The Sixth Doctor, my least favorite Doctor overall, is my third most favorite (behind the Eighth Doctor and the War Doctor) on audio. Like the other two [who got only a single outing as the Doctor (and a shared short feature) on the small screen], the Sixth Doctor didn’t really get a fair shake on TV, either. Colin Baker was committed to playing the Doctor for a much longer period of time, but circumstances led him to play role for only two full seasons (plus one episode). Also like the other two Doctors whose audio adventures I enjoy, the Sixth Doctor, too, went on to great success at Big Finish.
A consequence of the Sixth Doctor’s truncated tenure is that the Sixth Doctor never had a proper regeneration. Big Finish has rectified that situation, though, by releasing a box set of four apparently random adventures, with four different companions, which ultimately dovetail into the rather sucky regeneration shown on TV. This will be my second time listening to these stories. I listened to them first shortly after posting reactions to four seasons of “Eighth Doctor Adventures” on this board. I was a bit burned out at the time, but I always planned to post something about “The Last Adventure” here someday.
Before that, though, I want to look briefly at the Sixth Doctor’s two seasons on TV. There was something of a gap between seasons, as I understand it, as the fate of the show was being decided at the BBC. It returned with the tightly structured “Trial of a Time Lord” series, comprising the serials “The Mysterious Planet,” “Mindwarp,” “Terror of the Vervoids” and “The Ultimate Foe.” What I would like to do at this time is speculate where the Sixth Doctor’s audio adventures fall relative to the established television timeline. This is going to be largely speculation because I haven’t listened to many Sixth Doctor audio adventures, so bear with me.
The stories related in “Trial of a Timelord” are told mainly in flashback, presented as evidence via the Matrix (reminiscent of Spock’s trial in Star Trek’s “The Menagerie”). As the overall framing story begins, the Doctor’s TARDIS has been diverted by the Time Lords, leaving him disoriented. The last viewers had seen of the Doctor in the previous season, he was traveling with Peri, and as the flashback begins, he is also travelling with Peri. Presumably “The Mysterious Planet” takes place in the Doctor’s timeline shortly after “Revelation of the Daleks”, but maybe not. There’s some wiggle room to play with.
There are several audio adventures featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri which could easily fit between the end of the previous season and “The Mysterious Planet.” He has travelled with several other companions, too, which could have taken place after Peri’s tenure but before the trial, or in the gap between the end of the trial and his regeneration. I’m not going to spend too much more time on this idle speculation because, no doubt, much of this continuity is accounted for in the audios themselves and will become clear after I’ve listened to more of them.
What we’re concerned with here are the events leading up to the Sixth Doctor’s regeneration into the Seventh which, as I mentioned above, involve four different companions. I’ll try to introduce, as best I can, what I know about each of these companions as I go along. Here’s an idea of what to look forward to in the days to come.
1. The End of the Line by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris—The Doctor and his latest companion Constance investigate a commuter train that has lost its way.
2. The Red House by Alan Barnes—The Doctor and Charlotte Pollard arrive on a world that is populated by werewolves.
3. Stage Fright by Matt Fitton—The Doctor and Flip visit Victorian London, where investigators Jago and Litefoot explore theatrical performances that have echoes of the Doctor’s past lives.
4. The Brink of Death by Nicholas Briggs—The Doctor and Mel face the Valyard in their final confrontation—and the Doctor must make the ultimate sacrifice.
Yeah, I like what Colin Baker might have been as the Doctor more than what he was allowed to be.
I have seen and heard Colin Baker at a couple of Doctor Who conventions and found him to be charming, amusing and very gracious.
You both should enjoy this next post, then.
COLIN BAKER on “THE LAST ADVENTURE”:
“It was only a couple of years ago that I realized that Sylvester McCoy getting lost in my costume (his words not mine—but I have a broad back—and a broad everything these days apparently)—anyway I realized that his donning of that far too blond wig did not in itself a regeneration make. Extrapolating from that, it was a short journey to the logical, if fanciful, conclusion that if I had not regenerated then I was still, ipso facto, the Doctor.
