Ever since Doctor Who returned to television in 2005, the showrunners have continued to introduce interesting and unique alien races (or “monsters” in the parlance of the show’s fans). Quite often, though, species new to the audience will be introduced but the Doctor will already be familiar with them. I know he’s the Doctor and he’s expected to know and all that, but did you ever wonder when he encountered a particular race for the first time, and in which incarnation?
This (relatively) new series from Big Finish may answer those questions.
Then again, it may not.
Let’s find out.
1.1 Fallen Angels (Fifth Doctor) by Phil Mulryne
1.2 Judoon in Chains (Sixth Doctor) by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris
1.3 Harvest of the Sycorax (Seventh Doctor) by James Goss
1.4 The Sontaran Ordeal (Eighth Doctor) by Andrew Smith [no relation]
2.1 Night of the Vashta Nerada (Fourth Doctor) by John Dorney
2.2 Empire of the Racnoss (Fifth Doctor) by Scott Handock
2.3 The Carrionite Curse (Sixth Doctor) by Simon Guerrier
2.4 Day of the Vashta Nerada (Eighth Doctor) by Matt Fitton
2015: When sightseers Joel and Gabby Finch encounter a strange man in Edwardian cricketing garb in the Sistine Chapel, their honeymoon suddenly takes a terrifying turn.
1511: Michelangelo is commissioned to create some very special sculptures by a mysterious sect. But as he carves, angels seem to emerge fully-formed from the rock. Almost as if they are alive…
From Michelangelo’s workshop to the catacombs of Rome, the Fifth Doctor must keep his wits about him and his eyes wide open as he confronts the Weeping Angels.
SUMMARY/COMMENTARY: Newlyweds Joel and Gabby Finch are sneaking about the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome after it has closed for the night. Their dialogue indicates they have been set on some sort of quest by the Fifth Doctor. They are looking for Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, but find a statue of an angel covering its face with both hands in its place. They are accosted by a priest who belongs to the Order of the three Angels. The room is illuminated by three candles. When the couple looks back at the statue, one of its hands is now pointing at them. The priest says now that the choice has been made, the candles may be extinguished. The lights go out and the couple disappears. [CUE THEME]
In 1511, the Doctor emerges from his TARDIS to discover a crowd gathering around Gabby Finch. Her dress and cell phone are drawing curiosity, but the Doctor defuses the situation and draws her aside. She is suffering from TCDD (Temporary Chronal Displacement Disorder), a condition caused by travelling in time without a time machine. As he is about to introduce himself, she recognizes him. Apparently they met in the Sistine Chapel earlier that day (from Gabby’s point of view), but that meeting has not yet happened for the Doctor. The odd thing about their meeting is that, in 2016, Michelangelo’s famous ceiling painting exists only half finished.
Meanwhile, Gabby’s husband Joel, also suffering from TCDD, has appeared in Michelangelo’s private gardens. Michelangelo is angered that a stranger is trespassing, but Joel wins him over with flattery. Michelangelo has been commissioned to carve a statue of an angel from a block of marble by the Order of the Three Angels. Michelangelo’s servant has recently disappeared. At this point in his career, Michelangelo has taken a break from painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel while new scaffolding is put in place, and many of his most famous works have yet to be painted or sculpted.
When the Doctor and Michelangelo and Gabby and Joel all come together (and also find Michelangelo’s servant, now an aged man), they also discover the truth behind the Order of the Three Angels. Whereas Weeping Angels do not ordinarily utilize humans as servants, this s a unique case. Many thousands of years ago, Angels were trapped on Earth within ground that would eventually become marble. They have telepathically summoned priests to commission Michelangelo to “sculpt” the out of the stone.
As you know, Weeping Angels transport their victims to the past in order to feed off the potential of their unlived lives. In the case of Michelangelo, with so many works of art yet to be completed, including the statue of Moses and half of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the potential of the rest of his life would be like a feast.
Is this the first time the Doctor has met the Angels? Unclear. He is certainly aware of them. Big Finish doesn’t usually nail things down with respect to established continuity so as not to hinder future stories. The Doctor devises a trap for the Angels, but when it comes time for them all to leave, he informs Gabby and Joel that he cannot return them to 2016. They must live out the rest of their lives in the 16th century because reasons.
