrong, Martin Day’s novel comes across as strident preaching to the converted. Science and technology are cool, and necessary, and one simply cannot pretend they don’t exist or ignore them. Besides, learning from the past then using technology to develop improved ways of doing things is the only way to prepare for the future – one certainly cannot fight it, or in real life, travel backwards to some “golden era” (especially as there is no “golden era”).

Eventually The Menagerie wanders around to explaining what had happened. The planet itself had an underground scientific/military research station. This station was exploring using genetic manipulation to create biologic weapons. They succeed in creating a new creature called a Mercim, but the creature also harbors a deadly microbe. Between the aggressive nature of the Mercim and the deadly nature of the microbe the research team is virtually wiped out. A few escape to the planet’s surface and their descendants occupy the planet at the time that the Doctor and his companions arrive.

The research station’s home planet sends a rescue/investigation party, but it is more or less too late. In a last, desperate act – the leader of the rescue party, who has contracted the disease spread by the Mercim, is turned into a Cyborg. He leaves the planet in his spaceship, immediately crashes, and this cyborg is the leader who had established the science and technology-hating Knights.

Perhaps the novel would have worked better if it had started with the research station. I can certainly picture the Second Doctor warning the military scientists against “messing with forces they shouldn’t”, then if it had jumped forward to see the cultural result of the disaster, the story might have worked better, and the first half been less boring and strident.

Overall, the novel something for only the completist to own. I read an e-book version. It’s not the worst Doctor Who novel I’ve read, but it’s far from the best.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Twilight of the Gods

  • Title: Twilight of the Gods
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Christopher Bulis
  • Characters:  Second Doctor, Jaime, Victoria
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 11/05/2013

Twilight of the Gods is part of the long out of print Virgin Books Publishing Missing Doctors Adventures which featured Doctors 1-6 from the British television series Doctor Who and were published alongside the New Adventures featuring the Seventh Doctor. I read an e-book version, which used the old, non-flowable .pdf format – which meant lots of re-sizing and zooming of pages, then re-setting the page size to “turn” to the next page. There also were a lot of typos. However, considering how long out of print the book is, and that the e-book was free, it’s not fair to complain too much.

This story featured the Second Doctor (as played by Patrick Troughton), Jaime McCrimmon – the Scottish Highlander, and Victoria Waterfield. The TARDIS doesn’t exactly crash, but it has a rough landing on what soon turns out to be Vortis – the Web Planet, home of the Menoptera and the Zarbi, previously visited by the First Doctor (in the aired story, “The Web Planet”). It’s hundred years since the Doctor’s last visit, but the Menoptera need the Doctor’s help again.

The Rhumon Empire is in the midst of a Civil War between Royalists and Republicans – and both sides have landed on Vortis, given the planet their own name, and declared it claimed for their own side in the war. Both sides fight each other, fight the elements of the planet itself, and fight any Menoptera who get in the way. The Royalists take Menoptera as slaves – but the Republicans kidnap them as well.

Lord Kai Shallvar leads the Royalists, he’s served by his loyal servant, Cansonn, and annoyed by the High Priest Li Modeenus. Besides absolute loyalty to their King and the aristocracy – the Royalists are also expected to be blindly loyal to the religion of the One True God – the Sun God. Though Shallvar rules his men and women, Modeenus has power to manipulate Shallvar, because he represents the State Religion, and on the Royalist side of the War – no other beliefs are tolerated other than the State Religion. Modeenus even has a computer-like device to test one’s belief.

The Republicans believe that for all to be Equal, all must be the same. They have no religion – and punish any belief in the supernatural or superstition severely. On the planet, they are led by Captain-Commander Draga-three, who must obey the rules set by her political officer, Nevon-two. The Republicans do not even use family names, only numbers. They’re basically a thinly-veiled analogy of Communists.

The Doctor, Victoria, and Jaime, quickly get involved – being split up, reunited, and split-up again – thus allowing them and the readers to learn about and become involved with the three groups in conflict on the planet. However, just as the Doctor attempts to organize some sort of rapprochement between the groups – a new problem arises, an Old One – left over from the Animus that the First Doctor and his companions defeated. Before long, The Doctor, his companions, the Menoptrea, the Royalists and the Republicans are fighting together to defeat something that looks like it escaped from a HP Lovecraft novel. And they are losing.

