Debrief: Dragon Con 2020

Debrief: Dragon Con 2020
September 3 through September 7, 2020

 

 

Dragon Con 2020 is done.

Obviously, it wasn’t the situation that we wanted, but the Dragon Con social media team did phenomenal work to develop a platform that could deliver the convention experience at home. Alongside the convention staff, several track directors and their respective staffs were fantastic in both building content and stoking the fires throughout the weekend.

This convention gave me a chance to get comfortable with video content at home, and it gives me plenty of ideas going forward to develop ideas and content going forward. It was also good to touch base with my geek family, and even though it wasn’t in person, it still offered me the chance to catch up with them in an era when so many of us are isolated.

 

Thursday

Typically, Thursday would include breakfast at the local Waffle House, picking up our badges for the weekend, and introducing hundreds of newcomers to the convention via the Dragon Con Newbies events.

Instead, the convention got started here with a Zoom recording with the irregulars from the American Sci-Fi Classics Track. In what was scheduled as a one-hour event, we sat much longer and swapped tales of our various shenanigans and favorite memories from the convention.

It was a good way to catch up and almost feel home again.

 

Friday

Friday started with some browsing of the Dragon Con Goes Virtual channels before settling in for a chat about the second season of Lost in Space on the American SF & Fantasy Media Track.

The panel was moderated by my long-time friend Lindy Keelan, who I met during our time at The Scapecast. We were joined by Kevin Eldridge of The Flopcast and Nathan Laws of The 42Cast, and the panel was a great discussion about the season, the series so far, and what might be ahead for the family Robinson.

The next panel for Friday was one that I recorded before the convention with the BritTrack and the crew of Earth Station Who. Mike Faber, Mike Gordon, Mary Ogle, and I joined Caro and Rob to talk about where to get started in Doctor Who.

It’s a large topic to tackle, especially since the franchise has been around since 1963 in so many various ways, but this was a fun and informative discussion and I hope that newcomers and long-time fans find it useful.

 

Saturday

Saturday started with a bit more Dragon channel surfing and a trip at 88 miles per hour with the 35th anniversary of Back to the Future.

I teamed up with Michael Williams, Shaun Rosado, James Palmer, and Joe and Gary to talk about this film, its franchise, and the legacy that they still maintain in science fiction. It got deep at times and was really fun.

Later that night, I popped back into the Classics Track for a look back at the Marvel films that preceded the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Michael Bailey, Jessa Phillips, and Keith R.A. DeCandido also joined the party as we tried to cover the history of Blade to Iron Man in one hour. We needed so much more time.

 

Sunday

Sunday brought me back to my podcasting roots on the Digital Media Track with a topic that Mike Faber and I have been talking to people about for quite a while: How to get started in digital media.

The video is available on the track’s Twitch channel, and (with Mike and myself) included Matthew Malis, Sean Weiland, Tyra Burton, and podcasting newbie Channing Sherman. The goal now is to get Channing to record a podcast. Because he really needs to get his content and character on the airwaves.

 

Monday

Monday brought three more events to round out the weekend.

First up was a pre-recorded panel about Doctor Who that is similar in style to the classic Roll-a-Panel.

With Sue Kisenwether, Jm Tuffley, L. Jagi Lamplighter, Keith DeCandido, and me, Caro spun the wheel and let fortune drive the discussion through the universe of Doctor Who.

The second panel was a discussion on mathematics in science fiction.

I joined Darin Bush, Deanna Toxopeus, Sue Kisenwether, Gary, and Joe on a journey through how our favorite genre uses and abuses one of our favorite technical topics. This is another one that could easily spawn multiple discussion panels.

Finally, the convention came to a close for me with the Dragon Con Newbies team and a quick discussion on Dragon Con TV about coming to the con in person next year.

I joined Kevin Bachelder, Kim McGibony, and Sue to cover some of the basics. We also invite anyone interested in Dragon Con to visit both the website and the Facebook group to get information from a group of helpful convention veterans.

