Culture on My Mind – The Cautionary Tale of Eaglemoss Publications Pre-Orders

Culture on My Mind
May 29, 2020

 

This week’s “can’t let it go” is a cautionary tale about pre-orders.

Eaglemoss Collections is a British publishing company that produces licensed magazines and collectibles based on popular franchises. They have small resin and die-cast handpainted models from Marvel, DC Comics, Doctor Who, Star Trek, and more. In fact, inspired by the rave reviews among people I trust regarding the Star Trek starships collection, I decided to invest in the lineup of Doctors from Doctor Who.

By the time I got involved, many of the classic Doctors were out of stock and no longer being produced. But, in October 2017, I spotted a post from The Doctor Who Site with big news: Eaglemoss was going to republish the figurines starting in November 2017 with multipack sets.

Image via The Doctor Who Site

The first set was a set with the revival-era Doctors (Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth), which I sought out from Entertainment Earth. They had that set and the “mid-era” set (Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and War Doctors) available for pre-order, so I snagged both of them.

As always, Entertainment Earth’s customer service was pretty good. I placed my order in November 2017 and received the revival-era set shortly thereafter. The release date for the mid-era set was pushed back a couple of times, but I finally received that shipment in March 2018.

Despite seeing an advertisement on The Doctor Who Site, I saw no pre-orders for the remaining box set from any of the typical merchants. Finally, the “First 4 Doctors” came up on the official Eaglemoss site in October 2018 along with a pre-order for the Thirteenth Doctor figurine. Knowing that this purchase would complete my set, I put in my pre-order for both.

Image via The Doctor Who Site

The box set eventually graced my doorstep as promised. The Thirteenth Doctor figurine, which was slated for a December 2018 release, never shipped.

My order was processed on October 8, 2018. On December 31, 2018, I noticed that the figurine was gone out of stock on the website, so I wrote to check on the status of my order. I was promised that when the stock was replenished, it would be shipped. Knowing how the release dates kept sliding to the right for the combination sets, I was patient with Eaglemoss, even when I saw other online retailers around the world repeatedly getting the collectible in stock and selling out again in short order.

That patience started to fray by October 2019, one year after the initial pre-order. Various other retailers had been out of stock for a while, and the Eaglemoss website had actually dropped their price. I wrote again to check on the status and to ask about the price difference. They replied ten days later that there was no estimated arrival time for the item and that there was no pre-order price guarantee. But, because I’d been waiting so long, they would adjust my purchase price when the figure shipped.

December came and went, marking the one-year anniversary of the supposed release date. By February, I was out of patience and started a serious effort to find out where I could finish off this collection. I was frustrated by both the TARDIS and Sarah Jane Smith offerings that were poorly painted and produced, but what irritated me more was the fact that Eaglemoss was releasing a different Thirteenth Doctor sculpt, this time with the character’s three companions.

In reality, that was the shining beacon that I was going to be kept out in the cold.

I tried the e-mail route with them through early February 2020 before finally hitting the phone lines. During this time, I started receiving e-mails that my shipping date was coming up. When February 7th came and went without a delivery, I called and found out that they were delayed until February 14th. It was pushed again to February 21st, seemingly giving the squeaky wheel some grease with nothing to back up the promises that they were making.

When I received the February 21st date, it was from an excellent customer service representative who dug into the system and noted that the package was due to ship, but they had no inventory on hand to actually process. She was honest with me: Despite my patience over the previous sixteen months, there was little to no hope of getting what I was promised.

This was despite the fact that the United Kingdom version of their store showed the figurine in stock, but they do not permit American customers to order on that site.

The customer service rep made some notes in my account and told me to call back after the 21st. I did, my order was canceled, and my account was settled.

I purchased the figure shortly thereafter from a collector in the United Kingdom on eBay for slightly more than I would have paid at Eaglemoss.

While that is a happy ending for me, the path to get there was a disappointment. Over the course of more than a year, I watched as both domestic and international sellers have received stock and sold out, but I stayed with the hope that Eaglemoss – the very source of the figure I’m trying to buy – would not leave me twisting in the wind.

This is a company that deals with specialized collectibles for geeks and genre fans. They advertise on podcasts and social media, and they constantly innovate to bring unique perspectives that other companies fail to provide. Those Star Trek starship models have piqued my interest since I uncovered my old Star Trek and Star Wars Micro Machine vehicle collections. I would happily add the TARDIS consoles to my Doctors collection because no one else makes something like that. Similarly, no other company puts out Battlestar Galactica ships.

But they abandoned a customer. A customer that pre-ordered one of their products, which I consider to be a promise from supply to demand. A customer that expected a bare minimum of communication over sixteen months but received very little with the exception of hollow promises.

Their customer service requires a significant overhaul. They prevent customers in the United States from ordering on their UK portal, despite the fact that the offerings are different. They apparently don’t transfer items within the company to fulfill promised pre-orders. There is no way to check an order’s status on their website, and there is no history of previous orders or client activity. In fact, the customer account functionality is virtually non-existent. Further, correspondence by e-mail takes several days – in one case, upwards of ten days – and each auto-reply from their system makes a point of stating that they “are experiencing a high volume at this time”.

High volume requires better customer relations and greater communication. In my experience, Eaglemoss provides neither.

Eaglemoss may produce good quality and unique products, but my experiences have soured me on their offerings and company. If I find something that I want from them in the future, I’ll wait for a good deal on eBay or at a convention dealer.

I won’t purchase directly through Eaglemoss again.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Timestamp: Series Four Summary

Doctor Who: Series Four Summary

 

The Doctor-Donna adventures were molto bene.

The story of Donna Noble was an amazing and heartbreaking journey. Her first meeting with the Doctor displayed their beautiful chemistry, and their adventures together this season showed us just how magnificent they were together.

Her humanity and his experience made a great pair, and they helped save one another in the course of their relationship: The Doctor needs a companion to counter his vast knowledge and challenge his limits, and Donna needed to see that there was a universe beyond her own self.

The fact that their relationship wasn’t romantic – countering the Rose Tyler arc and defusing the tension developed in the Martha Jones arc – was the icing on the cake.

The heartbreak, of course, is that Donna doesn’t remember her travels at the end of her time with the Doctor. The consolation is that the universe remembers her and every life she saved.

In that respect, she is indeed the most important person in the universe. A legend in her own right.

 

Series Three comes in at an average of 4.6. That’s second, only coming in behind the Ninth classic season. That is good company to keep.

 

Time Crash & Voyage of the Damned – 5
Partners in Crime – 5
The Fires of Pompeii – 5
Planet of the Ood – 4
The Sontaran Stratagem & The Poison Sky – 5
The Doctor’s Daughter – 4
The Unicorn and the Wasp – 4
Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead – 5
Midnight – 5
Turn Left – 4
The Stolen Earth & Journey’s End – 5

Series Three (Revival Era) Average Rating: 4.6/5

 

The path forward takes a few twists and turns from here as David Tennant’s era comes to an end. Looking ahead from now to the end of the year, the Timestamps Project will proceed in airdate order and visit the second year of The Sarah Jane Adventures, the third year of Torchwood, and the third year of The Sarah Jane Adventures, with five remaining Tenth Doctor adventures interspersed throughout.

It is one great way to spend the back half of 2020.

Allons-y!

 

UP NEXT – Sarah Jane Adventures: The Last Sontaran

 

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.

Culture on My Mind – WHOlanta’s Virtual TARDIS

Culture on My Mind
May 18, 2020

 

This week starts with news of a virtual convention.

This year was supposed to be our hiatus year from Wholanta. But current lockdown situation has provided a way for us to have a con after all! And basically, I have a slight problem and have had a difficult time letting this thing go. So another Wholanta is born!

WHOlanta, the Atlanta-area Doctor Who-centric convention, hung up the scarf and bow tie last year after their annual celebration of all things wibbly-wobbly and timey-wimey. But, as R. Alan Siler said, there was an opportunity so he jumped on it.

