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“Fun for all”: The animated version of the Doctor Who serial The Macra Terror (1967, 2019)

As an avid Doctor Who viewer since the first episode on 23rd  November 1963  I  almost certainly watched “The Macra Terror”, aged 11, on its original broadcast March to April 1967, but I have no recollection of it whatsover. Which means that I got to this watch  the serial as though I was seeing it for the first time which was  a real pleasure.

“The Macra Terror” was one  of the many Doctor Who serials that was wiped by the BBC  in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Home video was just a distant dream, even  on Tomorrow’s World:  drama of any kind  were very rarely repeated so there was no notion at the BBC  that anybody in the future would want to see these programmes again.

The era in which Pat Troughton played the Doctor from 1966 to 1969  was particularly  hard hit because of this policy with 14 serials either  partly or wholly missing at one time. Fortunately some of  those are now available  to us once again, either because they turned up abroad (where they had been  sold decades ago to foreign broadcasters) in the case of the “The Web of Fear” and “The Enemy of the World” or  because they have been turned into animations using the original soundtrack which  forunately have survived. This was done in the case of “The Power of the Daleks”, the first serial in which Pat played the Doctor  for the first time, and which was wholly missing, The DVD was released at the end of 2016, 50 years after ist first broadcast. Now “The Macra Terror” from 1967  has also been animated  – in colour.

In an interview  published in Doctor Magazine (536) to coincide with the release the director Charles Norton said, “It’s not a reconstructuion of the original – it’s a new production of the story. The existing set designs and things like that are really more of a starting point than an end destination” while Adrian  Salmon,  who storyboarded the production, said, “We decided not to refer to the original  shooting script, but rather cast a fresh eye over the performances in the audio.”

The story  begins in the Tardis  with the Doctor  showing his three companions, Polly (Anneke Wills), Ben ( Michael Craze) and Jamie (Frazer Hines) a device known as Time Scanner which  looks into the future. Suddenly a large claw fills the screen.

On landing the travellers find themselves  on a human colony planet (how and when this colonisation happened is never discussed). At first glance this appears to be a space age Butlins with a drum majorette leading a parade as the travellers arrive, while there are constant exhortations from louspeakers: “The colony needs you” and “Fun for All.”. The Pilot (Peter Jeffrey), is in day to day charge,  but orders are received from the Controller (Graham Leaman) whose image  is seen on screen only,  like Big Brother.

This is your Controller speaking. There is no need for alarm. You may all continue your work and play confident that the best is being done for you…. Now, return to your work and play with fresh heart and renewed energy.

The travellers receive a friendly welcome and  are offered steam baths,  beauty treatments etc.  The Doctor even has his suede shoes polished.  All fine.

But the Doctor is already suspcious after an encounter with  Medok (Terence Lodge),  a  colonist who claims  that there are creatures that come out at night.  Soon we too will learn the truth about the colony –  and who is really in charge.

One  of the key  themes of the story  is how dissenting voices are treated by a society. In the case of the colony there is a Corrections Unit and also sleep-machines which brainwash Ben into  conformity for a time with their re-iterated messages;

The sleeper must relax and believe. Everything in the Colony is good and beautiful. You must accept it without question. You must obey orders. The leaders of the Colony know what is best. In the morning when you wake up you will be given some work. You will be glad to obey. You will question nothing in the Colony.

The Doctor  asks the Pilot: “Why do  you want to make everyone the same?” Why indeed.

To my eye this is a better animation than  “The Power of the Daleks” . If you are purist you can watch it in black and white, rather than the colour.

“The Macra Terror” was not the greatest story  of the Pat Troughton era  but it is still a welcome return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name…” the new Doctor Who novel: Scratchman by Tom Baker and James Goss (2019)

This Doctor Who novel was a long time in coming. It began life as a joint  script dreamt up by Tom Baker and his co-star,  the late Ian Marter (who played Unite medic Harry  Sullivan in  Doctor Who between 1974 and 1975).    A good deal of the original story seems to have been  worked on between rounds  in their favourite London pubs or the Colony Club. Giving  it the name   name Doctor Who Meets Scratchman the two actors got as far as talking to director James Hill about a possible film,  but it never progressed any further.