It has something to do with “the web of time” and that, in a future where the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was never completed, they alone retained memories of the whole work. If they were to return to their own time, all the work they did in 1511 would be undone. Blah, blah, blah, writer’s fiat. I suspect that one purpose behind this story is to explain why the Doctor can’t simply go to the 1930s and retrieve Amy and Rory. Here’s what the writer himself had to say about it.
WRITER’S NOTES: “Imagine being offered the chance to write a story featuring one of the scariest Doctor Who monsters. A monster that easily ranks alongside nightmarish classics like Daleks, Cybermen and Zygons. I jumped at the chance! The only challenge was to bring these silent killers to an audio adventure… Well, it’s up to the audience to judge whether we’ve done that effectively. But we definitely didn’t want to lose that aspect of the Angels—an aspect that helps make them so terrifying.
“When they first appeared, in Steven Moffatt’s brilliant Blink, I loved that the Angels were statues. Silent. Unmoving. (Until they do move!) What a scary idea—that a statue you walk past could in reality be a ravenous alien. To make them live on audio we have the help of a dream cast and some amazing sound design. Dealing with statues also sparked the idea of bringing in a sculptor to our story. And what better sculptor than Michelangelo himself?
“I read up about his life, and discovered a simply extraordinary—if often very difficult—character.
“Michelangelo pretty much created our modern idea of what an artist is. And while today he’s perhaps best remembered for the roof of the Sistine Chapel, he always considered himself a sculptor first and foremost. He was impetuous, cantankerous, and unpredictable—a joy to write. We then grabbed a dynamic modern couple to thrust back to Renaissance Italy. And finally we included a touch of timey-wimeyness (as befits a Weeping Angels story), before calling in the brilliant Fifth Doctor to unravel what on earth was going on.
“And so here we are. In the end, I hope we’ve added a chilling new significance to a quote often attributed to Michelangelo: ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free…’”
Yeah, I never bought the whole business of him not being able to go back and fetch Amy and Rory whenever he felt like it. Probably just was sick of them, and seized the opportunity to get rid of them..
Before moving on to the Sixth Doctor and the Judoon, I would like to clarify a point regarding this story's timeine I didn't make clear yesterday. After the adventure was over and the Doctor told Gabby and Joel they could never return to their own time, it was then he went back to 2016 to meet them and set them on the course that led them to this point. Their first time meeting him was his last time meeting them.
JUDOON IN CHAINS:
The Sixth Doctor is no stranger to courtroom drama, but faces a very different challenge when he prepares to defend a most unusual Judoon.
After an environmental clearance mission goes wrong, Captain Kybo of the Nineteenth Judoon Interplantary Force is stranded in Victorian England, bound in chains, an exhibit in a circus show. But he has allies: Eliza Jenkins – known to audiences as ‘Thomasina Thumb’ – and the larger-than-life ‘clown’ in the colorful coat.
Uncovering a trail of injustice and corruption, the Doctor and Kybo soon find themselves on trial for their lives.
The story opens in a 19th century English courtroom as a trail begins. The year is 1870-something, but a deafening crash of thunder drowns out the exact year. As the defendant is led into the courtroom, the judge at first refuses to hear the case, as English courts do not try animals. The voice of the defendant’s defense attorney, the Sixth Doctor, rings out that Captain Kybo is not an animal, but rather a “rhino-form humanoid.” The judge insists that the Doctor doesn’t have the power to force the trial to proceed, but the Doctor introduces the plaintiffs, a group of Judoon who have just transported the court building to the planet Mars (which accounts for the earlier “thunder”), who do.
Captain Kybo is being charged with desertion. His assignment had been to help clear the way for a planet to be terraformed by the Genesis Corporation, but he stole a ship and fled. While passing Earth, his ship was shot down by unknown assailants. The story is told in flashback by way of courtroom testimony. The Doctor warns the court that he may turn up in during the course of the story… quite a lot, actually, now that he thinks about it… as an independent party, not in his role as defense attorney. He’s wearing two hats, so to speak… or rather his own hair and a wig.
The Doctor had been drawn to the scene by some sort of psychic distress signal. He arrives to find Kybo unconscious and the ship about to crash. He loads the Judoon into an escape pod and follows in his TARDIS immediately after. When Kybo arrives, he is accosted by a hostile crowd, but is rescued by Jonathan Jaggers, who runs a traveling circus (more of a freak show). The Doctor arrives to find that Kybo has already been made a sideshow attraction. When he asks about for a man with the head of a rhinoceros, a man tells him that he lost a bet wrestling against him about a week ago. (So much for following “immediately” behind.”)
