It could have all ended here, and that's the truth. Ben Chatham and his world was never closer to extinction than this story. For a start, Adam Rickitt had fled to New Zealand, seemingly forever, abandoning any career that could concievably get him on Doctor Who. What's more, Chatham threads were becoming more and more trouble than they were worth, with The Ghosts of Weatherfield triggering a flame war that got every single poster on its thread banned - some temporarily, some not-so - and the thread deleted. Chatham popularity was at an all-time low and, with sparacus gripped with justifiable paranoia that his employers were scrutinizing his online life, it was only a matter of time before the stories would be retired.
And so it was decided that the final "special" of the trilogy-in-four-parts would be the last story full stop! For what was intended to be his farewell performance, it can't be denied that sparacus did us proud in this veritable Ben Chatham Greatest Hits Package - there's wild animal attacks, young women and children slaughtered in blood-drenched carnage, a suspicious quasi-religious organization that might as well have "WE'RE CONTROLLED BY ALIENS!" on a flashing neon sign outside their front door, negative portrayals of the lower classes, women, and religion, the Doctor happily working with Torchwood and of course the head of NuWho rammed up the arse of the Pertwee era in an ill-thought-out sequel to a story that wasn't particularly good the first time.
And yet... sparacus finally gives something approaching what the fans actually ask for. The Doctor, Donna and Torchwood are halfway recognizable for once, and they even get their own (far more interesting and exciting) adventure away from all the tedious soap and boozing that remains the exclusive provence of Chatham and pals. Kyle, an ensemble darkhouse and most popular character after only five non consecutive tales, gets more detailed background and characterization in this story than Katie Ryan has in the six years of Chathamverse tales. Mary Sue Do-No-Wrong Ben's nasty secret is revealed and for once there's no attempt to make us think Ben is the victim, and is painted as a nasty and unlikeable sod of greater malignance than the smoothe snob we saw before. The cliffhanger ending of the story is borderline genius: it's not a ticking bomb in a room or Ben faced with death. He has the choice to make amends to his sister or continue his old life, now shown as the hollow illusion it always was. It's never seemed a greater distance to that first trip in Little Balcome with devil-shaped aliens randomly killing vicars to a heartbroken Ben being confronted by the boy who's life he'd ruined since before he was born. For once Ben actually has something to cry about, and a valid reason to abandon life aboard the TARDIS, and just for one adventure only Chatham actually is interesting enough to merit our attention.
The only problem is it should have ended here, and it's being going nowhere fast ever since...
- This was credited as "the long-promised first episode of the new Doctor Who adventure", rather interesting as these specials were sold as Ben Chatham stories guest-starring the Doctor. But "long-promised" was right, as Crystal was being bigged-up by sparacus before he'd even finished Winter of the Lost, albeit as an epic story set on an alien planet. The finished product never leaves Earth (indeed, The Sisyphean Planet notwithstanding, there are only five stories that ever do: World on the Edge, The Imperfect, The Sun Goblet of Sacrosan, The Lords of Ancrazar and The Vampire Planet).
- There is a brief cast list for the story, for the first time confirming that Katie Ryan is played by Kate Ryan (an imaginative choice of casting there, given she was previously played by Martine McCutcheon) and Kyle Scott by Rory Jennings (better known as Tommy Connelly in The Idiot's Lantern or a certain Kaled youth in I, Davros: Innocence).
March, 2009. In London Zoo, the tigers suddenly leap out of their cages and attack the crowd.
- The introduction is remarkably florid for sparacus' usual prose, beginning with "as the sun sets and the cold March wind blows straw, dust and empty crisp packets into the air" before focussing on the gorey aspects as "tigers leap upon the crowd, tossing children around like rag dolls and biting deep into flesh".
- The brief life and death of Head Keeper Len Meadows sets a precedent for sparacus occasionally granting obviously deadmanwalking redshirt characters without more background and characterization than the regulars, hitting a peak in New Morning.
- Mad animals slaughtering women and children? A true cliche of the Chathamverse which sparacus has trotted out on numerous occasions - including StarMan, A Time For Love, Web of Lies, Goodbye Is Never Easy (sic), Operation: Delta, Doppelganger, Earthspan, Death in the Cloisters, The Fields of Death, Acorn Man, The Rats of Tenbury, Lair, The Lord of the Reedy River, New Morning, The Day of Deliverence (sic) and Day of the Beasts. It seems as though he was inspired by the infamous Doomwatch episode Tomorrow the Rat, which he plagiarized word for word in The Rats of Tenbury/Lair.
- Enraged animals turning on human beings was often found in the pages of TV Comic, from Kingdom of the Animals to The Castaway, The Arkwood Experiments (which begins with the big cats at a zoo behaving strangely) to The Unheard Voice. All of them are of a higher quality and quantity of plot than appears here.
The next day, the Doctor and Donna use the TARDIS to drop Ben, Katie and Kyle off at the Cedars Private Clinic for rehab patients so Kyle can meet his mother, Sharon Scott, a recovering heroin addict.
- This set up is rather odd. Kyle has apparent recieved a text from his mother asking to see him at Cedars, so he uses an unreliable time machine to get there rather than public transport? Perhaps the Doctor offered as a favor to Kyle, the only character bar Donna he would reasonably like, but why have Ben and Katie tagged along? Is Ben trying to provide moral support for what is rapidly and obliviously becoming his only friend? If so, he could do a favor and ensure Katie did not come along as well, as she spends the whole time telling Kyle off for loving his mother. As she has no like for Kyle or interest in his well-being, she can only be continuing to stalk Ben - yet, all the signs are that she's far better informed about Kyle's life than Ben is...
- Ben and Katie show no suspicion of any sort about the Clinic, bar the fact that Kyle's mother is unlikely to be able to afford it. Clearly, the events of Harvest of Evil (where Katie's stay at the Limes Private Clinic put her in danger of aliens preying on vulnerable humans) have been forgotten due to the First Great Canon Reset.
- The Doctor marvels at the Victorian neo-gothic architecture of the Clinic. Reptillian Dawn "established" that the Tenth Doctor has a passionate love for gothic architecture and even attends two hour lectures on the subject.
- Sparacus once again fails to understand what a "quip" is, believe that “Well here we are then” qualifies.
Bored, the Doctor and Donna leave the squabbling trio, using the TARDIS to investigate the massacre at London Zoo.
