What Lies Inside?

I enjoy collecting action figures and statues based on some of my favorite science fiction and fantasy universes. I especially like ones that take inspiration from sources other than movies or TV. One manufacturer I especially liked was Eaglemoss, which made spaceship models based not only on the Star Trek television series, but also occasionally from novels and video games. Eaglemoss also made figures from comic books and other science fiction franchises. I was saddened to hear that they went out of business at the end of this past summer. Shortly after they went out of business, I learned they had made some figures based on the Doctor Who audio adventures from Big Finish Productions. I have loved these audio stories, and I decided to see if I could get a set before they disappeared into the hands of collectors forever. I lucked out and found a nice set featuring Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor and Nicola Walker as his companion Liv Chenka. Paul McGann did play the Doctor in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, but Big Finish designed a new look for the Doctor as he appears on the audio book covers, also Liv has never appeared on screen. Even the Dalek’s paint scheme is unique to the audio book covers.

I’ve long appreciated that Big Finish productions have given us a nice run of Paul McGann as the Doctor. He’s only appeared on screen three times in the role. First in the TV movie, where he was introduced. Second in a TV short called “Night of the Doctor” where we learned how his incarnation met its end. Most recently, he appeared in the episode called “Power of the Doctor” where Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor meets the “spirits” of several earlier incarnations. It always felt like a shame he didn’t have more stories. While I have listened to several Big Finish audio productions featuring Paul McGann as the Doctor, I hadn’t yet listened to any featuring Liv, nor have I listened to any after the eighth Doctor started sporting his leather jacket look as shown in the action figure. That said, I did listen to the pivotal stories “Lucie Miller” and “To the Death,” which effectively show us how the Doctor went from a more breezy, lighthearted personality to a more reserved, careful personality, reflected in the change of outfit. So, I decided I should rectify that. The hard part was deciding where to start. Right after “To the Death,” Big Finish produced several epic-length episodes featuring the eighth Doctor that span several volumes each. I wasn’t quite ready to commit that much time to a story. That said, this year, Big Finish has released two sets of more episodic adventures featuring Paul McGann. The first was “What Lies Inside?”

“What Lies Inside?” is, itself, composed of two different stories. The first is “Paradox of the Daleks.” As this story starts, it looks like it’s going to be a very traditional story of the Doctor facing his old nemesis the daleks. The Doctor, Liv, and Helen Sinclair arrive on a space station where the inhabitants are conducting experiments on time travel. It turns out, the daleks have also invaded, preparing to establish a temporal beachhead in some war they’re fighting. As the Doctor tries to foil the daleks’ plans, one of the space station’s inhabitants tricks Liv and Helen into hiding in a time capsule. The capsule sends them back in time to before they all arrived and sets a chain of events into action. On the whole, the story reminded me of Back to the Future, but where the stakes could be the universe itself!

The second story was “The Dalby Spook.” In this story, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv visit the Isle of Man in 1933. They go to see a stage psychic perform and encounter the real-life skeptic Harry Price. It turns out that Price is on the island to investigate reports of an invisible, talking mongoose said to haunt the Irving family home. I was delighted to learn that Harry Price’s investigation of Gef the Talking Mongoose really happened. I love it when real events are given a science fictional or fantastic twist and this story doesn’t disappoint. The Doctor, Liv, and Helen soon learn that something sinister is indeed going on around the Irving home, but it may not be as simple as young Voirrey Irving trying to get people to believe in an imaginary friend. She may be in real danger and Helen and Liv have to convince the Doctor to help.

While I’m disappointed that Eaglemoss has gone out of business, I’m happy that events came together to get me to listen to more Big Finish Doctor Who adventures. You can learn about their full range of adventures at https://bigfinish.com

Of course, if you like audiobooks, don’t miss the audiobook adaptations of my novels Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves. You can find them at:

Stay on This Channel

Terrahawks, Volume 1

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I have a long drive from my home to the observatory where I work. Because of that, I like to listen to audiobooks and audio plays while on the road. This past week, I downloaded and listened to Terrahawks Volume 1 available from Big Finish Productions and the Gerry Anderson Store. The production is directed by Gerry Anderson’s son, Jamie Anderson. I gather Terrahawks was shown in the United States, but it came out when I was starting university, so I never saw it at the time. So what is Terrahawks?