The convention will be hosting a virtual event on Saturday, May 30th from noon to 8:00pm EST. So far, they have character/creature actor Jon Davey, actress Sophie Aldred (who portrayed Ace), revival era director Rachel Talalay, and series composer Dominic Glynn. They also promise more guest announcements to come.

For the celebrity panels, there will be streaming Q&As where attendees can post their questions in the chat. They’ll also be supporting a virtual dealer room and cosplayers.

Keep an eye on their Facebook page for more information.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Timestamp #203: Turn Left

Doctor Who: Turn Left
(1 episode, s04e11, 2008)

 

What could have been if not for a Noble companion?

The Doctor and Donna have stopped in a bustling marketplace on an alien world. While mixing it up with the locals, Donna wanders away to explore and finds herself in the company of a local fortuneteller. Offered a free reading since she’s a redhead, Donna takes a seat. The fortuneteller talks to her about the Doctor and Donna recounts her first meeting with the Time Lord.

While a mysterious scurrying occurs behind her, she flashes back to her time as a temp with H.C. Clements and the offer she turned down businessman Jival Chowdry. The moment of decision for her entire future was sitting at an intersection with her mother. She turned left…

…but what if she had turned right?

A large insect latches on to her back and the fortuneteller convinces her to turn right. She does.

The next time we see Donna Noble, she’s at a Christmas party celebrating her recent promotion with a round of drinks for her friends. One of her friends, Alice, almost sees the creature on her back, but they’re interrupted by the arrival of the Racnoss Webstar. The invading spacecraft is destroyed by UNIT and the Racnoss queen was killed, but the Doctor drowned in the assault. He was unable to regenerate.

Donna walks away by is soon met by none other than Rose Tyler. She came so far but was too late to meet with the Doctor, but she spots the insect on Donna’s back before vanishing into thin air.

Due to the closure of the Thames, Chowdry’s company has been losing money and Donna has been fired. Simultaneously, the Royal Hope Hospital has vanished into the sky. When it returns, there is only one survivor: Medical student Oliver Morgenstern. He was saved by Martha Jones, but she died as a result. Sarah Jane Smith and the Bannerman Road Gang were there as well, but they died while trying to stop the incursion. Wilfred is convinced that aliens are to blame, but Donna wants to hear none of it.

Donna takes a walk and finds Rose again as she emerges from loud flashes of light. The insect comes up again before Rose asks her about Christmas plans. She suggests that Donna and her family take a holiday, using the winnings from a future raffle ticket to afford it. Donna warns her to stay away and Rose vanishes again.

Sure enough, next Christmas, Donna’s family travel to the countryside. On Christmas Day, they watch as the Titanic smashes into Buckingham Palace. As a mushroom cloud rises over London – and Donna nearly spots the insect in a mirror – the terror and shock set in as they realize that everyone they know is dead.

Now refugees, her family is forced to relocate to Leeds to escape the radiation. Meanwhile, France has closed its borders to refugees, but the Nobles are allocated a house with two other families. The United States offers monetary assistance, but they are forced to withdraw their support when sixty million Americans are killed and converted to Adipose. Every major world city is affected as well.

The Nobles bond with their housemates, but they’re interrupted by soldiers firing at cars. The Sontarans have activated the ATMOS system and covered the planet in a poisonous fog. One of the soldiers spots the insect and takes aim at Donna, but he can’t find it later. Donna follows the flashing lights to find Rose in a nearby alley.

The two companions sit on a bench and talk about the crisis. The sky lights up as the gas burns away, courtesy of Torchwood Three. Gwen and Ianto died in the attempt, and Jack was taken to the Sontaran homeworld. Rose talks about the Doctor, how he saved the world from all of these events, and how Donna traveled with him in another reality. Had she been there to save him from himself under the Thames, the world would be in a better place. Rose has come to warn the Doctor of a darkness that threatens both of their universes, calling Donna the most important woman in the whole of creation.

Rose asks her to come along, finally settling on a time three weeks from now. She vanishes with an ominous prophecy: Donna Noble will die.

The Nobles bid farewell to their Italian housemates, courtesy of a new law that evicts all immigrants from England. They’re going to labor camps, which Wilf recognizes as the first step to fascism that he fought against before. Later that night, Wilf and Donna relax by the fire as he looks through his telescope. While trying to find Orion, the stars vanish from the night sky. Donna finds Rose and tells her that she is ready.

They hitch a ride with UNIT to a warehouse filled with computers, mirrors, and the TARDIS. The police box was salvaged from the Thames wreckage, and when Donna goes in, she finds it cold and dark even though she’s amazed. The ship is dying but still trying to muster the energy to help.

Using that energy, Rose is able to show Donna the insect with a circle of mirrors. The beetle feeds off time, specifically from decisions not made. By turning right instead of left, Donna has given the beetle a temporal smorgasbord. Rose recognizes that both the Doctor and Donna are necessary to stop the stars from going out. Scared out her mind, Donna asks what she can do to help.

Rose tells her that Donna needs to travel through time.

After a quick briefing, Donna steps back into the mirror circle – which is actually a homemade time machine – with the intent of changing her car’s direction. The machine is activated, but Donna has the revelation that she still has to die to save the world.

She materializes on a sidewalk in Sutton Court, half a mile and three minutes from her destiny. She starts running but soon realizes that she won’t make it in time. With the revelation echoing in her mind, she understands what she has to do.

She steps out in front of a truck, sacrificing her life to cause a traffic jam. As Donna dies, Rose whispers two words in her ear as a message for the Doctor, and Donna Noble turns left.

The insect falls off as the reset button is pushed. The Doctor comes in as the fortuneteller runs off, and Donna wraps him in a hug. They examine the insect as they talk about Donna’s adventure and her knack for finding parallel worlds. The Doctor wonders about the coincidences in their travels together, and when he calls her brilliant, Donna remembers Rose.

Except she never knew Rose’s name.

But she does know two words: Bad Wolf.

The Doctor rushes back to the TARDIS, seeing “Bad Wolf” everywhere. Inside, the console room is bathed in red light and the Cloister Bell is ringing.

The end of the universe is coming.

 

This “what if” story is a great dark tale that is really just a setup for the season finale. We get the greatest hits of the Tenth Doctor’s saves of Earth without seeing much of David Tennant at all. He was filming Midnight while Catherine Tate was engaged on this “Doctor-lite” adventure, one in a similar vein to Love & Monsters and Blink, but with a much darker direction.

It’s also a tease for the all-star cavalcade to come with nice touches for each mention: Martha’s theme and a pop of the Torchwood theme accompany their non-appearances, and the news report surrounding Sarah Jane’s heroic death mentions her employment with the Metropolitan, which is where she mentioned working to the Third Doctor in Planet of the Spiders. Rose obviously gets her theme throughout.

Catherine Tate sells this story, from Donna’s depression as the planet falls apart around her to her abject terror when she finally sees the time beetle on her back, which finally pays off the prophecy from The Fires of Pompeii. Her acting skill is just amazing and is showcased by not being overshadowed by or in competition with Tennant’s energy.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Stolen Earth and Doctor Who: Journey’s End

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #202: Midnight

Doctor Who: Midnight
(1 episode, s04e10, 2008)

 

All that glitters is death.

It’s time for a vacation. The Doctor wants to visit a sapphire waterfall, but Donna wants nothing more than to lounge poolside with drinks and sunbathing (in X-tonic radiation with is immediately lethal without proper shielding). So, the Doctor goes alone. What could possibly go wrong?

The Doctor ends up on a tour bus of sorts, traveling four hours each direction with a cheerful allons-y. His fellow passengers include the Cane family – Val, Biff, and their bored teenage son Jethro –Professor Hobbes and his assistant Dee Dee Blasco, and recently-divorced businesswoman Sky Silvestry. The bus is a little empty and will be taking a slight detour because of a diamond fall on the normal path.