Flash forward forty odd years and the project has been  revived and turned into a novel  in a collaboration between Tom and the very  experienced writer James Goss,  whose previous Doctor Who work  has included  the novels City of Death (2015), The Pirate Planet (2017) and  Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen (2018). In an interview in Doctor  Who Magazine (534)  James says:

At the start of the project I sat down with Tom and a storyline… Although a script of Scratchman exists, there were a  few hints that  it wasn’t quite what Tom and Ian had originally envisaged. So we went right back to the original story and built it up from there.  ..Tom was very influential in shaping the story. 

Scratchman features The Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan. The story is told in a series of flasbacks by the Doctor himself who has been hauled up in front of an assembly of Time Lords with the snappy  title of the Convocation of Oblivion. They’re not happy.

Your recent actions endangered the enture universe,” the Zero Nun informed me.

Yes. Something trivial like that.

The crowd seethed. There was hunger to them….

“All right,” I told her. “But in order to do that I need to teach you about the fear”.

“Fear?” she blinked. That got her.

“Yes.” I addressed the  entire chamber. “You see, even the Time Lords are afarid of something . And tonight, I’m going show you what it is. Are you sitting  comfortably? Of course you are. And  I’m  rather afraid that’s the problem…”

The novel opens  with the Doctor and his companions landing on a  remote Scottish island. (Science fiction and Scottish islands seems to  naturally go together, one thinks  of Target Luna, The Andromeda Breakthrough, Orbit One ZeroAliens in the Mind etc).

A peculiar breeze drifted through the fading daylight on the island. The strange wind howled around the field, circling like a cat before settling down.

A sheep observed all this curiously. Confirming her worst suspicions, a large blue box pushed its way out of thin air onto the grass. The ewe shook her head sadly and trotted away.

The island is picturesque,  but the Doctor senses something in the air. He’s right, of course. They  soon discover that the scarecrows on the island are mutated villagers. They are alive (sort of)  –   and  malevolent,  and it’s not long before the Doctor and the remaining  villagers are barricaded  in the local church in a  classic “base under siege” scenario with the scarecrows hammering on the doors. (The Doctor comes up  with a collective noun for scarecrows, by the way  “a scratch”)

The Doctor manages to get them out of this,   but this is just the begining of their troubles. If the first half is gothic in feel, the second half draws on classic Greek tales, particularly The Odyssey.

The Doctor, having been separated from Sarah and Harry, finds himself in a mythological place. If I tell you that he’s driven there by Charon (in a London taxi) you’ll probably guess where he is (or appears to be, for nothing is straightforward and nothing is what it seems). Can the Doctor free himself and rescue his companions?

Between them Tom and James have successfully evoked a particular era of Doctor Who without it being a pastiche and I  personally enjoyed it a great deal, particularly some of the phrases in the novel. Here are a few of my favourites;

“Oh,”  said Sarah, and it was the saddest of “oh’s”.

“I love a good barricade, it reminds me of the Siege of Leningrad”.

“That”,  I said very  gravely, “is a bag of jelly babies”. I took the sweets  from Harry’s hand and offered them around. No takers.

I took refuge in the canapes, successfully helping myself to a vol-au-vent. It’s quite something when  only the profiteroles believe in you.

“What lies beneath… ” my review of the Doctor Who novel: Molten Heart by Una McCormack (2018)

This is one of three novels  published by the BBC which  feature The Thirteenth Doctor for the first time (the other two  are Combat Magicks by Steve Cole and The Good Doctor by Juno Dawson).

