Wannabes: a 1990s story, by Dave Rudden

Second paragraph of third chapter:

‘Well, that’s a comfort,’ the Doctor said acidly, as a pulse round exploded a bloom behind his head, splattering his cheek with thick, sweet-smelling sap. ‘I’ll tell that to our lungs, shall I? I’m sure they’ll understand.’

A story of the Tenth Doctor and Donna, visiting Dublin to witness the first ever gig of (fictional) girl band the Blood Honeys, only to find that the event has been infiltrated by a trio of alien sisters out to exploit the emotional energy generated by the event. The aliens have a number of near relatives in both Doctor Who (the Carrionites) and Irish mythology (many cases of three sisters).

Rudden, who is himself Irish, gets the feeling of Dublin in the early Celtic Tiger days very well (even though he would have been roughly eight years old at the time the story is set), and you can very plausibly see Donna and the Doctor interacting with the changing entertainment scene. It doesn’t take a genius to work out who the five-member girl band making their debut in the mid-1990s are based on, but a pinch of satire can help a story run smoothly.

I am preparing a post grumbling about the failures of Big Finish to get Ireland right in a recent audio play, but I have no such grumbles in this case. I enjoyed this and you can get it here.

Bechdel pass in Chapter Four, where the three alien sisters discuss their plans for Earth.

Facing Fate: The Good Companion, by Nick Abadzis et al

Second frame from third part:

The culmination of the series of IDW Tenth Doctor comic albums that I’ve been reading since March, here all the various companion plotlines come together and there is a very satisfactory ending to the character arc for Gabby Gonzalez, the comics-only companion from New York. Really this whole series deserves the same recognition that the early DWM strips have; it’s beautifully done. It was especially evocative to read it at the same time as the Doctor / Donna story unfolded on TV. You can get it here.

This was the first book that I finished reading in December, so I’m three weeks off more or less. This gap will probably only widen over the break!

Facing Fate: Vortex Butterflies, by Nick Abadzis et al

(This week is going to be all Doctor Who blog posts. You have been warned.)

First and second frames of third part:

I’m getting to the end of the Titan Comics series about the Tenth Doctor, with companions Gabby and Cindy from New York and also Noob, an incarnation of the Osiran deity Anubis; just one more to go after this.

I thought this was rather good; the Doctor leaves his companions in 2009 Willesden, where they befriend Sarah Jane Smith, and they separately explore a kind of meditation on the Doctor / companion relationship, with some lovely art and a couple more cameos from other characters from the TV series. You can get it here.

About Time 9, by Tat Wood and Dorothy Ail

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Firsts and Lasts It’s the end of a trilogy of stories set in the same time-period (as per X3.3, “Gridlock” last year), with the forty-second story getting another visit after X2.8, “The Impossible Planet”, and X3.7, “42”. The ood aren’t afflicted by any ultimate-source-of-all-evil this time, so we have our first recurring friendly aliens since the show’s return.

Second paragraph of sidebar essay to third chapter:

For those of us raised on 1970s Doctor Who, where the conditions of a world fed into the story-telling right from the start, obvious mismatches such as this can be distracting. Take a relatively simple tale such as “The Mutants” (9.4) or “The Caves of Androzani” (21.6), where the basic knowledge every child had picked up from the Moon landings or news items about pollution was deployed in a conceptually exciting and intriguing way (regardless of the execution), then compare it to The Mill’s persistent inability to get phases of the Moon right, and you’ll see why experienced viewers get a little peeved.

Latest in the magisterial set of books about Doctor Who (I have previously read volumes 1, 2, 3, 3 (revised), 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8), this covers Series 4 of New Who, the season with the Tenth Doctor and Donna, and also the 2009 special, with a side order of the Proms concert Music of the Spheres, The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith and the animated Dreamland story. This actually came out in 2019, but I only got it in August, and with David Tennant and Donna Noble about to return to our screens, it’s a timely read.

As usual, there is lovely detailed analysis of each story, including all the sections familiar from past volumes plus a new one, “English Lessons”, explaining cultural allusions which may not be as clear to the non-UKanian reader. None of these stories has yet been covered by the Black Archives, so you can’t really compare and contrast, but I feel comfortable that the two series are doing different things and both doing them well. In particular, the chapters on Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead, Midnight and The End of Time were very good.

I’m sorry to say that I did not feel the same way about the sidebar essays accompanying the analysis of each story. There are two standout pieces in the middle of the book, one on the history of the online spinoffs of the show, and one asking “Why Can’t Anyone Just Die?” in the Moffat version of the show, a valid question answered in forensic detail. But in general the companion essays seemed to me a notch or two below the very high standards set in previous volumes, most of them dedicated to exploring obscure rabbit-holes of continuity which I find it difficult to care about.

However, it’s comprehensive on the actual episodes, and the Black Archives you would get for the same price would cover a fraction of the material. So I would still recommend it to the analytical fan, just not as highly as some of the earlier volumes. You can get it here.

Facing Fate: Breakfast at Tyranny’s, by Nick Abadzis et al

Second frame of the third of the four issues collected here:

Two two-part stories here, the first being the titular “Breakfast at Tyranny’s”, where the Doctor with companions Gabby, Cindy and the deity Anubis are held captive with their memories being harvested; and a more exciting second half, “Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth”, set in ancient China with Nestenes. The art here is not always up the usual standards, I’m sorry to say. You can get it here.

The Night of the Doctor and The Day of the Doctor, by James Cooray Smith, Alasdair Stuart and Steven Moffat

So, back in November 2013, I was having a dull Thursday afternoon in the office when my social media started pinging with news of a new short Doctor Who story on Youtube. I fired up the link and watched it; and watched it again. I don’t think that you can ever recreate the impact of Paul McGann, 18 seconds in, saying “I’m a Doctor – but probably not the one you were expecting.”

The continuity issues raised by precisely which companions were mentioned led me into completely inaccurate speculation about the plot of The Day of the Doctor.

That evening, still excited, I was reading through Big Finish’s online magazine and unthinkingly tweeted the final paragraph of their interview with Tom Baker, which turned into my most retweeted tweet ever (to the point that Buzzfeed ranked it ninth in their list of 16 pictures we can probably stop tweeting in 2014).

Nine days later, we drove to Germany for the showing of The Day of the Doctor in a cinema near Cologne. I wrote:

The cinema is part of the massive Hürth Park shopping complex, and we found food without difficulty at their in-house restaurant. They were showing [TheDay of the Doctor in three different screens, and ours, which was the emptiest when I booked it, was full on the night, so I guess that all three sold out. Sitting beside me were three young women speaking Russian to each other, who gasped with appropriate appreciation in all the right fannish places(such as “Bad Wolf” and “I don’t want to go”). I wondered how far they had come to watch it. Probably not as far as us on the night, anyway.

We cinemagoers also got a lecture from Dan Starkey as Strax about cinema etiquette, showing unfortunates who had been arrested by the Sontarans for using their mobile phones or for trying to record the event, but also rejoicing in the eating of popcorn; followed by Matt Smith and David Tennant demonstrating the 3D while bantering with each other. (It’s perhaps a little regrettable that the 3D glasses were not returnable, at least not where we are; I can’t imagine that we’ll ever use them again.)