“I have subsequently derived some small satisfaction in maintaining the conceit at conventions that the alleged Doctors Seven onwards were in fact all imposters and false claimants to the keys of the TARDIS. Coincidentally there were two false Popes in the 12th Century called respectively Sylvester III and Sylvester IV—so there is a precedent! And if you add III and IV together you get VII. Just saying.
“So, I concluded that the alleged Seventh Doctor had in fact started a new line of Time Lords who had chosen to share the name ‘The Doctor’ with me and my predecessors. On that basis, I was proud to proclaim my unparalleled longevity—thirty-two years and counting. It was also beguiling to note that following my self-serving logic, the current Sixth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) is grumpy, erratic, intolerant and imperious. I like him. As Punch would say—‘That’s the way to do it!’
“But ‘Old Sixie’ does deserve a proper regeneration, despite this actor’s fond imaginings of a half-century of being the Doctor. And the fans deserve to have a satisfactory resolution to that most peculiar beginning to Time and the Rani. and those doctor imposters need to be formally legitimized, I had to acknowledge. There was, of course, only one way in which this was ever likely to be done. A regeneration along the lines of the Eighth Doctor’s stylish incorporation into the timeline on television was, even by my most optimistic imaginings, less likely than Henry, my Jack Russell, being cast as K9.
“It is fitting therefore that the company responsible for giving the Sixth Doctor the opportunity to blossom and grow over the ast 16 years and some 70 new stories—Big Finish—should initiate his official demise—within his own subjective timeline, anyway. Fortunately, despite the charming anxiety expressed by some followers of the Sixth Doctor that there would be no more Sixth Doctor stories. Big finish have habitually explored all areas of this timeline so the adventures will, I fondly hope, keep on coming.
“When David Richardson and Nicholas Briggs first tentatively suggested that the time might have come for me to ‘let go’, I realized that perhaps I really ought to surrender my practiced convention shtick in deference to the greater god of reconnecting the Doctor’s true succession. I was promised that it would be a great script and one worthy of the doctor that Big finish had so creatively enabled to evolve. And my experience with Big Finish has been consistently of scripts that inhabit the range of the excellet ad the superb. When I am asked at conventions to name my favorite script, I reply that it’s like asking me to name my favorite child. To choose is to exclude and I can’t do that. I have an aversion to lists of favorites and those who try to reduce life to lists and pecking orders.
“When the script was delivered, my confidence was confirmed a hundredfold. Clever, clever Nick Briggs gave me an ending to die for. And a cast to die with.
“So thank you Jason, David, Nick and all at Big Finish for giving me such a—well—Big Finish”
He's an interesting dude, Colin Baker, and really quite smart.
DAVID RICHARDSON (PRODUCER) on “THE LAST ADVENTURE”:
“When Colin Baker was Doctor who on the telly, I was working in the BBC, in admin in the costume department. It was an amazing time—every day! I got to watch a series of my favorite TV show coming together from a polite distance. I’d sit a few feet away from Ken Trew while he was creating costumes for the Valyard and the Inquisitor; I sat opposite Pat Godfrey, who had designed Colin’s costume; and round the corner from Jan Wright, who had flown off to Spain to film “The Two Doctors”. One thing was instantly clear from all these people: they adored Colin, and loved working with him on the show.
“I was lucky enough just to wander into the studio to watch recordings. I saw ‘Attack of theCybermen’, ‘Timelash’ and ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ from the studio gallery. For much of ‘Trail of a Timelord’, I managed to get myself on the studio floor, or joined the location filming. And it was clear everyone loved working with Colin—he was the unstarry star, the down-to-earth leading man who brought a massive jar of sweets in for the crew. There was a real family feel on the show—just like there is at big finish now.
“I even got to meet Colin a few times, but was of course far too shy to talk. Not that it mattered—he was warm ad chatty enough for the two of us. So, the fact that Colin never got a regeneration story on TV is a bit personal for me. I was there at the time, I loved and love his Doctor, and it was a tale that needed to be told. As fans of Doctor Who, we need a coda to celebrate the sixth Doctor’s life, to marvel in his bravery, and to mourn his passing.