- This surprisingly credible act (the Doctor has no interest in domestics) is slightly undermined by the fact he takes over a day of being intrigued by the flying tigers to investigate. Is this the first chance he's got to ditch the lot of them?
- Despite being outspoken, middle class and a friend of Kyle's, Donna doesn't give any support to him when Katie bullies him about his family. In fact, she doesn't say anything at all. Maybe she just doesn't waste her breath on these Chathamverse losers any more?
Entering the clinic, Kyle has Director Lavina Hendridge take them to see his mother.
- Showing her usual psychotic lack of tact, Katie asks Ben: “How the hell can chavboy’s mum afford this? Are they lottery winners?” Apart from being shockingly rude and insensitive, why on Earth does she expect Ben to know the answer? Kyle can't even explain it! Come to think of it, why does Katie care? Is she just massively insecure about her own social standing since Ben started enjoying the company of "chavs" over hideously unlikable sluts like herself?
In a private room, Sharon Scott explains that her latest boyfriend Trevor owns a string of nightclubs and is paying for her treatment. Katie lectures Sharon over her treatement of her son, finally driving Ben to physically drag Katie out of the room for being "bang out of order".
- "What the hell is wrong with you, Katie?" Ben demands quite rightly. Despite being repeatedly told off for insulting Kyle's mother, the first thing she does in Sharon's presence is to mock her for "living off some dodgy London wide boy" and "wasting half her life as an addict" - deeply rich for a woman who's sole purpose in life has been to have sex with strange men and get drunk on wine. Is this because on some level she realizes she is as much a victim as Sharon, perhaps worse as she at least has the love of her son? Her excuse for her behavior is that she "was only saying what Ben was thinking", seemingly missing the fact Ben might just have been shutting up for a very good reason.
- “Some of us gain money via careers rather than on our backs," Katie shouts at Sharon. "It’s a shame you didn’t think more about your son years ago when getting hooked on drugs instead of wasting half your life as an addict.” Um... hang on. The way Katie's going on, it's as though Sharon has been recently trying manipulate Kyle for her own ends, when all she's done is give the guy a hug and not said a word! Is Katie leaping to conclusions or did the author simply forget to include some sudden and suspicious ingraciating behavior?
Upset, Sharon apologizes for her neglectful treatement of Kyle and vows to be clean.
- We learn a lot about Kyle in this single installment, more even than Ben in his first two seasons. At 16, Sharon fell pregnant to a casual boyfriend (who Kyle strongly resembles), who promptly abandoned her. Since then, she became addicted to smack (though she has made several attempts to get clean), and apparently worked as a prostitute, leaving Kyle to fend for himself and understandably end up becoming a street criminal by age 22. Yet this doesn't really connect with Kyle's debut adventure, The Lords of Ancrazar, where Kyle's mother was addicted to cocaine and had a regular boyfriend (both of whom didn't want Kyle around) and Kyle was in regular contact with his sister "when she needs dosh". Kyle's sister is never mentioned here, which, given the events in Crystal, is curiously ironic.
- Ben and Katie wonder if they will encounter "that Amy Whitehouse person or Pete Docherty” in the clinic. Perhaps regrettably, they never do.
Elsewhere in the clinic, four cats abruptly leap through a widnow and gouge the eyeballs out of a young male heroin addict...
- For a cat lover, sparacus has quite a fetish for these furry animals abruptly slaughtering people and having to be killed. Worrying, isn't it?
- From now on, the episodes are divided between events occuring in "LONDON" and "WALES", giving a clue as to the identity of guest stars this week. Does sparacus think that 'London' is the name of a country, or that 'Wales' is the capital of Wales?
Ben and two other patients rush to the rescue, and the cats flee.
- Katie, significantly, doesn't do a damn thing to help the poor guy.
- "The cats sense that they are being overpowered". Presumably being picked up and thrown to the ground was too subtle for them to realize?
After an unsuccessful inquiry at London Zoo, the Doctor and Donna go to a cafe to wait for the others to finish at the clinic.
- This exchange really is golden sparacus material - incredibly poor exposition, a dollop of class snobbery, and chronic inability to believe that anyone might continue to investigate things after a single setback: "Hmmmm now that is annoying.” “What, the fact that those tigers killed five people yesterday after showing no signs of abnormal aggression before?” “Nah. Well yes. But I mean’t the fact that the tigers have been shot and already cremated . I’d have liked to have examined one of them. Anyway, too late now. What do you fancy doing while we wait for the others to visit Kyle’s mum? How about a quick visit to the Tate Modern?” “Not my thing. Lets just find a café.” What's terrifying is that this is the best characterization either the Tenth Doctor or Donna have ever recieved in the Chathamverse...
As the injured junkie is rushed away in an ambulance, Ben returns to the Scotts to inform them of this development. Hendridge pops by to reassure the group and offers some pamphlets about the Welsh branch of the Cedars Clinic.
- “This is fascinating," says Ben of a single leaflet. "A religious retreat to give a new direction to the lives of ex-addicts.” Not remotely like a brainwashing cult, then? Given that Ben has encountered seven such organizations since The Fields of Death alone, surely be must be a tad suspicious? Especially when the branch is based in spitting distance of a time-space rift and run on "Christian principles" just after an alien monster pretending to be Jesus Christ caused a very public massacre in The Lindig Valley Mystery? And Ben doesn't find anything remotely dodgey about this at all? Then again, maybe he does, and is patronizing the creepy Hendridge who seems to believe that a rehab clinic offers absolutely no service at all whatsoever to the mental state of their patients.
- Further evidence that the Cedars staff are up to something when the Director glosses over the fact a litter of deranged cats tore the face off one of the patients. Then again, no one seems particularly surprised or alarmed by this horrible event. Sharon, for her part, is not surprised to discover this animal attack was responsible for the screams instead of a patient suffering violent panic attacks...
At the cafe, the Doctor and Donna hear of wild cows causing a massacre in Laffdiggogg town centre and immediately head off in the TARDIS to investigate.
- Insane homicidal cows returned in Day of the Beasts but lacked any connection to the events of this story. Thankfully. This is also the first hint the evil animal effect is not confined to felines.
- The Doctor once again refuses to wait for Ben and the others. He really is sick of them, isn't he?
- A minor detail: the Doctor drinks coffee and Donna has carrot cake. Presumably because she's a redhead. Or maybe sparacus has got confused and is writing for the carrot-obsessed Melanie Jane Bush instead?