It’s also annoying as hell due to every entertainment option playing at the same time, but a subtle wave of the sonic screwdriver results in silence that the Doctor fills with small talk amongst the captive crowd. Among other things, we find out that there was no life on Midnight before the leisure resort arrived.

The trip is delayed while the bus experiences mechanical problems. The Doctor uses his psychic paper to access the control compartment and assess the situation. A rescue truck is on the way, and the Doctor convinces the drivers to open the window for a couple of minutes to take in the breathtaking view. The mechanic spots an odd shadow before the shields are restored and the Doctor is sent back to his seat.

The passengers start to speculate on the problem, but it soon rises into a panic. The Doctor calls for silence, but the calm is broken by a knocking on the hull. The silence becomes deafening as terror takes hold and panic rises again. The knocking moves around to each of the airlocks, mimicking Biff and the Doctor as they knock in return.

It intensifies, knocking the bus around as Sky screams that it is coming for her. The lights go out and the entertainment system comes on briefly – Rose Tyler (“I had a friend who went a different universe.”) screams silently as the screen goes out again – before the chaos settles. Sky is cowering in her seat, which is dismantled, and the cockpit is missing. The drivers are dust and only a single door shields the passengers from the lethal radiation. The control circuits in the bus have also been severed.

The Doctor tries talking to Sky, but she’s not herself anymore. She echoes every word that the passengers say and moves with bird-like precision, almost as if she’s absorbing everything around her. Panic rises again and the cacophony of repetition becomes unbearable. It ends as the backup power systems engage.

Sky has moved from repetition to predictive mimicry. The Doctor settles the passengers and then continues his examination of Sky. Jethro and the Doctor both conclude that Sky is not Sky anymore. The Doctor moves everyone else to the back of the bus and asks them for patience over the next fifty minutes as they wait for rescue.

The tour attendant suggests throwing Sky off the bus, which Professor Hobbes continues to believe is a lifeless planet beyond. The passengers start to follow that path of logic, but the Doctor vehemently protests. The passengers turn on him as their hysteria and paranoia rise, picking apart his alien nature and threatening to throw him out as well. They demand to know his name but don’t accept the “John Smith” pseudonym.

The mood is broken as Jethro notices a change in Sky’s demeanor. She’s only copying the Doctor now, and he’s intrigued that she’s chosen his voice… or perhaps, his cleverness. She advances to predicting his voice, and as Sky comes back to life (but still not as herself), the Doctor becomes more and more rigid.

Sky asks the professor to help her up as the Doctor remains behind. Sky appears to have returned to normal, and soon rallies the passengers to turn against him. Dee Dee thinks that Sky is still the intruder, but the rest of the passengers are fully onboard with the whispers. Sky orders the Doctor’s execution and Biff and the professor try to drag him to the airlock.

The tour attendant realizes that Sky is talking with the Doctor’s voice when she uses his odd phrases – allons-y and molto bene – and takes action to save the Doctor’s life. She wraps Sky in a hug and activates the cockpit door, blowing the two of them into the diamond death beyond.

The passengers calm down as they realize what came over them and what they were about to do. As the rescue vehicle approaches, the Doctor asks what the hostess’s name was. None of them know.

The Doctor returns to Donna and suggests that the resort will have to move, leaving Midnight to spin in silence. Donna says that she cannot imagine the Doctor without a voice, and he replies with a forced smile and a molto bene. Donna repeats it, but that’s just too much for him to bear.

 

This is one creepy, edge-of-the-seat episode. It’s a “companion-lite” story, which is a first for the franchise. We’ve been down the road of stories without companions and stories without the Doctor before, but this is a milestone of sorts. It’s also a TARDIS-free episode, which is a bit more common in the franchise — Mission to the UnknownDoctor Who and the SiluriansThe Mind of EvilThe DæmonsThe Sea DevilsThe Sontaran Experiment, and Genesis of the Daleks — but is a first for the revival era.

Finally, it is the first televised story in franchise history that does not reveal the villain.

The Medusa Cascade gets another mention after The Fires of Pompeii and The Sontaran Stratagem, this time in concert with the names Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, and Donna Noble.

The guest stars did a considerable amount of the dramatic lifting in this one, and while they were all amazing, two stood out. First, Jethro was played by Colin Morgan, who shocked me as a moody teenager since the last time I saw him was as a wide-eyed innocent sorcerer in Merlin. Second Professor Hobbes was portrayed by David Troughton, son of Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, and a Doctor Who alumni in his own right from The Enemy of the WorldThe War Games, and The Curse of Peladon.

All of that just adds spice to an excellent and thought-provoking tale.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Turn Left

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #201: Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead

Doctor Who: Silence in the Library
Doctor Who: Forest of the Dead
(2 episodes, s04e08-e09, 2008)

 

Seriously, though, who turned out the lights?

 

Silence in the Library

We open on a therapy session with a little girl and Doctor Moon. She describes an immense library in her dreams, a place devoid of all human life. Her vision is interrupted by a pounding at the library door. The door bursts open to reveal the Doctor and Donna. They barricade the door with a book and ask if they can stop for a bit.

Okay, let’s rewind.

The TARDIS materializes in a 51st-century library, which is actually an entire world of books. It’s not a Sunday, the Doctor claims, as Sundays are boring. Donna picks up a volume, but Doctor tells her not to spoil her future. He’s also perplexed as the Library is silent.

Dead silent.

The worldwide computer system only detects the Doctor and Donna as humanoid lifeforms, but registers a million million lives in other forms. That’s one trillion souls, or roughly 125 times Earth’s population in early 2020. Donna presumes that the books may be alive before seeking out a courtesy node to unravel the mystery. There they find a message from the head librarian to run. A second message tells them to count the shadows if they want to live.

The Doctor is intrigued and warns Donna to stay out of the shadows.

They move into the stacks where the Doctor reveals that he was summoned to the Library by a message on the psychic paper. They are chased out by the approaching darkness as the lights switch off. The Doctor sonics the door – not the wood part, obviously – before Donna takes matters into her own soles and kicks the door down.

We’re back where we started, except the little girl is a floating camera. The Doctor analyzes it, which causes the girl pain as the sonic buzzes, but she’s able to warn the travelers that “others are coming.” Donna asks the courtesy node in the room for help – distracted by the human-like face which was donated to the Library like a memorial park bench – before the Doctor notes the moving shadows without origins in the room with them.

The door blows open and people in spacesuits arrive. One of them turns on her face-lamp and smiles at the Doctor with two words: “Hello, sweetie!”

The expedition is staffed with archaeologists who remove their helmets but pretty much ignore the Doctor’s warnings until he points out that the way they came is now shrouded in darkness. The expedition is funded by the Lux Corporation, and one of the team members – Strackman Lux – is a descendant of the family that built the Library.

The Doctor identifies the problem as the Vashta Nerada, carnivorous creatures who hunt in the shadows. The team sets to work as River pulls “pretty boy” Doctor aside. She’s the one who called him, but he doesn’t know who she is. She consults a TARDIS-styled diary and asks him about milestones in his life, but the Doctor hasn’t yet encountered them. In fact, this is the first time that they’ve met. Well, the first time that he’s met her.

The team is interrupted by the ringing of a phone, which is happening in the point-of-view of the little girl. Her father ignores it because he can’t hear it, so she eventually reaches for it. The ringing stops as soon as she touches it. Moments later, the Doctor hacks into her television and makes contact, but the link is soon lost.

The Doctor tries to re-establish contact, momentarily reaching for River’s diary before she tells him that his own rules forbid it. Books fly about the room as the little girl presses buttons on her remote, and Donna consoles Miss Evangelista, Lux’s assistant and the expedition members who is alienated because she’s the stereotypical pretty and dumb one.