Gerry Anderson was a producer well known for producing memorable science fiction and adventure stories in the United Kingdom. Among his most famous shows were Thunderbirds, which ran from 1964-66 and followed the exploits of International Rescue, an agency equipped with advanced air, sea, and space craft that went to the aid of people in trouble. This was followed by the 1967-68 series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons which imagined a top security organization charged with protecting Earth from space invaders. Both shows were produced for younger audiences and featured marionettes. Anderson would go on to produce live action shows in the 1970s like UFO and Space: 1999. Like Captain Scarlet, UFO also featured a security organization protecting the Earth from aliens.

In 1983, Gerry Anderson returned with a new television series. Like Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and UFO, it would feature a secret organization protecting Earth from an alien menace. This show also marked a return to a show produced with a children’s audience in mind featuring puppets. This time, the puppets would be “glove” puppets rather than marionettes, but the show would still feature Gerry Anderson’s quality model work and special effects. The show was called Terrahawks. The aliens were led by a witch-like android named Zelda. She was accompanied by her sister, Cy-star, and her son, Yung-star, plus an assortment of colorful minions. They operated from a base on Mars.

The titular Terrahawks were Earth’s defense force, led by Dr. “Tiger” Ninestein. He was one of nine clones and if he ever died, one of the other clones could be brought in to replace him. His second-in-command was Captain Mary Falconer. Working with them were Lieutenants Hawkeye, Hiro, and Kate Kestrel. Kate also worked as a pop musician and her songs were featured in the show. The Terrahawks organization also has a force of spherical robots called Zeroids. Each of the Zeroids have their own unique personality such as the gruff but loveable Sergeant Major and his right-hand, the French-accented Dix Huit. When Terrahawks started, it seemed Gerry Anderson planned to give it the same kind of earnest, serious treatment as he did Captain Scarlet and UFO. However, budget constraints and the type of puppetry, which was new for Anderson, made it hard to take the show as seriously as its predecessors. Many creators would struggle to bring such a show into line with their vision, but Anderson seems to have rolled with it and allowed the show’s more absurdist and humorous elements to come to the fore. What made the show work were the fun scripts and brilliant voice acting. As such, the show translates very well to an audio-only format.

The Terrahawks Volume 1 audio was released in 2015. It contains eight 30 to 40-minute stories plus a making-of feature. The audio opens with “The Price is Right” in which a government inspector arrives to audit the Terrahawks after Zelda has gone on hiatus for several months. Working at the National Observatory in the United States, I’ve seen many of these kind of inspections and the humor was much appreciated. In “Deadly Departed,” it appears Zelda has finally been destroyed, but everyone is surprised to discover that Tiger Ninestein is named as her heir! The episode “101 Seed” was an episode written for the original series by Gerry Anderson, but never filmed.

“A Clone of My Own” was perhaps the most interesting story. Zelda begins killing off Tiger Ninestein’s clones. Lurking in the background is a serious look at the individuals who are Tiger Ninestein’s clones and the ethics of using them as backup models for the Terrahawks’ leader. Another really interesting idea was explored in Chris Dale’s “Timesplit.” In that one, Zelda’s minion Lord Tempo creates two versions of Lieutenant Hawkeye based based on the possible outcomes of an encounter. He would either escape or be captured. In this case, both happen.

Two of the funniest episodes are “Clubbed to Death” in which Zelda starts a payday loan scam on Earth and “No Laughing Matter” in which a comedian is sent to paralyze our heroes by making them laugh to the point that they can’t effectively defend the Earth.