“The Sixth Doctor had a beginning ad a middle, and now I am proud to say he has an end. And yet, also another beginning—as Miranda Raison joins the TARDIS as Constance Clarke, we’ll have many more stories to tell with this new team. And many more with other companions too.
“I’d like to thank Colin personally for agreeing to make this box set. He needed a bit of convincing, and yet by the time we were recording the final episode I could see a glint in his eye, one of pure excitement and enthusiasm. I could tell he loved ‘The Last Adventure’—I hope you do too.”
THE END OF THE LINE by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris:
COMPANION: CONSTANCE: Constance Clarke is the current and most recent of the Sixth Doctor’s companions. She has appeared in two sets of three adventures in the main range (204-206 and 218-220). “The End of the Line” is not her first adventure with the Doctor, but it is Miranda Raison’s first appearance in the role.
A commuter train is stuck in the fog. The ticket taker is walking outside, trying to determine how far they might be from the station, when he meets the Sixth Doctor and Constance, also wandering in the fog. Before too long, they find a train identical to the one the ticket taker left. No, it’s the exact same train, except this one is empty of passengers and appears to have been vandalized. Upon closer inspection, the spatters of blood make it appear as if the train has been attacked. It’s not safe there, so they depart but get turned around in the fog.
They meet a train spotter. He introduces himself as “Keith Potter, train spotter” and tells them that the nearby station has 12 platforms, but today it has 17. When he first got there, there were 14. They approach a train in the fog. It is the same train the ticket taker originally left, undamaged. A group of passengers has also been wandering around outside. Introductions are made, and they are told that the passenger known as Dave is dead. Another passenger named Hilary says she was with him when he was killed. Later we find out she only heard his screams in the fog, but she is wearing a blood-spattered dress.
Just then, someone claiming to be Dave, uninjured and definitely not dead, bangs on the train car from outside. Hilary is quite upset, saying, “I saw you die!” in contradiction to her earlier story. Some of the passengers say it is him, others say it’s not. While they debate, the pounding stops. The ticket taker becomes suspicious of the Doctor, and suggests they lock him up in the train car’s restroom. When he opens the door, he finds Dave’s dead and bloody body. So who was banging on the door from outside?
The Doctor puts forth the theory that Hilary is the murderer, since her story is contradictory and she was the first one to return to the train. She confesses, but later confides to Mr. Potter that she felt as if she were possessed at the time. He tells her that he has no further use for her and that she has come to “the end of the line.” Additional platforms begin to appear, one at a time, with a loud whoosh. The Doctor speculate that this is not only a junction of railways, but a junction of realities, and something has happened to weaken the walls between dimensions. The Doctor sets out with the ticket taker, Norman, leaving Constance in charge.
Now that the Doctor is gone, the mousy character named Alice becomes somehow emboldened by the thought of alternate realities and alternate selves. She becomes increasingly erratic, potentially homicidal. A passenger named Tim Hope loans Constance his coat.
Norman is actually a “normative…” uh, something-or-other, a being which exists across all the timelines and acts as sort of a guardian. The doctor asks who his boss is, and Norman replies that Keith Potter is his master… in fact, Mr. Potter refers to himself as The Master. Yes, the Master is using the form of Keith Potter as an avatar. His plan was to weaken the doorways at this nexus of realities in order to gain control over all realities, but he’s lost control. He needs a Time Lord to sacrifice his life in order to contain the reality breach.
Allying himself with Norman, the Doctor is able to seal the breach without sacrificing his life, but they’re not out of the woods yet. He still needs to return all of the duplicate platforms and trains to their respective universes. What he really needs is a reality stabilizer. Something has been poking Constance from the pocket of Tim Hope’s coat, but she’s ignored it up until now. Pulling a device out of the pocket, she asks the Doctor what it is. It’s the reality stabilizer he needs to set everything right.
Elsewhere, Tim Hope confronts Mr. Potter, a.k.a. the Master. The Master recognizes another Time Lord using a human avatar. He doesn’t know who it is, but he seems familiar. “Tim Hope” dominates the Master and threatens him not to interfere with the Doctor again. He has plans for him.
