Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Review: Doctor Who, "Season 27"

When the televised series of Doctor Who was <s>put on hiatus</s> cancelled after 26 seasons, plans were underway for season 27.
At the time production of the original series was cancelled, work had already begun on Season 27. Both McCoy and incumbent companion Sophie Aldred (Ace) have stated that they would have left during this season. Storylines would have seen Ace joining the Time Lord academy on Gallifrey, and the introduction of a cat burglar as the new companion. Script editor Andrew Cartmel had already begun work on four loosely connected stories which would have comprised the season: Earth Aid by Ben Aaronovitch (a space opera featuring insect-like aliens), Ice Time by Marc Platt (set in 1960s London, featuring the return of the Ice Warriors and Ace's departure), Crime of the Century by Cartmel (a contemporary story featuring animal testing), and Alixion by Robin Mukherjee (in which the Doctor is lured to an isolated asteroid to play a series of life-or-death games). Ahead of the new companion's introduction, Ice Time would have featured her father, a criminal named Sam Tollinger, who was intended to be a recurring character. Alixion would have seen the Doctor going insane after facing a psychic enemy, with mental rather than physical strain being the cause of his regeneration at the end of the season. [citations omitted]
Big Finish Productions, in their range of "Lost Stories," resurrected many of these ideas for a four-story "Season 27," released in 2011. Andrew Cartmel oversaw the season, which consisted of Marc Platt's "Thin Ice," Cartmel's "Crime of the Century" and "Animal," and "Earth Aid," co-authored by Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch.

"Thin Ice" is set in 1967 in Moscow and London. The Doctor seeks Ice Warrior technology that has been stored in Moscow, primarily to keep its destructive power out of the hands of humans, but both the Russians and the Ice Warriors themselves are after the same technology. The story introduces Markus Creevy, an English grifter and his lover, Russian Lt. Raina Kerenskaya, who become the parents to future companion and cat burglar Raine Creevy. One of the subplots involves the Doctor's efforts to induce the Time Lords to accept Ace into the Academy on Gallifrey (much to Ace's displeasure when she finds out what the Doctor had in store for her). Because Ace continued as a companion in the audio dramas, the Doctor's bid was unsuccessful.

"Crime of the Century," though set in 1989, is a direct sequel to the previous story. Raine, now a young woman, is a cat burglar. We find her robbing a house safe, only to find the Doctor inside, waiting for her. At the same time, following the Doctor's instructions, Ace tracks down Raine's father, Markus, to ask him to use his connections with the underworld as she travels to a Middle Eastern country (Afghanistan, but not named Afghanistan) at war with Russia. There, Ace and the Doctor encounter warrior "demons" - the Metatraxi, who will play roles in the subsequent two stories as well.
Raine: Why does the prince need to do business at all? He's wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice.
The Doctor: In my experience, dreams of avarice extend surprisingly far.
In "Animal," the Doctor, Ace, and Raine go in search of a robot from the previous story and find themselves in 2001 at Margrave University. There they encounter U.N.I.T., headed by Brigadier General Winifred Bambera (who was also heading U.N.I.T. in 1989's "Battlefield" on television). Ace and Raine go undercover, posing as students, to infiltrate a shadowy animal rights organization intent on sabotaging a research facility. Inside the facility, the Doctor encounters a carnivorous plant.

Seriously: the aliens are called the "Numlocks"? Was Cartmel stuck for a name for the aliens and found inspiration staring at his keyboard?

The season's conclusion, "Earth Aid," is the most lighthearted of the stories. It opens with Ace as the captain of the starship Vancouver, escorting a grain ship to a planet experiencing a famine. The Doctor is the ship's physician, and one of the bridge officers has a Russian accent. What's more, Ace seems to have learned everything she needed to know about captaining a starship from Star Trek, including her favorite phrase: "Make it so." (I was almost surprised when the grain ship was not filled with Tribbles in its quadratriticale.) And no, there's never an explanation for how the Doctor managed to place Ace as the captain of a starship. Boarding the grain ship, they find all but one of the crew missing. (The remaining member, Victor Espinosa, is played by Paterson Joseph, who was Rodrick, the game show participant on "The Weakest Link" with Rose in "Bad Wolf" and "The Parting of the Ways" during Eccleston's season as the Doctor.) As another ship approaches the Vancouver, the Doctor and Lt. Baraki cut open an equipment storage compartment. Inside is a safe. The Doctor cracks open the safe to find... Raine. Ace is in seventh heaven as she gets to fire missiles.

The Doctor is sentenced to "Death by taunting." "Well, that's original, I suppose," he replies.

There's an amusing reference back to "Survivor" when the Doctor, searching for an analogy for spaceships, tells Ace, "Think of it this way: you're a cheetah." Ace replies, "I almost was, once."

The tone is lighthearted all the way through, except for an annoying lecturing tone at the end, as though listeners can't be expected to get the message otherwise. The story resolves the plotline of the Metatraxi in an unexpected way.

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