Throughout the stories, the Zeroid robots infuriate the always-serious Dr. Ninestein. In the final story, “Into the Breach,” the good doctor creates a new type of Zeroid called a Cyberzoid that follows orders perfectly and it looks like the Zeroids will be shelved for good in favor of new robots that sound like fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I enjoyed these audio stories a great deal. The story “Deadly Departed” is free to download at the Gerry Anderson Store or from Big Finish Productions if you would like to give the stories a try. Otherwise, you can find the full volume at the links below:

Space: 1999 – Earthbound

The end of February brought us a new Space: 1999 audio adventure from Big Finish Productions. Ostensibly, we are presented with three stories, “Mooncatcher” written by Marc Platt, “Earthbound” written by Iain Meadows, and “Journey’s End” written by Nicholas Briggs. It turns out, “Mooncatcher” is the only completely original tale on this disk. The other two stories are, in fact, a two-part retelling of the classic TV episode “Earthbound” which featured Christopher Lee as the alien space ship captain Zantor. I’ve been looking forward to this release because “Earthbound” was one of the most memorable episodes of the original series and Marc Platt is one of my favorite classic Doctor Who authors. Platt wrote the weird and wonderful twenty-sixth season Doctor Who episode “Ghostlight” along with the novel Lungbarrow, which delved into Time Lord society and the Doctor’s personal history in a really interesting way.

Space: 1999 – Earthbound

Platt’s story didn’t disappoint. As the story opens, the Moon is hurtling toward a strange, spherical object in space. Moonbase Alpha personnel receive strange transmissions from its vicinity and the object is so smooth, it appears to be artificial. Astronaut Alan Carter and Paul Morrow (both played by Glen McCready) take an Eagle spacecraft to go investigate. As they approach, Moonbase personnel figure out the signals they’ve received are a warning. Carter and Morrow are out of range, so Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell go out to try to help. Before they arrive, the sphere opens up and tendrils pull the first Eagle inside. It turns out the object is a life form, like a space-traveling coral reef and this is where the story gets really interesting. The life form begins delving into Carter and Morrow’s memories and pushes them into a dream state. In the original series, Morrow was effectively Koenig’s right-hand man, but we never got to know him well. This audio episode revealed much more about his past in a way that was true to both the classic series and the new audio series. The character came much more to life for me. As one might expect, Carter and Morrow are eventually rescued by Koenig and Russell, though we’re thrown several interesting twists and turns along the way.

The premise of Space: 1999 is that disaster strikes Earth’s moon and it’s sent hurtling out into deep space. Our characters are those people running Moonbase Alpha, a base which both oversees the storage of nuclear material and deep space launches. Although some people clearly follow a military-like rank hierarchy, the implication is that most people on the base are civilian employees. One issue rarely raised in the original series is why should Commander Koenig be the person who makes all the decisions for this group of people stranded far away from Earth. The new version of “Earthbound” addresses that.

In both the TV series and the audio series, Koenig’s boss, Space Commissioner Simmonds is stranded on the base with them. In the new version of “Earthbound,” he steps forward to question Koenig’s decision to look for a new planet for the Alphans to call home and says they’re priority should be to find a way to return to Earth. He makes his case to the Alphans and a vote is called. This early part of the episode has distinct echoes of contemporary populism in both the United States and United Kingdom. The Alphans vote by a narrow margin to return to Earth if possible and Alpha’s command staff is tasked with making the dream a reality. The problem is the dream isn’t a very realistic one and tensions grow between the command staff and the Alphans that voted to go home.

In the midst of this strife, a space ship arrives that looks as though it’s going collide with Alpha. Alan Carter takes an Eagle out to try and stop the collision, but fails. Fortunately, the space ship makes a safe landing near the base. Commander Koenig, Dr. Russell and Professor Victor Bergman board the ship. They find a group of aliens in croygenic suspension. Dr. Russell tries to wake one, but fails, accidentally killing the first alien. The alien ship’s computer wakes another. Distraught, the alien makes telepathic contact with Helena, learns human language, and learns that the death of their crewmember was an accident. In the process, Captain Zantor, leader of the Kaldosians, forms a strong emotional bond with Dr. Russell.