Materializing in Laffdiggogg after the massacre, the Doctor and Donna meet Captain Jack and his Torchwood crew investigating the aftermath.
- Bizarrely, the Doctor immediately recognizes the group, even though he hasn't met them before (Jack has to introduce the team). Prior to the Reset, the Doctor was on good terms with Torchwood, having the organization on speeddial, trusting them over the British government and having Captain Jack and Adam Mitchell join their number in The Shadows of Christmas (which, had it been finished, would have explained how in the name of god's arse this fits into continuity). It is not explained, though, how Jack knows who Donna is - it's possible that he was told of her by Martha following the events of All Things Must Pass, but how can that be if Martha isn't part of Torchwood which she was then?
- The Doctor encountering the Torchwood Team pre-Exit Wounds was almost forgivable at the time, since The Stolen Earth had not been screened when sparacus was penning this story. It seems, though, that sparacus was completely ignorant about the deaths of Toshiko and Owen.
- A baffling typo makes it appears that Ianto introduces himself to people by squeezing his left buttock.
Owen uses an alien device to scan a surviving cow, and discovers it is being affected by an energy emenating from the Welsh branch of the Cedars Clinic...
- Wow. A theraputic retreat turns out to be an evil alien front. Who didn't see that one coming?
- How VERY convenient. There just happens to be a device that measures brain patterns, emotions, awareness and external energy sources, and Owen just happens to have it on a trip where it will completely solve the plot. Ye gods, are we supposed to be surprised that a cow might have "massively heightened emotions and awareness" when it's JUST BEEN SHOT SEVERAL TIMES?!?
- One might assume the bullet-proof cow could be a reference to the Jim Carrey film Me, Myself and Irene where one such bovine takes seventeen bullets to the head and still survives, zombie-like. Or it could just be a coincidence.
The Doctor rings Ben and informs him of the connection between the Cedars and the animal attacks.
- Ben is apparently under some incredible strain. His pedantry fails him spectacularly, as he notes "Me and Katie" rather than "Katie and I" and then decides the best way to stay inconspicious is to pick fights with the nurses just because they are having a "dreary conversation". When Ben bemoans to Katie, "I sometimes think that other people exist just to get in my way,” Katie laughs at him... then realizes he's serious and awkwardly adds “They just don’t appreciate you Ben.” First Katie appeared almost psychotically rude, but now seems back to normal but Ben seems to have been possessed by this force instead...
- Ben's interrogation of the patients goes predictably nowhere, and as punishment for a burnt-out junkie who has neither noticed anything unusual about the staff or taken part in any medical experiments, the smoothe scumbag forces the patient to take a Fox's Glacier Mint upon him. Presumably this knocks him back off the wagon and sets back his recovery by months - and this arbitrary act of hideous cruelty turns out to be a clue as to Ben's true nature...
In order to keep Hendridge occupied and get some information, Kyle pretends to be interested in enrolling Sharon for a trip to a Cedars retreat.
- But, significantly, doesn't have her sent to the Welsh branch, despite Ben's instructions. Clearly, Kyle isn't going to be blindly obedient when it comes to risking his own family - another difference between him and Ben this story will brutally explore.
The group are taken to the "detox for the soul" contemplation sessions in a large and imposing concrete building nearby. Hendridge leaves the group sitting with other patients in silence awaiting inspiration from God.
- Katie, unable to grasp the concept of "contemplation" starts shouting at the other patients, “Er why isn’t anyone saying anything?”, calls their belief nonsense and storms off to find some food. Why, precisely, does anyone want her around?!
In a red-lit chamber beneath the complex, Hendridge meets a giant spider sitting before a large crystal glowing red.
- Yes, the Eight-Legs have returned! The giant spiders from Jon Pertwee's finale, Planet of the Spiders in 1974, are back. Domestic arachnids from the 25th century, mutated into hyper-intelligent psychic-powered giant evil bitches by the blue crystals of Metabelis 3 - all of whom were destroyed by the death throes of their leader, the Great One (first by her telepathic death scream, and then by blowing up the entire mountain all the Eight Legs were living in). Nevertheless, like Daleks, the giant spiders haven't let puny extinction get in their way. In The Eight Doctors by Terrance Dicks, the Seventh Doctor discovers a few surviving members were left as wild scavengers on the blue planet, while Return of the Spiders by Gareth Roberts had another branch defeated by the Fourth Doctor, Romana and K9 (as well as revealing that, no matter how intelligent the Eight-Legs are, they have an uncontrollable love of deep-pan Meat Lover's pizzas). Most memorably of all was The Eight Truths (AKA Worldwide Web) by Eddie Robson, an audio adventure where the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller discover their old foe the Headhunter has allied herself with the spiders and helped them conquer the entire Earth in 2015 with help from a Scientology-like cult and a remote stellar manipulator. The latter in particular explored the more unusual abilities of the spiders, including their trick of vanishing into the astral plane.
Hendridge, a servant of the Queen Spider, explains that she has delivered Ben Chatham and his associates to her.
- This raises a few questions. Why has Hendrige promised to trick Ben into visiting? Come to think of it, how did she do that? Sharon sent for Kyle of her own free will and there was no guarantee Ben would come along. Given that there is someone else in the clinic that would be perfect to lure Ben into a trap (well, in theory), it seems ridiculous that Hendridge didn't use that instead. Did Ben just turn up earlier than expected and Hendridge is taking credit for it?
- Why does Hendridge have to speak to the Queen face to face? The Queen's telepathic! As evidenced by her regular updates from Wales!
- “This is good. And I am informed that the Doctor is in Wales investigating the cow incident," is the sort of dialogue that's wierd coming from anyone, but a gigantic mutant spider with delusions of godhood?
The Queen Spider is confident that once they have retrieved the second of two red crystals, they will be all-powerful.
- You'd have thought the Eight Legs would have sworn off using giant glowing crystals to take over the world, given what happened the last time they tried...
While Katie is making a scene at the refectory, Ben is spotted by a blond woman who recognizes him. He ignores her and refuses to discuss the matter with Katie.
- The refectory is apparently full of organic food and home-baked bread, but Ben can orders some grilled chicken and roast vegetables and a bottle of white wine. They let rehab patients have alcohol?! Doesn't anyone find that just a teeny tiny bit suspicious?