And then on with the main feature. Well, I liked it a lot. As everyone has been saying, John Hurt slipped into the part of the missing incarnation utterly smoothly, and in just the right way, portraying a veteran in his own incarnation aware that there would be others to come, and mocking the future Doctors very effectively. I was also relieved that Tennant dialled it down a bit; I felt he sometimes pushed too far in his own stories. And Smith seemed totally energised by the experience, though he must have already decided to go when it was being made.

I was actually glad that Billie Piper didn’t play Rose again (and delighted with the way the script covered that); she actually does well when she gets decent material to work with. Jenna Coleman is a delight. I liked the UNIT subplot (Yay, Jemma Redgrave and Ingrid Oliver!) more than the Elizabethan subplot, but enjoyed both (Joanna Page excellent, if improbable, and softening one of the stupider lines from The End of Time). I remembered the Zygons fondly, and indeed rewatched Terror of the Zygons last weekend to refresh myself; the negotiating the deal moment was perhaps a bit contrived in plot terms, but theoretically sound from the diplomatic perspective. And the shedding of the Time War baggage, both in terms of plot and in terms of liberating the Doctor from what we now know was more than just survivor’s guilt, and possible reintroduction of the Time Lords and Gallifrey is excellent for the future of the show’s storylines.

Not to mention the fan service:

A terrific way of including the former Doctors
(who did Harnell’s voice, by the way?)

Just one look from his eyes, but
already we know it will be different.

I was spoilered for this, which is probably
just as well as I don’t think I could
have remained dignified otherwise.

In the global scheme of things, this was one of Moffat’s better Event episodes and probably the best anniversary special. (I know that Moffat has declared that there is only one previous anniversary special, The Five Doctors; he is entitled to his opinion, but I definitely count The Three DoctorsSilver NemesisDimensions in Time and Zagreus, plus perhaps one or two others.) He has always been good at witty banter, and at identity confusion; he hasn’t always been as good at fitting these things to the frame of a wider show, but he did it this time, and I’m a happy fan.

I rewatched both Night and Day of the Doctor in preparation for writing this post, and they both held up really well. The Night of the Doctor packs so much into six and a half minutes. The plot threads of The Day of the Doctor just about tie up properly (this is one of Moffat’s skills). It’s all great fun and rekindled my enthusiasm.

It’s a little sad that there isn’t quite the atmosphere around the 60th anniversary as there was for the 50th, but it’s understandable why; in 2013 we had the first significant milepost since the 2005 reboot, and the show was on a high; but the Chibnall years did not reach the same level of public interest. It should also be said that I’ve heard from sources involved with the production that some at the BBC felt that 2013 went too far, with An Adventure in Space and Time, The Five-ish Doctors Rebooted, and the awful After-party alongside the actual specials. I’m sure that there will be extras around the anniversary this year, but not as many as ten years ago. (Dismayed by the rumours that the next episode will be shown on 11 November, as I will be out of town that day.)

Stephen Moffat’s novelisation, Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor, actually covers both Night and Day. The second paragraph of the third chapter (numbered Chapter 1) is:

‘He’s here,’ I said, keeping tight rein on the panic levels in my voice. ‘I can hear him, moving about. He’s in Time Vault Zero. The Doctor is in Time Vault Zero.’

The second paragraph of the seventh chapter (numbered Chapter 3) is:

I am writing this account so that perhaps, finally, I can leave it behind.

When it came out in 2018, simultaneously with three other New Who novelisations, I wrote:

Steven Moffat is, oddly enough, the one writer of the four new novelisations who had not previously written a Doctor Who novel. Yep, his previous written Who prose, despite his being the show-runner for the whole of the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor eras, and having generated screenplay for more Doctors than any other writer (even if you don’t count the extra five in The Curse of Fatal Death), amounts to only a few short stories, starting with “Continuity Errors” in the 1996 collection Decalog 3: Consequences, and going on to “What I Did In My Christmas Holidays – By Sally Sparrow“, the short story from the 2006 Annual that became the TV episode Blink.

Of course, I really enjoyed the 2013 50th anniversary special, which in retrospect we now see as a last salute to the Tennant era from almost the end of the Smith era. And I am glad to report that this is by far the best of the four new Doctor Who novels published last month. Moffat has veered further from the script than any of the other writers; the chapters are told by alternating narrators, in non-sequential numbers, interspersed with reports from other characters (Chapter Nine, significantly, is missing); the basics of the storyline (starting with the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration, and ending with the Curator) remain the same, but the transmission to the printed page has been done in a very different way. And there are some lovely shout-outs to odd bits of continuity – Peter Cushing’s Doctor is canonicalised; there is a desperate attempt to explain the black and white era. In general, it’s just good fun, and it feels like the process of writing the book was much more enjoyable for the author than was notoriously the case with the original script. If you are a Who fan, you should get it here.

I stand by that. Several more novelisations down the line, Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor remains the best of them – so far.

The 49th and 50th Black Archive monographs on Doctor Who are on The Night of the Doctor, which is James Cooray Smith’s fourth in the series, and Day of the Doctor, by the appropriately named Alasdair Stuart, who I also know as a Hugo finalist and commentator on sf and fandom. To jump to the end, they are both very good and enhanced my appreciation still further for two stories that I already liked a lot.

James Cooray Smith’s monograph on Night is only 73 pages long, but that’s roughly 11 pages per minute of script; compare the volumes on the seven-part stories that are barely a page per minute! There’s a lot to say about these short few scenes, of course, and Smith says most of it.

The first chapter, ‘I’m a Doctor, but probably not the one you were expecting’, reminds us (as if we needed to be reminded) of the excitement around the 50th anniversary and the surprise launch of the mini-episode; and looks at the returns of past Doctors (which turns out to be an even more timely topic in 2023).

The second and longest chapter, ‘What if I get bored? I need a television’, debates whether or not Night counts as TV Doctor Who, looking at other edge cases, of which there are a lot more than you might have thought.

The third chapter, ‘The universe stands on the brink’, looks briefly at the origins of the War Doctor. Its second paragraph is

This assumption, however, fits rather less well with other aspects of ‘The Night of the Doctor’, and the possible discontinuities that result are worth consideration for what they imply about the story and its relationship with The Day of the Doctor, particularly with regards to how much time passes between them. In ‘The Night of the Doctor’, Ohila describes the perilous situation in which the universe finds itself at this point in the Last Great Time War in very stark terms, saying that ‘The war between the Daleks and the Time Lords threatens all reality. You are the only hope left,’ and later insisting that, ‘The universe stands on the brink. Will you let it fall?’

The fourth chapter, ‘What do you need now?’, looks further at the concept of the War Doctor.

The fifth chapter, ‘I don’t suppose there’s any need for a Doctor any more’, looks at the Time War and the character of Cass.

The sixth chapter, ‘Physician, heal thyself’, looks at the last words of various Doctors and at the Doctor as Jesus.

The seventh chapter, ‘Doctor no more’, looks at how the episode fits into the wider Steven Moffat’s wider concept of who and what the Doctor is.

It’s a little cheeky of the publishers to offer this slim volume at the same price as others in the series which are almost three times as long, but the completist will want it, need it and enjoy it anyway. You can get it here.

Alasdair Stuart’s The Day of the Doctor is twice as long. It starts with an introduction, setting out the author’s stall: this is a story involving metafiction and death, and combining Old and New Who. Usually I write my own chapter summaries, but in this case the author has done it for me so I will lazily cut and paste, inserting the chapter titles:

The first chapter [“The Doctor Can See You Now”] looks in more detail at the concept of postmodernism and Who’s own unique flavour of it. Fans of a certain stripe will probably be thinking the word ‘discontinuity’ and they are not wrong.