The Doctor comes up with a final desperate plan – to take one of the missiles (bombs) offered by the Republicans and dematerialize with it abroad the TARDIS, rematerialize within the Old One’s shields, drop the bomb out the TARDIS door, then dematerialize again.

I won’t spoil the ending – but it’s a fine romp.

I really did enjoy this novel – lots of political intrigue, the Doctor and Victoria and Jaime all teaching the Republicans and Royalists not merely that they are wrong, but that they should just leave the Menoptera alone, to run their planet as they see fit (a hint of anti-Colonialism there). By the end, everyone is working together in the short term, though the Royalist and Republicans agree to leave the planet alone. The Xeno-biology of the Menoptera is fascinating (yes, these are good aliens – as are the Rhumons, at heart). The title of the novel does, eventually, make sense – and is a whole third storyline that’s too involved to discuss here (as well as spoiling the end.)

The original characters were extremely well-drawn, and I liked the detail and background given to Jaime and Victoria.

Recommended to Doctor Who fans, and general SF fans alike.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Dark Path

  • Title: The Dark Path
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: David A. McIntee
  • Characters:  Second Doctor, Jaime, Victoria
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 9/30/2013

The Dark Path is part of the now out-of-print Virgin Publishing Doctor Who The Missing Adventures, which was a series of original novels featuring Doctors 1-6 of the classic BBC television series Doctor Who. They were published at the same time as Virgin’s The New Adventures series, featuring original adventures of the Seventh Doctor, set after the televised story, “Survival”.

The Dark Path features the Second Doctor (played by Patrick Troughton), and his companions, Jaime, the Scottish Highlander, and Victoria, the young Victorian woman. They also run into the Master, as played by Roger Delgado. However, this isn’t the villain of the Jon Pertwee era, rather when the Doctor first runs into “Koschei” he’s delighted to meet his old school chum.

A lost colony, a terrible secret, and an even worse technology hide on a planet orbiting a neutron star on the far outer reaches of the galaxy. Just what is going on? Much of The Dark Path reads as a technological mystery as everyone tries to figure out what the “Dark Heart” is.

I enjoy mysteries, so I liked this book because it became a real “page-turner” to figure out what was going on. Several of the original characters to the novel were very well drawn, which I also enjoyed.

However, the novel also perfectly sets-up how “Koschei” will become “The Master”, and while it technically does deliver on that promise – I felt somewhat cheated. I wanted to see a more “real” explanation for what made “The Master” who he was. And yes, this novel was written in 1997, so at least a decade before Series Three of New Who, and must be taken as an “alternate history” or view of the character. Still, the novel leads the reader down one path as an explanation for the Master’s personality change, but then abandons that idea and goes with something much more pedestrian.

So this novel gets 3.5 stars. Still, it is an worthwhile read for fans of Doctor Who.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Invasion of the Cat People

  • Title: Invasion of the Cat People
  • Series: Virgin Publishing Missing Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Gary Russell
  • Characters:  Second Doctor, Ben, Polly
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 7/22/2013

Invasion of the Cat People is part of Virgin Publishing’s Doctor Who the Missing Adventures series. The Missing Adventures series features Doctors 1-6. This novel has the unusual Doctor and companion combination of the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) with Ben and Polly. Ben and Polly were the First Doctor’s final companions, who carried over. Troughton is more famous for having as his companions the Scottish Highlander, Jaime McCrimmon, with either Victoria or Zoë. But it was interesting to read a story that features Ben and Polly with the Second Doctor.

Overall, this story of dual invasion. Four aliens landed in pre-Colonial Australia and not only taught but learned from the Aboriginal people there. Several thousand years later, a race of, well, Cat-People, arrives, meaning to destroy the Earth to use it as a power source.

Overall, I’d give this particular Doctor Who novel a 3.5 rating. It was interesting to see Ben and Polly, and I liked the way the author wrote their confusion and “out-of-sync-ness” at being just a few years in their own future. But I felt the plot would have been better not split between the two groups of invaders. I tended to pick-up and put-down the book a lot, and that’s not a good sign.