The Doctor spots the word CAL on the monitor and asks Lux about it, but he won’t speak about it since the Doctor didn’t sign the expedition contract. River didn’t sign it either, and she shares the confidential bit with him: “4022 saved. No survivors.”

There were exactly 4022 people in the Library when it went silent.

While they discuss the message, Miss Evangelista is ignored and wanders off. Her scream draws the rest of the team, but she’s already been reduced to mere bones. Moments later, she “ghosts,” which is her last moment trapped in the neural relays of the suit communicators. It lasts for an indeterminate amount of time after death until the footprint on the beach fades in the tide.

Donna takes it especially hard since Evangelista asks for her specifically. The Doctor implores Donna to help her pass, and soon the pattern degrades into a loop and she’s gone. River pulls the plug as the Doctor consoles his companion.

River wants a word with the predator that killed one of her crew, and the Doctor offers to introduce them. Using a lunch from River’s pack, he hunts for the Vashta Nerada while River talks to Donna about her relationship with the Time Lord. River recognizes her as Donna Noble, but specifically by her absence.

Meanwhile, Dr. Moon tells the little girl that, given the difference between the real world and her nightmares, her nightmares are the reality and only she can save the team from the shadows.

The Doctor finds the Vashta Nerada and throws a chicken leg into the darkness. Only a bone remains. They are everywhere, like the dust in a sunbeam, but the only way to survive them is to run. Donna spots a potential way out, but the Doctor stops them. It seems that one of the team members, Proper Dave, has two shadows, one of which is being used to keep him fresh. The Doctor has the team don their helmets and alters their suits. River helps with her own advanced sonic screwdriver.

The Doctor uses a teleporter to send Donna back to the TARDIS, but her signal is intercepted. Meanwhile, the second shadow has moved into the victim’s suit. His visor goes pitch black – “Hey, who turned out the lights!?” – before he’s consumed from within. His helmet light is restored to reveal a skull as he attacks the Doctor. The team is cornered as the swarm in a suit expands its shadows, and River blows open a wall with a “squareness gun” to escape.

The little girl has a message: “Donna Noble has been saved.”

The team takes a rest and the Doctor amplifies the lights in the stacks. He notes that River’s sonic is similar to his, and she tells him that she got it from him. The Doctor realizes that Donna never reached the TARDIS, and he finds a courtesy node with her face on it.

In horror, the node repeats “Donna Noble has left the Library. Donna Noble has been saved.” The tension ratchets as the lights go out and the swarm in the suit approaches.

 

Forest of the Dead

River blows a hole through the stacks and the team escapes as the little girl watches their progress on her television. She also watches a medical show where Donna is taken by ambulance and rehabilitated over two years by Dr. Moon. In this reality, the facility is named CAL and the adventures were only a dream. Donna meets man named Lee, gets married, and has two kids over the next seven years. The image is interrupted as the Doctor tries to break through the signal.

The survivors find a new room. They’re surrounded by the Vashta Nerada, and as the Doctor scans for a way out, Donna professes her faith in the Doctor to get her team out of this scrape. When the Doctor’s screwdriver isn’t enough, River offers hers. It precipitates an “old married couple” squabble before River whispers something in his ear to prove herself.

Energized, the Doctor tries to figure out what new signal is interfering with his screwdriver. They determine that the moon – the “doctor moon”, a planetary anti-virus – is the source. While the Doctor tries to figure it out, team member Anita gains a second shadow. They’re suddenly visited by Proper Dave’s animated corpse and are back on the run.

In Dr. Moon’s reality, Donna tries to figure out what’s going on. She’s visited by a cloaked figure who leaves a letter stating that the world is wrong and asking her to meet at a local playground. Donna goes the next day and learns that time progresses differently in this dream state. Her visitor is what remains of Miss Evangelista. They are the Dead of the Library.

On the run, the Doctor tries to reason with the Vashta Nerada, asking them for a dialogue. They typically hunt in forests, but hatched in the Library. The Doctor argues that there are no trees in the Library, but then realizes that they’re standing in a forest of dead trees. The Other Dave is consumed, but the Doctor escapes from a trap of Daves by using a trap door as sunset approaches.

River laments that the Tenth Doctor is not her Doctor. This version isn’t yet done cooking, but hers could make armies run with a glance and open the TARDIS with a snap of his fingers. The Tenth Doctor arrives with a word – “Spoilers!” – and figures out what saved means in the context of the Library.

At the moment of the Vashta Nerada hatching, the Library evacuated the 4022 survivors in the only way that it could. It saved them to the hard drive, ready to be transmitted when the time was right. Donna is in that same condition, but Evangelista gained considerable knowledge when her signal was warped on transmission. Evangelista brings up the word CAL, but the little girl fights to keep that secret, including removing her father from the world and setting the planetary autodestruct. That act could “crack the planet like an egg.”

Dr. Moon tries to talk her down, but the girl deletes him as well. Luckily, Lux offers to take them to the secret of CAL at the planet’s core. The team of four descends on a gravity platform.

Meanwhile, Donna’s world is fragmenting.

When the team reaches the core, they hear the computer – the little girl – asking for help. The Doctor tries to wake it up because it is dreaming of a normal life. Lux reveals that it is driven by a courtesy node with the girl’s face, and her name is CAL. Charlotte Abigail Lux, Mr. Lux’s grandfather’s youngest daughter, was dying of an incurable disease. She was preserved in the Library with an imaginary world of every tale ever told to live in.

Now she’s suffering from four thousand people in her mind.

The Doctor proposes building another processor to transfer the consciousness into, deciding to use his mind as the vessel despite River’s protests that it will burn him alive without hope of regeneration. He also notices that Anita has been eaten. The Doctor threatens the Vashta Nerada, telling them to look him up in their forest. They withdraw for one day.

Then River sucker punches him.

He wakes up handcuffed, out of reach of the sonic screwdrivers with River on the transfer platform. He trusted her because she knew his real name – it was what she whispered in his ear – and she tells him about their last night together in a future incarnation. About all of the time that they spent together. That they will spend together.

But she refuses to tell him anything else. The countdown ends and she completes the circuit. Four thousand twenty-two people are saved, rematerialized in the Library, but River Song is dead.

Later, the Doctor and Donna are reunited, both mourning lost loves that they barely knew. They take hands and walk to the balcony where they discuss Donna’s future over River’s diary. Together, they decide that peeking at the end would be spoiling the adventure, and they walk away.

“He just can’t do it, can he? That man. That impossible man. He just can’t give up.”

River’s diary and screwdriver are left behind, but only for a moment until he realizes that her echo remains in the sonic. He grabs it and dives into the planet’s core, sprinting to the computer and plugging in the sonic. River’s essence is uploaded into Dr. Moon’s virtual reality and she is reunited with her expeditionary team.

Triumphant, the Time Lord returns to the TARDIS. He opens the doors with a snap and a smile, and River reads her children a bedtime story with a happy ending: It was a special day, one where the Doctor came to call. It was a day when everybody lived.

 

So much energy, so much talent, so much fun. This is the episode that makes me just a little bit scared of the dark.

The acting and the story are an elegant concert with this story. We have Donna’s joy as her dreams become reality in Dr. Moon’s virtual space, contrasted by her anguish as they disintegrate before her eyes. River tries to balance the conflict between her confidence and faith that the Doctor will triumph, even considering the looming foreshadowing of her own death, and her sorrow that he’s not quite the man that she knew. The Doctor has to keep his own scales in check between saving the innocent and solving a mystery of his own future.

Every one of those plates keeps spinning as the tension continues to ratchet. The two twists in this well-crafted tale – the supposedly useless character becomes a critical piece of the puzzle while the young girl’s story is really at the core of the entire thing – were well concealed underneath the character drama.