The second chapter [“The Barn at the End and the Barn at the Start”] talks about the barn, what it represents to the show and also, crucially, the fictional spaces it allows the show to step into. It’s also going to look at the concept of postmodern and metafiction and what that, and 1970s BBC Shakespeare adaptations, have to do with Doctor Who.

The third chapter [“A Man Goes to War”] looks at the War Doctor. He’s arguably the most important incarnation of the Doctor and also one of the least well known. Here we’re also going to explore the idea that each one of these incarnations represents an era of the character.

Just interrupting to say that the second paragraph of the third chapter is:

But before all that, we need to talk about Christopher Eccleston.

Going back to the chapter summaries:

The fourth chapter [“The Man Who Regrets”] turns the attention to the 10th Doctor. Poster boy for the series’ triumphant return! Big-haired righter of wrongs! Lonely god and occasional near mass murderer. He’s also the representation of the show’s past, which is an odd, interesting thing for him to be.

The fifth chapter [“The Man Who Forgets”] focuses on the 11th Doctor and how this is a story which is a prelude to his final bow in The Time of the Doctor (2013) and how it sets up the future of the show. A future which is far more introspective, for both Doctor and Daleks, than it first seems.

The sixth chapter [“Impossibilities, Moments, Revolutionaries and Evolutions”] examines Clara, the Moment, Kate Stewart and Osgood and why the future of the show is carefully, subtly encoded into those four women.

Finally, [in te seventh chapter, “Midlife Crisis of the Daleks”] we take a look at the Daleks and how The Day of the Doctor is a fictional structure through which the past, present and future of both the Doctor and his nemeses are examined and defined.

There’s also an appendix looking at how the 2020 story The Timeless Children affects our understanding of Day of the Doctor now, including also the “Morbius Doctors”.

This is all good, meaty stuff, well worth adding to the thinking fan’s shelves, and you can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | The Girl Who Died (64) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)

War of Gods, by Nick Abadzis et al

Second frame from third part:

Really good climax to a multi-volume Tenth Doctor story, involving the Osirans and all the recurring characters from the previous installments of this sequence. Also includes a less impressive story bringing the Tenth Doctor to London to meet his previous companions (or are they). You can get it here.

Sins of the Father, by Nick Abadzis, Giorgia Sposito, Eleonora Carlini and Arianna Florean

Second frame of third story (“The Long Con”):

More adventures of the Tenth Doctor with comics-only companions Gabby Gonzalez and Cindy Wu. The first of the three stories here features another sound monster taking advantage of the Jazz era in New Orleans; the second is the opening part of the conclusive adventure in this sequence of comics, bringing back the Osirans and Sutekh; and the third is a neat little multi-Doctor adventure with Ten, Eleven and Twelve. I am consistently impressed by the quality of this series, though it has now reached the stage where you’d need to have been reading it from the beginning. You can get this volume here.

Arena of Fear, by Nick Abadzis, Eleonora Carlini, Elena Casagrande, Iolanda Zanfardino, Arianna Florean, Rodrigo Fernandes and Hi-Fi

Second frame of third story (“The Infinite Corridor”):

Continuing the adventures of the Tenth Doctor and New Yorker Gabby Gonzalez. The first of these, the title story, has a rather cliched arena situation crossed with a much better than usual take on the characters losing and recovering their memories. Gabby’s friend Cindy joins the TARDIS at the end of the story, though to be honest I have difficulty distinguishing between their characters. The second story, “The Wishing Well Witch”, is a pleasing little vignette set in an English village that is not quite Stockbridge. The third story sets us up for the next volume with the Osirians returning to the fore. You can get it here.

Next in this sequence: Sins of the Father, by a similar team.

The Endless Song, by Nick Abadzis et al

Second frame of third story (actually a full page):

Next in my sequence of Tenth Doctor graphic novels, this pulls together three very different stories, of which the first story is the best: the Doctor and comics-only companion Gabby end up on a world where some of th inhabitants are intelligent forms of music, a concept that is difficult to portray in any medium, but done very well here. There’s also a New York vignette with Jack Harkness, and an interesting aliens-at-the-dawn-of-time story which has a pretty overt anti-colonialist theme. You can get it here.

The Fountains of Forever, by Nick Abadzis et al

For most books I review, I like to publish the second paragraph of the third chapter, or section; or just the third paragraph if there are no chapters or sections. For comics, I try and identify the second frame of the third issue, but this is a compilation of a short singleton story and two two-part stories, whose four parts are actually merged into a whole to the point where you can’t easily see where the issues started and finished. So here is the third frame of the first story.

Starts with a short and breezy story about the Tenth Doctor, Gabby and the Tardis’s washing machines, answering the question my mother always used to ask about how the Doctor and companions keep their clothes clean.

Then we’re into a story marketed under two titles, “The Fountains of Forever” for the first two parts and “Spiral Staircase” for the third and fourth, set in New York where an unexpectedly rejuvenated movie star become the focus of the Osirians attempt to return to Earth after the Pyramids of Mars. There’s a nice little moment where the Tenth Doctor retro-regenerates into the Ninth, and back again. Good atmospherics in general. You can get it here.

I’ve had better luck with this Who reading project than with some. Next up is The Endless Song, by the same team.

The Weeping Angels of Mons, by Robbie Morrison, Daniel Indro and Eleonora Carlini

Second frame of third instalment:

Next in the sequence of Tenth Doctor comics, continuing his adventures with New Yorker Gabby Gonzalez. Most of the album is taken up with the title story, which on the face of it looks well qualified for my list of Belgium references in Doctor Who, except that most of the action is explicitly set across the border in the (fictional) French town of St Michel. Gabby gets a bit more character development here, and knowing as we do what the ultimate fate of Amy and Rory is, the Angels are a source of real menace. A shorter story at the end, Echo, takes Gabby back to New York to fend off an alien threat and reconnect with her family. Enjoyable stuff. You can get it here.

This was the first book I finished this month, so I’m running almost three weeks in advance right now.

Next in this sequence is The Fountains of Forever, by Nick Abadzis, Elena Casagrande, Eleonora Carlini, Rachael Stott, Leonardo Romero, H-Fi and Arianna Florean.

The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords, by James Mortimer

On first watching The Sound of Drums in 2007, I was blown away, but kept my commentary for the following week, posting merely (under the title “Anticipation“):

♪ ♪ ♪ ♩.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♩.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♩.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♩.

I was disappointed however by Last of the Time Lords.

Well, It wasn’t actually bad, but it was disappointing; didn’t rise to the heights of Blink, or even of the two previous season finales. The pacing was curiously off, almost always a problem with RTD scripts.

Martha in general was pretty cool throughout, including her (temporary?) departure, and her links with the real world. The devastated Earth was well done, though you know immediately that this means that the cast just have to find the Reset button and press it.

did like the Doctor/Master relationship, and the Doctor’s devastation at being the last of his people again, even though I am Old Skool enough that I cannot really believe it is the Master without a beard or a decaying face.

The Doctor-goes-all-glowy bit is, IMHO, actually a homage to the end of the Pertwee story The Mutants, where the same effect is tried (not on the Doctor but on another character) and done really really badly. Several other Pertwee-era homages, mainly to stories I haven’t seen (Claws of Axos, Sea Devils).

The Doctor-turns-into-Dobby-the House-elf bit was, sadly, rubbish; and the Master keeping Martha’s family alive on the off-chance that she might show up doesn’t make sense.