Team Tardis (the Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham) land on Adamantine, a planet on which nothing ever seems to have happened, nor ever seems likely to . But nothing is what it seems (is it ever in the world of the Doctor?)

The best travellers  – the very best – aren’t fooled by surfaces. The best travellers know that if they want to find treasures, they must dig, dig deep, below the surface, down to the heart. And below the surface this world – Adamantine – indeed has many treaures to show. Many trearures, and some terrors,  and always, always adventure. The best travellers  always find adventure.

The time and space travellers do indeed find adventure, coming across a beautiful  city. This is  how Yaz sees it;

Sheer white towers shot skywards.Anywhere else, Yaz might have thought  they were glass skyscrapers, but not here.These were like huge  stalagmites, hollowed out, a whole city of crystals. They seemed to shine from within, and here and there white jewels and pale gemstones – sapphire and ruby and topaz and emerald  – had been set into the crystal structures to make patterns  and decorations., beautiful and intricate mosaics. Light bounced off these from every angle.  The whole City shimmered, as if the stone was gently swaying to an alien rhythm.

The city’s inhabitants (some friendly, some not) are even more remarkable:   the Doctor and her friends quickly  find themselves caught up in a  power  and philosophical struggle whose outcome will determine the future of the planet.

A key theme in the book  is  how  people (whether humans or aliens)  respond to challenges to existing thinking.  Some will  accept new knowledge  which overturns orthodoxy, others will violently  reject it as heresy.

Nobody  is truly evil in this book.   There are people making the wrong decisions from fear or ignorance,  but not from malevolence.

In conclusion, a excellent addition to the canon of Doctor Who novels  which  stretches back to 1964’s Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks written by David Whittaker (and which I  can remember reading as a child )

 

 

 

 

Out of the Unknown, Series 1: episode 10, “Some Lapse of Time” by John Brunner.

Cast: Max Harrow – Ronald Lewis, Diana  Harrow – Jane Downs, Smiffershon – John Gabriel,  Gordon Faulkner – Richard Gale, Laura Danville – Delena Kidd, Professor Leach – Moultrie Kelsall,

Script:  Leon Griffiths

Director: Roger Jenkins

Designer: Ridley Scott.

Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik, 

Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

“Some Lapse of Time” was first broadcast on  8 December 1965.

It is based on a short story by  John Brunner, published in February 1963 in Fantasy magazine. Brunner began writing science  fiction in the late 1950s and went on to write such influential novels as Stand on Zanzibar (1968) about overpopulation,  The Sheep Look Up (1972) about pollution,   and The Shockwave Rider (1975) about the threat to liberty posed by computers.

Like many young people in the late 1950s  Brunner was a member of Campaign  for Nuclear Disarmament,   founded  in 1958 to campaign   against the H- Bombs posssessed by  Britain the USA and Soviet Union,  which many  feared would end civilisation if  they were ever used in a war. For a time CND attracted tens of  thousands on its “Ban the bomb” marches.  Brunner organised CND caravans into Europe,  and wrote several songs for the movement, including the CND Marching Song,  which was sung on the first London to  Aldermaston March in 1958. His non-SF novel The Days of March (1988) is set in the early  days of the movement.

Leon Griffiths wrote for the Communist party newsaper  the Daily Worker for a time before going on to write for television, most famously creating Minder.

The opening  shows us  Max Harrow having a nightmare in which what look like cavemen are gathered around a fire,  performing  a ritual,  chanting and  waving what seems to be a bone of some kind. Then he dreams that he is being hunted.  When Harrow  finally awakes we learn that this is a recurring nightmare; his wife Diana  urges him to see someone at the hospital where he works.

As they talk  a policeman  rings the doorbell asking Harrow to see  a tramp they have found collapsed near his car. When he is brought in Harrow   diagnoses that the tramp is suffering from “heterocardia”,  a disease caused by radiation  from which his son Jimmy  has  died. Tests at the hosptial convince his sceptical colleagues that his diagnosis was correct, even though sufferers invariably die when young.  The tramp is clutching  something which, when they persuade him to let it go,  they realise  is a fingerbone.