“The invitation to write what became ‘The End of the Line’ came out of the blue way back at the beginning of 2014. For two newcomers to the world of Doctor Who writing (with an actual, proper Doctor in it, anyway), it was a baptism of fire. No sooner had we offered our profuse thanks then emails were pinging back and forth between some of Big Finish’s top writing brains discussing everything from the structural dynamics of this box set to the origins of the Valyard himself. Heady stuff!
“Luckily, we were able to ignore all of that (or were we?) for our allotted episode—an unassuming prelude to the unfolding epic to come. The brief: Earth, present day. The story’s inspiration came from Simon’s daily commute from leafy Kent into London—specifically when a delayed train gave him both time and inspiration to scribble down some idea for railway-based stories. A bit of lateral thinking later, and we had the central premise: what f Watford Junction wasn’t just a boring old train interchange, but also a junction between parallel universes?
“Writing something quite claustrophobic, set in one location, appealed—as did a story populated by realistic, recognizable characters (not, to be honest, something we’ve hitherto been accused of). Of course, the story does eventually open out onto a larger canvas… but you’ll see.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better cast to bring our story to life—and the Doctor and companion team we were given was the icing on the cake. The bumptious Sixth Doctor was as much a delight to write as we’d always hoped, and it was fun to be the first to explore his subtly different dynamic with the no-nonsense Mrs. Constance Clarke. It was also an honor to play a part, no matter how small, in sending ‘Old Sixie’ on his way toward the send-off he always deserved.”
That one sounds interesting, I like a good alternate reality story.
THE RED HOUSE by Alan Barnes:
COMPANION: CHARLEY: Charlotte Pollard (or “Charley”) was the first companion of the Eighth Doctor on audio (the first to be regularly featured in Big Finish productions, anyway). She appeared in some 27 adventures with the Eighth Doctor by my count; then they had a falling out and she went on to be the companion of the Sixth Doctor. How it is that the Eighth Doctor didn’t recall she had travelled with his earlier self when they first met I am uncertain. She had eight adventures with Sixth Doctor, then went on to a series of solo stories as an “Edwardian Adventuress.” The second series of her solo adventures is due in March of this year. “The Red House” takes place during the time she travelled with the Sixth Doctor.
SUMMARY/COMMENTARY: “The Red House” is the classic “werewolf” trope turned on its head. The Doctor and Charley land on a planet populated by werewolves. But on this planet, the wolf-form is their natural state and they turn into “skin-hides” during the day. The wolves are civilized and intelligent, but the skin-hides are “lumbering proto-humanoids” (like cavemen). The Doctor and Charley become separated. The Doctor ends up with a group of skin-hides led by Ugo and Lina, while Charley is captured and taken to see “Dr. Pain” in the large Red House up on the hill.
The doctor’s real name is Paignton, but her nickname is well-deserved. She is fully human, and her experiments are designed to strip the human elements out of the natives’ genetic make-up. Charley is fully human, too, though, so of course the process would be fatal. Luckily, Paington’s hooded assistant intervenes and saves Charley. He pulls his hood aside and reveals himself to be…
I don’t know how much of a secret his identity is supposed to be at this point. He hasn’t revealed his identity yet in the plot (just his face), but the actor’s photograph, in costume, is prominently featured on the box, and anyone familiar with “The Trial of a Time Lord” will recognize the voice of Michael Jayston. Okay, it’s the Valyard. And if it’s not clear in these summaries, “Tim Hope” from the previous episode was the Valyard, too.
It immediately becomes clear to Charley that the “assistant” is more than he seems. For one thing, he knows all about Charley’s history with the Eighth Doctor. He reveals himself to be a Time Lord, but he doesn’t say which Time Lord. Meanwhile, the Doctor is having a hard time convincing the skin-hides that he is “The” Doctor, not Dr. Pain.
At this point, the narrative begins to skip back-and-forth from Ugo telling the history of the planet to the Doctor, to the Valyard relating more-or-less the same story to Charley. The planet was colonized by Earth centuries ago, and all of the current residents are descendants of the original colonists. The colonists found this world to be populated with large, wolf-like creatures. A bite or scratch from one on them would turn them into werewolves. The Red House is situated on an island. When one of the colonists becomes infected, he or she is shunted from the mainland to the island (think: leper colony). After generations of breeding, the islanders are now more wolf than human.