Jack didn’t get much to do except turn into the future Face of Boe, did he? And Mrs Master did hardly anything except shoot her husband. Waste of good characters.

When I came to my Great New Who Rewatch in 2013, I was no less forgiving:

The “with a bound they were free” transition [from Utopia] to The Sound of Drums is a bit annoying given the buildup to the cliffhanger the previous week, but after that we are on fairly solid ground again, with Simm’s Master’s first appearance being much his best. Despite his obvious insanity, at this stage his intention to simply capture the Doctor and friends and do unspecified nasty things is pretty clear, and it gives the plot a terrific momentum. Apart from the regulars, Alexandra Moen is superb as Lucy Saxon, given few lines but an inescapable presence. And the continuity with Old Who’s Gallifrey is terrifically pleasing, and completes a theme we’ve had since the start of the season (if we count The Runaway Bride as such). I found that I didn’t even mind the “Here Come the Drums” song as much on rewatch; I felt it intrusive first time round.

And then, alas, we have Last of the Time Lords. On first watching, I was just slack-jawed in disbelief that such a promising setup had been so badly wasted, and unable to articulate quite why I hated it so much. This time round, I knew what was coming so was spared the crashing disappointment of the first broadcast, and actually thought it was not quite as awful as I had remembered. But that is not saying much.

Where it fails first, I think, is that the humiliation meted out to the Doctor and friends by the Master is neither funny nor interesting. There’s something very skeevy indeed about making some of the most visible black characters ever in the show into slaves, and the script never quite acknowledges that. Torturing Jack Harkness is just nasty. Turning the Doctor into Dobby the House Elf is bizarre and incomprehensible, and then transforming him into Tinkerbell at the end is an appalling lapse of dramatic judgment. The story of Martha is a decent enough plot thread (and of course Freema Agyeman carries it well), and the Doctor’s emotion for the Master is effective but would have been a lot more so without the previous 40 minutes, and the massive plot reset button actually comes as a relief because of the inanity of what has come before.

Rewatching both episodes again ten years on, I remain of the same view. The Sound of Drums is fast-paced, exciting, and builds anticipation. Last of the Time Lords squanders that for the sake of spectacle, always an obsession of RTD’s. Ten years on, I’m also more aware of just how good an actress Adjoa Andoh is, and how much she is wasted as Martha’s mother. It’s the first (but not the last) example of New Who getting the season finale not quite right.

The one point that did jump out at me was the Tenth Doctor’s invitation to the Master:

MASTER: You still haven’t answered the question. What happens to me?
DOCTOR: You’re my responsibility from now on. The only Time Lord left in existence.
JACK: Yeah, but you can’t trust him.
DOCTOR: No. The only safe place for him is the Tardis.
MASTER: You mean you’re just going to keep me?
DOCTOR: Mmm. If that’s what I have to do. It’s time to change. Maybe I’ve been wandering for too long. Now I’ve got someone to care for.

The Twelfth Doctor more or less does exactly this with Missy. I had not spotted that before.

There are two spinoffs available about Martha’s year of circumnavigating the globe. The first was The Story of Martha, a 2008 anthology of three novellas, edited and with a linking narrative by Dan Abnett. When I read it in 2010, I wrote:

A book set during the year while the Master ruled the Earth, as seen at the end of New Who Season 3, with a rather good linking narrative by Dan Abnett, during the course of which Martha recounts four of her past adventures with the Doctor to people she meets. The embedded stories are less good than the framing narrative, with the exception of Robert Shearman’s excellent “The Frozen Wastes”.

You can get it here.

More recently, Big Finish produced three stories with Freema Agyeman as Martha and Adjoa Andoh as Francine. Here’s the trailer.

After listening to it last year, I wrote:

…better [than the Abnett anthology], getting off to an excellent start in The Last Diner by the always reliable James Goss, a more Western-y The Silver Medal by Tim Foley, and a well-executed climax in Deceived by Matt Fitton. Martha is joined by Adjoa Andoh playing her mother Francine, who has apparently escaped the Master, and Serin Ibrahim as old friend Holly. (Also Clare Louise Connolly plays the Toclafane in all three stories.) Guest stars include Marina Sirtis, best known as Deanna Troi in Star Trek, in the first episode.

You can get it here.

James Mortimer’s Black Archive analysis of the two-parter starts with the premise that both episodes are equally good (or bad) in different ways, which as will be by now fairly clear is not my starting point. (And I’m not alone – IMDB users rate The Sound of Drums at 8.7 out of 10, and Last of the Time Lords at 8.3.)

The first of three long chapters, “The Saxons”, looks in depth at the Master as developed over the years to this point, and at the problematic depiction of Lucy and the Jones family.

The second chapter, “The Heroes”, looks in even more depth at Martha and at her relationship with the Doctor, and the problematic aspects of that portrayal.

The third chapter, “The Lonely God”, starts with the Doctor as religious figure and then diverts into the Hero’s Journey as engaged in by Martha and the justification for the Toclafane. Its second paragraph, with footnotes, is:

This idea of a ‘lonely god’ is reinforced by the use of religious imagery that Davies deploys throughout the series. Indeed, when the Doctor is ‘transfigured into a being of light’2 at the close of Last of the Time Lords, in a process generated by what the Master calls ‘prayer’, it’s hard to deny the visual similarities to how one might imagine the return of a Messiah. It is, in Davies’ words, a ‘glorious’ return3. When the Doctor forgives the Master, it is hard not to be aware of the religious connotations of this.
2 McCormack, Una, ‘He’s Not The Messiah: Undermining Political and Religious Authority in Doctor Who’, in Bradshaw, Simon, Anthony Keen and Graham Sleight, eds, The Unsilent Library: Essays on the Russell T Davies Era of the New Doctor Who (2011), p51.
3 Davies, The Valiant Quest.

The conclusion returns again to the issue of Lucy’s black eye and the enslavement of the Joneses and expresses disappointment that these are not well addressed in the episode itself.

An appendix justifies treating Utopia as “a separate story even if it’s not a separate arc”.

I’m afraid that this is not my favourite Black Archive. Mortimer has written much more about the second episode than the first, and that’s not where I’d have placed the balance. He raises a lot of good questions, but some of his points are rather belaboured. The Black Archives have a lot more hits than misses, but this is one of the weaker volumes. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | The Girl Who Died (64) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)

Revolutions of Terror, by Nick Abadzis, Elena Casagrande and Arianna Florean

Second frame of third part:

Next in the sequence of Tenth Doctor comics, this one published in 2015 but set immediately after the departure of Donna. The Doctor visits Brooklyn, and ends up with a new companion, Gabby Gonzalez, fresh from working at her father’s laundromat – where it is the washing machines that provide the terror of the title. I must say I’ve always thought of them as potentially a gateway to another dimension; there’s something primordial and strange about the rotational sloshing of the water. The opening three-part story is very good, the other two parts are a new story, “The Arts in Space” which is a bit sillier but still gives Gabby some more characterisation as well as just being fun. This series clearly had a lot of vim. You can get this here.

Next up is The Weeping Angels of Mons, by Robbie Morrison with art by Daniel Indro and Eleonora Carlini.

This was actually the first non-Clarke book that I finished reading in March, so my blogging here is almost exactly a month behind my real-life reading.