 

General Notes

As I mentioned before, the biggest benefit to going virtual was that we could have some semblance of a convention this year. That’s key in a time where we’re all siloed and unable to physically convene in celebration of our favorite works.

The other benefit that really stands out is two-fold and focused on the fan tracks: First is ingenuity and creativity, and second is continued access.

Each of the fan tracks had to decide how to best present themselves this year to a virtual audience, and many of the ones that I was able to follow this year did so through widely available platforms like YouTube. Using Zoom or Streamyard, these tracks were able to bring experts and fans together and stream their panels to the world. Those panels remain available for as long as YouTube stores them, and they remain an example of both creative problem solving and what the track has to offer for newcomers.

It’s a win-win.

That path was forged by Joe and Gary with the “quarantine panels” that they have done for months leading into this event. Search this site for “Quarantine Con” or visit their YouTube channel and see. In my estimation, those two are the MVPs of this event.

I’m not just trumpeting that to, as Michael Bailey would say, “wax their car”. It’s absolutely true.

 

And that brings me to the things that would improve this system going forward.

First, there was too much divergence on where content was available, and that was confusing for the man-on-the-street who just happened to wander in. My perspective on this comes from the fact that I have a Roku device, an XBox, and a television that can run apps. That means that I can stream YouTube and Vimeo from my couch.

I could literally attend Dragon Con this year from my couch.

The convention’s core programming (Dragon Con Main, Dragon Con Fan Tracks, and Dragon Con Classics) was available in one location (dragoncon.tv/virtual). Those streams were hosted on Vimeo and mirrored to a Roku app, but that app was broken for the first day and did not transmit the Fan Track channel.

If it hadn’t been for the broken code, the Roku app would have been perfect for that intent. But, it also limited who could simply switch on and watch since not everyone has a Roku. Ideally, going forward, a Dragon Con streaming app should be available on multiple platforms for more universal access.

A contributing factor was each track’s individual programming. Some tracks used YouTube, which is universally available for anyone who can click a link. Others were limited to Facebook and Twitch, which are fine for attendees who were on their computers or could use one of the streaming sticks (Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick, etc) to mirror the computer to the television. But Facebook and Twitch are not available on the Roku, and that was a deciding factor in which Dragon Con Goes Virtual content I chose to partake from.

An argument of “well, you wouldn’t have watched anyway” won’t fly here because I have watched several other panels this year that I usually don’t have the time to watch at a live event. One that stands out is the Star Wars droid-building presentation. Others were puppetry panels, including interviews and a Puppetry 101 discussion, and Michael Bailey’s presentation on Green Lantern and The Flash.

I also have a long list that I want to see because they’re now stored on YouTube for the foreseeable future.

An easy solution to that hurdle is to require every streaming track to have a YouTube channel. It’s not that far of a reach since everyone was using Streamyard and Zoom to broadcast, and those tools have the built-in capability to stream to YouTube.

If a track director has a question on how to do it, we obviously have several experts available to share that knowledge. I’m sure that we also have experts who could tie those YouTube videos into the apps (like the Roku one) to make one-stop-shops for people.

The second big stumbling block was the schedule. The main schedule for the three Dragon Con TV channels was available in the Quick Start Guide and on the Eventeny site for the con. The fan tracks, on the other hand, were buried behind a link hidden in plain sight in the Quick Start Guide. That schedule was a Google Sheets file which was not formatted well.

The schedule should have been more accessible and legible. So much content for this con was hard to find because of this stumbling block.

And, again, ingenuity and ease of access, I’ll point to an example: Kelley at the American SF & Fantasy Media track set up all of her panels ahead of time. She sent emails in advance to the panelists with their links to join the Streamyard recording, and she set up each YouTube livestream in advance so anyone subscribed to her track’s channel would have a ready list of what was going on at what time.

All anyone had to do was select the video and wait for it to start. Joe and Gary did the same on Classics, but I noticed it first from Kelley.

Both of these issues popped up while the con was in motion. Fixing them going forward would greatly improve the experience in the future.