We get a lot of nods to the history of the franchise hidden in the stacks: There was an operating manual for the TARDIS, Origins of the Universe, The French Revolution, A Journal of Impossible Things, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (written by former writer and script editor Douglas Adams), Everest in Easy Stages, and Black Orchid.

We also get another crack at the Doctor’s true name, a question that hearkens back to the early days of Doctor Who and has threaded throughout the years in An Unearthly ChildSilver NemesisThe Girl in the FireplaceThe Shakespeare Code, and The Fires of Pompeii thus far.

This continues Steven Moffat’s theme of childhood fears – Blink had statues that came to life, The Girl in the Fireplace highlighted monsters under the bed, and The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances tackled the fear of war – but we also get a taste of what’s to come from his upcoming run as producer with reference to River as a clever girl. That word is one of his favorites in this universe.

It also highlights his pattern of not letting characters die. That will come back to haunt his run.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Midnight

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #200: The Unicorn and the Wasp

Doctor Who: The Unicorn and the Wasp
(1 episode, s04e07, 2008)

 

The mystery meets the mystery writer.

The TARDIS materializes to the scent of mint and lemonade in the air. If the vintage car in the drive is any indication, it’s the 1920s and Donna’s excited to attend a party with Professor Peach, Reverend Golightly, and the butler Greeves. The Doctor produces his psychic paper, meaning that invitations are all taken care of.

Unfortunately, the party will be one short Professor Peach falls victim to the lead pipe in the library. The suspect is a giant wasp.

The Doctor and Donna are greeted at the party by Lady Clemency Eddison. They also meet Colonel Hugh Curbishley (Lady Eddison’s husband), their son Roger (who flirts with Davenport, a servant), Reverend Golightly, socialite Robina Redmond, Miss Chandrakala, and the famous mystery writer Agatha Christie.

It’s a regular game of Clue.

The Doctor notes the date of the newspaper: It’s the day of Agatha Christie’s disappearance. Her car will be found abandoned and she’ll resurface ten days later with no memory. Her husband has recently cheated on her, but she’s maintaining a stiff upper lip.

Meanwhile, Miss Chandrakala finds Professor Peach, and the Doctor stands in as a police officer with a plucky assistant to boot. The Doctor finds alien residue – Donna’s beside herself that Charles Dickens was actually surrounded by ghosts at Christmas – then teams up with Christie to question the guests while Donna looks about with a magnifying glass from the Doctor’s endless pockets.

Each of the guests has an extraordinary story of where they were at the time of the murder, but there are no alibis. Each is hiding something except for the reverend. The Doctor asks Christie about the paper she picked up from the murder scene, and together they discover the word “maiden” on it.

Upstairs, Donna finds an empty bedroom. Greeves informs her that Lady Eddison has kept the room shut for the last 40 years, after spending six months in it recovering from malaria following her return from India. Inside, Donna finds nothing but a teddy bear and a giant murderous wasp. She attacks it with the magnifying glass and the power of the sun, and the Doctor and Christie arrive to sample the stinger that it left behind.

Miss Chandrakala is murdered by a falling statue. When the Doctor, Donna, and Christie find her, the wasp attacks, but the Doctor cannot find it after it flies off. The guests convene in a sitting room and talk through the events with Christie, but she’s discouraged because she doesn’t know what’s going on. All they have is the clue in Miss Chandrakala’s dying words: “The poor little child…”

Later, she confides in Donna that she feels like the events are mocking her. They commune over lost loves before finding a box in a crushed flowerbed. The Doctor, Donna, and Christie examine the as Greeves brings refreshments, but the Doctor soon realizes that he’s been poisoned by cyanide. A short comedic scene later – complete with ginger beer, walnuts, anchovies, and a shocking kiss from Donna – and the Doctor has detoxed.

The cast gather for dinner, which the Doctor has laced with pepper to test each guest to see if they are the wasp. The lights go out, the wasp appears, and Roger is dead after being stung in the back. Greeves is cleared by being in plain sight during the murder, but Lady Eddison’s necklace (the “Firestone”, a priceless gem from India) is missing.

The Doctor encourages Christie to solve it, knowing that she has the ability. Christie works her way around the assembled guests, uncovering Robina as a thief known as the Unicorn. The Firestone is recovered, but the murderer is still at large.

Christie further (accidentally) uncovers that Colonel Curbishley has been faking his wheelchair-bound disability in order to keep his wife’s affections. She also discovers that Lady Eddison came home from India pregnant, with Miss Chandrakala as a maid and confidante, and had to seclude herself to hide the scandal and the shame.

But, as the Doctor discovers, her tryst was with a vespiform visitor from another world. The alien gave her the jewel and a child, who was taken to an orphanage, and whose identity was uncovered by Professor Peach since “maiden” led to “maiden name”. The Doctor works his way around the room, landing on the reverend who had recently thwarted a robbery in his church. He also notes that the reverend is forty years old, and pieces together that Golightly’s anger broke the genetic lock that kept him in human form. Golightly activated, and the jewel – a telepathic recorder – connected mother and son, including the works of Agatha Christie since Lady Eddison was reading her favorite, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

The reverend transforms in rage, and Christie leads the wasp away with the Firestone, believing that this whole thing is her fault. The Doctor and Donna pursue Christie to the nearby lake, realizing that the two are linked. Donna seizes the jewel and throws it into the lake. The wasp follows and drowns, and while the Doctor is aghast at its death, the three of them are relieved that the mystery is solved. Before the wasp dies, it releases Christie from the psychic connection, and the Doctor puts history in motion: The events of the night are erased from her mind and the mystery writer turns up ten days later Harrogate Hotel courtesy of the TARDIS.

The Doctor consoles Donna about the adventure, showing her that Agatha Christie’s memory lived on. She got married again, wrote about Miss Marple and Murder on the Orient Express (which Donna had mentioned during the night’s events), and even published a story about a giant wasp. The last one – Death in the Clouds, filed away after Cybermen and Carrionites – was reprinted in the year five billion, making Agatha Christie the most popular writer of all time.

Donna reminds the Doctor that Christie never thought that her work was any good. He replies simply:

Well, no one knows how they’re going to be remembered. All we can do is hope for the best. Maybe that’s what kept her writing. Same thing keeps me traveling.

With that, they fly onwards to the next adventure.

 

This story was a rapid-fire mystery, and the power of the acting mixed with the pace kept it entertaining throughout. Fenella Woolgar’s turn as Agatha Christie was well done, mixing her intellect and modesty about her craft with the pain and tragedy of her husband’s betrayal. I particularly liked Christie’s gradual awakening to the Doctor’s alien nature, best evidenced in the scenes where they interrogated the guests using each other’s strengths to unravel the mystery.

Combine that with the chemistry between Tennant and Tate bulldozing through a game of Clue and you have a rather entertaining (if not bloody) dinner party.

The final words that the Doctor uses to summarize his ethos remind me of quote from a recent episode of Outlander. While discussing last words and legacies, a certain character (whose identity I’ll not spoil for fans who haven’t seen the episode yet) said this:

I’d say let history forget my name, so long as my words and my deeds are remembered by those I love.

It doesn’t matter if anyone remembers my name so long as my life made an impact on the people who meant something to me.

Life lessons from the Doctor. Words and ideas to live by.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Silence in the Library and Doctor Who: Forest of the Dead

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #199: The Doctor’s Daughter

Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Daughter
(1 episode, s04e06, 2008)

 

It’s time to meet an impossible child.

The TARDIS topples wildly through time and space, tossing Martha and Donna about as the hand in a jar bubbles madly. As Donna learns about the hand’s origins and the time capsule comes to a halt, the team takes a look around before being captured. The Doctor’s hand is shoved into a device where a sample is taken.

His DNA is processed into a clone: The Doctor has a new daughter.