Agent Provocateur, by Gary Russell et al

Second frame of part three:

This was the first in the IDW series of Tenth Doctor comics, published in 2008. I realised that I have read most of the others in this sequence – The Forgotten, Through Time and Space, Fugitive, Tesseract, and Final Sacrifice. The others are all by Tony Lee and all, to be honest, better. This has six loosely linked stories which don’t really cohere internally and with art which, while very nicely executed, doesn’t always end up looking much like the Tenth Doctor or Martha Jones as we know them. Though I did appreciate the reappearance ot the Cat People from Russell’s long-ago novel, and smiled at this in-joke in a brief discussion of E.R.:

Doctor Corday is of course played by Alex Kingston, whose run as River Song started while these were being published.

Still, it’s enjoyable enough popcorn for the fannish mind. You can get it here.

Next post in this series will be the Titan Comics album Revolutions of Terror.

Doctor Who: The Fires of Pompeii, by James Moran

When the TV story The Fires of Pompeii was first shown in 2008, I wrote:

I must have been one of the few kids of my generation who voluntarily did Latin O-level. There were two of us in the class; our teacher was from Achill Island, and had studied classics in Galway through the medium of Irish (which she also taught at our school). However we used the Ecce Romani books, not the Cambridge Latin Course, so missed out on that particular set of in-jokes.

But I loved the Doctor’s shifty acknowledgement of responsibility for the Great Fire of Rome, and my Big Finish sympathies were satisfied with the fact that there was no explicit contradiction with what Seven and Mel were up to on the other side of town. I also liked the new take on the Tardis translation effect – “Look you!” – and the way in which the Doctor accepts responsibility for causing the eruption. There was that one moment reminiscent of the “You lucky bastard!” scene from Life of Brian, and I am aware that volcanoes on the whole do not contain such conveniently located corridors, but I was willing to take the ride.

It was also one of the lockdown rewatches organised by Emily Cook (who deserves a medal from the wider Who community).

Also during the 2020 lockdown, James Moran wrote a webcast sequel with descendants of the Pompeiians in today’s Britain:

It was great fun to rewatch it for this post, especially now that we know we’ll see Peter Capaldi and Karen Gillan again. (Karen Gillan is the first of the soothsayers to appear, in an episode filmed ten weeks before her 20th birthday.) The Tenth Doctor / Donna dynamic is fantastic – they are just friends, but very good friends even though this is only their third adventure together.

(Though Anne said, after I showed her an episode of Galaxy Four soon after rewatching The Fires of Pompeii, “Wasn’t it great when they didn’t feel that they had to emote all the time?”)

The second paragraph of the third chapter of James Moran’s novelisation is:

The villa was a big, open-plan design, with a large atrium and living area leading off to smaller alcoves. Four large hypocaust grilles in the floor constantly pumped out thick gusts of hot steam. There were vases, plants, busts, statues and gaudy chunks of decorative marble everywhere. Caecilius was a man who liked art, the fancier the better. But there was something about this blue box that intrigued him more than anything. He’d always admired modern art, especially the way it was occasionally hard to tell what was actually art and what was just a weird lump of material. It was a matter of will, sometimes. If you said something was art, and said it loudly enough, people would believe it, even if it looked like a child had made it; especially so in some cases. Plenty of modern art was undeniably beautiful, of course, but it was all subjective in the end. As long as you liked something, and it gave you pleasure, then it was art, and nobody could tell you otherwise.

This is great fun, with the episode script faithfully delivered to the page and more detail added, including that Caecilius and Metella’s son Quintus is gay and the following jewel about Donna’s life:

In the Temple of Sibyl, Donna was not in a good mood. It was fair to say this was probably the worst mood she’d been in all year.

And she’d had a pretty spectacularly bad few months, even before reconnecting with the Doctor. In any other year, being hunted down by a lunatic alien nanny and lumps of living fat would have been the worst thing ever – but this year, that barely scraped the top five. There was the disastrous night out chasing a taxi driver she thought was an alien in disguise, which resulted in her online taxi app somehow dropping her passenger rating to below zero. That was quite an achievement; the company actually sent her a certificate. Cancelled her account, of course, but they were still impressed. Then there was the Bad Haircut Incident of February, which her friends and family were ordered to NEVER mention again, even though it had grown out since and she had deleted all photos of the offending barnet. And then there was the speed-dating evening her mum had forced her to go on, during which she had slapped three men, punched two, and been barred from an entire street. And those were just the top three bad things to happen. There were so many others she wished she could forget, too, including the event everyone simply referred to in hushed tones as KebabGate.

But none of them had ended with her tied to a sacrificial altar, in a creepy secret temple, with some sort of spooky druids standing around chanting and waving knives. So this pipped them all to the top spot. By some considerable distance. She just hoped she would live to tell the tale.

I complimented the author on this and he was good enough to reply.

It’s exactly what you want from a novelisation – captures the fun of the original TV episode and adds a bit more characterisation and background. (Except for the Pyroviles.) You can get it here.

Alternating Current, by Jody Houser, Roberta Ingranata and Enrica Eren Angiolini

Second frame of third issue:

I’ve seen some rather negative reviews of this online, but I really enjoyed it – another story of the Tenth and Thirteenth Doctors coming together, with a parallel timeline where Rose Tyler is leading human resistance to the Sea Devils, and also a return to the more recent story Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror. Houser catches a lovely dynamic between the two Doctors, in general it’s well realised by the artists, and I thought it was a lot of fun. You can get it here.

This was my top unread comic in English. Next on that pile is The Secret to Superhuman Strength, by Alison Bechdel.

Recent Big Finish: Tenth Doctor, Fourth Doctor, Martha Jones

So, I’m rather far behind with writing up my recent Big Finish listening – last time I mentioned it was in July. Three boxed sets of audio plays to cover quickly in summary here.

My favourite of these is a set of three stories with the Tenth Doctor and Classic Companions. All three bring David Tennant together with John Leeson as K9. The first, Splinters by John Dorney, features Louise Jameson as Leela; the second, The Stuntman by Lizzie Hopley, has Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, and the third, Quantum of Axos by Roy Gill, has Sophie Aldred as Ace. All three stories have fantastic chemistry between Tennant and the others – the arrivals of Leela and K9 are the first changes to the regular cast he remembers as a young fan, and clearly everyone is thrilled to bits to be performing with each other. It was also interesting that all three stories play with themes of identity, memory and nostalgia, which always appeal to me too. Dorney, Hopley and Gill are among Big Finish’s more reliable writers, and they have delivered here. Strongly recommended. Here’s a trailer to whet your appetite.

Another New Who spinoff comes in the form of The Year of Martha Jones, set during the year that Martha travels the world while the aged-up Doctor is the Master’s prisoner. We’ve already had a print anthology set in this period; this however is better, getting off to an excellent start in The Last Diner by the always reliable James Goss, a more Western-y The Silver Medal by Tim Foley, and a well-executed climax in Deceived by Matt Fitton. Martha is joined by Adjoa Andoh playing her mother Francine, who has apparently escaped the Master, and Serin Ibrahim as old friend Holly. (Also Clare Louise Connolly plays the Toclafance in all three stories.) Guest stars include Marina Sirtis, best known as Deanna Troi in Star Trek, in the first episode.