- Ben ("clearly in a foul mood") tells Kyle to "mind your own damn business”. So it's all right for Ben to gatecrash a reunion between Kyle and his mother and put her in the firing line, but Kyle's not allowed the slightest knowledge about Ben? Mounting evidence that Ben's holier-than-thou attitude is not to be trusted, especially as Katie voices her suspicion that "all this pretence of being queer is just a ruse to make yourself seem more intriguing.” Well, I didn't want to be the first to say it...
Finally, Ben is drunk enough to reveal the truth: the woman is his sister. Ben destroyed every letter the "lowbrow slut" sent to her family, and has been claiming to be an only child ever since. Kyle is horrified at his behavior...
- And so should he be! Apparently his sister did "damage" to the family by taking drugs and sleeping around... which is precisely what Ben does... and apparently Ben's father "a very traditional man", couldn't cope. Yet he has been reasonably tolerant that his only son is gay, that his brother Henry had a string of underage boyfriends, and the family is friends with arms dealers selling land mines in Afghanistan. Given Ben's admitted he's been lying to everyone, why should we believe his sister did any of these crimes, let alone was disowned for them?
- Ben notes that any of his sister's attempt to contact him were "probably for drug money". Precisely what he tells Kyle about his own sisters attempts to contact him in The Lords of Ancrazar. It seems Ben has something of a full-blown vendetta when it comes to female siblings. Let's hope Katie's an only child...
The Doctor, Donna and Torchwood approach the Welsh clinic when two white-robed beings emerge and use telekenisis to disarm Owen and Jack. The group are captured.
- Bizarrely, Gwen, Tosh and Ianto are not armed. Even more bizarre, despite the Doctor's "urging caution", the gang decide the best way is to storm into the place guns-blazing... while Jack shouts "We mean you no harm." If they wanted to sneak in, why not use the TARDIS?
- If the robed figures are controlled by the spiders, why use energy-wasting telekinesis instead of zapping the intruders?
In Camden Supersave Market, a pack of wild pitbull terriers attack customers.
- By now we really have to wonder why the spiders are making random and pointless animal attacks in London and Wales? What purpose did blinding a recovering junkie serve, let alone slaughtering visitors to the zoo? Was it to deliberately attract the attention of the authorities? Well, now they're on the case, there's no need. And why do the attacks only affect specific animals? And why, frankly, doesn't anyone defend themselves? "The man behind the fish counter shouts in terror as a pitbull terrier leaps up and bites into him, the blood spattering into the ice keeping the fish cold" but doesn't use any of the knives he must have access to seem to be used. Nor does anyone, say, topple a pyramid of tin cans onto their assailants. Why didn't anyone notice a pack of wild dogs entering anyway? Is it just a random excuse for a cliffhanger? Cause that's sure as hell what it looks like...
Ben has consumed several bottles of wine, despite Katie's protests.
- Ben defends his drinking on the grounds, "I've had a shock" - he thus has no reason to stay sober. Despite the fact the refectory is in a clinic connected to violent animal attacks (one of which happened right in front of him) and the Doctor and Torchwood could well be needing him to save their lives (unlikely, true, but not impossible). This blatant selfishness is unheard of... well, to be completely accurate, it's unheard of for Ben to act like this and have other characters criticize him for it. For once, his laziness and apathy isn't being passed off as sensible maturity. Why the change? Well, maybe Ben's just dropped the "nice guy" act now he's been reminded of what he is really like to those he cares about...
Ben's sister - Nicola "Nikki" Chatham - arrives and Kyle and Katie leave them alone, heading off to continue the investigation.
- Katie's ability to "get the hint" is really out of character.
- Ben jeers at his sister Nicola, for ending up in rehab and gleefully reveals he destroyed all the letters she sent him - even though she sent them to Ben in belief he could be trusted to pass messages to their parents. When Nicola is disgusted by his actions, the drunken Ben complains that he was never appreciated by his parents while she was around, and thus ensured she would never come back.
This huge inferiority complex on Ben's part actually makes a great deal of sense and shows why he continually badmouths Rose Tyler who is, after all, a blond woman more popular than he is. His treatment of Katie Ryan (another blond woman who is better qualified to him and outranks him as an archaeologist) as nothing but a sex toy is also put into a different light as well. It also makes Katie's accusations about his sexuality rather interesting - does he just pretend to be confused to get attention? His treatment of Anselm and others shows he has an uncontrollable desire to be the centre of others' universes and anyone who has a life beyond him is "unworthy of his love". Yet, his compulsion to communicate via text and also his clear reluctance to hang around his family indicates that Ben is, on some level, aware of how messed-up he is (a later story admits Chathams have a strong history of clinical depression) and doesn't want face-to-face contact. He is desperate not to wreck the illusion about how famous and loved he is, and needs to get completely pissed (even by his own standards) before he can confess the truth... and that's to the one person no one is likely to believe, a recovering longterm junkie. Who, rather conveniently, ends up dead before the story is over...
- In Day of the Beasts it's hinted that part of the reason his parents had so little interest in Ben was because his father had sired a bastard son with a French whore called Giselle, about the time of Nikki's departure. Losing a daughter and gaining an illegitimate son at the same time would be unlikely to make a bible-bashing musician like Sir Alistair Chatham suddenly focus on Ben - who's "discovery" of his sexuality not long after becomes even more suspect, especially as he only revealed it to his parents a) after he'd been abandoned by the TARDIS crew and b) as emotional blackmail on his new boyfriend.
- Nikki's choice of the Cedars clinic makes sense, given how Christian her family are - no doubt such an organization's clean bill of health would convince her parents of her reforming.
In the Welsh Cedars retreat, the Doctor and Donna are brought before Dalton Mayne.
- Just where have Torchwood gone?! Are they still outside? Locked in a cell?
Mayne who explains that the Earth is in the Last Days before the Rapture - where all true believers are taken up to Heaven, leaving the ungodly to face the apocalypse.
- ...which is no explanation why wild animals should suddenly be killing people now, before the Rapture. No wonder the Doctor dubs him "Barking."
The Doctor realizes Mayne and the others are wealthy, American-funded fundamentalists who 'save' true believers by killing them, but doesn't understand how they could have gained access to the technology that can control animals. Mayne offers to show them the solution.