The Doctor wants to integrate the skin-hides back into society, but Ugo wants to lead a rebellion ad overthrow it. Meanwhile, Dr. Paignton is trying to remove all humanity from the skin-walkers in a misguided effort to restore them to their wolf forms permanently. The Valyard has slanted the story in such a way as to convince Charley that the Doctor is in the wrong. He also convinces her that he himself is forbidden to interfere because of the laws of time, which sounds typical to Charley.
When the mainland gets word of the rebellion on the island, they initiate containment protocol, which means they intend to bomb the island. When Charley leads the Doctor to Dr. Paignton’s lab, she is surprised to discover all of her equipment is gone. When Dr. Paignton arrives, she too is surprised, even more so, because from her point of view, only a few moments have elapsed since she left Charley in the lab.
The Doctor surmises that the other Time Lord froze time locally, materialized his TARDIS around Paignton’s equipment, ad left with it. The missiles are on the way, though. The Doctor wants to evacuate the island’s populace in his TARDIS, but Paignton says that will never work because it is now the middle of the day and none of them will come outdoors. Instead, she suggests that he take a young breeding couple to preserve the species. Suddenly, the missile explodes, but a hundred or so miles away. Apparently, while the island was frozen in time, the planet rotated underneath is, moving it out of harm’s way.
The key to the TARDIS is not in the Doctor’s jacket, but Charley finds it in the door of the TARDIS, where he apparently left it. But he never leaves the key in the door. The Doctor notes that the skin-hides’ homes are prefabricated colony structures which also float. The Doctor leaves them with te suggestion that that use them as boats to leave the island.
“The story so far: marooned on an island in the far future, sort-of Edwardian Adventuress Charlotte Pollard, known as ‘Charley’, sent out a distress call to her time-travelling chum the Doctor—the wrong Doctor, it turned out, when the Sixth Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS to rescue her, not the Eighth, because the Eighth thinks she left him behind in Singapore, because she was cross with him because he didn’t seem all that sad when their mutual chum C’rizz d—
“Look, it’s a long story, we don’t have all night. Anyway: she can’t let on to him that she’ll be his companion in the future, because—you know, Web of Time, blah; and he’s beginning to suspect that there’s more to his new travelling companion than meets the eye. So: after adventures in contemporary Manchester, with highwaymen in the 18th century, and with a bunch of mind-altered ‘Thaleks’ somewhere that wasn’t Spirodon (it’s complicated)… ‘The Red House’ begins.
“And I can’t tell you a single thing about it! Well, not without giving away the twist. It’s a werewolf story, I’ll say, with a twist. A kink in its tail. I’ve always thought that werewolves are most interesting when they’re a bit tragic—worried and fretful, like Lon Chaney, Jr. in Universal’s The Wolf Man; angry and doomed like Oliver Reed in Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf. I suppose I should also account for the eccentrically archaic pronunciation of the word ‘werewolf’ throughout—‘weir-wolf’, as 1930s native Charley would have said, rather than the more familiar ‘where-wolf’, popularized in movies released since Charley’s day.
“That’s it! I can’t say anything else! Oh, except that I found an opportunity to clarify a particular question regarding Charley, dating right back to her introduction in ‘Storm Warning’. Sort of…”
Interesting, I always thought the new show should bring back Michael Jayston. I think the Valeyard would make an interesting opponent for the Capaldi Doctor.
STAGE FRIGHT by Matt Fitton:
COMPANION: FLIP: Flip Jackson’s first adventure with the Sixth Doctor took place when his companion was Evelyn Smythe. Flip later travelled with him in two sets of three stories in the main range (156-158 and 182-184). Most recently she has rejoined the Doctor for an adventure with his current companion, Constance.
I should also mention this story features Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot from the Fourth Doctor television story “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” In addition, Jago and Litefoot have twelve different series of audio adventures available from Big Finish.
