Friday, April 12, 2013

I Think It's Gonna Be a Long, Long Time

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 1.02

Title: The Rocket Men
Written by: John Dorney
Team TARDIS: First Doctor, Ian (narrates), Barbara, Vicki
Adversaries: Ashman, the Rocket Men
Release Date: August 2011
Range and Number: Companion Chronicles 6.02

Okay, Whovian boys and girls - I have a teeny-tiny confession to make.

I am a shipper.

I know, I know - you're thinking of those 15-year-old girls on Tumblr photoshopping Ten and Rose into all sorts of, shall we say, compromising positions or poorly-written slash-fic about Captain Jack, Sabalom Glitz and a mango (don't ask me how I know of these things - it scares me too).  But I come from a more sweeter brand of shipper.  The kind that appreciates a sprinkling of warm-fuzzies living harmonious alongside the requisite "Yeah, man! Let's blow crap up!" in her speculative fiction.  Admittedly, some people don't.  Their reaction is "Feelings are icky!"  That is perfectly fine.  But that doesn't stop me from going "Awwww..." when two characters share A Moment, no matter how brief.

That being said - is there anyone out there doubting that Ian and Barbara are an Item?  It may not be exactly canon, but it's darn near to it*.  I figured it out somewhere between "The Reign of Terror" and "Planet of Giants" (Sue beat me by four stories - she figured it out in "The Keys of Marinus," so more power to her).  While I have many reasons why I enjoyed "The Rocket Men," the exploration of Ian and Barbara's relationship may be my number one reason why I liked this story so much.

(I think I just scared away all the fanboys *evil cackle*)

Anyway - I’m getting off-subject here (I listen to Traveling the Vortex. They tangent. A lot. It rubs off on me. I have an excuse). “The Rocket Men” is from Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles line, so it’s a little different than the main range. The stories are shorter and they only involve two people - one of the Doctor’s companions telling the story and one other voice as supporting cast (though this pattern doesn’t hold true for all of them. There are a few with two companions and one that I know of - “Peri and the Piscon Paradox” - actually features the Sixth Doctor as the supporting character). Personally, I like the Companion Chronicles because it gives Big Finish a chance to create stories taking place in eras of Doctor Who where the actor who played the Doctor has passed on, but their companions’ actors are still around. And they do some really clever stuff (would we expect anything different from Big Finish? Nope, not at all).

“The Rocket Men” is the story of the First Doctor taking Ian, Barbara and Vicki to the resort plant of Jobis for a short holiday from running away from monsters and tyrants and all manner of baddies. Of course, this being Doctor Who, something bad has to happen. That something bad takes the form of a bunch of intergalactic pirates flying around on trademark rocket packs invading the resort and looking for the Doctor (who, conveniently enough, has gone off somewhere to collaborate with some other scientist doing science-y things. Hey, the guy’s on holiday. That’s what he does).

There are a fair number of stories in Doctor Who that involve the Doctor taking his companions on a vacation of sorts (“Midnight” did it for TV, “Vampires of Venice” was supposed to be this, and there are a few other Big Finish audios and novels that use this trope as well). But the way this audio starts out with Ian (as played by William Russell, who’s falls into the character of Ian, even years later) talking about “When do you know?” in a very thoughtful and meaningful way that clues you into the fact that this is not going to be a typical death-defying adventure - though there certainly is plenty of death-defying to go around.

The action begins with a group of hostages - Ian, Barbara and Vicki among them - being menaced by a bunch of space pirates led by the slimy Ashman. The Rocket Men (so called because of the rocket packs they fly around on) are looking for the Doctor and they know he's checked into the resort with three other people and they're looking for the Doctor's companions. However, the narrative doesn't stay linear. It keeps flashing back to when they first arrived on Jobis, showing how much fun and relaxing the trip started out. It's meant to be jarring - showing that, yes, traveling with the Doctor can be fun and amazing and life-changing, but it's risky too.

You'd think the narrative jumps would be jarring, but they're written in such a way that the story almost drifts between the relaxation and mortal peril. This is especially evident in the scene where Ian is diving after Barbara after Ashman throws her out off the observation deck above the planet - sort of like a "life flash before your eyes" thing.

Oh - and after Ian rescues Barbara and she's going to be perfectly safe? Ashman shows up for a mid-air hand-to-hand dogfight. And it is fantastic! (sheesh - my high school chemistry teacher was never this badass. Mostly he was an ass. That's another story).

I started out this post talking about shipping and how I enjoy a little bit of romantic fluff in my sci-fi. Well, "The Rocket Men" certainly has it's share of fluff and then some. Though, it seems a little strange to call this "fluff," since it fits so seamlessly into the action. It's all Ian's stream-of-consciousness thoughts - one minute he'll be thinking "Wow, this planet's pretty neat" or "Crap, we're in trouble now" and the next minute he's all "I really like Barbara" (it's much more elegantly written than that, but you get the picture - when the shipper goggles come out to play, I tend to get quite silly).

(And it turns out that the Doctor's a bit of a shipper too. The fact that even the "old and grumpy" First Doctor has to give Ian a bit of a nudge at the end gave me all kinds of joyful-fangirl-happy giggles).

The best part is a bit at the end where Ian reflects on how much he and Barbara have been through in their travels and it was fun to hear my own thoughts and theories voiced in this story. I don't think it's possible for anyone to share something so extraordinary and dangerous with someone else without coming away with at least some affection for the other person. Ian and Barbara come from similar backgrounds, they were both kidnapped by the Doctor, they more or less stuck with each other through the beginning of their travels, it was some time before they really trusted the Doctor and Susan, and they left the TARDIS together. Who else are you going to talk to about your adventures when you get home? Fans can write and speculate about this stuff all they want, but it's nice to see it acknowledged in some way by official media. Even more sweet is when the characters themselves give voice to it (which is why I would much rather ship characters that are plausible within canon and leave Jack, Glitz and the mango firmly in the domain of Tumblr). It's probably silly to get all giddy about this story (after all people DIE!), but I do. And the whole thing makes me quite happy.

On that note - should I post the song? It has absolutely nothing to do with my post, but I've been humming it all day while I've worked on this, so I think you all should be infected with the earworm as well. Enjoy.


*I take that back - at the end of the Sarah Jane Adventures episode "Death of the Doctor," Sarah Jane lists off a bunch of the Doctor's past companions and she specifically mentions that Ian and Barbara are married. So, yeah, RTD took care of that for us - HOORAY!

Next Time on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 1.03 - A Doctor Who novel influenced by the writing of Agatha Christie.

Previously -
Review 1.01 - A Call to Adventure

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