- Disturbingly, the Doctor notes the only problem with this cult is its anachronistic technology. So the Doctor doesn't care about this Heaven's Gate style suicidal organization at all? The automatic assumption that any hardline Christians must be American is rather nasty as well...
Meanwhile, Nikki apologizes for making Ben feel so neglected.
- A truly big move from the Chatham girl there. Notably Ben takes a lot of prompting before he is apologizes... for destroying the letters. Although he admits to deliberately driving a wedge between his parents and his sister out of sheer spite. Maybe Nikki is trying to calm down the drunk psycho before he does any damage, since after all, she'll need his help to get back with his parents and then the truth can come out. Again, oddly enough, she conveniently dies before this can happen.
- Nicola has suddenly become "Nikki" without any explanation. Before she was simply Nicola.
Nikki explains she left home because she fell pregnant to her boyfriend Kevin, who left her to raise their son, Craig, for the next fifteen years.
- Yet another irresponsible young man, ignorant of contraception and a woman refusing to have an abortion (though being a "devout Christian", Nikki might have been against it). It seems Cedars clinic specialize in single teen mums who turn to drugs.
Upon realizing he has not only ruined his sister's life, but also his nephew's, Ben starts drinking even more than before.
- Ben's sobered enough to start blatantly lying again. "I despise shallow celebrity culture," he insists, ignoring all the times he's expected to be worshipped by the intelligence services and the way he reveres David Bowie...
- Ben is disgusted Nikki slept with a man named Kevin. Given his backlog of ex's include Corrinne, Charles, Katie, Carl, Kyle, this just ads to his hypocrisy. In fact, he seems to be basing his whole social life on what his sister got up to, like some nasty stalker obsessive...
The Doctor and Donna are presented with the Lord's Crystal, which the Doctor finds "dangerously" familiar.
- "Hmmmm. This is more serious than I'd imagined," the Doctor observes. So the deaths of all those innocent people and animals hasn't been really important before now?
- "This looks dangerously like the blue crystals of Metebelis 3. But red? RED?" the Doctor splutters. Quite right too. The idea of anything red on Metabelis III is odd, given how the Doctor goes on at length at how blue everything is on the famous "blue planet" of the Acteon Group. Blue flowers, butterflies, birds, unicorns, mountains, soldier ants, fish, giant eagles, trees, snakes, lightning, rain, mud and much much more. The only reason the spiders aren't blue is because they're not natives. So how did such a precious element end up not only on Earth but red? (And wouldn't it be considered a purple crystal in the blue sunlight, anway?)
A panel slides back in the wall and a giant spider enters.
- Hardly surprising, really, especially as the Doctor's just mentioned a planet known for its giant spiders...
The spider introduces itself as the Queen.
- So what's she doing in Wales when she should be in London. Did she teleport across?
- The Queen refers to Donna as a "female human" rather than a "two-legs". Tch. What a lack of research from the author.
- Another reasonably successful attempt to capture the regulars: after staring in stunned silence at the giant spider, Donna nudges the Doctor. “Well say something!” she hisses. “Er like what? I’m rather stuck for words at the mo,” the Doctor confesses, letting Donna do all the talking.
The Queen reveals the spiders have planned the "great deliverance" using the red crystals.
- Interesting, sparacus can spell deliverance here, but not later, when he uses it in story titles. Twice.
- “How did you survive the death of the Great One? Without her you cannot exist, or so I thought?” the Doctor asks (so clearly spara's ignoring the other times they've met). Even aside the fact the Third Doctor was dying of radiation and hardly giving much thought to the less-giant spiders, the question is a good one... just a pity that Donna (and by extension, the audience) have no idea what the Doctor's on about. The explanation isn't up to much either: the lesser spiders used the red crystals to gain "insight and independence" beyond their ruler (flatly contradicted by the scene where the spiders dare not risk taking the blue crystal from the Third Doctor for fear of angering the Great One) which allowed them to escape to Earth (though they needed a chanting bunch of trainee Bhuddists to get just one of them there). With all these problems, the fact we see all the spiders dying on screen seems almost academic.
- It's tempting to assume that the reason the spiders were dormant for over thirty years was to recover from the shock of the Great One's death, but why should we have to do all the hard work? That's the author's job!
- In Planet of the Spiders, while the Great One intended to conquer the universe, her subjects intended to conquer the Earth and enslave humanity (they, like Ben, have something of an inferiority complex) using them as servants, hosts and food. Here the spiders want to "enlighten and free every animal on this planet" - a very generous attitude from a race that indulges in social cannibalism (Planet shows that the coronation of a new queen involves eating the old one). They also want to remove the "human infestation", which is odd as humans are the only race they find intelligent enough to be useful.
- The Doctor protests that he will not allow the spiders to wipe out humanity because it's "tampering with nature". Again, he seems not that fussed about the fullscale genocide of his favorite species, especially given when he first met Donna - you know, the companion in the same room with him, who also dislikes giant creepy-crawlies that jump on people's backs (cf Turn Left) - he wiped out another race of giant omnivorous spiders who pointed out it was entirely natural for them to wipe out mankind. It seems just as Ben has his morality challenged, the Doctor loses his entirely. Um, genocide is bad full stop! Remember?
- The Time Lord sides with humanity because we have "evolved naturally to be the most intelligent life form" on Earth. "Evolved naturally"?! The Jaggeroth, Fendahl, Daemons, Rassilon and several Silurians would argue with that. Besides, define "intelligent" - dolphins don't have hatecrimes, do they?
Bored, the Queen uses the red crystals to stun the Doctor and Donna.
- Rather than, say, jumping on the Doctor's back and taking control of the Last of the Time Lords. That wouldn't remotely interest anyone, would it?
In London, Ben gets a call from Anselm and is irritated when Nikki is unsurprised he's gay.
- Ben in a nutshell. The moment his sexuality is mentioned he grows uncomfortable and expects his sister to be shocked at the truth... and when she isn't he's irritated. Given he still regularly sleeps with women (for the highly ethical reason they "look good on his arm"), surely he must be counted as bissexual? Or is he using "gay" as some kind of insult? A subconscious criticism of what a diseased tool he really is?