The Doctor tracks Kybo down only to discover he is being held in a cage because his translator has been broken. Kybo is unlike any Judoon the Doctor has ever encountered: he is thoughtful, polite and introspective. The Doctor agrees to wrestle Kybo in an effort to knock him off his mark. While tussling, the Doctor whispers something to Kybo in his native tongue, gaining his trust. Kybo steps off his mark and the Doctor wins the bet. Jaggers has bet so heavily against the Doctor that he cannot afford to pay. The Doctor agrees to accept Kybo’s freedom as payment, and Jaggers suggests they retire to his tent to discuss the details. The Doctor is then hit from behind by Herculania, the circus strongwoman, and taken prisoner.
The circus’ dwarf, Eliza Jenkins, also feeds the animals and cleans their cages. She is compassionate, but doesn’t know Kybo is intelligent. She talks to him every day, though, and consequently Kybo learns to speak a bit of English. He asks Eliza for help, and she in turn consults the Doctor. When she comes upon the Doctor, he appears to be talking to his fob watch. (I should mention that in the courtroom scene earlier he was admonished by the judge for paying too close attention to his watch.) Eliza gets some books for Kybo. He reads Shakespeare, Dickens, and Moby Dick, and quotes a passage from Frankenstein. He is especially fond of the poetry of Keats. He even writes some of his own.
Soon, a group of Judoon arrive to try Kybo for desertion. The Judoon are sticklers for rules and procedures, and the Doctor blusters them into entering the circus at the entrance, then following the signs and arrows in order. The Judoon take the circus at a trot until that come to the house of mirrors. They enter, then run out in fright to their spaceships and depart. The Doctor suggests the Kybo go into the house of mirrors. Kybo has no wish to see whatever has frightened his brothers so, but the Doctor urges him to trust him.
The Doctor points out that, before landing on the planet Aetius, Kybo was a typical Judoon with an exemplary record. Something must have happened on that planet to change him. Kybo agrees, but he doesn’t remember what. The Doctor urges Kybo to look into one of the mirrors. Kybo does so and sees a face, not his and not in the mirror, but in his mind. Now he begins to remember, stooping beside a lake on the Aetius ad seeing another such creature in his reflection.
The Doctor tells of a sentient other-dimensional non-corporeal conscious race who can only be observed in our dimension as a two-dimensional reflection, such as in a mirror or the surface of a lake or the smooth surface of a fob watch. The Aetius (named for their planet) are a psychic race, and they, not Kybo, were the ones who sent the distress call which attracted the Doctor. When they communicated with Kybo, the stimulated the creative side of his brain. Once he learned there was a sentient race on Aetius, he immediately set off for the Judoon homeworld to make his report. It was at that point his ship was shot down, making him appear guilty of desertion.
The Doctor knows that the Judoon will return and will not be fooled by the trick with the mirrors a second time. When they return, they will likely whisk the circus away from Earth so as not to be bound by its rules. This is the point at which the trial begins, the Judoon return and whisk the courtroom off to Mars. Once Kybo’s story is caught up to this point, the Doctor maintains that it is not a question of Kybo’s desertion, but rather who shot him down.
The Doctor points out that, due to the Shadow Proclamations, the Judoon should have a DNA sample on file of whichever representative of the Genesis Corporation they were dealing with. Using that DNA sample, the Judoon use their H2O scoop technology to summon him to the courtroom. Mr. Preddle arrives and begins to answer questions. Eventually, the truth comes out: he was aware that Aetius was populated with a sentient lifeform, and illegally covered up the truth. It was he who authorized Kybo’s ship to be shot down when Kybo tried to report it.
None of this testimony matters, though, he contends, because the court is outside jurisdiction. It is then that the Doctor reveals that the courtroom is not on Mars after all, but on the Genesis Corporations’ home planet. How can that be, since it was the Judoon who scooped it up? Because when they were in the house of mirrors the Aetius put a subconscious instruction in their minds. Although Preddle is corrupt and perfectly willing to sacrifice an intelligent species in the name of profit, the Genesis Corporation is not (at least not under the circumstances).
