Doctor Who: Connections

Near the end of November, I discussed Big Finish’s Doctor Who story “What Lies Inside?” featuring Paul McGann as the Doctor, Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka, and Hattie Morahan as Helen Sinclair. One of the things I like about Big Finish is that they frequently have deals on their website or via their newsletter. When I bought “What Lies Inside?” I bought a bundle that included an additional set of three adventures called “Connections.” That second set has been released and my family and I were able to give it a listen during a recent road trip.

Back in my university days, before the World Wide Web, I subscribed to message boards on Usenet. One of those message boards discussed all things Doctor Who. One character who would spark much discussion on the message board was an old school chum of the Doctor’s from the planet Galifrey named Drax. Now, Drax only appeared in a couple of episodes of serial “The Armageddon Factor” which was part of a longer arc where the Doctor, played by Tom Baker, and his companion Romana, played by Mary Tamm, seek out pieces of something called the Key to Time, which will is needed for god-like entities to put the universe back into balance. Drax used to come up for so much discussion because he was not only one of the few people from Galifrey who seemed to actively like the Doctor, he also referred to the Doctor by the name: Theta Sigma. Was Theta Sigma really the Doctor’s name? Was it a nickname? Was it a fraternity they belonged to? These were all questions bandied about on the message board. None of which were ever definitively answered then and none of which are definitively answered in the new audio episode, “Here Lies Drax.” That said, it was great fun to hear a new episode with Drax. Or, does it really have Drax? The episode opens with the Doctor receiving a parcel from Drax for safekeeping. Soon after, they receive an invitation to Drax’s funeral! Once they get to the funeral, they discover Drax had made a lot of enemies over his lifetime, and that’s just how things get going. We soon get a rollicking mystery where the Doctor has to figure out whether there really is any value to the things in the parcel, while he figures out what happened to his old friend.

The second episode of “Connections” is titled “The Love Vampires” and felt like an appropriate listen while I’m working on a vampire novel of my own. In this episode, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv arrive at a space station orbiting a dying star. However, the crew of the station are apparently being killed off by vampires. Now, these aren’t your ordinary run-of-the-mill bloodsucking vampires These vampires take you back to memories of your first love and feed off the emotions generated. Energy and emotion vampires are nothing new to the genre, but the writers cleverly use this concept to explore the characters of Helen, Liv, and the Doctor through their memories of their first loves. We get some nice background on both Helen and Liv. Right from the beginning of the television series, it was established that the Doctor has a granddaughter and Big Finish’s audio dramas have reinforced the idea that Susan is a biological granddaughter. She doesn’t just call him “Grandfather” as a term of affection. In fact, there are several great Big Finish productions where Susan, played by Carole Ann Ford, is teamed up with Paul McGann’s Doctor. So, one figures, the Doctor must have had at least one love in his life, or at least a liaison. Who did the Doctor have a child with? What was their relationship like? This episode suggests some possibilities, but like Drax in “The Armageddon Factor” it may raise more questions than it answers.

The final episode of the “Connections” set moves the focus from the Doctor to Helen. In this case, the Doctor, Helen, and Liv land in modern-day London to investigate a time anomaly. Helen soon discovers one of the Weeping Angels in the back of an old record shop. These are villains who look like statues of angels and only move when you’re not looking at them. When you blink, they can jump on you and transport you back in time. In “Albie’s Angels” this happens to Helen and she’s transported back to the 1960s and is reunited with her long lost brother Albie. She never knew what became of her brother and she learns that her father and brother had a falling out because Albie was gay. It felt quite appropriate to listen to this episode while on a family trip, since it reminds us why families shouldn’t let themselves be torn apart by different lifestyles and viewpoints. The story itself involves the Doctor and Liv trying to find out where Helen has gone while Helen tries to help her brother find his own path in life. Without spoilers, this episode proved to be a bittersweet and poignant tale with connections to other characters in the Doctor Who canon.

You can find “Connections” at https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-the-eighth-doctor-adventures-connections-2523 and while you’re there, you can sign up for the Big Finish newsletter if you choose. I’m just a fan of Big Finish and this isn’t an affiliate link of any kind.

Meanwhile, if you want to get ready for my forthcoming vampire novel and meet a set of characters with their own special abilities, check out my Scarlet Order vampire novels at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

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:

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.