- Ben and Anselm's relationship continues to be chaotic in every sense. Since Wolf, Anselm was offered a job in Canada but Ben emotionally blackmailed him into turning it down, whereupon Anselm immediately ignored all Ben's texts. Anselm now wants to "pick up where they left off". What is wrong with this guy? One can only assume he's bored, horny and is only using Ben for sex. Not that Ben can complain as he shouts over the phone, "You needed some space? I haven’t had sex for three weeks because of this and I need it now!" In front of his sister. In a clinic he knows is a dangerous place linked to mass slaughter. I know Ben's pissed out of his skull, but come on... Worse, the moment Anselm agrees to a shag, Ben is suddenly blowing him kisses and calling him "darling", the superficial little slut.
Hendridge and five orderlies capture Ben, Nikki, Kyle and Katie.
- And none of them make any attempt to escape. Why does Hendridge only capture them now? Why not the moment they arrived and weren't ready for trouble? Why didn't she use Nikki to lure Ben there? Why is suddenly talking like a cheap gangster instead of her long, formal speech patterns of earlier? HUH?!?!
They are thrown into a pitch dark cellar where strange whispering voices taunt them.
- Strong, independent and fiesty Katie immediately has a panic attack in a dark room. Typically, she begs Ben to remedy the situation. Even more typically, it is Kyle that does so. He then intelligently tries to pick the lock while Ben is unable to do much more but be "concerned" and tell everyone to stay calm - though, given the amount he's drunk, it's impressive he's even able to talk.
- Why are the spiders whispering “Come, come, come to ussss…. Fly fly fly to usssss”? It's almost as though sparacus has gotten confused and is writing for the Faire Folk from Torchwood: Small Worlds. Speaking of Torchwood, where are they again?
Through the darkness, spiders attack Ben and Nikki, clawing at their faces...
- Curiously enough leaving Kyle and Katie alone entirely. Are they somehow hunting Chatham DNA? Why are they biting Nikki's face but only clawing at Ben? Their behavior for Eight-Legs is rather odd - normally they'd just zap the humans and then attack them, especially now they've got these bitching red crystals all of a sudden. They do, however, perfectly follow the behavior of the giant spiders in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Consequences, even doing to the face-hugging. It wouldn't be the first time sparacus would turn to that particular franchise for inspiration...
- Given the intention this would be the last Chatham story, the cliffhanger had more weight at the time, especially thought it could be the last time Ben's "pale, smooth cheeks" were discussed in such detail.
- The next installment has said cheeks "silky"... were the spiders cocooning him?
Ben throws the spider off and the group escape.
- Ben's first priority is to get out a mirror and checks his face for scratches, leading to Katie to "put her arm on his shoulder" (belt some sense into him?) and assure him he's still beautiful. But what about Nikki? She got bitten on the face! And Ben's not even asked about her! In fact, the lack of reference to her would make one think that they'd left her locked in the room with the spiders...
- So the all powerful teleporting laser-shooting mind-controlling spiders don't follow them? And there are no guards left to make sure Ben and pals don't escape?
In a nearby room, Hendridge is basking in a red glow as the "final liberation" begins...
- It's hard not to notice the intense detail of the opening episodes has degenerated somewhat... as has the dialogue: “It is happening. The final liberation is at hand. Soon my mistress will rule the world, ha ha ha ha ha………”
- Is the final liberation the same thing or different to the great deliverance? And why doesn't Hendridge refer to her leader as the "Queen"? Especially given what we discover in the final episode...
Mayne revives the Doctor and Donna to watch a plasma tv screen showing the red crystals "freeing" animals across the globe.
- So the Queen knocks the duo unconscious just so they can be woken up again? And can't a psychic genius come up with something a tad more impressive than some CCTV footage? And wasn't there supposed to be two crystals that needed to be found for the plan to work? Yet, that doesn't seem to be a problem any more. Did sparacus forget all about them, or did he decide against another tedious 'hunt-the-crystal' plot that was already too similar to Planet of the Spiders for comfort?
- The "final liberation" consists of packs of dogs in urban streets, farm animals in market towns, a swarm of bees storming a supermarket and a horse kicking a woman to death. Very impessive. And what happens when humanity uses guns, gas or other such nastiness against these 'enlightened' animals? That horse, for example, is not going to aid the cause when all it needs is to be shot in the leg, the bees won't be impressive in a cloud of pesticide, and the packs of dogs aren't going to stop a tank. All the Spiders are doing is prompting mankind to slaughter the other animals of the planet - but is this the plan? Are they going to offer their services to humanity to help fight the battle, gain their trust and then betray them?
- Mayne laughs cruelly at Donna and calls her a "vulgar mare". Why does he think she's vulgar? And calling her a mare when horses are now kicking people to death, is that supposed to be a compliment or what? What does vulgarity and sexism have to do with a suicidal doomsday cult? It's almost as though spara lost control and needed someone - anyone! - to insult Donna for being working-class and a woman!
Ben, Katie, Nikki, Kyle and Sharon Scott sneak out of the Cedars clinic.
- Katie rants it was stupid "letting" Kyle go back for his mother because it risked "compromising" their escape. But, given that all the guards were hiding in a cupboard with the Director laughing stupidly at a red light, how could Kyle compromise the escape without actually finding them and surrendering to them? The telepathic spiders should be able to chase them anyway! And is Katie so stupid that, after this whole story, she'd think Kyle would actually listen to Ben?
Ben contacts UNIT for help and they escape with Anselm to wait in a nearby pub.
- Clearly, Ben is unaware about the animal revolt across the planet which might, just might have already got the organization's attention? Why didn't they contact UNIT right away given the Doctor was already teaming up with Torchwood (remember them?) - all right, Ben was off his face. What was Katie and Kyle's excuse?
- By curious coincidence, Anselm just happens to be passing the Cedars clinic wanting to see Ben but hasn't been at all inconvenienced by the armies of vicious animals attacking everything in their path.
- This features the first appearance of Anselm since Wolf and he's effectively a brand new character. Anselm was previously a day-dreaming, criminally naive religious gayboy with, it seemed, no fear of the cold and quite happy to bonk a complete stranger in a river at night on Christmas Eve. This Anselm seems to be an official from Inter Minor with the most pretentious dialogue the Chathamverse has ever seen before or since: “Look, one is sorry for some of what one said, not all of it mind you.” (this is directly after saying "Ben, look I just had to see you after our talk on the phone." Did he just have a stroke in the middle of his sentence or something?)
- Hiding in a pub is not exactly the worst plan given the circumstances (especially given it's Ben's idea - hey, stick with what works). But choosing the pub nearest to the Clinic, surrounded by violent animals, in easy reach of religious maniacs and evil spiders? Oh well, at least they've all done the full Shaun of the Dead and armed themselves ready to repel any attackers... oh, wait. They haven't.