Preddle is held responsible and punished. The Judoon are incapable of rejoining their race at this point, but they intend to establish a colony on Aetius, or, if the Aetius object, on the Aetius moon. Kybo has composed a poem in honor of the Doctor, which he recites in Judoonese. The Doctor is touched, noting that Kybo has invented a new art form: Judoonese Haiku. But when Kybo inform the Doctor there are 287 more verses, the Doctor suggests maybe 500 total would be more appropriate.
This episode is by turns humorous and poignant, as funny as it is serious. It is as much Horton Hears a Who (no pun intended) as it is The Elephant Man, the latter of which was an obvious inspiration, as explained beow.
“An invitation to write for Big Finish always comes as a welcome surprise, but until the invitation to write ‘Judoon in Chains’ popped into our inboxes we had no idea that anything related to the new series of Doctor who was even on the cards!
“The basic setting of a Judoon held captive in a travelling circus was suggested to us and we gratefully ran with this gift of an idea. One immediate thought on how to expand this was to draw inspiration from the classic 1980 film The Elephant Man, something we did in various ways both subtle and, you will probably notice, not-so-subtle. A story gradually evolved that placed the Judoon in a situation we haven’t seen in them before—hired security staff, rather than simply a police force—and we took advantage of the grey moral areas that this setup allows. When we originally pitched the story we didn’t know we were writing for the Sixth Doctor, so the Victorian ‘trial’ setting—in which the Judoon are both at home, and yet completely out of place—is a complete coincidence. Of course, writing loquacious legalese for the Sixth doctor, knowing it will be performed by the equally erudite Colin Baker, is a joy.
“It was also fun to move the narrative from exotic alien planets to deep space, to nineteenth-century Surry, and explore the various clashes of outlook along the way. There are many antagonists in this story: the officious Judoon; the amoral ringmaster Jonathan Jaggers; the mysterious alien Aetius; and ‘Genesis Corp’, the intergalactic terraforming specialists. But who are the real villains? One of these? All of them? You’ll have to wait to find out. Hopefully there will be a few surprises along the way.”
HARVEST OF THE SYCORAX:
In the far future, humanity has a remedy for everything. Whatever the problem, Pharma Corps has the answer and a designer disease tailored to every human’s blood-type. Zanzibar Hashtag has no need to be sad, scared, stressed, or depressed ever again.
That is, until vicious aliens arrive on her space station intent on opening its Vault. What will it mean for the human race if the Sycorax take control of what’s inside?
And when the Seventh Doctor arrives on the scene, can he convince Zanzibar to care about her life long enough to help him?
SUMMARY/COMMENTARY: This one is a cautionary tale that is by turns humorous and scary (and it’s not the Sycorax who are scary). The human race at this point wears wrist monitors that administer drugs to control every emotion, every aspect of their lives. They are wholly unfamiliar with negative emotions because as soon as they start to experience one, one of their aps administers a drug to counter it.
Every human blood type is stored on a medical satellite, and the Sycorax have taken control. There are a few people who have resisted control, including Zanzibar# (“Zanzibar Hashtag”) and a man named Cadwallader, middle management for Pharma Corps. They are able to resist because they have both tried the same “designer disease.” Turns out, Pharma Corps developed the disease specifically to resist Sycorax mind control. When this situation comes to light, Cadwallader welcomes Zanzibar to the one percent. The human race was in need of culling, you see, but it turns out some humans (other than the 1%) are needed to do the actual work.
The Doctor figures out a way to tur the tables on the Sycorax by substituting their own blood in their control device. The names of the various drugs (mostly tranquilizers) a pretty funny. None of these episodes, I see, is going to present the first meeting between the Doctor and the “monster” in question. One reason, I mentioned before, is they don’t want to lock anything in to continuity. Also, count on the audiences’ familiarity with the aliens from TV so they don’t have to spend precious minutes “discovering” and describing how the aliens’ powers work.
“Gatzaa! Vastrati foraxi pel gilfane codra panthak.
“Padskaa! Pel codsyla rastc si practeel fel dash fel jak.
“Bol jalvaan me codrakone. Tass! Practeelik!
“Codrafee crel pel vash. Codrafee crel pel dashfellik. Codrafee crel chack.
“Si jak cahoonic? Si practeel Doctor? Si ass gatzaa? Soo non jak gatzaa brendissa?
“Codrakone massac pandat so ka!
“Sycora jak! Sycora telpo! Sycora faa!