Harrow and Smiffershon

When Harrow meets his wife for lunch, she is reading a newspaper whose  main headline is about an accident  at an atomic weapens base. He tells her about the tramp. He’s a very sick man…nobody knows where he came from or how he managed to stay alive until now…the police think that he came round to my place  to ask for help, but why? Harrow becomes angry when his wife presses him to see somebody about his dreams.

When the tramp regains consciousness Harrow recognises him from his dream, while the tramp recognises him. They are able to glean that his  name is Smiffershon but cannot comprehend  anything else he says.  Smiffershon   bursts into laughter when he sees Harrow’s finger.

At home Harrow again rows with his wife about the tramp. If we know what he knows about heterocardia Jimmy wouldn’t have died. Doesn’t that matter?…  It’s hard to understand but this tramp means something more. It wasn’t just chance that brought him here,  carrying that fingerbone. It’s as  if  he’s if slipped out of one of my nightmares….I just know that tramp means something special to me. ..Where does he come from?.

Laura and Smiffershon

Harrow calls in a philologist Laura Denville, an attractive blonde,  in an effort to identify his language which sounds Scandanavian.  She  comes to an unsettling conclusion, namely,  that he is speaking a form of English. He’s speaking our language as if it’s undergone a series of extreme changes. It’s the sort of difference between the English of  Langlands’  day and our own…These changes take place over hundreds of years. 

His fixation with Smiffershon leads to Harrow having another  argument  with his wife,  who  is suspicious  of  Denville.  Diana accidentally  catches his fingers in the  car door,  resulting in the end  of  one of them having  to be amputated. The dream is starting to come true, the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place.

When Smiffershon is given a routine X-ray they discover that  he is  full of Strontium 90 and should be dead. He is immediately placed in isolation. Harorw calls in  archaeolgist who discovers that  the fingerbone  which they took from Smiffershon  is also full of radiation.

Both Jane and his friends are increasingly concerned for Harrow’s mental health. His colleagues try to assure  him that there is a rational explanation,  but he is now convinced that Smiffershon has come back through time after a nuclear war  to warn them of the dangers of what they are doing.

I know all about our friend the tramp now…I even recognise his face from my dreams…That old tramp hasn’t just been dusted with radioactive particles, it’s inside him, in his muscles, in his glands. He’s lived through something pretty terrible, a world we can hardly even imagine…Seven, eight, nine generations after the bombs..I am talking about an island  when the cities have gone, when fires, a hundred miles wide,  consume the fields and forest, when there’s nothing left. That’s when people stop using words like “blankets”, “shoes”, “pints  of beer”, “cigarette”. And, of course,  there’s still be people, people saturated with radioactivity like Smiffershon. 

Harrow is drugged  and is given therapy, but it does not help. Despairing, he tries to attack Smiffershon. When he is restrained he  suffers a  complete collapse and begins speaking in the same language as Smiffershon. He is taken to a psychiatric hospital with little hope of recovery. In the final minutes of the drama Laura  is able to converse with Smiffershon who confirms that everything that Harrow  suspected is true.

In my view this is the best  in the series  so far,   with real tension and disquiet created.  Ronald Lewis and John Gabriel,  in particular,  give superb  performances.

At the time of transmission the viewing public would have been familar with the idea of a nuclear war that would destroy humanity. This theme was explored in numerous novels,  television plays  and films. I have already written in an earlier post on The Chrysalids by John Wnyndham,

In addition there were the following:

Novels

The Spurious Sun, by George Borodin (1948) begins  with an H-bomb-like explosion in Scotland which ignites the upper atmosphere; savage wars ensue worldwide, the UK is eliminated by nuclear weapons, and both Leningrad and San Francisco are obliterated. 

Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley (1948) is a  satire on the potential for the destruction of humanity.

 On the Beach by Neville Shute (1957) is   set in Australia in the aftermath of a nuclear  war,  and follows the fate of  group of  people awaiting the arrival of  the fallout from the northern hemisphere. The government  issues suicide pills to the population. The novel was a worldwide bestseller and  was filmed in 1959 and again in 2000.

On the Last Day by Mervyn Jones (1958)  features  a Russian/Chinese invasion of Britain, during a non-nuclear Third World War , and of the successful attempt of the British government in exile (in Canada) to build a new intercontinental missile. Jones was  an activist  in CND.

 British television

Number Three, broadcast by the BBC on 1st  February 1953. This was dramatised from a novel by Charles Irving by Nigel Neale and  others.  Scientists at an atom research station  working on a new form of nuclear power discover  the project leader plans to  use it as a weapon.

Doomsday for Dyson  by J B Priestley, broadcast on ITV on 10th March 1958. An anti-war fantasy about a man standing trial in the afterlife for killing his family in the wake of a nuclear holocaust. It was followed by a short studio discussion on the issues raised.

Underground, broadcast  by ATV on 30th  November 1958 in the “Armchair Theatre” series.  It was written by James Forsyth, adapted from novel by Harold Rein Few Were Left, and directed by William Kotcheff.  The survivors of a nuclear holocaust are trapped in the London Underground.

The Offshore Island, broadcast by the BBC on 14th  April 1959. It was written by Michael Voysey, based on a play by  Marganita Laski, an activist in CND.  A  drama about a family whose farm remains unaffected, eight years after a nuclear war. Their peace is disturbed by a force of American soldiers and then a Russsian one.

The Poisoned Earth, broadcast by  ITV on 28th  February 1961 in the “Play of the Week” series. It was written by Arden Winch. Moral problems are raised when a new type of nuclear bomb, with limited fallout range, is developed.

The Road, broadcast by the BBC on 29 September 1963.  It was written by Nigel Kneale,  and was  part of  the “First Night” drama series.  A  scientist and a philosopher  in C18th investigate  “ghosts” that appear on Michaelmass Eve each year. In the end we realise  that they are actually visions from  the future of  people fleeing down a road from a nuclear war.  This drama   was wiped by the BBC,  but an excellent  radio radio dramatisation was broadcast in 2018, adapted by Toby Hadoke.

The War Game (1965) . Devised by Peter Watkins, this is a drama-documentary, depicting a nuclear attack  on Britain, and showing us the aftermath. The Labour government forced the BBC to cancel the screening which had been due to take place on 5 October 1965. Instead it was shown around the country by CND groups. It  was finally shown on television in July 1985.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Connecting you now…”: Crosstalk by Connie Willis (2016)

In previous posts I have written about Connie’s  other novels: To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout and All Clear, and Doomsday Book

Crosstalk is set in our own time, more or less. Briddey Flannigan is a red-haired young woman with a cool job in  a cool  US tech company Commspan, a rival to Apple etc. She has a cool boyfriend Trent Worth (an executive in the same company)  who has just asked her to  undertake a trendy new medical procedure. an EED.    Performed jointly on couples an EED connects them mentally and  enhances their emotional responses to each other. Life is perfect,  thinks Briddey.

Well almost. There are her work colleagues, for instance,  who use social  media incessantly  to find out what she is up to and relay it to each other. Briddey  can barely walk down the corridor without it being flashed around the building.

Then there’s her Irish-American  family. Her sister Kathleen, her other sister Mary  Clare,  Mary Clare’s daughter (Maeve (8 going on 18),  and  her aunt Oonagh  They constantly text or call Briddey  or leave voice messages or  call around uninvited, so that she has hardly a moment to herself, whilst they inflict their problems on her.  Kathleen is is always on the look-out for a man, Mary Clare  is obsessed with her daughter’s  health and well-being, Maeve feels suffocated  by her mother, while Aunt  Oonagh  has gone back to her Irish roots dressing in a shawl, invoking   St Patrick “and the blessed saints”  on all occasions, and is always on at   Briddey to go with her  to a Daughters of Ireland meeting.