- Ben, clearly wracked with remorse, actually buys the drinks for once. Truly a sign of the apocalypse.
- Ben promises to keep in touch with Nikki. Not to make amends from tricking her family into abandoning her and forcing her to live below the poverty line with a child to support because of his infantile vendetta. Just keep in touch. This is almost as ludicrous as Anselm demanding he and Ben discuss their relationship in private... even though Ben was screaming about it on a mobile phone in the middle of a rehab clinic canteen. Idiot.
Hendridge and armed men burst into the pub and confront the group.
- Rather than using the crystal powers to cause a psychic telekinetic storm that kills everyone in the pub. Or teleporting everyone in the pub into the cellar. This red crystal seems to be the opposite of the blue one in that, rather than expanding the minds of the users, makes them so stupid they lower the IQ points of the whole street every time they speak. Don't believe me?
“You will come with us. I can see that it was a mistake not to simply shoot you. That will be rectified,” announces Hendridge...
- So do you want them to come with you or just shoot them? Why was it a mistake not to shoot them when they were going to feed them to the spiders? And if you're so determined to kill them with bullets (rather than, say, directing the wild animals to storming the pub) why not simply go in guns blazing?!
- Sparacus is quite fond this cliffhanger as he uses it wholesale in New Morning, except with added Russians and less credible dialogue.
- The cliffhanger is retconned so Ben and the others are being lead out of the pub instead of being shot. None of the other customers nor bar staff lift a finger to help.
A fleet of UNIT vehicles arrive, and Hendrige hastily seizes control of the pub and takes all the customers hostage.
- Rather odd, given there's no suggestion anyone in UNIT has even noticed this event. Did Ben tell UNIT specifically to meet him at the pub instead of heading straight to the Cedars Clinic? And have the animal revolutionaries fallen through the same narrative cracks as the Torchwood team?
- “So Ben Chatham, you called for reinforcements," Hendridge announces. "Well I suggest that you get onto your phone and call them off or we will shoot two of these customers every half-hour." Um... what? You have telepathic, teleporting spiders and armies of animals? Why get into an armed seige? Why does Ben need to ring them? Can't Hendridge shout out the door to the troopers surrounding them? Why threaten them every half-hour? Why not threaten Ben's friends first? That red crystal can really screw with your mind.
To prove her intent, Hendridge executes a customer, but in the confusion the customers fight back and easily overpower the guards.
- So easily, in fact, it boggles the mind. Presumably the red crystal has dimmed every possible faculty the guards possess.
- The sight of an elderly man's "blood and brains splattering over the bar" from a shot in the head prompts his "shocked son" to fight back, leading the locals. Ben and Kyle pitch in, yet Anselm, Katie, Nikki and Sharon do not. Surely Katie has combat skills by now! Yet Ben, who should be utterly paralytic after three bottles of wine plus a round of drinks, is somehow able to leap into the fray...
Hendridge transforms into a giant spider: “The red crystals grant the power of disguise. And now you will die.”
- This is rather baffling. Why not simply have a spider on Hendridge's back? Has sparacus actually watched Planet of the Spiders? He seems to have next to no idea what happened in it, which is very odd given it's a sequel (mind you, he did worse in Stangeness...) yet moments later he has the spider leap onto Kyle's back but not possess him.
The spider attacks Kyle, and when Ben tries to intervene it spits acid at Ben's face.
- Rather than the psychic blasts used on television. How do spiders spit acid anyway?
- Ben is the only one concerned about Kyle. Particularly damning as his own mother is supposed to be invovled...
At the last second Ben turns so only his £900 jacket is damaged by the acid.
- Even for Ben, whining about his moronically expensive clothes when his friend is wrestling a giant spider is dumb. Almost as dumb as ordering everyone in the pub to run outside into streets filled with psychotic animals and trigger-happy UNIT troops...
The customers flee the pub, but one of Hendridge's goons fires at Anselm.
- Another attempt to alarm the audience, with our heroes being shot at randomly by bullets and acid.
The shot misses, and the goon fires at Ben, and Nikki is the one shot instead.
- Wow. Someone Ben has a clear motive to get rid of just happens to get killed. Exactly why did a weak, pale recovering junkie get into a fight anyway? And how convenient that she happened to be directly in the line of fire, and ended up as a human sheild for Ben (who, of course, was far too busy complaining about his jacket to get his head down in a shootout). If Ben isn't as drunk as he appears - and given how much he's drunk he should be completely paralytic - then it's very worrying that he idly gets Nikki killed before his parents can find out the truth of his actions, within hours of meeting her. Did he engineer her death? The story has demonstrated he has the motive, opportunity and the sheer nastiness to do so. Given the rather impenetrable prose and Ben's capability for denial, this is all highly credible...
In Wales, the Doctor and Donna break free and escape with the crystal.
- With this being the last episode, it seems sparacus might have hit the bottle. Things turn decidedly surreal from this point onwards, as first the Doctor and Mayne decide to chat about a plasma screen instead of the images it shows of the animal apocalypse. “I must say that’s a nice screen.” “Oh yes, its high definition with surround sound. The DVD player is built in and plays Blu-Ray.” “Wise choice, it becomes the standard format by 2015. Mind you, its still not a patch on the audio-visual technology I have within my TARDIS.” So, Mayne, an insane cult leader, is actually a real geek when it comes to the technology he intends to destroy? And isn't a bit suspicious that the Doctor knows humanity and plasma screens exist in 2015, rather undermining the attempts to destroy all civilization in 2009?
- Things then get wierd. Donna "boots" one of the cultists "in the testicles", leading one of this American fundamentalist zealots to exclaim “Ow me bollocks” as Donna, now in some kind of blood frenzy, "punches the other in the teeth". So, violence, anger and lies defeats the spiders, which represent selfishness, cruelty and ego. Rather than letting the spiders defeat themselves, which was the whole point of Planet of the Spiders?
- Still think the author is sober? The Doctor now "grabs the spider by its spindly legs and before it can squirt any acid he spins it round and round above his head then lets it go so it flies off and smacks into the wall". Because a super-intelligent psychic spider is about as dangerous as beanbag, apparently...
The Doctor promptly takes the crystal from Donna and throws it against the wall, where it shatters.