 

Wait. Going forward?

Yes. Because there is some serious potential here for “off-season” programming and contingency planning for the future. Each of these tracks can literally produce panels at any time with this infrastructure, thereby keeping the interest alive throughout the year outside of Facebook groups and localized meetups.

Joe and Gary have a huge library of material to choose from – Dragon Con defines a sci-fi classic as any genre property over ten years old that is not taken by another track – and they have proven that there is interest beyond the scope of their mandate with panels on representation, social issues, and more.

Classics, SF & Fantasy Media, BritTrack, Digital Media, Star Wars, TrekTrack, Space, Science, Skeptics, Animation, Puppetry, the literature tracks… that’s just off the top of my head. All of these tracks have an evergreen presence because there’s so much to talk about. Doing panels year-round (even on a monthly basis) baits the hook for people who might want to come to contribute in person.

The potential is nearly endless.

 

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed Dragon Con Goes Virtual, and I applaud the teams that made it happen. This wasn’t an easy choice, I’m sure, but they did fantastic work under the circumstances.

My deepest gratitude goes out to the staff, the directors, the pros and guests, the volunteers, and the attendees for this event. As one of the local news stations reported, the programming was accessed over 600,000 times by fans from over 49 nations.

That’s not insignificant.

You’ve done good work, gang. Congratulations.

I’m looking forward to see you in person next year.

359 days to go until next Dragon Con.

 

Until then…

Dragon Con 2020: Gone Virtual

Dragon Con 2020
September 3 through September 7, 2020

 

Dragon Con!

It’s an annual tradition for me, but thanks to COVID-19, it’s not going to be in person. And, as someone who personally has risk factors for the infection and lives with people who have risk factors, I’m okay with that. It sucks, but it’s understandable.

Dragon Con is going virtual, including three official video channels – Main Programming, selected programming from the fan tracks, and a classics track of panels from past years – as well as copious amounts of fan-generated content from the various tracks.

And all of it is free. No badges, no memberships… just tune in and get a taste of what Dragon Con does every year.

 

This year will be my twelfth time attending and my fifth year as an attending professional. I have done some work already with pre-recorded content, and I’ll also be on some live panels as well.

The main schedule is available in the 2020 Quick Start Guide. The Quick Start Guide is the overall guide to the convention that is given to each attendee every year. It includes a link to the large scheduling spreadsheet of fan panels, which points you to the channels where that video content will be hosted.

 

Note: All Dragon Con schedules are tentative until the convention ends on Monday. Even then, things are a bit suspect. As things change before the convention, I’ll update this post.
Revision History:

    • Rev 0 – 03 Sep 2020: Initial post.
    • Rev 1 – 04 Sep 2020: Added Doctor Who and available videos for Friday
    • Rev 2 – 07 Sep 2020: Added available videos for the weekend
    • Rev 3 – 11 Sep 2020: Added the Thursday video

 

9:00p: Shenanigans and Tails of Dragon Con! (4 hours)
American Sci-Fi Classics
Streaming live on Facebook (Event)
It’s here! It’s here! 2020 tried to stop us, but it couldn’t as Dragon Con Goes Virtual! As always, the American Sci-Fi Classics Track starts off on Thursday, because why wait for Friday? To kick things off, Joe, Gary, and a gaggle of the Classic Track Irregulars gather to tell the untold tales of Dragon Cons past. Well, untold until now. Now they’ll be totally told. So get your virtual con badge, an over-priced slice of pizza, settle in for the silliness, and remember to let Streamyard have permission to use your name, so the panel can see your name on your comments!

 

12:00p: Lost in Space – Season 2 Revisited (1 hour)
American Science Fiction and Fantasy Media
Live on YouTube
Trials and tribulations finally bring the Jupiter Two and the Robinsons back to the Resolute only to deal with robot slavery, mutinies, and all the mixed up trouble that only ‘Dr. Smith’ could get into.

