Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka
(6 episodes, 2003)
I wouldn’t trade Christopher Eccleston for the world, but this is an interesting case of what could have been for the Ninth Doctor.
After a rather upbeat opening sequence, the adventure begins a meteor strike near a volcano. Two nearby observers follow the meteor, their curiosity paid out with death. Elsewhere, the TARDIS materializes and a rather cross (and gothic) Ninth Doctor takes a look around. He’s there against his will and locked out of the TARDIS, so he has no choice but to explore.
He pops into local pub and meets Alison Cheney, a woman who is less scared than her peers to speak about whatever is going on in the area. The Doctor leaves, and Alison reassures someone in the shadows that they’re all being good. As the Doctor encounters a homeless woman and a lava statue, the Earth opens near Alison’s feet and swallows the TARDIS. Before the woman can shed any light on the mystery, a mysterious force kills her.
The Doctor is furious, and he tracks Alison to the home that she shares with her boyfriend Joe. The Time Lord questions her and discovers that the ground is the key. Alison shares what she knows while Joe denies everything: The aliens want the humans above ground to remain as quiet as possible. Within minutes, the floor bursts open and creatures scream into the room. The Doctor reflects the screams back at the creature, using the sound as a diversionary weapon to stage an escape. In a storage closet nearby, they improvise an explosion that destroys two of the creatures and stops the rumbling underground.
The Doctor attempts to leave, but his TARDIS is still missing, so he calls in UNIT. The Doctor explains that the creatures seem to be interested in the special volcanic rock and provides the UNIT commander with a map in exchange for their help in retrieving the TARDIS. They all descend into the caves, and the Doctor separates himself from the UNIT detachment to find the aliens without military interference.
Underground, the aliens attempt to take the TARDIS by force, but they find the Master standing at the console and are soon ejected from the capsule. So, they take another approach: They kidnap Alison. The Doctor arrives shortly thereafter and encounters Prime, war chief of the Shalka confederacy and leader of the aliens. Prime considers the humans to be primitive and subject to domination, and she calls the Doctor on his ploy to act dumb by taking advantage of his attachment to humanity, tipping his hand and forcing him to comply.
He leads Prime into the TARDIS and deactivates the Master, who turns out to be nothing more than an android security system almost like Antimony. Prime sees the Doctor as a primitive and kicks him out of the TARDIS, leading to a touching one-on-one between the Time Lord and Alison. Later, Prime forces the Doctor into a space-time wormhole (converted to a black hole for waste removal) that they have created. As he plummets into it, he uses his mobile phone to summon the TARDIS and eject the Shalka, who have since reactivated the Master-bot. Meanwhile, the Shalka have (mysteriously) returned Alison to the surface, but with a wound on her forehead and severe headache.
The Doctor overrides the Master-bot, whom he has programmed to always leave the Doctor’s young, human female friends behind, and materializes the TARDIS in the UNIT commander’s office. There he learns that Alison has survived and that UNIT has captured a Shalka after it was immobilized by pure oxygen. The Doctor takes the opportunity to analyze the Shalka, linking the rampant cases of laryngitis to the Shalka’s mental control. He also learns that the refugees from the town never made it to their shelters.
In the woods, all of the refugees are reunited and Alison discovers that her head wound is really a small Shalka under her skin. That Shalka forces the refugees (and similarly, around the world) to march. The Doctor and UNIT troops arrive in the TARDIS and confront Alison’s group, and the Doctor extracts the Shalka and stops the local conflict. When he recovers, he develops a plan with UNIT and explains the sore throats, which are the Shalka using the humans to emit subsonic screams in Earth’s atmosphere while they change the planet to suit their needs.
The Doctor and Alison (to Joe’s annoyance) leave to stop the threat. The Master, who cannot leave the TARDIS, stays behind as the Doctor and Alison confront Prime in the Shalka lair. They are confined, break free, and confront the Shalka as the Doctor swallows the mini-Shalka that was in Alison’s head. He bonds with it long enough understand their screams and engage in a sonic duel with the Shalka. He tricks Prime into standing near the wormhole, which he shifts to black hole-mode long enough to send Prime on a one-way trip to her doom.
With consent, he regurgitates the Shalka and reconnects it with Alison so she can shut down the slaves and Shalka worldwide. She succeeds, but he stops her just before the Shalka can be used to completely heal the planet because she cannot be allowed to wield that much power. After a brief exploration of the Doctor’s faults against his philosophies, the Time Lord invites her for tea on the TARDIS.
Alison and the Master-bot chat about how the Doctor would love to invite her to be his first living companion in a long time, but the Time Lord will not ask. His last companion was killed on the adventure that led to the Master’s consciousness being embedded in an android and the Doctor entering a self-imposed exile.
The Doctor escorts Alison back to Joe and UNIT, intent on saying goodbye. Alison decides to travel with the Doctor, and Joe reluctantly gives her his blessing.
And off they go.
This Doctor is very quippy and aggressive, bridging the Ninth and Tenth Doctors that we know from the revival era. He’s also reluctant to act and ready to die if need be, making me wonder what happened near the end of the Eighth Doctor’s life to drive him to this point. That does drive one question, though: Who or what locked the Doctor out of the TARDIS? Was it the Master-bot, was it the TARDIS herself?
I would love to see more of this alternate Doctor.
Richard E. Grant (The Doctor) last appeared in The Curse of Fatal Death, and will appear again in the future. Similarly, we’ll see Sophie Okonedo (Alison), Derek Jacobi (The Master-bot), and David Tennant (uncredited as the Caretaker) again.
Before we get back on the regular timeline, we have one last stop to make with the Eighth Doctor.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Shada (Eighth Doctor)
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.