Finally, there’s  C. B. Schwartz. C.B is the scruffy, unkempt  tech genius for Commspan who spends all his time in a freezing windowless basement laboratory working on the next big thing.  C.B.  has a pin-up of Hedy Lamarr, the Hollywood star who spent her spare time trying to come up with a frequency-hopping   device to  hide  torpedo radio signals  from the Germans  during the war. CB is a sceptic  about modern communication:

Connie Willis

Commspan promises the same thing – more communication. But that isn’t what people want. They’ve way too much already – laptops, smartphones, tablets, social  media. They’ve got connectivity coming out of their ears.There’s such a thing as being too connected, you know, especially when it comes to relationships. Relationships need less communications , not more....why does every sentence beginning”We need to talk” end in disaster.?…If people really wanted to communicate, they’d tell the truth, but they don’t…They lie constantly  on Facebook, on eHarmony, in person.

C.B. urges Briddey not to have the EED,  but she takes no notice and goes ahead with the procedure. It works,  but not in the way that Briddey was expecting

For  the rest  of the novel we follow Briddey as she embarks on a journey involving half-truths,  deceptions, narrow escapes and revelations about her  family that turn  her world upside down. We also learn something surprising about the Irish.

Crosstalk is that rare thing,  a humorous science fiction novel that works.

 

 

 

Out of the Unknown Series 1; episode 7 “Sucker Bait” by Isaac Asimov

“Sucker Bait”  was broadcast on 15th November 1965.

Cast:  Mark Annuncio_ Clive Endersby, Doctor Sheffield – John Meillon,   Fawkes – Roger Croucher,  Novee – Burt Kwouk.  Captain Follenbee- Bill Nagy

Script: Meade Roberts

Director: Naomi Capon.

Producer and Story Edtor: Irene Shubik,  Associate Producer: George Spenton-Foster.

“Sucker Bait” was a novella  first serialised in the February and March 1954 issues of Astounding Science Fiction, and reprinted in the 1955 collection The Martian Way and Other Stories.

The story begins on  the bridge of a spaceship in flight with countless stars visible.  (All stories like this seem to begin on  the bridge). We are in some undated future where there is a Confederation of 83,000 worlds.  Men still wear polo-necks, though, but  at least they  have the escaped the uniform blond hair of previous episodes.  The crew is multi-racial, but there are no women  on board.

Captain  Follenbee summons a crew member,  Mark Annuncio, to see him. Whilst the rest of the crew are scientists, laughing and joking   as they go about their various tasks,  Annuncio in these opening scenes  is  established as  an outsider,  who is regarded with  suspicion by the other men.   Novee comments, You’ve got to remember he’s a mnemonic, a weird and special lot.

Mark Annuncio (Clive Endersby)

Annuncio gets into an argument with the Captain when he refuses to let him see the ship’s log.  He  is rescued by  Doctor Sheffield who explains  who he   is, ostensibly  for the Captain’s benefit , but really  for our benefit what  a mnemonic does (mnemonic derives from the Greek word meaning memory).

…Computers are limited, they have to be asked questions. Sometimes it never occurs to people to ask them the right questions. Therefore mankind needs a  computer that is non-mechanical, that has some imagination. There is such a computer… in each and every one of us…Somewhere inside the human  brain is a record of every fact that’s ever been impinged upon. Very little is consciously remembered,, but it’s all there. A slight association can bring it back to us without knowing where it came from or why. Now that is called “a hunch”  or “a feeling”… Now some people  are better at it than other. Others are almost perfect,  like Mark Annuncio.