2:00p: Doctor Who: Where to Get Started with the Earth Station Who Podcast (1 hour)
BritTrack
Pre-recorded on YouTube
Earth Station Who Podcast joins the BritTrack to chat about where new fans can get started with the Classic Doctor Who Series, New Series, novels, comics, and audios!

 

2:30p: Back to the Future 35th Anniversary (1 hour)
American Sci-Fi Classics
Streaming live on Facebook
The Avengers were wrong! This movie is awesome, and scientifically accurate, of course.

8:30p: Pre-Dawn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (1 hour)
American Sci-Fi Classics
Streaming live on Facebook
We look at Blade, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and more.

 

3:00p: Getting Started With Digital Media: The Ups & Downs (1 hour)
Digital Media
Live on Twitch
This panel will help newcomers and veterans alike find the ins and outs of creating both audio and video podcasts, on multiple platforms.

Video available at Twitch.tv

 

10:00a: Doctor Who Potpourri (1 hour)
BritTrack
Pre-recorded on YouTube
Similar to “roll-a-panel,” Doctor Who panelists spin a wheel and get a topic with only five minutes to answer!

11:30a: Making Sci-Fi Add Up: Math in Classic Sci-Fi (1 hour)
American Sci-Fi Classics
Pre-recorded on Facebook
All slide rules must be peace bonded for this panel.

2:00p: Dragon Con 101 (1 hour)
Dragon Con Facebook and Instagram channels
First Dragon Con? Confused or overwhelmed? Savvy con attendees will share their tips and tricks for making your experience an awesome one.

 

Timestamp #206: Planet of the Dead

Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead
(Easter Special, 2009)

 

When stingrays attack!

At the International Gallery, a group of armed guards is hard at work protecting a golden goblet. They fire up a fancy security system as they lock up for the night, but the lasers around the perimeter don’t account for an assault from above. A masked figure Mission: Impossibles her way down, exchanges the artifact for a waving Maneki Neko, and runs out. Her accomplice is captured, so she boards a double-decker bus and bribes the driver to help her get away. The Doctor boards right after, sits beside her, and wishes her a happy Easter.

The Doctor muses about various Easters throughout time, including the original event, before a device that detects rhondium particles chirps in his pocket. As the bus traverses a tunnel and a passenger hears screaming voices, the bus leaves Earth and arrives in a vast desert.

The driver declares the bus immobile. True enough, because it’s a wreck. The thief, Christina de Souza, gets to know the Doctor as he analyzes the sand and doesn’t like what he tastes. The passengers blame him for their predicament, but he shows them the wormhole that they passed through. Unfortunately, the wormhole doesn’t allow them to pass through without the bus surrounding them. The driver tries to rush through, but he’s immediately reduced to a skeleton on the other side. The police on Earth immediately call for UNIT to assist.

Christina takes charge of the situation and facilitates introductions all around – Nathan, a young adult with slicked up hair; Barclay, about the same age and the one who confronted the Doctor about their situation; Angela Whittaker, an older blond woman; Louis, who goes by the nickname “Lou”; and his wife, Carmen – before handing the science bits to the Doctor. Carmen has low-level psychic abilities and can hear voices all around them. She also feels death coming.

The Doctor calms the passengers in order to focus them on surviving. He promises to get them all home. They set to work on preparing the bus, including the tools in Christina’s amazing backpack. She’s prepared for everything. While the passengers work on the bus, the Doctor and Christina scout the area. They verbally spar and spot a storm on the horizon. The Doctor borrows a mobile and rigs it to contact UNIT.

UNIT arrives and officer-in-charge Captain Erisa Magambo takes command of the tunnel. She takes the call from the Doctor and makes contact with UNIT’s scientific advisor, one Malcolm Taylor, who completely fanboys out before setting to analyzing the disturbance. The Doctor sends a picture of the storm back to Earth, which Christina says contains sparkling like metal. She also spots an insectile creature that takes them to its crashed ship by gunpoint.