- What subtlety. It seems these crystals are shockingly fragile.
- Presumably the Doctor's "cricket-ball-style bowl" is a reference to Human Nature.
- Why not just stamp on the bloody thing?
With the crystal gone, all the giant spiders shrivel up and die.
- What happens to all the goons and cultists? The effect from Metabelis crystals is permanent, so shouldn't all the animals be killing people still?
The Torchwood team arrive and Captain Jack thanks the Doctor.
- ...for what? Where the hell have they been? Were they locked up and only now escaped? Did they escape capture the first time and been helping fight the insane cows? If it weren't for Donna, they wouldn't have escaped at all, let alone got the crystal. All the Doctor's done is smash it with pointless ceremony (meaning there are a few more seconds of chaos that cause more people to die!) and Donna hasn't got any credit at all!
- This is the first time any Chathamverse story has had an epilogue; a special feature since this was intended to be the very final story.
A week after Nikki's funeral, Ben is drinking heavily and wracked with guilt, despite Kyle and Katie's attempts to snap him out of it.
- Her funeral would surely be one of countless others across the globe, yet no one reminds Ben he's not alone in losing a loved one. It's also never mentioned that Ben's parents actually found out about their daughter's funeral. It's quite possible Ben's never told them, thus ensuring he remains the most important member of the offspring.
- “I should have kept in touch with her. I should never have destroyed those letters. Mum and dad will never forgive me. She’s gone Kyle.” rambles Ben inconsolably. Odd how he only feels guilty now his sister isn't around to reproach her. Given his psychotic behavior to Nikki in the past, is Ben really upset, or just play-acting to get sympathy? Ben, after all, will milk any misfortune for all its worth to get people to feel sorry for him - he's treating the murder of his sister with exactly the same self-control as he has not getting texts from his boyfriends or Barry Tuck insulting him in a wine bar...
- Katie's attempts to console Ben consist of barging into his room and screaming at him to "pull himself together" as "it's not as if you'd seen the silly cow for years!" We might be generous and assume Katie was much more subtle in the aftermath of Nikki's death, but no one can take seriously her cry of "This isn't like you, Ben!" Um, lying on the sofa knocking back absinthe and wallowing in self-pity? If anything he's completely back to normal.
- Kyle's attempt involves fixing Ben up "some snap", which doesn't seem to interest him. "Snap"?
Unable to face what's happened, Ben decides to abandon his work or travelling in time.
- What exactly is this "work" of Ben's? Since last returning to Earth in All Things Must Pass, Ben has lectured once at a university and done absolutely no other work at archaeological digs or anything else! Indeed, almost all the stories involved him lying about the place getting dragged into wierdness!
- Ben is adamant about "no more trips with the Doctor in the TARDIS", but less certain about any more "investigations". That doesn't make much sense, given the Doctor could take Ben to other worlds and times by way of distraction, but hanging around in Cambridge 2009 is going to continually confront Ben with the horror of what he's done. Is this some kind of self-punishment from Ben? Did they just leave right away, as they had been doing to Ben throughout the story? Or, perhaps more likely, the Doctor and Donna were so disgusted by Ben's treatment of his sister they refused to let him back aboard the TARDIS and abandoned him and Ben's just lying to save face? It is, after all, what he did to Rose Tyler...
- In fairness to Ben, there is a possibility he's genuinely upset. He does, after all tell Kyle, "Look, I’m sorry I’ve never really appreciated you much, but I’ll make it up to you.” Though exactly how he does this is never made clear (mind you, this was intended to be the last story, so such wild promises could easily be made).
A 15-year-old boy arrives at the apartment - this is Craig Chatham, who has chosen to stay with his uncle rather than be sent back into care.
- And so, a major addition to the Chathamverse appears in its (seemingly) final moments in the form of Ben's nauseating adolescent nephew Craig. Of course, Craig's true personality was fashioned by Joshua Wynne as a self-harming, miserable emo loser with a fanatical devotion to My Chemical Romance, none of which has happened yet. Here Craig is a seemingly intelligent, normal kid albeit determined not to be stuck in a children's home. He also appears to have tracked down Ben entirely on his own, since Nikki could hardly have contacted him to let him know they were once again on speaking terms.
- "Is this some kind of twisted joke?” the drunken Ben boggles. "You can’t be a Chatham you’ve got black hair!” Given such lack of variety in the gene pool, it seems a fair bit of evidence that the Chathams are fantastically inbred...
- Ben initially tries to get Craig gone by handing over £100 ("the price of a b&b and your train fare back”), on the grounds it is in Craig's best interests to be cared fror by paid professionals. "What do I know?" he sobs. Certainly he has absolutely no skill with dealing with other people, let alone emotionally vulnerable teenagers. Even aside from his dangerous trouble magnet lifestyle, Ben treats Craig appallingly in future stories: refusing to spend any money on the boy, deliberately tormenting him in his relationship with his girlfriend, bullying him over his musical tastes, and on numerous occasions acting with such neglect he seems to be trying to kill Craig. It was ultimately revealed that taking Craig into his care was not out of family loyalty or even guilt: Ben didn't want his parents to discover Craig for fear the boy would get a cut of Ben's inheritance. This, coupled with the fate of Nikki and Uncle Henry (and later his fury at discovering a half-brother James), paints Ben as something of a near serial killer bumping off his relatives to keep all the cash for himself...
Pouring himself another drink, Ben stares into the camera and announces “With all this going on, I’ve made the right decision in taking a rest from travels with the Doctor. How long for….. I just don’t know…….”
- This cliffhanger is almost identical to that of Goodbye is Never Easy in 2005. There, after Jackie Tyler is killed after eating a GM apple, the heartbroken Rose tells Ben she must stay on Earth with her friends and family to sort her head out. Just as then, this decision is completely forgotten about - just as the next story had Rose travelling with the Doctor and Ben as if nothing had happened, it would be but two stories before Ben was back on board the TARDIS.
- And on this note the adventures of Ben Chatham came to an end... or so it seemed. Within a week, the ferociously ardent supporter of the Chathamverse LemonBloodyCola decided to take over the reigns of the franchise and carry on sparacus' work. His first story The Claws of Time, picked up from this very scene and concentrated not only on Craig but his girlfriend Isobel, a character to be played by Hannah Murray... a name fandom would soon know just as well as Adam Rickitt. But all this is another story...