The humans are quickly overrun by an enemy called the Hath. The Doctor’s daughter blows up the tunnel, stopping the Hath advance, but not before Martha is taken by the beings. Donna chastises the Doctor’s daughter and the Doctor tries to find a way through, but the soldiers stop him at gunpoint. They’re headed to see the commander.

On the other side of the rubble, Martha offers medical assistance to a wounded Hath, gaining their trust through her compassion.

Donna and the Doctor find out that the daughter is pre-programmed with military knowledge and tactics, something that the Doctor calls a generated anomaly. From that, Donna offers the woman a name: Jenny.

Jenny likes it.

They arrive at a makeshift barracks, previously a theater, and meet General Cobb. Freedom of movement is restricted, but the Doctor wants to know more about the Hath. The general gives the team a quick briefing, although most of the history behind the place they call Messaline is lost to time. The general seeks something called the Source, a creation myth of sorts driven by a goddess. The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to uncover a hidden layer of tunnels on the map, and the general gives his troops marching orders to explore them. The Doctor, meanwhile, is imprisoned with Donna and Jenny for his pacifism.

Meanwhile, Martha is taken to the Hath headquarters. She analyzes the same map and, when the new layers emerge, fears that she has started a war.

In their cell, the Doctor schemes while Jenny finds similarity in his every move to that of a soldier. He alters Donna’s phone to contact Martha, and they figure out that both armies are marching on the same location.

It’s a massacre in the making at the temple of the Source.

The Doctor refuses to allow Jenny to travel with them, but Donna uses a stethoscope to show the Doctor that Jenny is his progeny, a potential Time Lord though the Doctor refuses to admit it. As the Doctor’s theme runs under his sadness, he talks of the war, his part in it, and the destruction of his people. Jenny says that his situation then is pretty much their situation now.

Martha plots a path over the treacherous, radiation filled surface as Jenny wiles her way out of the cell. The Doctor’s team sneaks through the human base and Martha emerges on the desolate surface. As they move, Donna takes note of the random numbers scattered around.

The Doctor, Donna, and Jenny come to a tunnel filled with deadly lasers. The Doctor disables the laser net as Jenny considers her programming, finally using her rifle as a distraction. Unfortunately, the lasers turn back on, so Jenny tumbles her way through without a burn.

On the surface, Martha falls into a pit and is saved by her Hath companion’s sacrifice. The act devastates her, but she presses on to a large tower in the darkness.

Talking while walking, the Doctor offers to take Jenny on the TARDIS with him. Overjoyed, Jenny rushes ahead and the Doctor talks to Donna about his history as a father and the pain of losing all it. Donna believes that Jenny will help him heal, but the Doctor is skeptical.

Martha and the Doctor’s team enter the tower at the same time, discovering that it is a spaceship. Strangely, it’s still powered and functional. The Hath and the humans are not far behind. The Doctor finds a mission log that explains how the commander died of sickness and the crew divided into factions.

Donna discovers that the numbers are dates and that the war is only seven days old. Of course, the cloning machines can create twenty generations in a day. Martha reunites with the travelers and they continue their search for the source, coming across a giant arboretum along the way.

At the center is the Source, the matrix that terraforms planets.

The warring factions arrive simultaneously, and the Doctor offers them peace with the promise of a new world. He declares the war over with a crash of the terraforming matrix, and the factions lay down their arms in reply.

Unfortunately, Cobb wants none of it and takes aim on the Doctor. Jenny steps in front of the bullet to save her father, dying in his arms.

He begs his companions to wait for her regeneration, but Martha warns that it won’t come. Once again, he is the last of the Time Lords.

The Doctor’s fury rises as he picks up the general’s gun and holds it to the man’s head before shaking it, angrily telling Cobb that he never would. He begs the factions to make that their driving force: A society where a man never would.

The planet terraforms around them as the new civilization memorializes Jenny. She was an endless paradox, one that the TARDIS brought the Doctor to meet only to first create. The travelers return to Earth and Martha bids her friends farewell. Donna, on the other hand, wants to travel with the Doctor forever.

Back on Messaline, Jenny exhales with a golden-green energy – regeneration or the Source? – before waking up, taking a ship, and blasting into the sky.

She has lots of running to do.

 

There are a lot of things to love here, and those elements keep this otherwise by-the-numbers run-and-gun plot from falling into the just average pile. The subtle use of the TARDIS translation circuits as Martha drove her side of the plot was a nice narrative touch. I also loved that Donna had to teach the Doctor to accept his daughter as more than an anomaly, helping him to heal and declaratively find something to live for. After all, there’s always something to live for.

The fun part was seeing Jenny’s evolution as her nature overrode her programming (can we call it her nurture?).  We don’t definitively know if the physical Time Lord traits carried over or not since Jenny’s resurrection wasn’t explicitly a regeneration – remember that not all Gallifreyans are granted regenerations – but if we consider recent events in Doctor Who lore, she might have had the power regardless.

I do love how this show keeps us guessing!

Finally, the Doctor’s adamance about warfare and destruction gave birth to this brilliant retort:

You need to get yourself a better dictionary. When you do, look up genocide. There’ll be a little picture of me there and the caption will read, “Over my dead body!”

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Unicorn and the Wasp

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #198: The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky

Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem
Doctor Who: The Poison Sky
(2 episodes, s04e04-e05, 2008)

 

The Undefeated meets his match on Earth.

 

The Sontaran Strategem

Reporter Jo Nakashima is physically thrown out of Rattigan Academy by Luke Rattigan and his students. Jo threatens to find someone who will listen to her about the threat posed by the ATMOS system, which is installed on her car and others around the globe. As she drives to UNIT Headquarters, Rattigan recommends to a hidden boss that she be terminated.

Sure enough, the ATMOS system leads Jo to her final destination: A body of water where her sealed car drives itself into the depths.

Meanwhile, in the depths of space and time, Donna is driving the TARDIS and trying to avoid putting a dent in the 1980s. The Doctor receives a call on a special mobile phone only to find Martha Jones on the other end. She’s bringing him back to Earth.

The TARDIS materializes in an alley near Martha. The Doctor and Martha embrace each other, check in on her family, and discuss her engagement to Tom Milligan. Martha and Donna hit things off right away, and Marth introduces the Doctor to her new job at UNIT as they storm an ATMOS during Operation Blue Sky.

A familiar three-fingered figure watches the festivities from a remote location.

Martha takes the Doctor and Donna to meet her boss, Colonel Mace. Mace salutes the Doctor, impressed by what he’s read in the files of the Time Lord’s service in the ’70s – or was it the ’80s? – but Donna likens it to how the Americans run the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Mace tells the Doctor of fifty-two simultaneous deaths worldwide, all linked to ATMOS. Since UNIT can’t figure out how the system killed so many people at once, they called in their expert scientific adviser on the hunch that it might be alien tech.

In the depths of the factory, two UNIT soldiers find themselves in a restricted area. When they investigate further, they find mysterious technology and a humanoid creature in a crypt-like box. The soldiers investigate the embryonic form before being introduced to a Sontaran.

The cordolaine signal in the room renders their weapons useless. The soldiers are disabled and sent for processing. Their assailant is General Staal of the Tenth Sontaran Battle Fleet, better known as Staal the Undefeated.

Well, there’s a bit of foreshadowing if I ever saw one.

The Doctor takes the ATMOS system apart and investigates it piece by piece, impressed by Martha Jones but warning off the UNIT troops and their guns. Donna finds the HR files on ATMOS personnel sick leave, or rather specifically how none of the workers ever take time off.

While Donna and Martha look into the personnel issues, the Doctor learns about Luke Rattigan, the child prodigy developer of the ATMOS system. Martha talks to Donna about family matters and how she needs to be careful with them and her travels.

The Doctor gears up to visit Luke Rattigan, but Donna wants to go visit her family. The Doctor misunderstands, thinking that she’s leaving him forever, giving her a good laugh. As they depart with a UNIT escort named Ross Jenkins, Martha examines a factory worker named Trepper with strange results.