The beings onboard identify themselves as the Tritovores and blame them for crashing their ship. When the Doctor explains that they’re in the same predicament, the Tritovores decide to trust him. In return, the Doctor restores their shipboard power and launches a probe. The sand planet is San Helios, located in the Scorpion Nebula, and the aliens had been on their way to trade with the inhabitants. Unfortunately, the city has been destroyed. All of it, including the 100 billion inhabitants, have been reduced to sand, and Carmen keeps hearing them die over and again.

Malcolm Taylor calls again with news that the wormhole is expanding. The Doctor also gets bad news from Nathan: The bus is out of fuel. Capping the unfortunate circumstances, the probe relays images of the storm. It is full of stingray-like creatures that stripped San Helios and have set their appetites on Earth.

The Doctor deduces that the stingrays, which are made of metal, travel fast enough to rip open the wormhole and travel from place to place. Christina, who is enamored by the Doctor and his alien nature, points the Time Lord to the Tritovores and their ship. The Doctor develops a plan to use the ship to move the bus. While the Doctor tries patching wires throughout the ship, Christina uses her rogue’s rig to dive into the shaft after a much-needed crystal.

While Christina retrieves the crystal, the Doctor muses about her nature (and similarities to Donna Noble) and the stolen goblet (the Cup of Athelstan) in her pack. The Doctor doesn’t approve of her thievery at first but admits that he stole his ship, the TARDIS, to begin his travels. As Christina retrieves the crystal, she awakens a stingray living in the ship’s ventilation system. She successfully evades it, but the rest start tearing apart the ship.

The Doctor and Christina run back to the bus with the storm in pursuit. When they get back, the Doctor orders everybody back to their seats as he discards the crystal and attaches the clamps surrounding it to the bus. He calls Malcolm, requesting a means to close the wormhole, but is stymied by the interface of the bus and crystal systems. They use the goblet, worth 18 million pounds, to bridge the technology. Destructively, to Christina’s chagrin.

On Earth, Captain Magambo orders Malcolm to close the wormhole to save Earth. In the desert, the Doctor gets the bus airborne with the anti-gravity clamps and rockets away from the stingrays. The bus returns home followed by three of the stingrays. Magambo orders her troops to open fire as Malcolm (with the Dcotor’s help) closes the portal.

The UNIT troops and their explosive solutions make short work of the three stingrays. Meanwhile, the Doctor sets the bus down at the tunnel’s exit and gets a kiss from Christina for his efforts. Malcolm meets the Doctor and fanboys all over the place while Christina is taken away. The Doctor recommends Nathan and Barclay for UNIT service and Magambo shows his the TARDIS, retrieved from the gardens at Buckingham Palace.

Christina asks the Doctor if she can travel with him, but he rejects her. She has to face the consequences of her actions and he’s not ready to lose another companion. Never again, in fact. While Christina is taken away, Carmen leaves him with some parting words: His song is ending, it is returning through the dark, and he will knock four times.

Carmen takes her leave and the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to free Christina. While she runs for the bus and flies away, the Doctor departs in the TARDIS.

 

This tale does wonders for the Doctor’s character development while providing an entertaining and riveting story. The revelation that he stole the TARDIS appears in the revival era for the first time – it had been previously mentioned in The War GamesFrontier in Space, and Logopolis – and does him well on the road to accepting Lady Christina. Of course, he still isn’t over Donna’s tragic departure, so there’s no way that she’s joining him on the TARDIS. Just like Mr. Copper in Voyage of the Damned, the Doctor rejected her.

Christina is a character that I wouldn’t mind returning to the show, particularly given her chemistry with the Doctor. A criminal and a member of the British aristocracy, she would be a fun addition to the show.

The revival era continues linking back to its heritage, this time with the K1 Robot, Quatermass, and UNIT’s general lack of luck with bullets against aliens.

This episode was a major milestone in the franchise, marking not only the 200th storyline but the first to be filmed for high definition. It was also the first to film in a Middle Eastern country.

Finally, the path is laid at the Doctor’s feet for his own demise. The end is coming.