We soon learn the Kaldosians were seeking Earth, and their computer knows how to find it. Commissioner Simmonds sees an opportunity and sets a plot in motion to capture the Kaldosian ship. Dr. Russell struggles to keep this from happening, in part because of her bond with Captain Zantor. Those who know the original series probably remember how the episode ended. However, this isn’t exactly that same story and Nicholas Briggs definitely throws us some twists. I won’t say more than that to avoid spoilers. Barnaby Kay, who plays Zantor, does a fine job taking over a classic Christopher Lee role. Kay doesn’t so much try to imitate Lee but he works hard to play the character with the same combination of power and Zen-like calm Lee gave to the character.

Space: 1999 Volume 02: Earthbound is available at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/space-1999-volume-02-earthbound-2505


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Space: 1999 Volume One

At the beginning of February I wrote about the fun I had listening to the Big Finish Audio adaptation of “Breakaway,” the first episode of the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series, Space: 1999. Big Finish is well known for their Doctor Who audio adventures, which typically feature actors from the series reprising their roles in brand new stories. Many of the Big Finish audio productions are notable for being on par, and in some cases, even better than the televised episodes. Unfortunately, actors such as Martin Landau and Barry Morse are no longer with us, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Big Finish cast all new actors to play the parts in their Space: 1999 adaptation. I was quite impressed with Mark Bonnar as Commander John Koenig, Clive Hayward as Professor Victor Bergman, and especially Maria Teresa Creasey as Dr. Helena Russell. As such, I was really looking forward to this month’s release of Space: 1999, Volume One which featured two original episodes and one remake of a classic episode in audio format.

Space: 1999, Volume One

The recording opens with a story called “The Siren Call.” In the original televised version of “Breakaway,” an important plot point is that Earth and the moon are receiving a signal from aliens on a planet called Meta. We then never hear anything more about Meta. In the Big Finish version of the opening story, the signal from Meta is tied directly to the moon leaving Earth’s orbit. That version of the story ends with the moon approaching Meta. This story resolves the Meta storyline. Aliens from Meta make contact and even seem to welcome the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha. The only problem is that the first ambassador to the Moonbase is a fellow who walks and talks but has no heartbeat. The Alphans need a new home now that they find themselves so far from Earth, but they begin to wonder if Meta will prove as inviting as it first appears.

The second recording is a remake of the classic episode “Death’s Other Dominion.” In this story, Moonbase Alpha encounters a group of human survivors on a distant, frozen world. By all appearances these are the survivors of an expedition to the outer reaches of our solar system who had been lost seventeen years before. The only problem is that someone on the planet is also trying to warn them away. When Koenig, Russell, and Bergman investigate they find the survivors, but discover that somehow they had not only been sent deep into space, but launched far back in time! The probe survivors are over 900 years old. The story ends up being an interesting look at immortality. In the original episode, Brian Blessed gives a wonderful performance as Dr. Chaney Rowland, the leader of the survivors. Chris Jarman takes up the role here and sounds very much like Blessed.

The final episode in this set of stories is called “Goldilocks.” Moonbase Alpha discovers a planet in the so-called Goldilocks Zone of its star. It looks like a good place to settle. Commander Koenig leads a team, which goes down to investigate. They find a very nice planet and pleasant, telepathic people who learn human language very fast. They also find a horde of vicious, reptilian monsters who would be happy to eat humans. If that weren’t bad enough, it seems they awoke an even bigger menace on the planet. Will the Alphans have to run away like Goldilocks did to avoid being eaten?

Overall, these episodes were good fun. They do a great job of capturing the original series’ tone and flavor. If you’re a fan of Space: 1999 this will give you two new episodes to enjoy. What’s more, “Death’s Other Dominion” puts a new spin on the themes covered in the original episode. I only had one disappointment and really that was because “Breakaway” set such a high standard. In the new “Breakaway,” writer Nicholas Briggs came up with a clever, creative way to send the moon on its journey. In this set, I’d hoped the writers would explain why the moon travels from planet to planet so quickly. The moon doesn’t seem to be moving a significant fraction of the speed of light, so one would expect it to take centuries for the moon to move between systems. Instead, it seems like it only takes days or weeks to move between systems. Perhaps it’s now in an open star cluster where stars are closer than they are in the solar neighborhood, or maybe the speed of encountering new planets is a mystery to the Alphans, too. I could imagine some good story potential here, and hope they do explore some of that potential in volume two.