SUMMARY/COMMENTARY: The Doctor and Flip have just seen a rather disappointing version of “Jack the Ripper” on stage, so the Doctor has taken her back to London in the late 19th century for an authentic visit to Victorian England. They at first visit the theater owned by Henry Jago. Not finding him there, they find both Jago and Litefoot at a nearby pub. (No explanation is given for the Doctor’s change in appearance sing TV’s “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” so I assume the Doctor’s sixth incarnation has shared at least one audio adventure with Jago and Litefoot since regenerating.) Jago has rented the theater to small troupe of actors led by one Mr. “Yardvale” (you figure it out), but so far all they have done is rehearse and have given no performances.
Back at the theater, Yardvale is rehearsing three of his actors in roles that are close approximations of Nyssa, Tegan and Adric. He is setting the scene, explaining that their friend and advisor, a role he will be playing himself, has just fallen from a great height. The actors question why Yardvale is now wearing a long scarf and why the scene is different from the one they rehearsed earlier (in which the Doctor died of poisoning).
At the pub, Litefoot tells the Doctor f a recently discovered desiccated corpse of a young man. The corpse looked extremely old, but the man was seen alive just the other day. The Doctor and Litefoot go off to investigate, while Jago takes Flip to the theater. She meets Mr. Yardvale, and he offers her a part. Normally outgoing, she had a bad experience on stage in her third year at school and has an aversion to acting.
Near his Baker Street address (I’d really like to know in which audio this location was first used), the Doctor and Litefoot discover three corpses dressed in what the Doctor recognizes as costumes approximating the dress of Nyssa, Tegan and Adric. The costumes have labels written I a language Litefoot doesn’t recognize, but which the Doctor recognizes as Old High Gallifreyan, a message obviously intended for his eyes only.
Back at the theater, Mr. Yardvale rehearses two actors playing the roles of a sailor named “Benjamin” and a young girl named “Pollyannna.” He himself is playing the role of their friend, dying in the cold.
The Doctor and Litefoot meet up with Jago and Flip. Flip shows the Doctor the audition material Mr. Yardvale had given her. The lines are not identified by act or scene, other than being titled “the final scene.” The settings differ from page to page and, after skimming the, the Doctor identifies them as his prior regenerations. Flip is unfamiliar with the concept, so the Doctor explains that sometimes he changes. She at first thinks he’s referring to his clothes, and concedes that sometime it might be nice to wear something that doesn’t look as if it came from “an explosion at a rainbow factory.”
When they at last meet up with Yardvale he escapes through a trapdoor, but Flip chases after him. She is captured and subjected to psychic extraction. (The Valeyard is using Dr. Paignton’s machine he stole from the Red House.) When the Valeyard slipped away, he left a mock playbill (starring Flip Jackson) as a clue to where he can be found. When the Doctor, Jago and Litefoot arrive, the Valeyard, Flip and a local actor are playing the scene of the Second Doctor’s forced regeneration, with Flip cast in the role of Zoe.
I’m not sure exactly how to explain what happens next, but the Valeyard turns the psychic extractor on the Doctor, drawing off his negative energy and siphoning it into himself, thereby “recharging” his energy. In order to break the Valeyard’s attention, Flip must face her fears and act the scene from from her third year. The machine explodes but the Valeyard escapes at full strength. The Doctor surmises that the next time they meet, one will not survive.
“The Sixth Doctor and the Valeyard, with Jago and Litefoot: that was my brief. Throw chirpy Londoners Flip Jackson and Ellie Higson into the mix, and really, my entire word count could be taken care of in their introductory scenes!
“It’s always a delight to write for Colin Baker’s most eloquent and loquacious incarnation, and his prior history of verbal badinage with Michael Jayston’s dark reflection of the Time Lord makes a rematch between the two a mouth-watering prospect for any writer. The double-layer of icing on this particular cake came with my first chance to write for those investigators of the infernal and inexplicable—Messrs. Jago and Litefoot. With so many main players, I had to make sure to find something for each to do which played to their strengths. And with such a theatrical roll-call, it made sense too that the stage itself would play a vital part.