So we train them to read, look, listen and do it better and more efficiently. It doesn’t really matter what data they collect. Any data may be useful, and every in  no machine could possibly make.once in a while a mnemonic makes a correlation…You see Mark is different from us… mnemonics are taken into the service about the the age of five. In a sens etheya re force-grown. We allow them no contact  with normal people in case they develop normal  mental habits.  They are highly strung, easily upset, and  easily ruined. I am here to see that does not happen. mark is an instrumnet, the most valuable instrument on this ship. There are only a hundred like him in the universe.

When he  is annoyed (which happens quite often)  Annuncio   refers to the other crew members  as “Non Compos” which Doctor Sheffield explains means “Non Compos Mentis” ie “not of sound mind.”

The ship is heading for a planet  called Troas  which Mark has identifiied as a planet  where a colony was established, but then the colonists all died. Their mission is to find out why.  When the ship arives an expedition  – which includes Mark and Doctor Sheffield _  is sent to the  rocky surface. They find no sign of the colonists, just burial  mounds.   Increasingly the crew feel uneasy. Fawkes   wakes  from a dream believing that there was someone in the tent: They’re  all around us. Intelligent beings out there now. I’m telling you, I saw  in the tent and out here. Novee tries to convince him that it was just a nightmare.  but Fawkes is convinced that there is intelligent life on the planet.

However it is Annunncio who  realises  the real  truth of why the colonists died and takes drastic action that saves their lives. He pieces together  a number of  different   facts to reveal that  they were poisoned by beryllium, an element  that humanity has forgotten about,    but about which  he once read an obscure paper. Data matters, it seems .

My view is that  not a  great deal of drama in this story,  while the issue as to whether it is  morally right to create mnemonics is not touched on.

Naomi Capon (1921-1987), who directed the story, was one of only two women  directors working at the BBC in 1965. The other  was Paddy Russell.

 

” I remember everything”: Red Planets by Una McCormack (2018)

This Doctor Who audio adventure from Big Finish  features the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), accompanied by Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Mel (Bonnie Langford). In essence it’s  an  “alternative history” story, a genre that I am  a bit of an addict for, my favourite being Pavane by Keith Roberts.

The story weaves together three threads whose connections only slowly became apparent:  Phobos, a   Communist spaceship on its way to Mars with a solo woman cosmonaut who proclaims “Good morning, brother Mars, we come in peace from all the people of Earth but then picks up a  mysterious signal from the red planet :  Ace’s adventures in East Berlin in November 1961 where she has been dropped off by the Doctor for a short break,  but immediately gets caught up  in a John le Carré-esque  espionage plot when she rescues an agent Tom Elliot  who has been wounded trying to cross the  newly built Berlin Wall; and finally, the Doctor and Mel’s  arrival in  London in  2017 to investigate a time ripple.

But they land in  a very different London, a London which is part of the People’s Republic of Mokoshia. And Mel is behaving  very oddly, recalling events that never happened in our time line, the take-over of Western Europe by Communism  in the  mid 1960s. If nothing else,  this story is worth listening to hear  just to hear  Mel  sing a snatch of The Internationale.

Back in East Berlin, Ace  finds that strange  things are happening, streets are vanishing, the city is disappearing,  and a deadly fog is killing people. In London the Doctor is trying to work out what  has caused the change in history,  “Nothing here is right,”  but finds himself in the hands of people who seem to know a lot about him. And on Mars  the expedition is heading for a rendezvous….with something impossible. Can the Doctor reverse history or will Mokoshia “unite the human race.”

This  is a  serious-minded story, which I enjoyed, driven by the idea that single events matter, that they can  send history down  a different  route. It’s also surprisingly violent with a number of characters not making it to the finale.

 

By the way, if you like me, you are womdering where “Mokoshia” comes from, Comrade McCormack tells me that she got it Mokosh, a Slavic goddess of women’s work and destinies. Mother Russia,  in fact.

More information here.