Stangeness is without doubt the worst Chathamverse story ever.
True, there are stories that commit worse crimes. Its fractured and incoherent plot is logical compared to Aliens in the Orchid House, Spartha Jones isn't half as horrible as she was in Death in the Cloisters, there was a dumber attempt at a sequel in Day of the Xiaxian, far more offensive racial stereotypes in Chateau of DEATH, a cheaper cop-out ending in New Morning, and more blatant Ben shipping in The Operation: Delta Interviews. Yet, Stangeness commits every last one of this crimes, without respite or innovation. In sheer quanity rather than quality, there seems no escape as every possible half-thought out cliche is jammed in without rhyme or reason. The plot is full of dead ends, meaningless cutaways and a palpable lack of enthusiasm that's worse than any plot hole or spelling mistake. Sparacus actually admitted that he hadn't watched The War Machines, the story Stangeness is supposed to be a sequel to. The blatant attempts to reconcile the plots are word for word taken from sparacus' own attempts to justify such hideous and blatant mistakes.
Stangeness is one of the lowest ebbs in the Chathamverse, bereft of the deranged passion that even dross like Doppelganger possessed. The repeated attempts to drag the Tenth Doctor and Martha into the plot was a tacit admission that Ben Chatham's spin-off adventures simply were not enough to survive on their own, with no attempt to keep on Ben's entourage of characters and even trying to write out Katie. It was no surprise at all when sparacus triggered the First Great Canon Reset in a desperate (and successful) attempt to kick life into the franchise again. The only tragedy is he did it in the middle of the next story, a far more interesting and orginal tale than this worthless and irredeemable garbage.
The very title shows how much thought and effort went into this waste of webspace, a tale the author should be truly ashamed of.
- Stangeness? Surely we mean "Strangeness", right? No, this curious title is no simple mispelling. Sparacus seems to be trying to write "Stange Ness", ala "Loch Ness", showing a lack of any knowledge about Scottish place names or the logic behind them.
Ben drives to Stangeness, a small Scottish fishing village, intending to meet up with his uncle Henry. Katie tags along, intending to visit a seahenge monument discovered on the nearby Western coast.
- In a heavy info dump introduction we learn plenty of new facts - Ben has a new flat in Cambridge he's sharing with Katie (no obvious reason why he moved, unless the fact it kept being the heart of crime scenes put him off), and his hitherto unmentioned uncle has lived for twenty years in an estate just off "a retreat for the smaller gentry in the late nineteenth century and there is a charming mix of colourful old locals and English ex-pats" (rather a severe description for moving to Scotland...). We also discover Ben refused to rejoin the TARDIS crew, even though Rose was gone, and believes that the Doctor and Martha "need some time on their own". Following from the end of Death in the Cloisters, the duo have gone on vacation in Crete as planned.
- Bizarelly, Stageness picks up directly after Cloisters - seemingly ignoring the quadrilogy of holiday specials between the two (for the record it was Witchbone, Firestarter, Crimebuster and Dark Yuletide). Yet, these stories cannot have occured anywhere else, especially as they explain what happened to Charles, Jake, Operation: Delta and also why Ben and Katie are halfway able to put up with each other. This whacking great flaw seems to be the first hint of the massive retcon that will occur in two stories time, rendering everything prior to The Fields of Death null and void...
- Bizarrely, after this lengthy introduction, we go straight to Ben and Katie discussing exactly what was in the introduction!
Caught in storm weather, Ben's car goes off the road and into a ditch, forcing them to walk the rest of the way in the rain.
- Inconsistency over inconsistency! Ben deliberately chose to drive to Scotland over taking the TARDIS, but suddenly finds the whole thing a chore, his car a piece of crap and doesn't have any kind of raincoat or umbrella when going to a part of the world he regularly visits and knows full well is often subject to rainstorms! Is all that absinthe starting to rot his brain? His mood swings (violent even by his own standards) and random memory loss suggest it might be - the next story, the unfinished Harvest of Evil, actually has Ben's mental state questioned more than once...