Book Review: Doctor Who – The Indestructible Man

  • Title: The Indestructible Man
  • Series: BBC Books Past Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Simon Messingham
  • Characters:  Second Doctor, Zoë, Jamie, Gerry Anderson shows
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 2/23/2013

This novel is very, well, novel. As the photo-cover and title suggest, it really is a cross-over with all the Gerry Anderson stuff. Mostly it crosses Doctor Who (Second Doctor, Jamie, Zoë) with Captain Scarlet — the indestrcutible man, and with UFO, thus Zoë’s purple wig. But other Anderson shows make an appearance, including, Thunderbirds.

I was expecting, therefore, for this novel to be very funny, and it wasn’t, from what I remember it was actually kinda’ depressing. However, I did read it awhile ago, and it’s one of the Past Doctor Adventures I’d definitely read again.

Overall, definitely a book to read and add to your Doctor Who collection. It’s something to also recommend to the Gerry Anderson fan you know.

Classic Doctor Who DVD Recs – The Second Doctor

This post consists of my recommendations for Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor, find recommendations for other Classic Doctors by following the links below.

One recommendation for watching Classic Doctor Who, which I forgot to mention last time, is that because many of the stories are quite long (4-6 half hour parts is average, some stories run to 7, 8, 10, even 12 parts), I recommend not using the Play All feature on longer stories, but watching the longer story over two or more nights. In general, any story that is six or more episodes long I plan on watching over two nights. For example, for a seven-parter, I’ll watch episodes 1-3 the first night and 4-7 the second night. And, of course, if you are really pressed for time, watching the classic stories one episode a night is perfectly OK – after all, the original presentation was one half-hour episode a week!

I quite like Patrick Troughton’s Doctor – and he has to be given a lot of credit, if Troughton hadn’t been so successful in taking over the role, both providing his own interpretation and creating a continuity of the character of the Doctor, Doctor Who never would have lasted 50 years, and would have, instead been a footnote in British SF history. Fortunately, Troughton did a brilliant job. Second, the Troughton era, especially when I originally saw Doctor Who on PBS in the 1980s, really was missing a lot of episodes – I think only about six survived to be shown. The Doctor Who Restoration Team has managed to rescue some stories, by completing them with the original audio tracks and animation. Also, on rare occasions stories are found in odd places. Still, out of three years of stories, back when a season was much longer as well, there are only eleven Troughton stories left.

Now, on to the recommendations.

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The Tomb of the Cybermen is an excellent Cyberman story and a great Doctor Who story. The scene of the Cybermen breaking out of their Ice Tombs on Telos is iconic, and was referenced in the Peter Capaldi story, “Dark Water”. It’s a great, and creepy, Cybermen story.

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The story introduces another iconic Doctor Who monster, though not one that is as prevalent as the Daleks or Cybermen. This story has the Doctor and his companions landing at a remote scientific base, where a frozen Ice Warrior was found in the Ice, revived, and then wrecks havoc. It’s an atmospheric story, and the Ice Warriors have a great sibilant voice.

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The Enemy of the World was found 2013, after being missing since the 1960s. More on the recovery of this story and The Web of Fear, can be found here in a story from The British newspaper The Mirror.

The Doctor and his companions, Victoria and Jaime, land on a planet for a vacation – only to discover they are on a future Earth, where the Doctor is the exact double of Salamander – who some see as the saviour of the world, who is actually a ruthless dictator who is causing natural disasters and food shortages. Once a shortage occurs Salamander steps in to “help” – but requires absolute loyalty as his price for his “help”. He’s also keeping a group of scientists hostage in an underground bunker by telling them the world has been virtually destroyed by Nuclear War. The bunker triggers the disasters. The Doctor falls in with the Resistance movement – and his resemblance to Salamander is used to gather information and defeat the villain of course. Though the plot sounds complicated and confusing – the story sparkles in large part due to Patrick Troughton’s acting chops in a dual role, and a strong supporting cast. Though the DVD has no special features, it’s well-worth getting.