 

Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”

 

Keeping in mind that the Timestamps Project is following the franchise chronologically at this point…

 

UP NEXT – Torchwood: Children of Earth – Day One

 

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 #205: The Next Doctor

Doctor Who: The Next Doctor
(Christmas Special, 2008)

 

The Doctor who wasn’t really the Doctor.

The TARDIS materializes under an archway in a snowstorm. The Doctor strides out with a smile on his face, happy to be in London for Christmas in 1851. His joy is interrupted by someone screaming “Doctor!”, and he finds a growling creature behind a door wearing a copper Cyberman mask, a frantic woman, and a man claiming to be the Doctor.

This other Doctor, armed with his own “sonic” screwdriver, tries to lasso the primitive assimilation as it runs up a wall. The Tenth Doctor grabs on and the pair finds themselves dragged along until companion Rosita cuts the rope with a hatchet. The Doctors laugh about their adventure while Rosita chides them. While she goes to check the traps, the Doctor rambles along, mistakenly believing that the other Doctor is a future regeneration. He soon figures out that the other Doctor has memory loss, something that happened just before the Cybermen arrived.

The Tenth Doctor adopts the John Smith alias as the other Doctor rushes off to a funeral.

The Cybermen, led by a new Cyber Leader and a human ally named Mercy Hartigan, review the Cybershade’s surveillance footage while they prepare for the rise of the Cyber King. These Cybermen are the Pete’s World variety, somehow left behind when the worlds merged.

The other Doctor and Rosita observe the funeral procession of Reverend Aubrey Fairchild before springing into action. Rosita heads to the “TARDIS” while the other Doctor investigates the house of the deceased. He’s joined by Mr. Smith, and he explains that the Cybermen presence is linked to a number of murders and child abductions across the city. The rash of crimes started with the death of a man named Jackson Lake and have led to the reverend’s demise by some advanced form of electrocution.

The pair find a pair of infostamps, one of which contains the history of London from 1066 to 1851. The other Doctor has a flashback to his “regeneration” and memory of another infostamp. They also uncover a Cyberman home invasion and have to run. While they flee, John Smith reveals himself as the real Doctor and the other Doctor bypasses the safeties on the infostamp to overload the pursuing Cybermen.

The other Doctor is troubled by the happenings. The Doctor promises to help him.

At the reverend’s graveside service, Miss Hartigan crashes the proceedings with an admission: The reverend had to die in order to get the mourners in one place. She dispatches the Cybermen to attack them, sparing only a few as the rest are deleted.

The Doctors return to Rosita’s side at their home base. Jackson Lake’s belongings are stacked by the wall, kept as evidence of his disappearance, and the Tenth Doctor finds another infostamp in the luggage. The other Doctor shows off his TARDIS – a gas balloon, fueled by the local gasworks for a substantial fee, long-form called Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style – and dreams of flying it one day.

The Doctor now knows that this man is not him. He shares the story of the Battle of Canary Wharf, presuming that some of the survivors fell through time and landed in London, 1851. He draws the parallels between Jackson Lake and the man’s memories, even showing him the JL inscription on his fob watch. The man, truly Jackson Lake, was flashed with an infostamp that contained all of the Cybermen’s information the Doctor, thus side-booting his brain with an alternate identity.

There’s still one missing piece that Jackson can’t remember, but the Doctor helps him remember based on the amount of luggage on hand: Jackson remembers how the Cybermen invaded his home and killed his wife Caroline. His fugue state ends as he breaks down in tears.

While Jackson Lake mourns and is consoled by Rosita, the infostamps start to chime. The Doctor finds a whole cache of them and realizes that the Cybermen are on the move. The Doctor rushes out, and Jackson sends Rosita after him.

Miss Hartigan fits her survivors with Cyberman EarPods and uses them to fulfill tasks for her. The Doctor and Rosita find the survivors marching children from their workhouses and orphanages to the River Thames. The procession is guarded by Cybershades and Cybermen, and it ends at the court of the Cyber King.