“Falfass Bakthaa jak! Falfass Bakthaa telpo!
“Falfass Bakthaa fa!
“Veniss crel tor met falfass bakthaa dot com.
“Falfass bakthaa? Cordrafee padskaa pel vol!”
*INTERGALACTIC TRANSLATION AVAILABLE AT WWW.BIGFINISH.COM
THE SONTARAN ORDEAL:
An instant of the Time War brings centuries of conflict to the planet Drakkis, and the Eighth Doctor is there to witness the terrible results.
A Sontaran fleet, desperate to join the epic conflict, follows in its wake to take advantage of the fallout. But when Commander Jask is beamed down to the ravaged surface, there is more to his arrival than first appears.
Soon, an unlikely champion joins forces with the Time Lord to fight for the future of her world, and together they must face the Sontaran Ordeal.
The first thing that comes to mind is that the Sontarans aren’t exactly “new” monsters, having first appeared on screen some 42 years ago opposite Tom Baker’s Doctor. Not only that, but a recent “First Doctor Adventure” has them meeting him. I’ll let Andrew Smith address that issue in his “writer’s notes” below.
The Eighth Doctor arrives on the planet Drakkis just in time to rescue Sarana Teel from drowning in quicksand. She is dressed as a warrior, but is soon revealed to be a seamstress. Soon they are joined by a Sontaran named Jask who has teleported to the surface using “teleportation limpets” strapped about his torso. The limpets are designed for transporting cargo, but the Sontarans are trying to adapt them to transport living beings. Jask is a guinea pig; all previous test subjects have died. Jask has been sentenced to “Ordeal,” which is basically a suicide mission for disgraced Sontarans. The former commander has been charged with losing a battle, a crime punishable by execution in Sontaran culture.
The TARDIS isn’t where the Doctor left it, but it doesn’t appear to have been swallowed by a sand serpent. There are tracks indicating it was dragged away by a junk scavenger. Sarana helped subdue Jask with a lucky hit to his probic vent, plus he’s suffering ill effects from the teleportation, so the Doctor leaves her to guard him while he himself sets about to recover his TARDIS.
While the Doctor is gone, Jask takes the opportunity to educate Sarana about the Time War. For as far back in recorded history as she knows, Drakkis has been at war, but Jask informs her that in the true timeline, Drakkis is a planet of peace. The Time Lords fought a battle in the vicinity of Drakkis which lasted only seconds, but also hundreds of thousands of years. It affected not only the planet’s history, but its future timeline as well. Jask promises to force the Doctor to restore the true timeline if she will free him. She agrees.
The Doctor then returns with the TARDIS and the junk merchant in tow, but Jask takes him by surprise, then straps the teleportation limpets to the TARDIS and sends it back to the Sontaran fleet. He has no hope of regaining his honor at this point, General Stenk has seen to that, but he is still determined to do his duty. Just then, a Sontaran ship arrives to assassinate him. They overcome the assassins and commandeer the ship. Jask has set it for automatic return, so it’s back to the fleet they go.
Jask continues to have painful convulsions. The Doctor examines him and determines that the teleportation experiment was a failure. Even though he survived the initial transport, his body was reassembled wrong and is now degenerating at a cellular level. Jask quips that General Stenk has managed to kill him after all. Jask then tells the story that he was not responsible for the loss in battle, but rather that it was Stenk’s cowardice that withdrew troops, in order to save his own neck, too soon.
The charges against Jask were trumped up in order to prevent him from filing a report, then he was assigned to Ordeal to get him out of the way. When that didn’t work, Stenk sent an executioner to assassinate him. Stenk is determined to use the TARDIS to gain entry to the Time War. Furthermore, he plans to use the teleportation limpets to transport thousands of soldiers into battle. Even after being told that the technology is deadly to the users, he plans to do so anyway when he learns that the symptoms don’t manifest until an hour or so after transportation. He figures that’s enough time to win the battle. Jask disagrees that this sacrifice is necessary to bring glory to the Sontaran Empire.
The Doctor engineers a solution that both discredits Stenk and clears Jask. He also brokers a peace treaty with Sarana’s people and their enemies. When he goes to take his leave of her, though, she isn’t exactly grateful. Because of what Jask told her of the Time Lords’ interference, she knows the peace won’t last. The Doctor confirms this. She is happy that the fighting has stopped, at least temporarily, but she hates the Time Lords.