The fifth set of Ninth Doctor adventures, Back to Earth, sees Christopher Ecclestone’s time as the Doctor on audio overtaking his record on TV. To be honest I was less wowed by this trilogy than by some of the others, but these are all decent enough stories. Station to Station by Robert Valentine has the Doctor helping a young woman (Indigo Griffiths) out of a strange predicament in a deserted railway station. The False Dimitry by Sarah Grochala brings a Whovian spin to a corner of Russian history, the title character playedby Alexander Arnold. And Auld Lang Syne, another one by Time Foley, has a spooky New Year’s Eve party where all is not what it seems; veteran Wendy Craig makes an appearance as the great-aunt. I got the sense that Big Finish is trying out younger writers and actors in this range, which is fine. Here, again is a trailer.

I’m also way behind on noting the Fourth Doctor box sets that I have been listening to, but I think I’ll save those for another post – the above three are all worth getting anyway.

Love & Monsters, by Niki Haringsma

For my Black Archive write-ups I like to give heavily documented notes of my previous comments on each story and novelisation. This works well for Old Who, but less so for New Who where there are fewer novelisations and I didn’t always write up the stories on first broadcast. So for Love & Monsters, I have only the following note from my Great Rewatch in 2013:

Love and Monsters [sic] is one of the most daring episodes of Who ever. Paul Cornell has written a spirited defence of the story as an episode about fandom, about the show Doctor Who rather than its central character, and he makes a good case. But the fact is that this had not been done before in New Who, and only really in passing in Old Who (most notably in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, though talk of fans of the Doctor goes back to The Savages). The episode is doubly daring in that it is the first of the Doctor-lite episodes that we now accept as a regular event in New Who. It is a bit bizarre, and it doesn’t fit with the previous run of the programme at all, but I think it’s OK for Who to be experimental occasionally and that it more or less works.

Watching it again, almost a decade later, we’ve had a lot more Who stories, both on TV and off, that were self-referential and reflexive; Paul Cornell’s The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who is a particular high point for me, but a lot of the Moffat era treated the Doctor as a figure of intergalactically mythic importance. And the Doctor-lite episodes also became the norm for the rest of the Davies era, including my favourite episode of the whole of New Who, Blink. So Love & Monsters now seems less disruptive and more trend-setting. But it’s still unusual.

It’s also striking in that it gets a tremendous performance from Camille Coduri as Jackie Tyler. At first the story mocks her obsession with Elton, but it rapidly shifts to heart-breaking as he betrays her. It is very good writing to take a character you have been laughing at, and turn them into an object of sympathy, without missing a beat. Davies actually tries to do this fairly often, but is not always as successful as he is here.

The world of Who is sometimes quite small. In 1988-89, I was the External Officer of what was then the Clare College Students Association in Cambridge. The Welfare Officer was a more arty chap, who moved in generally different circles to me. About five years later, I caught a very well-made short film on TV called That Sunday, starring Minnie Driver and Alan Cumming. I enjoyed the 16 minutes hugely – I’m a Minnie Driver fan anyway – and then my jaw dropped when the credits revealed that it had been both written and directed by my old comrade from the JCR Committee.

That was as nothing to my surprise when the credits rolled at the end of Love and Monsters, a dozen years after that, and I saw the director’s name. Dan Zeff has gone on to be a medium-to-big name in the UK film industry, but Love and Monsters is his only venture into the Whoniverse. (Incidentally the credits sequence on my DVD copy cuts off before the director’s name is displayed; I hope he’s getting compensated for that. I haven’t checked extensively but it seems to be the case for several other episodes from that season.)

So, let’s go forward another eight years, to one of the first Belgian conventions I attended, the 2014 Antwerp Convention, where guests included Colin Baker. As I made myself comfortable for his presentation, I got into conversation with the fan sitting beside me; we found that our tastes were aligned on a number of points regarding Doctor Who, and have stayed in touch ever since, though I think that is the only time we have actually met. I was delighted when he got the commission to write this book, drawing on his literary studies and fan-writing experience.

Here’s Niki’s own blogpost introduction to the book. He says up front that he loved the episode from the first time he saw it, but also recognises that this is not a universal view. Writing the book helped to work through the reasons for both love and hate, but especially love.

I found a wonderful community while writing this Black Archive. So many people came up to me to say how much they loved the episode. Sure, they could all see the awkwardness and camp, the disgusting rubber-suit monster, the fan characters becoming creepy stalkers, but they still adored the whole thing because it spoke to them. I made so many new friends who helped me with my investigation ‘n’ detection, and my book became a love letter to the comradery of Doctor Who fandom itself.

The first chapter, “I had to invent this rudimentary pulley system”, looks at the production reasons why the story was made in the first place, and why it had such a tight budget. It identifies “The Zeppo”, one of my favourite Buffy episodes, as partial inspiration.

The second chapter, “Spaceships and lasers and everything”, looks at how the viewer is estranged from the action by the way the story is told, invoking Viktor Shklovsky’s concept of oстраннение (often translated as “defamiliarisation”, but here as “estrangement”) and its implementation in the works of Bertold Brecht, especially The Threepenny Opera. I am not familiar with either, but I found this tremendously interesting. He also looks at the queerness of Elton’s relationship with Ursula after her transformation, and how the dynamics of fandom are portrayed in LINDA.

The third chapter’s title is “This isn’t, you know, my whole life”. Its second paragraph, and the quote it introduces, are:

It was decided that the comic pitch would make a good TV episode instead. The female protagonist became a male one. The reason for this change, according to Davies, was that there had already been too many female characters who fancied the Doctor. He explains:
‘Very soon after drawing this up, I looked at the amount of women in Series 2, especially those arguably in love with the 10th Doctor – Sarah Jane, Madame de Pompadour, not to mention Rose – and I decided that he’d broken too many female hearts! Time for a man! And so Elton was born.’3
3 Davies, ‘Second Sight’, p9.

The chapter looks briefly at Elton as a character, and the unreliability of his narration.

The fourth chapter, “Great big absorbing creature from Outer Space”, looks at the Absorbaloff, about the role of fans in creativity around Doctor Who (including the fact that Davies and Tennant were both long-term fans themselves), culminating in the idea for the monster coming from a nine-year-old fan, and finishes with more analysis of what the Absorbaloff really stands for.

The fifth chapter, “We’ve got the place to ourselves”, looks in depth at Jackie, but reminds us that there are two other mothers in the story as well – Elton’s own mother, whose death is linked with the Doctor, and Bridget, the LINDA member who is looking for her own daughter and is one of the first to be absorbed.

The sixth chapter, “Fetch a Spade!”, examines how the story hints at the darker side of the Doctor’s personality, and quotes Jon Arnold on Amy Pond, before going back to Shklovsky’s oстраннение and also Itō Gō’s concept of キャラ (kyara), instantly recognisable archetypes. as manifested in the characters of Love & Monsters and then meditating on the nature of fandom and the character of the Tenth Doctor.

The seventh chapter, “What he never won’t represent”, starts by asking the reader, “Am I a good fan?” But we are reassured. “If you’re reading this book, chances are you’re not satisfied with just taking Doctor Who at face value. You probably want to dive in a little, poke it, look at it from different angles and see what’s hidden inside. Luckily, there are endless ways to do so.” Haringsma invokes Barthes’ Death of the Author, and goes on to unpack Ursula as a paving slab and romantic partner, taking us in some surprising directions.