“Flip is another delight—not least because Lisa Greenwood is such a brilliant bundle of energy and talent—but I wanted to discover one thing that this most reckless and fearless of companions might be afraid of. And after so many times meeting Lisa Bowerman as either director or fellow conventioneer, it was great to finally write for her. Ellie is the heart and conscience of the Victorian gents.
“So, sprinkled with the topping of a tantalizing central premise from David Richardson, I had an epicurean enticement excluding effervescent enjoyment to execute. But I also had to lay the groundwork for an ending. We’re one step closer to the final days of the Sixth Doctor, but, as we make that journey, remember we’re approaching from a certain perspective—these stories are not all necessarily from the Doctor’s own chronological viewpoint…
“Foreshadowing: it’s what the Valeyard is all about.”
THE BRINK OF DEATH by Nicholas Briggs:
COMPANION: MEL: Mel Bush, of course, was a companion to both the Sixth and Seventh Doctors on television. She has gone on to share further adventures with both those Doctors on audio.
The story opens in medias res as the Doctor and Mel are being pursued and shot at by a hostile race. Apparently the Doctor made a mistake and navigated the TARDIS to the eighth planet in the system rather than the seventh, their destination. They return to the TARDIS and go about their normal routine. Suddenly, the console starts smoking, and the Doctor goes beneath it to investigate. When he comes back up again, it is no longer the Doctor but the Valeyard. Mel seems confused at first, but she does accept him as the Sixth Doctor. [CUE THEME]
A Galifreyan technician named Genesta is doing routine maintenance aboard a CIA satellite, when she hears a voice, the Sixth Doctor’s voice, coming from inside the Matrix. The only way he can be there, she insists, is if he’s dead or a glitch of some sort. The Doctor insists that he is not dead, but she tells him he will be in six minutes because she’s running a diagnostic to clear out some old data. He convinces her to freeze the program and attempt to bring an image of himself outside the Matrix, which she does. This proves he is not a glitch, at least (because a glitch wouldn’t be able to exist outside the Matrix), but his countdown is now frozen at four minutes. She says he can’t be the sixth incarnation of the Doctor, though, because the link through the vortex shows the Sixth Doctor currently in in TARDIS with his companion Melanie Bush. The Doctor recognizes him as the Valeyard even if no one else does.
Genesta is something of a rebel, like the Doctor himself was when he was younger. She also has an affinity for Earth. She went on a “field trip” to Yorkshire when she was very young, slipped away and stayed there. The Doctor convinces her to use the satellite’s technology and her own TARDIS to help him track the Valeyard.
Meanwhile, the Valeyard and Mel have arrived on Plastinius, a planet with an active volcano. Shortly after landing, the Valeyard leaves Mel to her own devices and takes an excursion boat out to the volcano. Mel meets a local named Lorelas who explains that the planet’s moon perpetually glows in a strange way because the Plastinians have turned it into a power plant, killing all the lifeforms on the moon. The lifeforms were neither human nor animal, but others such as herself (“those who know”) know that they were there. The scientists said it was only bacteria, but Lorelas insists it was something more. The volcano is grumbling, she says, because it is angry about what was done to the moon.
By this time the Doctor and Genesta have arrived. In the midst of the busy town square, Genesta approaches Mel and strikes up a conversation. Genesta points out the Doctor standing at a distance across the way and asks Mel if she recognizes him. Mel does not, and adds she would certainly remember anyone wearing such an outlandish coat! The Doctor and Genesta take a different excursion boat to the volcanic isle and observe something small and metallic flying out of it. Later, they confront the Valeyard, who knows about the six minutes the Doctor has left to live. The Doctor is overcome by a bout of weakness, and suddenly finds himself back on the CIA satellite. The Valeyard gives Genesta the slip, and when she returns and takes some reading on the Doctor, she informs him he now has only three “minutes” to live. (Although the process has slowed, it has not stopped completely.)
By accessing secret files aboard the satellite, the Doctor and Genesta learn that the Valyard is a creation of a black ops group within the CIA. They report to Genesta’s superior, Coordinator Storin, who doesn’t like her much because she’s such a free spirit. Suddenly, the voice of the Valeyard booms out, taunting them, and the Doctor finds himself back in the Matrix. By the time Genesta frees him this time, he’s down to only two minutes of life left.
