Same Old Tricks


Review of The Magician's Apprentice
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

I think most fans can agree by now that, like him or not, Moffat has a pretty distinctive style. When you go into a Moffat episode, you have certain expectations. No one should be surprised, then, to discover that in the Series Nine opener, he's up to his same old tricks.

The first, and perhaps most notable, of these tricks is giving us an (at least mostly) enjoyable Part One in a two-part story. Moffat excels at set-up, giving rich scenes and hints at things to come that get our fannish hearts pumping with that lifeblood of our breed, speculation. Time will tell how it all pans out, but experience suggests that the conclusion of the tale is unlikely to live up to the promise of its beginnings.

One thing we know Moffat can do well, though, is creating creepy "monsters" (at least the first time he uses them). The opening scene on the unknown battlefield provides that in spades with the "hand mines," even though I'm still trying to decide whether I think they're more or less frightening after finally seeing one tripped. The mix of this advanced weaponry with more archaic kinds (biplanes, bow and arrow) gives us—in retrospect—visual clues to go with the spoken ones about which war it is (especially for those viewers familiar with Tom Baker's run). Yet, it's still a bombshell when the boy's identity is revealed and the opening credits roll.

When we return to the story, we follow Colony Sarff (a creature that I found blasé, but was no doubt hide-behind-the-couch-worthy for those with even a touch of ophidophobia) into the Maldovarium (a hangout that evoked the cantina from Star Wars with its eclectic clientele), the Shadow Proclamation, and the planet Karn.

Given the previous roles of both the Shadow Proclamation and Karn in recent plot arcs (Series Four and the lead-up to the Anniversary Special, respectively), I'm fully expecting one or all of them to become important by the end of the series (though not until the finale). After all, it's one of Moffat's hallmarks to seed clues that only become apparent when a series is viewed in the aggregate. Regardless, we learn that Davros is now searching, so far fruitlessly, for the Doctor. But when Colony Sarff reports its failure, Davros is unconcerned; he knows he can get to the Doctor through the Doctor's friends.


Miracle in the Desert


Review of The Eye of the Scorpion (#24)
Big Finish Release Date: Sep 2001
Doctor/Companion: Five and Peri
Stars: Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant
Preceding Story: Project: Twilight (Six, Evelyn)
Succeeding Story: Colditz (Seven, Ace)

Big Finish has achieved something I didn't think was possible: they made an entire story in which I didn't cringe at/actively dislike Peri. In fact, I was into Part Three before I realized that's what was happening. I guess y'all can officially add me to the list of folks who (at this moment) think she was better paired with the Fifth Doctor than the Sixth.

Aside from that amazing feat, The Eye of the Scorpion is in itself an enjoyable adventure. While in flight, the TARDIS inexplicably changes course. Upon review, it appears the Doctor is responsible, but he has no idea when or how he might have done so.

Soon they land in Egypt, circa 1400 BCE. In typical Doctor form, they accidentally ingratiate themselves with the yet-to-be-crowned Pharaoh, a young woman named Erimem (Caroline Morris). But the Doctor knows the names of all the Pharaohs—especially the female ones, who were few and far between—and hers is not a one he recognizes.

As is so often the case when the Doctor appears, there's political unrest in the land. An opposing army threatens the borders of Thebes and someone tries to assassinate Erimem, claiming he follows "the true Pharaoh," thus planting the seed of doubt among her people. Throw in an alien being at work behind the scenes and you have a classic pseudo-historical.


Thrown for a Loup


Review of Loups-Garoux (#20)
Big Finish Release Date: May 2001
Doctor/Companion: Five and Turlough
Stars: Peter Davison and Mark Strickson
Preceding Story: Minuet in Hell (Eight, Charley, the Brigadier)
Succeeding Story: Dust Breeding (Seven, Ace)

It's not often that Doctor Who tackles widely familiar fantastical creatures (e.g., vampires), but when it does, it doesn't shy from calling out the popular mythos. That's part of why Loups-Garoux works as well as it does.

For me, it was my tabletop RPG background that clued me in, but those who know French will also have a good idea what they're in for the first time they look at the title of this adventure. In that sense, there was nothing surprising in the story. For the most part, it rolled out about as I expected: the Doctor and Turlough find themselves embroiled in a crisis among a group of werewolves in and around Rio de Janeiro in 2080.

While the Doctor identifies the werewolves' condition with a quasi-scientific name, and not everything they do matches with legend, there's no doubt that these are the traditional werewolves we expect from literature. They are pack animals whose behavior is strongly influenced by the lupine side of their nature, silver harms them, and they are long-lived. For fans of werewolf stories, then, this audio adventure is a win.


Favorable Mutation


Review of The Mutant Phase (#15)
Big Finish Release Date: December 2000
Doctor/Companion: Five and Nyssa
Stars: Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton
Preceding Story: The Holy Terror (Six, Frobisher)
Succeeding Story: Storm Warning (Eight, Charley)

You know that feeling you get when one of your friends is really excited about a story—be it a book or a show or a film—and you've got no problem with it, but it just doesn't excite you? That sense that you're either about to disappoint your friend or that an unpleasant conversation about your differing opinions is about to ensue? That's how I felt coming into The Mutant Phase.

You see, although I've always liked Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor, I've also found him slightly bland—nothing to get excited about (I know I have several friends who are about ready to dump me upon reading that...). So when I got a nudge from one such friend to try one of Five's Big Finish (BF) audios next, I agreed with a certain trepidation. My unease increased when I realized the first one on tap from the list of recommendations I have co-starred Sarah Sutton's Nyssa—another of those dichotomous "friend's favorite/just okay for me" characters.

Imagine my relief when I realized I was quite enjoying the adventure. With no need to come up with something nice to say simply to appease the Five and Nyssa fans, I could relax and take the story as it came.


Might-Have-Beens and Never-Weres


Review of Neverland (#33)
Big Finish Release Date: July 2002
Doctor/Companion: Eight, Charley, and Romana II
Stars: Paul McGann, India Fisher, and Lalla Ward
Preceding Story: The Time of the Daleks (Eight, Charley)
Succeeding Story: Spare Parts (Five, Nyssa)

It's been diverting to broaden my Big Finish horizons and listen to some adventures with the Sixth and Seventh Doctors, but I found I was missing the Eighth. Thus I've returned to the last of his adventures recommended to me from the first fifty releases in the Main Range.

Charley has visited a couple more interesting points in space and time with the Doctor since last I joined them. We do not, however, start with the two of them—instead, we are on Gallifrey with Lord President Romanadvoratrelundar—known to the Doctor (and us) simply as Romana. Someone is reading out historical facts revolving around Charley's anomalous survival of the R101 crash and her subsequent travels, but the recitation soon becomes garbled. The paradox appears finally to be too much for the Web of Time to bear.

When we do return to the Doctor and Charley, though, it's clear things aren't stable in the TARDIS, either. The Doctor tries to tuck Charley safely away in some backwater corner of the universe (to his credit, it is at least one helluva party), but she refuses to be fobbed off so easily. They end up on Gallifrey together, where they discover the universe is being threatened by an incursion of anti-time—all because of Charley.



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