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The Mind Robber is one of my top favorite Doctor Who episodes ever because it shows that an innovative and thought-provoking plot can make a story work without effects – or even a set to start. Caught by the lava explosion from the previous story, the Doctor uses the emergency dematerialization procedures. As a result, rather than moving through time and space, the TARDIS lands in the Land of Fiction. The first episode of the story only uses the TARDIS set, and a blank white room, yet it still manages to draw you in to the story. The story has the Doctor, Jaime, and Zoë encountering fictional characters such Gulliver (from Gulliver’s Travels), Rapunzel, the Minotaur, the Karkus (a future comics character), etc. It’s a bright, creative, unique story.

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This story brings back the Cybermen – invading the tunnels below London, introduces UNIT which will be a big part of Jon Pertwee’s tenure as the Doctor, and brings back Nicholas Courtney – now The Brigadier we know and love, as well as introducing Sgt. Benton (John Levene). It’s an excellent tale, and really sets the stage for what Doctor Who will become for the first couple of Jon Pertwee seasons. The still-missing episodes are reconstructed with animation and the original audio recordings.

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The Seeds of Death brings back the Ice Warriors, and their second story is stronger than their first one. On 21st Century Earth, all travel is by T-mat, an instantaneous travel system for goods and people controlled by a relay station on the moon. The Ice Warriors take over the Transmat Station and use it to send seed pods that emit a deadly fungus to the Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, Ice Warriors use a weather control system to create more trouble. The Doctor and his companions take over the weather control system and use it to destroy the oxygen-eating fungus and defeat the Ice Warriors. This is a fun story, especially as the fungus was made by using excessive amounts of dish soap bubbles. But the Ice Warriors and their plots are menacing – and it’s just fun to watch!

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Ah, The War Games. The War Games is, I think, the longest Classic Era story that still survives. At ten half-hour parts, it’s of truly epic length. However, even though there’s a lot of running around – gathering information to figure out what’s going on, getting captured, escaping, the TARDIS crew getting separated then finding each other again, the story has it’s moments. Not only that, but the last episode establishes new background information for the Doctor, including his home planet and his people – as well as his reason for running off in the TARDIS. It’s a regeneration episode also, with a bittersweet ending. I highly recommend watching it.

Finally, a couple of book recommendations – these books are invaluable resources for the fan of Classic Doctor Who.

Doctor Who the Programme Guide by Jean-Marc Lofficier is a priceless reference book. I use my original (1989) copy all the time. Because I’m actually pretty bad at remembering titles, dates, and even the spellings of actors and writers names – I use this book often, and it sits on the hutch above my computer desk with my dictionaries and other reference books. My original copy is a standard paperback size. The new Fourth Edition (by Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier) is a trade paper. Both however list every classic story, the story codes, the individual episode titles for the older episodes that had them, the complete guest cast per story with the actor’s names, and a brief, factual, knowledgeable summary of the story.  There’s no editorializing about the stories, no pointing out costume zippers being visible, or boom shadows in shots, no snide comments – basically, it’s just the facts, which makes for a great reference book – and I really, really, really wish a similar non-opinionated, factual book was available for the new series.  Anyway, Doctor Who the Programme Guide is a book I cannot recommend highly enough – you’ll going to want to buy a copy for yourself.

Classic Doctor Who DVD Compendium Every Disc – Every Episode – Every Extra by Paul Smith, is exactly what it says on the tin – and it’s extremely useful. I’ve used this to determine – Is there a regular and a Special Edition version of a story? If so, what’s the difference between the different versions? Also, I’ve used it to figure out where a particular DVD extra is. The Doctor Who DVDs are loaded with extras – commentaries, making of specials, commercials featuring the actors, in character, from other countries, parody shorts, then and now location visits, etc. This wonderful, and well-researched book lists all that information in a large-format paperback that’s easy to flip through. It must have taken many, many, many hours of research to compile. My only gripe, is the Compendium, is organized alphabetically. Though I understand why it’s organized that way (it is, after all, a reference book) – I would have preferred to see it organized chronologically (by the date the episodes aired, not the DVD release date), but that’s just me. It’s a wonderful book, and should be on every Classic Doctor Who fan’s shelf.