They use Genesta’s TARDIS to track the energy used to zap the Doctor back into the Matrix, and trace it to what the Doctor recognizes as the town square of the werewolves on the island of the Red House. The Doctor realizes this is how the key was left in the TARDIS door. The Doctor enters and confronts the Valeyard. The Valeyard speculates that the Doctor has crossed his own timeline in violation of the Laws of Time. The Doctor questions him about the psychic extractor he stole, what he was doing with it in Victorian England, and wat he took from the volcano on Pastinius. These events are all in the Valeyard’s future, but he’s gratified to learn his plans come to fruition. He doesn’t know who Genesta is, however. Suddenly, the Doctor again finds himself whisked into the Matrix.
This time, Genesta is, inexplicably, there as well. Through the Matrix, they learn of the Nathemus, the beings indigenous to the Plastinian moon. Turning it into a power plant would have killed them, but they were rescued by the Valeyard. For this, the Nathemus were extremely grateful. The Valeyard found a new home for them, in which they thrived. He transplanted them into the symbiotic nuclei of the Doctor’s TARDIS. The Nathemus are telepathic, and while there they actually fed off the Doctor’s brain. In addition, they sang the Valeyard’s praises and projected them to all the other Time Lords through the Vortex via the TARDIS’s connection to the Matrix. The Valeyard’s plan is to eventually be able to control all Time Lords through this method.
As the Doctor and Genesta formulate a plan, the Doctor is highly complementary of her skills and abilities. He all but invites her to become his traveling companion when this is all over. Genesta then becomes highly critical of the Doctor, insulting and mocking him. As she does so, her voice morphs into that of the Valeyard, the implication being that Genesta has been the Valeyard all along. The Doctor cannot believe this. [Frankly, neither can I. I think Genesta has been herself all along; it’s just the “Genesta” in the Matrix that’s the fake.]
With less than a minute left to live, the Doctor takes advantage of being in the Matrix to send a subliminal message to himself to plot the coordinates to the wrong planet in a particular solar system. The Doctor and Mel’s destination is the scholarly one, but they end up going to the warlike one, which the Doctor knows to use a form of radiation harmless to humans, but deadly to Time Lords. We are now at the scene which opens this story, as well as the first scene of “Time and the Rani.” The Doctor plans to sacrifice his own life in order to thwart the Valeyard’s plans.
“What if you regenerate?” the Valeyard asks.
“I’m counting on it,” replies the Doctor.
If he regenerates, all of the cells in his body will essentially be new, and the mental link the Nathemus have to the Matrix via the Sixth Doctor will be terminated. As the Doctor lies in a state of semi-consciousness, his final thoughts change from Colin Baker’s voice to Sylvester McCoy’s. “I will regenerate. I can feel it. The future is in good hands.”
“It is, of course, a phenomenal responsibility to get to write the final story for a Doctor. It’s the kind of responsibility that might crush a writer into inaction or awestruck panic.
“Thankfully, I’m a mad Doctor Who fan, so any intimidating qualities inherent in the brief are overcome by my all-pervading enthusiasm for the program and for ‘beginnings’ and ‘endings’ in particular. These are the moments in Doctor Who history that feel particularly special to me. I remember crying at the thought of William Hartnell’s Doctor dying. I remember being utterly bereft when, without any warning (because we didn’t know what spoilers were in those days!) Patrick Troughton swirled off into the vortex with his head missing.
“The extra pressure here was that, of course, we knew the circumstances of Sylvester McCoy’s premiere in the series. So, we think we know all we need to know. My story had to immediately find a way of subverting that. And how would a story about the Sixth Doctor ‘dying’ be interesting anyway, if we already know it’s going to happen? My solution was to get around the problem by essentially killing the Doctor off right at the start of the story, and see if he could not so much find a way of getting out of it, but find a way of getting, unscathed, into a position where he could reasonably appear in episode one of
‘Time and the Rani’.
“Naturally, you will judge the final results for yourself. All I know is, I was really grateful when David Richardson suggested I wrote this story and had a huge amount of fun writing and directing it.”