If you’d like to purchase Space: 1999, Volume One, you can find it at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/space-1999-volume-01-2320. Big Finish also has a free 20-minute excerpt from “Death’s Other Dominion” at: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/space-1999-death-s-other-dominion-excerpt-2458.

Space: 1999 Redux

Saturday’s post about Space: 1999 didn’t come out of a vacuum. On Christmas day, when I went to the Big Finish Productions website to download some Doctor Who audio, I discovered they had produced an audio re-imagining of the Space: 1999 pilot episode, “Breakaway.” This is the episode where a nuclear stockpile on the Moon explodes, blasting it out of Earth orbit and sending it on a journey through space. This appealed to the part of me that really enjoys writing retrofuturistic stories. After all, 1999 is now in the past and the series is now a look at “what could have been” more than “what will be.” Big Finish didn’t just create a new version, they expanded it into a two-hour movie-length version with more details. I recently downloaded it and gave it a listen and I’ll share my thoughts. Before I do, I thought it would be fun to go back and read the original novelization of “Breakaway” released when the series was on the air. Novelizations often give a chance to explain more about the characters and the story than you see on screen, so I thought that might give me a little more background. It turns out that my neighborhood used bookstore had four copies of the novelization in their science fiction section.

As it turns out, Breakaway by E.C. Tubb is not simply a novelization of the first episode. It attempts to weave four episodes from the series into a single narrative arc. With a mere 141 pages, Tubb doesn’t spend a lot of time delving into backstory or character. What we get are effectively novelettes of the episodes “Breakaway” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” The two episodes “Ring Around the Moon” and “Black Sun” are combined into a third novelette. We don’t really learn anything from these stories that we didn’t learn from watching the episodes. Tubb does work to develop the romance between Commander Koenig and Dr. Russell. He also provides a more direct narrative link between the resolution of “Ring Around the Moon” and the events of “Black Sun.” It was interesting to see that Tubb killed off Commissioner Simmonds, an annoying politician from “Breakaway” even though the character would actually meet a far more interesting end later in the series.

The Big Finish production of “Breakaway” proved much more ambitious. Writer Nicholas Briggs, who has written many of the Big Finish Doctor Who stories teamed up with Jamie Anderson, son of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, the original Space: 1999 producers, to re-imagine the series. The plot is effectively the same as the original plot, Commander John Koenig has been dispatched to Moonbase Alpha to launch a mission to the distant planet Meta. The mission is in danger because the crew of the probe has started to succumb to a mysterious illness.

Solving the mystery is the primary impetus of the original pilot. In the new version, Koenig learns that his predecessor has been ordered to cover up that the illness is even happening and Dr. Russell is trying desperately not only to learn what’s happening but trying to keep the mission from getting launched until they are sure the people going to Meta won’t get sick. In effect, this new version takes a dramatic situation that already existed and ratchets it up so that it becomes much more engaging. What’s more, Briggs and Anderson developed a clever new way to get the Moon to break away from Earth orbit. I won’t say too much about how it’s done, because that ends up being something of a spoiler for the end of the episode. However, where the original meant packing an implausible amount of explosives on the moon, this one gives us an explanation that makes me think it could happen. Certainly, I’m much more willing to suspend my disbelief for the new explanation than the original one.

Briggs left us with something of a cliffhanger at the end of his version of Breakaway. Fortunately, new episodes of Big Finish’s Space: 1999 are due this month. I’ve already reserved my copies to find out what happens! You can get details about the Big Finish version of Space: 1999 at: https://www.bigfinish.com/hubs/v/space-1999

One of the things I love about this re-imagining of Space: 1999 is how it improves on something that was good albeit flawed. This was one of the things I tried to do when I created my new edition of The Pirates of Sufiro. I worked to keep the parts of the novel that were good, the characters people responded to, but I also tried to take a good hard look at parts of the book that didn’t work so well for readers and revise them and make sure I created good, solid explanations for why things happened. You can learn about The Pirates of Sufiro at: http://davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html

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.