Authors traveling through Time and Space

In several recent posts, I’ve shared my thoughts regarding classic seasons of Doctor Who that have been released on Blu-Ray. One topic that has come up several times in the special features on these disks are the Doctor Who audio adventures produced by Big Finish Productions. These are original stories produced in audio with the actors who played the Doctor and his companions reprising their television roles. For actors like Colin Baker as the sixth Doctor, it’s given fans a peek into a more developed and nuanced character than we saw on television. For actors like Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor, we finally get to see more episodes than his one appearance in the TV movie. There are standalone adventures for several of the Doctor’s more popular companions and there are even standalone episodes for the Master, one of the Doctor’s greatest enemies.

I grew up in an era before home video. Some time in elementary school, I hit upon the idea that I could preserve and enjoy some of my favorite TV shows if I recorded them with an audio tape recorder. In the case of shows like Star Trek, listening to episodes was almost as good as watching them. Part of this was because I’d seen them numerous times on reruns, so I could visualize the episodes. However, part of it was that the writing, sound effects, and acting were so evocative that I didn’t need to visuals to understand what was happening. The Big Finish Doctor Who stories are like that. These are “pure” dramatizations with no narration. You just hear actors delivering their lines with sound effects and music to help you picture the scenes. As it turns out, these are great productions for me to listen to on my long drive from home to Kitt Peak National Observatory, because there’s no visual element to distract me while driving.

Because these are so good to listen to while driving and because we’d been hearing about them on the Doctor Who Blu-ray sets, my wife bought me a gift card with the idea that I would spend it on audio episodes at Big Finish. Two of the episodes I bought were “The Lovecraft Invasion” featuring Colin Baker and “The Silver Turk” featuring Paul McGann.

Both of these audio adventures feature the Doctor having an adventure with a famous author. Over the course of Doctor Who’s run, there have been several episodes where the Doctor has encountered authors. The second doctor encountered Cyrano de Bergerac. The sixth Doctor took H.G. Wells on a journey through time. The ninth Doctor met Charles Dickens. The tenth Doctor had adventures with William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie.

In “The Lovecraft Invasion,” the Doctor joins forces with 51st-century bounty hunter, Calypso Jonze, to hunt down the Somnifax: a weaponized mind-parasite capable of turning its host’s nightmares into physical reality. Chasing it through the time vortex to Providence, Rhode Island in 1937, they arrive too late to stop it from latching onto a local author of weird fiction, none other than Howard Phillips Lovecraft. The episode was interesting in that its author clearly demonstrated admiration for Lovecraft’s world and creations while showing contempt for his racist worldview. It was well performed and a ripping good story that also let me ponder questions of admiring a writer’s work while noting their problematic views. I appreciated that the episode didn’t retreat to the safety of considering Lovecraft a man of his time. They did this by giving the Doctor a companion from roughly Lovecraft’s time who didn’t appreciate his views any more than the Doctor did.

“The Silver Turk” took a different tack. In this case, the Doctor actually has a famous author as a traveling companion. In this case, the famous author is none other than Mary Shelley. He takes her to the Viennese exposition of 1872 where they find an amazing automaton who can play piano and beat all comers at chess and checkers. It turns out, the automaton is actually a Cyberman. Like Star Trek’s Borg, Cybermen are a mix of organic and machine parts without emotion but with a strong desire to capture others and make more of their kind. Of course, this brings Shelley into contact with reanimated dead bodies. There’s even a scene where a Cyberman gains more power using a lightning rod. The real joy of this episode is hearing how much the Doctor enjoys traveling with an author he admires. Julie Cox did a wonderful job as Shelley, though I have to admit, I kept visualizing Elsa Lanchester’s Shelley from the beginning of Bride of Frankenstein.

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, I highly recommend browsing Big Finish’s titles and finding a story to enjoy. Their audio adventures range from about $2.00 to $30.00 and they even have some first episodes you can download for free. The more I look through their catalog, the more I want to listen. They’ve even expanded their offerings to audio adventures besides Doctor Who, such as Dark Shadows and Space: 1999. You can learn more about them and listen to their offerings at https://www.bigfinish.com.

5 comments on “Authors traveling through Time and Space

  1. “I appreciated that the episode didn’t retreat to the safety of considering Lovecraft a man of his time.”

    Personally, I don’t consider viewing a person in terms of their time and place as being “safe,” I view it as being fair. I remember getting in a discussion with someone in one of my Ethnic and Women’s Studies classes over this. She saw Abraham Lincoln as a racist. I said by the standards of modern day America, he would be–but then again, so would virtually every adult in America at that time regardless of ethnicity.

    “For actors like Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor, we finally get to see more episodes than his one appearance in the TV movie.”

    Did you see him in the filmed mini-episode “The Night of the Doctor”? I consider that one of the greatest moments in Doctor Who history.

    • Until fairly recently, I would have agreed that the only fair way to evaluate someone’s remarks is in the context of their time. And in certain contexts, I still agree with you. It really depends on how you’re evaluating someone’s actions and their relative growth.

      That noted, I recently heard someone make a very good point on this subject. Racist actions and even words are a form of violence. Let’s say there’s a group of people and you’re told it’s okay to hit them whenever you want. If you realize that hitting them is wrong and you hit them a little less, then yes, you’ve improved. If you convince your peers to hit the others less, then you’ve done a relatively good thing — but you and your peers are still hitting those people sometimes. Sometimes you might even hit them by accident, but you still hit them and society still excuses it. Those others might hit back, but that doesn’t make anyone’s actions better.

      I think it’s fair to look back and call out the racism of Lovecraft and recognize that it exists in his works just as we might look at the racism of Mark Twain and call it out in his works. That doesn’t mean we burn the books or call the books bad. The problem is that too many people use “context of the time” as a way to dodge discussions rather than engage on a topic where we could all use improvement.

      The final point on this is that even in the context of his times, Lovecraft was a pretty hardcore racist. He wasn’t Mark Twain’s level of socially accepted casual racism. Lovecraft actually believed white people were superior to all others and thought any movement toward ending that attitude was a mistake. So, even in the context of his times, his attitudes bear serious scrutiny.

      I did see “The Night of the Doctor” and agree that was amazing. As I understand, Paul McGann’s portrayal in that was largely informed by his portrayal of the Doctor over the course of the Big Finish audio productions.

  2. rozepotpourri says:

    My daughter and son-in-law are totally into Dr. Who. . . I mean inside and out.

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