A brief conclusion invokes Brecht again, and leaves us with these thoughts:

Maybe as you’re reading this, a text-only Target Love & Monsters novelisation will have seen the light of day as well. And maybe Ursula’s transformation will be obviously queer this time around, or maybe the Abzorbaloff will remind us a bit more of some particularly obnoxious fan. Or maybe not. Because the world is changing and transforming too, making room for new lessons that can be taught, new fannish circles of new geeks hungry to seize the reins. Maybe this strange adventure that’s been absorbed into fandom’s consciousness can be re-imagined to tell another story altogether. But it will always have been this wonderful little side-step in the Doctor’s life. And as fans, we have the opportunity to look beyond the episode’s awkwardness and camp – and to celebrate Love & Monsters for all that it is. Because it’s so much darker…
…and so much madder…
…and, y’know, it’s got a blowjob joke and everything.

It’s always nice when someone I like writes a book I like about a subject I like. Niki is a friend, the book took me to some very interesting places that I had not really considered, and while I’m still not completely sure if I like Love & Monsters, I love Doctor Who. You can get the book here.

The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, by Simon Bucher-Jones (and Matt Jones)

Next in the excellent Black Archive line of short books about individual Doctor Who stories, this looks at a two-parter from Series 2 of New Who, a story where the Tenth Doctor and Rose are stranded on a planet orbiting a black hole which imprisons, well, the Devil. The author, Simon Bucher-Jones, has written several Who novels, and also did the Black Archive book on Image of the Fendahl (and a more recent one on The Hand of Fear). He does not mention if he is related to the author of the TV story, Matt Jones, but their surname is the fourth most common in England and the most common surname in Wales, so chances are that they are not.

I don’t seem to have made a note about this story when it was first broadcast. When I first rewatched it in 2013, I wrote:

 I fear this is becoming a boring refrain, but I had forgotten how good The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit actually is. I think it is our first proper base-under-siege story in New Who (perhaps arguments can be made for The End of the World or Dalek, but I won’t) and perhaps it’s a return to that comfort zone of Old Who, with the difference of a more diverse base crew than Old Who would have had (the black guy would never have been in command in the old days, and the smart woman would never have been chief scientist). The scarily different bit is not so much the monster – though it is well done, both the descent to the pit and the technical realisation of a superhuman incarnation of evil – but the Ood, who are very creepy indeed. Having a slave race never works out well in Who, but here the message is that by exploiting the Ood, humanity has opened a potential route for its own destruction. Terrific stuff.

Rewatching it now, I was again pleasantly surprised. David Tennant is always watchable, but here the chemistry between him and Billie Piper is at its peak. It also struck me that the plot element of the TARDIS being lost on a world where a more cosmic battle is playing out had been done before, and worse, in Frontios.

This is not one of the small (but growing) number of New Who stories to have been novelised, so I’ll jump straight into the Black Archive book, which is short and punchy.

The first chapter reflects on just how few New Who episodes are set on other planets, compared to most of Old Who (apart from the Pertwee era), the reasons for this, and how this shapes the sort of programme it becomes.

The second chapter, the longest in the book, goes in depth into the physics of black holes and how they are portrayed in fiction, notably in The Three Doctors in Old Who as well as the Disney film. I had not realised, or had forgotten, that the term “black hole” was coined as late as 1967, only a few years before The Three Doctors was shown.

The third chapter, almost as long, looks at the Devil as portrayed in Christianity, and satanic creatures as portrayed in science fiction (rather than fantasy) in general and Who in particular. Its second paragraph is (with footnotes):

As Sherlock Holmes – with whom the third Doctor has often been compared (as the Master has with Moriarty)119 – remarked, ‘The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.’120 The Doctor might well have said in The Daemons, and almost will say in The Satan Pit, ‘The universe is big enough for us. No Devils from before it need apply.’
119 While the fourth Doctor dresses like him in The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977), the third arguably does so all the time: while he doesn’t affect a deerstalker like the theatrical or televisual Holmes, he does have an inverness travelling cape.
120 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, ‘The Adventure of The Sussex Vampire’, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes p73.

The fourth chapter looks much more briefly at the Ood and the problematics of slavery.

The fifth and final chapter looks even more briefly at the Doctor’s fear of domestication, ie of settling down with Rose, even though he obviously loves her.

A first appendix apparently has a graph in the paper version, absent from the electronic publication, listing all of the alien planets to date in Doctor Who.

A second and final appendix very briefly goes back to the Beast, making the connection with Sutekh and with Abaddon in Torchwood, points that I felt could actually have been folded into the third chapter.

As usual with these books, recommended, even though there’s very little about the production process of the TV show in this case. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | The Girl Who Died (64) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)

Legends of Camelot, by Jacqueline Rayner

Second paragraph of third chapter:

It was a relic of growing up with Sylvia. Donna’s mother had never been particularly understanding over incidents such as spilled drinks or broken plates, and Donna found it a lot easier to deflect blame than to deal with several weeks of passive-aggressive comments. That instinct still kicked in sometimes.

As usual from Jacqueline Rayner, a very solid Doctor Who novel, this time taking the Tenth Doctor and Donna – who I think are a New Who writer’s dream team – to what appears to be the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round table, with resonances of Malory, White, Bradley and the stage musical Camelot. There is of course an explanation for it all involving vast non-human intelligences from beyond time (this becomes clear fairly early), but it’s all nicely done and supplies a couple of good twists and challenges to the Doctor’s own authority. Recommended. You can get it here.

Legends of Camelot

Human Nature/The Family of Blood, by Naomi Jacobs and Philip Purser-Hallard (and Paul Cornell)

So, the 13th in the Black Archive series of analyses of Doctor Who stories reaches a particular favourite, the 2006 Tenth Doctor two-parter Human Nature / The Family of Blood. It was in fact the first and only Who story so far to be based on a novel, Paul Cornell’s 1995 Seventh Doctor novel Human Nature. So I’m going to take the novel first, even though (as is my usual practice) this time round I watched the TV episodes and then re-read the novel.

Just in parenthesis – the first Doctor Who TV story based on a previously published book was actually the first Seventh Doctor story in 1987, Time and the Rani, which is draws heavily on the Sixth Doctor “Make Your Own Adventure With Doctor Who”/”Find Your Fate” game book Race Against Time, also by Pip and Jane Baker, published the previous year (and handy when they needed to write a story in a hurry, as we’ll see with my next entry). However, that is not a novel. There are other cases as well, of course, with Blink based on a short story and Dalek to a certain extent on a Big Finish Play; and Gareth Roberts plundered two of his own comics for The Shakespeare Code and The Lodger.

Back to the original Human Nature novel. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

The Captains sat at the back, and the boys at the front, and all of them stood to attention as he entered. He caught a paper dart happily, glanced at it, tweaked the wing a notch and threw it back, straight into the hands of the boy who threw it.

When I first read it in 2005 – before the TV story was transmitted – I wrote:

This Seventh Doctor plus Bernice Summerfield New Adventure is really rather good. Paul Cornell here asks the unaskable: what if the Doctor were to try being human for a while, to live and love like the rest of us? He has managed to get to the heart of the Doctor’s mythos. I found it very satisfying, and raced to finish it, to the point of waking up early this morning to do so. It’s the first of the Doctor Who books I have downloaded that I would really like to spend money on for a dead trees version.

Bits I particularly liked: I thought the character of Verity resonated particularly effectively. “Verity” of course means Truth, and she holds the key to the truth about the Doctor’s character; the name of course also recalls the real-life origins of Doctor Who; and the character herself is of course a very close reflection of Neil Gaiman’s Death.

