March 7, 2012

The Eighth Doctor and Mary Shelley: Winning Combo!

If there's one thing I love about Doctor Who more than any other show with time travel is it's willingness to have the Doctor interact with historical figures without any worries. However, the company Big Finish has recently done something even more ballsy than that: They took a historical figure and made them a companion! Who, you ask? Well, if you didn't read the title, I'm talking about Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. Join me after the jump to read my thoughts on such a brilliant pairing of Doctor and companion.

The first mention we get of Mary Shelley was the very first Eighth Doctor adventure "Storm Warning", written by the impeccable Alan Barnes. It begins with Eight sorting through the various books in the TARDIS library. He comes across the a first edition printing of Frankenstein with the foreword by Mary Shelley, detailing her meeting Lord Byron and the others who would inspire her to write the tale. As he reads it aloud, Eight grumbles "Oh, Mary. If only you could've told the real story." which implies that he and Mary must've known each other quite well. Of course, the TARDIS' emergency stop activates, and causes him the close the book and rush to the console before we find out more.

But throughout Eight's adventures, little hints are dropped here and there about how he and Mary met, as well as the implication she may have traveled with him as a companion. Nothing was fully elaborated on until July 2009, when Big Finish unfurled their 123rd monthly release: "The Company of Friends". It was a compilation of 4 1-part tales with Eight, each one with a different companion. The fourth and final one was the tale of how Eight and Mary Shelley met and how she became a companion on his adventures. At last! After all these years of teasing, we're finally getting some answers. Plus, she's played brilliantly by Julie Cox.

It basically involved some timey-wimey craziness with a version of Eight late in his time-stream -it's implied that it's when he's fighting in the Time War, but not outright stated- and another version of him from early in his timestream, predating the events of "Storm Warning". A lot of the story shows where Mary got some of her inspiration for Frankenstein, including the name. The future Eight also dropping more cryptic hints as to what kinds of adventures he and Mary had together. For example, he mentions an encounter with the Cybermen, but more on that later. After the crisis has been resolved, the younger Eight offers Mary a chance to travel with him. She replies "Your future self told me I had traveled with him, and it seems it's my destiny. It appears I have no choice in the matter." But Eight assures her there's always a choice, and that she can stay safe at home with her husband if that's she really wants.

Mary decides to accept Eight's chance to travel through time and space, but she asks how she should address him. Eight replies "Just 'the Doctor' will be fine." When she asks about the surname Frankenstein, he replies "You have to remember, it's very important: Frankenstein is the name of the monster, and not the name of the Doctor." And so they're off. So, that was how they met, but what about all those adventures? Well last year, they released a trilogy of stories with Eight and Mary Shelley, detailing some of their adventures together.

The first of these was "The Silver Turk", written by Marc Platt. As you can see, the Cybermen are back, and they're in 19th century Vienna. However, from their point of view, they haven't encountered the First Doctor in their debut story "The Tenth Planet" yet. The story picks up not long after Mary and Eight departed Lord Byron's estate in "Mary's Story".

There's been some grisly murders happening, and someone is using a Cyberman for entertainment purposes. It's pretty gripping, and I especially liked how it tied into Marc Platt's other Cyberman story "Spare Parts" with Eight telling Mary how he witnessed their creation on Mondas. It's little details like that which make me enjoy it that much more.

The next story "The Witch from the Well", written by Rick Briggs (no relation to Nicholas Briggs). It's a story of how prejudice and xenophobia can bring out the worst in people, including those being persecuted. It also shows Clarke's Third Law at work, as some alien technology has crash-landed near an English village during the 17th Century. Unfortunately, the village in the midst of a witch hunt. So, as the aforementioned law dictates, the advanced tech is mistaken for witchcraft by the locals, and all hell breaks loose. Like "The Silver Turk", it's a compelling tale, and even includes Eight slyly mentioning that Mary "tends to side with the monsters". That moment alone made it a worthwhile listen to me.

The last in the trilogy, "Army of Death", was written by Jason Arnopp. It shows Eight and Mary travelling to the planet Draxine in the 22nd Century, where some of humanity has made their home. At first, it seems like they're facing an army of living skeletons from the city of Garrak and that they are invading Stronghaven, their sister city. However, it takes a much darker turn the more that is revealed about what has been happening in those 2 cites in recent years. Like the last 2, very compelling stuff.

There's been a bit of a theme throughout these 3 stories that show where Mary got her inspiration for many of the story elements present in "Frankenstein". That's all well and good, but I'd also love to see a story where Mary encounters something she can't write about. Whether it's because Eight forbids it or because she's too terrified that anyone would believe her, it would be a great and intriguing way to explore her in a fresh new way that not many people get to explore a historical figure in a fictional format.

However, The fourth part of "Army of Death" has a little stinger after the ending music where Mary is writing in her journal that she wants Eight to return her home. If this means that this is the end of Mary's travels, I don't know. But I'm really hoping this isn't it. I remember the older Eight in "Mary's Story" mentioning an encounter with the Axons, and I'm really intrigued how that turned out. Big Finish, make it happen! More Eight and Mary Shelley, please! If anything, it'll give me more to rave about on this blog!

1 comment:

  1. As much as I enjoyed this trilogy of stories, I agree that it would be nice if they take a step back from that idea of Mary getting her inspiration from her travels with the Doctor. It's a cute idea but I think it could wear a little thin if over-used.

    Let's hope for some more adventures for this pair soon! :)

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