“It remains a constant delight to find myself working on post-2005 (new series, if you will), Doctor Who. and when I was asked if I’d like to contribute to a set of stories that would celebrate both that new series and the old (classic) series, it was a mouthwatering prospect.
“Sontarans aren’t new to 21st century Who, but the new series has seen a new take on them, and I’ve tried to emulate that in the story. These are of the ‘Sontar-Ha!’ generation. And what a pleasure it was to be in the studio listening to Dan Starkey and Christopher Ryan revisit their paring from the TV episodes ‘The Sontaran Stratagem’ and ‘The Poison Sky.’ These are different Sontaran characters, but clearly from the same clone batch!
“And—woo-hoo!—I was given the Time War to play with. At the time of writing ‘The Sontaran Ordeal’ this was the first use of the Time War in a Big Finish story, although it has since been featured strongly in the Magnificent War Doctor series. I let my imagination run, and wondered what the implications might be for a planet and its population if a battle in the Time War was to be fought on its doorstep. You’ll find out early on in this story, and it’s not pretty.
“I’ve written three Sontaran stories for Big Finish, and they remain a favorite monster of mine. I like that they’re not evil, but obsessively militaristic, with their own code of honor. Absolutely ruthless of course, occasionally brutal, but their honor is important to them. And that’s a key theme for this story. What happens when a Sontaran is dishonored? And how might he go about retrieving his honor?”
NIGHT OF THE VASHTA NERADA by John Dorney:
“Funworld was set to be the happiest planet in the galaxy. A planet of joy, of euphoria, of laughter and delight. Except construction was marred by reports of a predator and then, a few days before opening, all communication ceased.
“Owner Georgia Donnelly is desperate to open the resort and has hired Amanda Steele's crew to find out what happened on the planet. They're the best. But even they might not be up to the task.
“Joined by the Doctor and being picked off one by one, they slowly start to realize that something terrifying lurks in the shadows.”
“Usually the first thing I think about when working on a story involving an old monster (well… an old new monster, in this case, if you know what I mean) is what can I do with them that’s new? What’s my angle?
“But with the Vashta Nerada I went a different way. Watching ‘Silence in the Library’ I was more interested in the human reaction to them. It’s a story that’s very much about running away from the monsters. So what happens if you run straight at them?
“That struck me as something interesting to explore. From there emerged the idea of a thundering hunter, someone who’d offer an interesting contrast to the hunter Tom Baker’s Doctor is usually paired with. That fed into a few of the ideas I’d already been considering—much as when Jonny Morris wrote ’Last of the Colophon’ and used The Invisible Man as inspiration, I looked at what other classic horrors the TV series never got round to riffing on—and landed on The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There’s a reason for that. Great fun as it is, there’s not much to that film other than ‘Here’s a lagoon! Look, there’s a creature!’ But some of its DNA is in the tale you’re about to listen to.
“There’s something in the shadows again.”
Tom Baker brings the Fourth Doctor into the “Classic Doctors, New Monsters” sub-set of stories. This one is very much a character study as personalities clash in a deadly situation. Unlike the stories in the first set, this one specifically establishes that this is the very first time the Doctor encountered the Vashta Nerada (although he had heard of them). I don’t know what difference it makes; it’s not as if Big Finish has any plans to use the Vasta Nerad (or any of these “new” monsters) in a First Doctor story (let us say). “Night of the Vashta Nerada” is very much like “Silence in the Library” except it takes place in an amusement park rather than a library and features the Fourth Doctor rather than the Tenth. Very enjoyable.
EMPIRE OF THE RACNOSS by Scott Handock:
“When a distress call rips the TARDIS from the Vortex, dragging it back through time, it arrives in the midst of a conflict between Gallifrey and an ancient foe.
“The Doctor, as ever, wants to help, but in returning a wounded combatant home, he becomes further and further entangled in a web of deceit and recrimination. A web spun by an eight-legged Empress and her minions…
“The Empire of the Racnoss is at war, and wherever he stands, the Doctor is on the wrong side.”
“It’s frightening to think the Racnoss first appeared on our screens over a decade ago. Personally, too, it’s a little bit daunting as ‘The Runaway Bride’ was the first Doctor Who episode that I had any kind of professional connection to. I joined Doctor Who Confidential in November 2006, back when they were hard at work on the Christmas special, and the Doctor’s festive adventure with the Racnoss was my first exposure to the big, mad world of BBC Wales Drama.