The UNIT soldiers, Privates Harris and Gray, are hypnotically programmed to further the Sontaran stratagem before Staal returns to his ship via transmat. Harris and Gray watch the Doctor and Donna leave before escorting Martha to what she thinks is a meeting with Colonel Mace. Instead, she’s locked away in one of the Sontaran cloning vats.

Donna returns home, thinking over her adventures so far with the Doctor, before sharing an embrace with her grandfather Wilfred. Donna tells him all about the Doctor, but she refuses to tell her mother about the experiences.

The Doctor and Jenkins arrive at Rattigan Academy, scoffing at ATMOS the whole way there. Rattigan gives them a tour, and while the Doctor is impressed at the science lab he is skeptical about the technology’s origins. He recognizes that it’s been a long time since anyone has told the boy no, but he also recognizes the teleport pod in Rattigan’s office. It takes him to the Sontaran ship and back, and he’s followed by Staal before he disables the teleport with a wave of the sonic.

Jenkins refers to the general as a baked potato in armor, but the Doctor displays the Sontaran’s weakness by ricocheting a racquetball into the armor’s probic vent. While the Doctor and Jenkins run, Skaal and Rattigan repair the teleport and return to the ship. Skaal orders Commander Skorr to begin the invasion of Earth, which involves visiting Martha Jones and the cloning vat.

Sure enough, he’s breeding a clone of Martha.

Rattigan suggests using ATMOS to kill the Doctor, and Skaal links the name to the survivor of the Last Great Time War. He relishes the thought of killing the last of the Time Lords. Sure enough, the UNIT jeep drives itself to the river, but the Doctor uses a logic trap to stop the jeep and blow the UNIT in a not-so-spectacular pop of sparks.

The Doctor finds himself on Donna’s doorstep. As he examines Donna’s car, he meets Wilf for the second time (but the first time proper) and tries to warn Martha, unknowingly calling the clone instead. Martha’s mother, Sylvia, recognizes the Doctor from Donna’s wedding as he unlocks the ATMOS unit. This triggers a Sontaran battle group to head for Earth as the travelers figure out that ATMOS means to poison everyone on Earth.

Wilf ends up locked in the car as every ATMOS vehicle starts gassing the planet. The car is sonic-proof, the planet is choking, and the Sontarans are chanting.

It’s a perfect place for a cliffhanger.

 

The Poison Sky

Sylvia saves Wilf using a totally low-tech option: An axe through the windshield!

UNIT is on high alert, unaware of the mole in their midst as the Martha clone accesses the NATO defense system. She transmits the information to the Sontaran ship as Donna rushes off with the Doctor and Jenkins to fight the Sontarans.

The travelers return to the UNIT mobile headquarters, and the Doctor hands Donna a key to the TARDIS as he rushes off. Donna finds fresh air in the time ship, the Doctor beckons Clone-Martha to follow him, and the mole dispatches Harris and Gray to steal the TARDIS and transmat it to the Sontaran ship.

Donna figures out her predicament as Rattigan returns to Earth and the Doctor figures out that his TARDIS has been stolen. He laments being trapped on Earth (again) before returning to the command center. The UNIT forces find the Sontaran ship and the Doctor makes contact with them. Donna rushes to the monitor, just missing Rose, to catch the transmission as the Doctor handles the Sontarans and ruffles their feathers about the war with the Rutan Host. He also sends a secret message to Donna, asking her to contact him, but she doesn’t know how yet.

She calls home instead to check in with her family. She promises that the Doctor will save them. The Doctor has his own problems as he puzzles over the gas and UNIT spools up the world’s nuclear arsenal to attack the Sontarans. Even though the nuclear missiles wouldn’t even dent the ship, they stop the launch, and the Doctor begins putting the pieces together about Martha’s identity.

The Sontarans storm the factory, killing the UNIT troops in their path including Ross Jenkins. The Doctor is downright furious and Colonel Mace finally starts listening to him. The Time Lord wishes that the Brigadier was there, but Mace states that Sir Alistair is stranded in Peru.

He’s been knighted! Good for him.

Rattigan outlines his plan to take his students off-world and restart the human race. His students are unimpressed with his plan, including his mating program, and they abandon him. He reports back to Staal and finds out that the students would have been sacrificed. Rattigan’s plan was a Sontaran ruse, and the boy returns to Earth to avoid being shot down. The Sontarans lock down the teleport system.

The Doctor borrows a mobile phone and calls Donna, calling her his secret weapon and asking her to go into the ship and re-open the teleport link. He walks her through how to disable a Sontaran with the probic vent and open the ship’s doors before he’s interrupted by Mace’s battle plan.

The Doctor heads outside with a gas mask – “Are you my mummy?” – while ignoring Mace’s briefing. He’s sure that it will not work, after all, but still marvels at the Valiant‘s arrival. After all, he remembers it from a year that never happened even if no one else does.

The UNIT “helicarrier” clears the air with its powerful turbines before attacking the factory. The UNIT troops storm the facility as the Doctor and Clone-Martha follow the signals to the cloning facility. He finds Martha’s body and reveals that he’s known about Clone-Martha all along by her off smell. He removes the memory transfer device from Martha’s head, which disables the clone, and opens communications with Donna again.

While Martha consoles her clone, the Doctor with Donna to fix the teleport. The clone tells Martha that the gas is clone feed, set to convert the planet to a massive cloning facility. Remarking on Martha’s soul brimming with life as the character’s theme takes on a military air, the clone dies.

The Doctor saves Donna by teleporting her and the TARDIS back to Earth. He then teleports Donna and Marth to the Rattigan Academy, throws Luke’s gun from his hands, and uses the boy’s colonization tech to build a device to ignite the planet’s atmosphere.

As the atmosphere burns, the Doctor begs for the plan to work. It’s quite the parallel as his planet burned to death, but the Earth burns to life. The air is clean again and the world rejoices, but the Doctor’s job is not done.

The Sontarans level their weapons on the planet below. The Doctor runs to the teleport and bids farewell to his companions, planning to sacrifice himself to end the Sontaran threat. He heads to the ship to give them a choice: Leave or be destroyed.

The Sontarans refuse to yield. Staal is eager to end the Time Lords and humans once and for all. But the humans get the last laugh as Rattigan swaps places with the Doctor, yells “Sontar-HA!”, and presses the button.

The Sontaran ship is destroyed and the threat is done. Donna heads home to share the moment with her family, and Wilf tearfully tells her to go see the stars. She kisses him goodbye and returns to the TARDIS. Martha is there to say goodbye, but before she can leave the TARDIS slams the doors and takes flight on her own accord.

As the TARDIS rocks, the Doctor’s hand bubbles away happily in the jar.

 

As I write this in the year 2020, Doctor Who fandom is beset by complaints that the show has become too political and too obsessed with “social justice”. One thing that I’ve learned over the course of the Timestamps Project is just how much Doctor Who has been political and socially conscious since 1963:

  • Unchecked capitalism’s effect on ecology (Planet of the Giants);
  • The rights of indigenous peoples (any story with the Silurians and/or Sea Devils, starting with Doctor Who and the Silurians);
  • The debate over nuclear energy (most notably Inferno) and nuclear war (starting with The Daleks);
  • Peace and war (permeates the entire series, once again starting with The Daleks, but especially The War Games and The Caves of Androzani);
  • The role of the military and the threat of the military-industrial complex (any episode with UNIT, particularly Robot and Battlefield, and while we’re at it, anything to do with the Sontarans);
  • Environmentalism, destruction of resources, and ignoring scientific warnings for personal gain (most notably, Inferno and The Green Death);
  • Membership of the European Economic Community and labor strikes (The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon);
  • Sexism and feminism (particularly Jo Grant’s and Sarah Jane Smith’s tenures);
  • Genocide (most notably, Genesis of the Daleks);
  • The responsibility and power of the media (The Long Game);
  • Taxation (The Sun Makers);
  • Margaret Thatcher (The Happiness Patrol and The Christmas Invasion);
  • LGBTQIA+ representation (the revival era gets quite a few props for this, but (despite the classic era’s hands-off approach to the topic) give some deep consideration to the queer-coding with The Rani, Ace and Kara in SurvivalThe Happiness Patrol, and The Curse of Fenric)
  • Racism and xenophobia (the entire series as the Doctor relates to every alien species he/she encounters);
  • The threat of technology overtaking humanity (any episode featuring the Cybermen);
  • Nazis, including intolerance, xenophobia, genocide, racial purity, racial supremacy, totalitarianism, and everything that evil regime stands for (literally any episode featuring the Daleks).