I also very much liked the human relationships of the book. I caught on to the true nature of Shuttleworth’s liaisons pretty early on; the John Smith and Joan Redfern relationship was neatly done; and the Epilogue, which the author admits he had doubts about putting in, was very effective.

Great lines, too:

“You may know me as mild-mannered John Smith, history teacher, but secretly I’m the Doctor, universal righter of wrongs and protector of cats.”

“So what did you say to him,” the Doctor asked.
“That he believes in good and fights evil. That, with violence all around him, he’s a man of peace. That he’s never cruel, or cowardly. That he is a hero.”

Sure, the book has its flaws, as mercilessly pointed out by some of the Doctor Who Ratings Guide reviewers (though most of them loved it). I’m with the Discontinuity Guide folks, though. I don’t think I’ve read a better Doctor Who novel.

When I reread it in 2011, I wrote:

This is still the only Who novel to have been adapted for television rather than the other way round. I first read it, gulp, seven years ago – the first Seventh Doctor novel I ever read – and would have been rereading it anyway as I shall be rewatching the TV episode soon.

Now that I have read the previous 37 New Adventures, I still think this is one of the best in the series. It is better than most Who novels as a standalone (though Niall Harrison found the continuity heavy going), the major reference to previous novels being to Benny’s loss of her lover in the Albigensian crusade. The Doctor is absent from most of the book and needs to be explained to his own alter ego, John Smith, whose final sacrifice is very effective.

An easy Bechdel pass with Benny bantering with a group of women at a bar in the prologue.

Coming back to it now, I still think it is very effective, and I still think it is one of the best Doctor Who novels ever (and I’ve read a lot more of them since 2011). It is amusing that one of the baddies tries to convince Benny that he is the Tenth Doctor, of all incarnations to choose. The schoolboys are really horrible, with the brutality against Timothy particularly awful. I had also forgotten that one of the boys turns out to be n Gvzr Ybeq va qvfthvfr. But the other thing about the BBC online version (downloaded by me years ago and retained ever since) is the rather lovely artwork by Daryl Joyce. Sadly that’s been dropped from the newly edited version, which you can get here.

The other thing I should say probably at this point is that between reading the book and watching the TV story, I met Paul Cornell at a convention in Dublin, and we have been friends ever since, last seeing each other in Los Angeles in February, and hopefully again this coming weekend at Eastercon (where I am a Guest of Honour this year, and he was a Guest of Honour ten years ago).

So, finally to the TV story. My comment on the first episode when first broadcast was:


There is much more to be said than this, but I will save it until next week.

I didn’t in fact get around to commenting further the next week, but when I got around to the rewatch in 2013 I wrote:

It was good to come back to Human Nature / The Family of Blood so soon after rereading the book, though inevitably it meant doing a bit of compare and contrast; I won’t do this in detail, since Niall Harrison did it back n 2007, but the things that jumped out at me were the following:

Positive points

* On the screen, the appearance of David Tennant playing a different character who happens to look like the Doctor is far more effective than the gradually revealed Mr Smith of the book

* Likewise, Jessica Hynes’ performance as Joan brings far more to the concept of the Doctor’s human self’s lover than did the book, though age of course means she is a very different character

* Similarly, the watch rather than the cricket ball, and the Book of Impossible Things, exploit the TV format beautifully

* The Family of Blood are gloriously sinister, far more so than the Aubertides 

* And basically the fact of the Doctor being human because of the threat from the Family makes much more sense than the original idea of the Aubertides just happening to home along just after the Doctor has arbitrarily decided to try the single-heart club.

Less positive points

* The fate of the Family of Blood still bugs me. The Aubertides in the book are defeated in a fair fight; the Doctor’s meting out of judgement on the Family seems cruel – who made him the judge?

* The battle scene doesn’t work for me. The tragedy of real life war, especially the First World War, is that the other side is human, and the linkage between fighting scarecrows in 1913 and fighting Germans in 1915 seems to me both leaden and mistaken. Frankly turning the entire school to glass would have been a better solution (though technically more difficult).

* The fantasy life-with-Joan-and-kids section is too obvious a borrowing from The Last Temptation of Christ.

* Poor Martha gets much less of a look-in here than Bernice in the book; apart from Blink it’s probably her least visible episode.

It should be added that during the 2020 lockdown, two short story sequels to the TV story taking forward the Daughter-of-Mine plotline were written by Paul Cornell and released on Youtube, later published as part of the Adventures in Lockdown anthology. In case you missed them, here they are, both really short:

Coming back to the 2007 two-parter, I still like it a lot. Tennant’s characterisation of Smith is the heart and soul of it, and reminds us what a versatile actor he actually is. The battle scene grated less for me this time, I guess because having read a lot more about the First World War in the meantime, I’m now more tolerant of different takes on it. One also appreciates knowing that it is setting up one of the most spectacular reveals in the whole history of Who in a couple of episodes’ time.

One interesting aspect is that before this, there had been very few Doctor Who stories set in schools (I listed them here). Now there have been loads, including an entire spinoff series, thanks in part to having a companion who was explicitly a schoolteacher. Of course, for most kids, the boarding school is a fantasy environment anyway.

Paul Cornell is the first New Who writer to get two write-ups in the Black Archive series (from Old Who, David Whitaker has already got there); it should also be said that he’s been a fantastic advocate for the show over the years, even though he is concentrating on other things at the moment, and is probably the most visible writer in broader SF fandom who has emerged from Doctor Who. This is possibly the most extended analysis of his work that I have seen (though saying that may expose my ignorance); the earlier Black Archive volume on Scream of the Shalka concentrated much more on the production than the story.

There is lots to write about here, and Naomi Jacobs and Philip Purser-Hallard give themselves an extra burden by opting (correctly) to write about both the TV story and the book; it would have been weird to try analysing the former without the latter. I think even if you don’t love both stories you would find it a pretty satisfactory analysis.

The chapters cover:

  • A straightforward comparison of book and TV story, looking at the different plot elements and the way in which they were changed from page to screen and from Seventh to Tenth Doctor (and from Benny to Martha).
  • An examination of war, peace, cowardice and trauma in both versions of the story and in the Whoniverse more broadly.
  • A brief survey of schools in the Whoniverse and a briefer examination of the concept of family in this story (in both versions). The second paragraph of this chapter is:

Interestingly, though, both these absences [stories about school and/or family] have been filled during the 21st century, by successive showrunners. Russell T Davies embraced family relationships within the series’ drama, bringing relatives particularly to the fore in his companions’ backstories and present conflicts, while Steven Moffat would make more extensive use of school settings in 2013-16 than all of his predecessors, as well as increasing the prevalence of child characters.

  • A really meaty chapter looking at the story in the context of Christianity, given Cornell’s well known interest in religion; themes touched on include self-sacrifice, the nature of divinity, justice, resurrection/regeneration and temptation. This chapter alone is almost worth the cover price.
  • Another very meaty chapter matching the plot of both book and TV story to the Hero’s Journey of Joseph Campbell.
  • A brief conclusion, followed by four brief appendices.
  • A brief table of correspondences between characters in the book and TV story.
  • Speculation on the life-cycle of the Family (which would no doubt have been expanded if the authors had known about the two 2020 stories).
  • A thought on the Doctor as Merlin.
  • A brief attempt to force both versions of the story into the same continuity.

As I hope will be clear from the above, I think this is one of the better Black Archive books looking at one of the better New Who TV stories and also at one of the best spinoff novels. Recommended. You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | The Girl Who Died (64) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)