“Needless to say, I loved it. I’ve always loved Doctor Who, in all its forms, but “The Runaway Bride” holds a very special place in my heart because of all the people it inadvertently brought me into contact with. If I wasn’t already thrilled when David Richardson asked if I’d like to write for this box set (and, for the record, I was), the prospect of writing for the Racnoss made it all the more joyous.
“Even though they only appear in a single television story, and we only ever meet the Empress, the Racnoss are a fascinating species. As with all Russel T. Davies monsters, their backstory is lightly sketched across the dialogue, conveying entire worlds and sensibilities. They’re a brutal, savage race — the battled the Time Lords in the Dark Times, after all — which only made pairing them up with Peter Davidson’s arguably gentler Fifth Doctor all the more appealing.
“‘Empire of the Racnoss’ is a story told in the style of Greek tragedy. It’s a tale of love and betrayal, played out against a backdrop of cosmic war. It was a delight to hear the actors tackle the script in studio, particularly in the ridiculously safe hands of Barnaby Edwards. He’s a director who really does get the best from everyone, and I can’t wait for people to hear it.
“Long live the Racnoss!”
It’s been a while since I last watched “The Runaway Bride” and I’ve forgotten any reference to a Racnoss/Time Lord conflict in the distant past when this is set. That didn’t impede my enjoyment of this story, though. As written, the Fifth Doctor is a good match for the Racnoss.
THE CARRIONITE CURSE by Simon Guerrier:
“Katy Bell returns to her Midlands home to find strange goings-on at the buskers fair. A witch trial in the 1980s. A bonfire ready to be lit...
“Luckily, a colourful visitor is already investigating, and the local vicar, Katy's dad, is versed in tales of the macabre. Terrifying forces are on the loose, and the town hall holds a secret. There is black magic in the Black Country, and the Doctor has the name of his enemy on the tip of his tongue...
“Something wicked this way comes.”
“Script editor Matt Fitton originally asked me for a story pitting the Sixth Doctor against the Carrionites, but in a way that wouldn’t contradict the Tenth Doctor meeting them on TV in ‘The Shakespeare Code,’ Matt suggested ‘Dark Ages, Salem, or a similar alien world’.
“I was keen to set the story on Earth in some famous bit of history so that it would have the same feel as the TV story. Salem had been done in Steve Lyons’ brilliant First Doctor novel The Witch Hunters, so I suggested an adventure set in the 1640s during the Civil War. In fact, I was plundering an old pitch to a sort of a sequel to my audio play ‘The Settling’, where the Seventh Doctor would again have met Oliver Cromwell but during the last trial overseen by the ‘witchfinder-general’, Matthew Hopkins. Matt and producer David Richardson felt they’d already done witch hunts in previous plays — ‘The Devil’s Armada’ and ‘the Witch from the Well’. So David suggested a 1980s setting to make it contemporary for this Doctor. ‘An Enfield haunting, or a suburban coven as per Rosemary’s Baby,’ added Matt. ‘More John Carpenter than Hammer hoprror.’ I suggested the Doctor arriving in what he thinks is an experimental play, sort of the horror film Theatre of Blood but set against Margaret Thatcher’s cuts to arts funding. And then, to make it more different from ‘The Shakespeare Code’, I suggested a community centre or parish hall…”
COMMENTARY: This is the Doctor’s first encounter with the Carrionites, but it is not their first encounter with him (which becomes a plot point later on). From their point of view, the TV episode ‘The Shakespeare Code’ has already happened. This is also my favorite of the set so far, but I found the writer’s notes to be a bit disappointing. Simon Guerrier wrote about how the story came to be, but I wanted to hear more about the process of writing the story itself. Language is a powerful force in the spells cast by the witches, and words themselves in particular are useful for the Doctor when it comes to defeating them. The script is peppered with gloriously long or otherwise unusual words once the Doctor comes to this realization, and Collin Baker’s Doctor the perfect one to deliver them. There is also a tie to TV and audio supporting characters Jago & Litefoot (or one of Professor Litefoot’s books, anyway). Great fun!
Jeff, have you heard the Sixth Doctor story "Ish"? Words and language play a big part in that.
I not only have it, I got it from you!
It's been a while since I listened to it, though.