“I… am become…”
Wait just a damned minute. “I am become”? You mean, “I have become”? Robert Oppenheimer made this quote popular with his feeling about the nuclear bomb: “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” but he was the first to admit, this was from Hindu sacred texts, not that that necessarily matters. I’m all for a good quote, and even as much as I like this one, and it’s relevant, it jarred me terribly out of what would have been an incredible ending. Sure, I found myself dealing with chills down my spine, but also a ton of confusion in my head as I tried to wrap my brain around the wording. Let’s rewind…
Neverland finally brings everything to a head with Charley Posh Pollard. Her survival/death conundrum is wrapping up but it’s all down to the fact that this conundrum has so severely damaged the web of time that Gallifrey needs to help wrap it up. And that gives us a chance to get President Romana back in action. Yes, Lalla Ward returns as the President of Gallifrey and she’s every bit as good as she was in the television series. The only issue I really have with her is becuase of Charley; can two hyper-pompous characters star in the same episode? (At least Romana’s pomposity was justified; she’s a Time Lady and a President!) Coordinator Vansell is also back and just as annoying as ever. Then there’s Rassilon, of whom we learn he’s had a few titles over the years: Conqueror of Yssgaroth, Overpriest of Dronid, First Earl of Prydon, Patris of the Vortex, and Ravager of the Void. I’ll give them Prydon easily enough, what with the Prydonian Chapter at the Academy and all that, but the rest just felt made up. Still, Don Warrington’s voice is wonderfully smooth as Rassilon.
So let’s talk about the experience of listening to this story. I did as I’ve been doing: I put the CDs in the drive without looking at them. I hit play and drove to work. 35 minutes later, I’m sitting in my parking lot a few minutes before 7am, waiting for part 1 to end so I can start my day. But it did not end. So when track 7 ended and 8 began, I stopped the CD, and went into work, dying to get to the car to finish it. Part 1 ends on a weak note with Rassilon saying he wants to go home. My experience with part 2 was much the same. What I had not expected was a 2 part story. Same length of time as most of the audios, but only 2 parts. It works far better as a single 2-hour story though. Looking at it in parts simply gives us a weak ending to the first “part”, but the whole is fantastic and the finale… well, I can’t believe the first time I listened to this, I had to wait months to find out the outcome. What a stunning ending.
After pondering the language, I found myself really bothered by a few other ideas. This is where I need to take advice from Haruhi and not look for reality in my fiction. For one, if the Oubliette of Eternity casts people into the “anti-verse”, might it not also be possible for beings from the Anti-verse to end up in our universe? Is the antiverse different than antimatter? How many “pocket universes” are there in Doctor Who. Omega’s antimatter universe was the first, E-Space came later, the 11th Doctor finds House (not the medical doctor) in one and brings a crashed TARDIS out of it. I’m not sure about the Land of Fiction, but that sounds decidedly other universe-y to me. Doctor Who has a tendency of giving us too much of a special thing too often, making it seem less special. That says nothing of other suspensions of disbelief, like at a certain point, Romana banks on Vansell not being under the “anti-influence” but if she were wrong, it would have meant disaster. It’s too great a risk!
On the other hand, there are a ton of Easter Eggs for the fans. The Doomsday device (Colony in Space), Chancellor Goth (The Deadly Assassin), Rassilon’s Tomb (The Five Doctors), Mavic Chen (The Daleks’ Master Plan), Kembel (Mission to the Unknown), Morbius (The Brain of Morbius) Peladon (The Curse/Monster of Peladon) E-Space (The E-space trilogy), and potentially a ton more than I didn’t write down fast enough are all mentioned from the classic series. From recent audio’s, we have an understanding finally of why Embrace the Darkness opened with the Gallifreyan armada in the Doctor’s path. There’s reference to the R101 (Storm Warning), Malebolgia and New York (Minuet in Hell and Invaders from Mars). I’ll confess that writing this stuff down in the car once I park (or at one of two particularly patience-trying lights I often find myself stuck at) means I don’t get to write everything because, try as I might, I forget some. But from a fans perspective, this story is loads of fun. And I also have to credit simple lines like Vansell’s mispronouncing Beauvais, France which the Doctor corrects. That simple act does rise a story above, because it shows thought from the writer and I respect that. Then we come to Zagreus, the flip… no the anti-side of Rassilon.
For me Rassilon is the end all, be all of Gallifreyan mythology. And well he should be! Let there be that one mystery, that gives even the Doctor chills. Like the title of the show itself, some things are better as mysteries! Rassilon had a nursery rhyme: “Who unto Rassilon’s Tower would go, must choose above, between, below.” Ok, been there, done that; it worked at the time but did we need Gallifreyan nursery rhymes to feature and ironically around another figure of some dread? Is that the best we can do: “Zagreus lives inside your head, Zagreus lives among the dead, Zagreus sees you in your bed and eats you when you’re sleeping!” Really? I mean, it’s great if Rassilon didn’t already get one of those. I’m reminded of Monty Python’s Holy Grail. “I told him we’ve already got one!” Suddenly that “holy grail” doesn’t seem special anymore. Yet the audio treats Rassilon like Merlin; the kind, helpful old man. He even refers to the Doctor as Gallifrey’s Favorite son. I thank Timothy Dalton every day for his outstanding portrayal of Rassilon! I just wish we had more of that from the founder of Time Lord society. Well, at least it isn’t Rassilon the Whiney.
Zagreus ends up being more of a concept than a character anyway; a concept of destruction, power unchecked. And that is scary! And when the Doctor finds only one way to save the day, we get a stunning ending. Stunning in two ways. First, the Doctor slaps Charley which really felt so wrong that Mary Whitehouse probably rolled over in her grave. And second, when we find out what has happened to the Doctor, his final proclamation for the next 17 months would be…
“I… am become… ZAGREUS…”
Lucky for readers of the Junkyard, you won’t have to wait that long to see what happened… stay tuned! ML