And that, without the slightest hint of hyperbole, is just barely scratching the surface. After all, we just tackled assimilation and slavery last week. Let’s face facts: The Doctor has been what is disparagingly known today as a “social justice warrior” since 1963.

And here we are again, tackling ozone depletion, air pollution, and technology to reduce both. Tangentially, this story also hits on carbon emissions and the environment, as well as the social justice implications of detainees and unchecked military power. I mean, Donna’s mention of the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay is square on the nose.

Doctor Who has been politically and socially conscious from day one. The show was even co-created and helmed by a woman, and directed from day one by a gay man of Indian descent. Come for the monsters, stay for the moral at the end of fable.

[Inadvertently (but equally) right in the snout is my watching this end-of-the-world pandemic during the COVID-19 crisis, but I digress.]

 

On top of all of that – and by the gods, it is a lot to digest – I deeply enjoyed the return of both Martha Jones and the Sontarans. Freema Agyeman is a delight, and the Sontarans are a force of nature. Add to that the emotional depths of Donna’s relationship with Wilf – one of my absolute favorite family members and the embodiment of every child who’s ever looked at the stars and wanted to fly among them – and this story just rocks.

 

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Doctor’s Daughter

 

 

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.

 

 

Timestamp #197: Planet of the Ood

Doctor Who: Planet of the Ood
(1 episode, s04e03, 2008)

 

The revolution is at hand.

Mr. Bartle, the executive of an organization that is selling Ood, reviews a commercial for his operation and is then electrocuted by his personal Ood servant Delta Fifty. The Ood’s eyes glow red as he takes joy in the act.

The TARDIS dances as the Doctor randomizes their destination. When they touch down, Donna goes from excited to chilled as she opens the door into an arctic landscape and blowing snow. The Doctor is pleased to finally see snow (as opposed to the last three snow events), but his joy is interrupted as Donna steps back inside the time capsule and retrieves a parka.

An incoming ship, which Donna compares to a Ferrari against the Doctor’s “box”, contains Klineman Halpen. The arrogant man is set to replace Bartle, and his briefing includes a discussion on “red eye” syndrome from Dr. Ryder and a PR rep named Solana. They also discuss Delta Fifty, who has since gone to the snowy plains and died after being shot. The Doctor and Donna are there when he dies, having followed the Ood’s telepathic song. Delta Fifty’s last words were “The circle must be broken,” which accompanied the red eyes and his last breath.

The Doctor tells Donna about his first encounter with the Ood before they crest a hill and spot the facility in the distance. They join a buyers tour, using the psychic paper as their credentials, as another Ood succumbs to red eye and is nearly executed before displaying new symptoms. Halpen orders Commander Kess to take the Ood to Dr. Ryder.

As the Doctor takes stock of where they are – even mentioning the close relationship between the Ood and the Sensorites – Donna muses about being in the year 4126 and how humanity has survived global warming and the disappearance of the bees. Donna interviews one of the Ood and it mentions the circle before being taken away. The Doctor and Donna decide to abandon the tour and venture on their own.

Halpen examines the renegade Ood and orders an autopsy. The troops comply by shooting it.

The Doctor and Donna watch as the Ood are driven like cattle. They note Halpen’s trek across the compound to Warehouse 15. Inside the warehouse are an awful stench and a red glow emanating from an unknown source. Solana reports that the Doctor and Donna do not belong at the compound and Halpen heads back to his office.

The Doctor and Donna enter a different warehouse and find containers packed with Ood. They ask about the circle and the Ood reply in unison that it must be broken so that they can sing. Donna asks about the Ood being treated as slaves and the Doctor muses that they still exist in Donna’s time. After all, who made her clothes?

The guards find Donna and lock her in a container with three Ood. Meanwhile, Commander Kess plays the crane game with the Doctor before Solana intercedes. When Donna is released, the three Ood attack. As the Doctor, Donna, and Solana run, the rest of the Ood join in. The Doctor demands that Solana help them stop the red eye, but she betrays their position instead.

Kess reports to Halpen – who has been going bald and drinking “hair tonic” this entire time – and the boss orders them gassed.

The Doctor and Donna find the Ood conversion facility, the place where the natural-born Ood are converted into servants. They find a cage with a small group of these Ood, and the Doctor’s mind is flooded with the Ood’s Song of Captivity. He uses his telepathy to share it with Donna, opening her eyes to their plight, before opening the cage and joining them. One Ood shows the Doctor and Donna a brain in his hands, and they discover that conversion means cutting out their brains and replacing it with the translation ball.

The Doctor and Donna are apprehended soon after and taken before Halpen. The Doctor is furious to find out that the entire lot has been ordered to die. While the execution countdown begins, every Ood in the facility shares the song and attacks the assembled buyers. The Ood swarm the facility as the humans fight back. Commander Kess is trapped in the gas chamber as the countdown ticks to zero.

Halpen and Ryder try to escape, followed by Halpen’s Ood, Sigma, who hasn’t turned. They leave the Doctor and Donna to the rampaging Ood, but they are saved as the natural-born Ood telepathically tell the revolutionaries that Doctor-Donna-friend. The travelers run through the battlefield and find Ood Sigma as Ryder and Halpen enter Warehouse 15.

Halpen intends to destroy the mysterious red light with explosives, knowing that if it dies, all the Ood die. The Doctor and Donna arrive and discover that the red light is emanating from a giant brain, surrounded by a circular telepathic dampening field. When the Ood hindbrain is removed, the external brain assists with its continuous song.

The reason that the Ood have turned is due to Ryder’s association with a pro-Ood activist group. Ryder turned the circle down as low as possible. Halpen executes Ryder by tossing his over the side. Halpen turns a gun on the Doctor and Donna, but Sigma reveals that he has been poisoning Halpen over time with an Ood graft suspension. In short, it has transformed Halpen into an Ood, and Sigma says that he will now take care of the Halpen-Ood.

The Doctor disables the telepathic dampener and unleashes the song. The Ood end their rampage and join into the song that resonates across the galaxy. All of the Ood are returning to the Ood Sphere to be led by Ood Sigma.

As Sigma sees the travelers off, he remarks that Doctor-Donna will never be forgotten in the songs of the Ood, even though the Doctor’s song is soon to end.

 

This is a solid story about the revolution and the emancipation of slaves. The common thread of the song is a beautiful addition, linking the proliferation of song to the absolute freedom of the Ood. It’s also a nice bit of social commentary about modern-day slavery in sweatshops and poor working conditions.

Besides the nod to The Sensorites, we also get ties to Time and the Rani (use of a giant brain by the antagonists), Torchwood‘s Meat and Reset (exploitation of alien life for human benefit), and the potential mass extermination of a group of alien beings (Doctor Who and the Silurians).

The downside is the plethora of gunplay and violence, but we do get more threads laid for the future in a story that develops Donna, the Doctor, and their evolving relationship as they careen through time and space.

 

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Sontaran Stratagem and Doctor Who: The Poison Sky

 

 

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.