The Doctor and Rosita are ambushed by Miss Hartigan and the Cybermen. The Cybermen don’t recognize the Doctor because of the corrupted data on the infostamp, but they repair it. The Cybermen march on the Doctor and Rosita, but are stopped by Jackson Lake and his cache of infostamps. The trio run (after Rosita sucker punches Miss Hartigan!) and Jackson reveals that his cellar may be a gateway into their operations.

Miss Hartigan, in it for her own social liberation from this patriarchal society, takes control of the child workforce after killing the EarPod-clad men. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s trio finds a Dimension Vault in Jackson’s cellar. The Cybermen used the Dalek technology to travel through time and escape the Void. They follow the tunnels to the enemy base as the Cybermen attempt to convert Miss Hartigan and provide her liberation (from her anger and rage) as their Cyber King.

Unfortunately for them, she’s too strongwilled for conversion. Her mind is too powerful to control, and she uses her new powers to obliterate the Cyber Leader when it tries to intervene.

The conversion has also moved up the CyberKing’s timetable. Since they’re no longer needed, the Cybermen try to delete the children, but the Doctor and Rosita free them instead. While the children run, Jackson remembers that the Cybermen had also abducted his son, and he finds the boy among the workforce. Unfortunately, Frederic is trapped on a ledge, so the Doctor swashbuckles his way up and rescues him.

As the base ignites around them, the Doctor, Jackson, and Frederic run. Outside, a giant mechanical CyberKing rises from the Thames with Miss Hartigan on the throne, ready to convert millions into Cybermen as it rampages through London. Jackson, Frederic, and Rosita rush to safety.

The Doctor grabs the Dimension Vault and uses the “TARDIS” balloon to look the CyberKing in the eye. He offers Miss Hartigan one last chance at mercy, extending the opportunity for the Cybermen to travel using the Dimension Vault to a place where they can live in peace. She rejects him, so he uses the cache of infostamps against her. The assault breaks the cyber connection and leaves her mind open to see what she’s become. The shock and terror of her reasserted humanity destroys all of the Cybermen, leaving the giant automaton to stumble about until the Doctor uses the Dimension Vault to transport it into the time vortex where it will be disintegrated.

Jackson Lake addresses the onlookers and rallies them to cheer for the Doctor as he drifts above the city. Later on, they discuss the Lake family’s future, including Rosita as Frederic’s new nursemaid. The Doctor offers Jackson a look inside the real TARDIS. Jackson is amazed by the sight, but Jackson has had quite enough adventure. He asks the Doctor about his companions, to which the Doctor turns maudlin.

Jackson offers the Doctor a Christmas dinner in honor of all those that they’ve lost. The Doctor accepts.

 

I’m of two minds about this story. The Jackson Lake mystery is simultaneously amusing and tragic, adding a compelling throughline to the Cyberman invasion plot. The flip side is that the climax of the Cyberman story – the Pacific Rim-style CyberKing – is utterly ridiculous.

It’s a shame, really, because this story balloon really flies along until the cyber-mech lets the air right out.

There are some good but minor things that help tie things off:

The infostamp memory files of the Doctor’s lives come from The Time Meddler, The Ice Warriors, Terror of the Autons, City of Death, Arc of Infinity, The Mysterious Planet, Time and the Rani, Doctor Who (The Movie), The Parting of the Ways, and The Family of Blood, none of which are actuallyCyberman stories. The War Doctor does not appear in the library files, which makes sense from a production standpoint, but doesn’t quite jive from an internal chronological standpoint.

Finally, I also love the character development as the Tenth Doctor considers that his time may be coming to an end. He’s excited to think that he won’t be the last of his regenerations, and his joy is infectious.

I just wish that the cyber jaeger hadn’t been a thing.

 

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

 

 

Keeping in mind that the Timestamps Project is following the franchise chronologically at this point…

UP NEXT – Sarah Jane Adventures: From Raxacoricofallapatorius with Love

 

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 – 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.