- "Damn this car!" Ben says of his vehicle that has served him faithfully since Operation: Delta. He seemingly abandons this car and gets a new one in Harvest of Evil, an antique roadster which is defined as the Chathamobile in The Zranti Beast comic strip (registration 1DGREE).
- For those who care, Ben listens to Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express playing on the car stereo.
Katie and Ben make their way down the road through the rain.
- Katie's curiously positive outlook and sensitivity is explained in the epilogue to Deadly Yuletide where Ben, having been dumped by Jake Simmonds, returns to her on New Year's Eve and sleeps with her. Katie is convinced Ben is in love with her, rather than simply Ben needing some quick sex and considering Katie "looks good on his arm". Presumably she later discovers this betrayal, hence her incredibly foul behavior hereafter. Assuming, of course, any of this was canon...
- "This jacket cost £700," Ben fumes. This one-off comment became a recurring character trait for Ben to wear ridiculously expensive and impractical clothing - given his profession involves working in muddy ditches, and his lifestyle means fighting aliens and madmen in random locales, why oh why does he waste all his cash on such clothes? The answer is that, having got (so he believes) sole access to the family fortune, he intends to spend it... and woe betide any family member that gets in his way. Uncle Henry, therefore, should be very worried...
The duo pass a parked car with fogged up windows, and there is the sound of moaning within.
- Katie sensibly deduces that a couple are having sex in the car, and Ben immediately wants "a little surreptitious peep". This voyeurism is thankfully a personality trait sparacus never kept. So Ben likes looking at heterosexuals having sex, does he? Is this some attempt to reassure Katie he is now "straight"? Or is it proof of Katie's later accusations that his "gayness" isn't as genuine as he claims?
Katie notes, "Sounds like she’s getting a right seeing to as well up the you know where". This curiously informal language was because, at the time, sparacus had no real way to distinguish Katie from Spartha Jones, so whenever she was around Katie tended to become a meek, working-class damsel in distress. By the time of New Morning, however, Miss Ryan's staggering personality flaws were so strongly defined this was no longer necessary.
Ben discovers a man and a woman in the car, both of whom have been shot. The woman mumbles about "Stangeness Electronics" before dying.
- In a typically sensitive portrayal of ethnic groups, the Scottish woman's dying word is "Oachhhhh."
- When Katie tries to call for an ambulance, she gets no signal due to poor coverage in the area, leading Ben to shout "Numb nut!" at Katie - traditionally an insult reversed by Spartha Jones for the Doctor. Apparently Ben "told her before they came" about this factor, which hastily explains why Ben didn't ring for Uncle Henry to pick him up.
- Ben earns his fan label of Captain Obvious as, no sooner have the stage directions indicate the couple have "both been shot", Ben tells Katie, "They've been shot." The moment the woman is described as dying, Chatham instantly reveals "She's dead!". Katie, for her part, innocently asks "How do you know?" Ben doesn't give the sensible answer of "I read the script" but deduces that the two people covered in blood with bullet holes in their necks might just be evidence. Mind you, that woman is very talkative for someone shot through the throat, isn't she?
- Ben and Katie make no attempt at all to find out the identity of the murdered couple, or even return the man's corpse into the car for decency's sake. All they've achieved, therefore, is to contaminate a crime scene.
Ben and Katie hurry down the road and enter a deserted pub, The Stag Inn. The unfriendly publican, Angus McGannon, is uninterested in the murders, and since the phone lines are down in the wind, Ben decides to have a drink instead.
- These will be the "really friendly locals" Ben's on such good terms with? Given how unsurprised Angus is of the news, and how close his pub is to the murder scene, a suspicious person might think he had something to do with it and thus taking any drinks from a potential murderer would be a stupid move. But Ben and Katie want single malts and rum and coke more than they want to be alive, apparently.
- Just to give a clear idea of the offensive stereotypes on offer, suffice it to say when Angus hears of two people shot dead his reaction is "Theres bin a muuuurrrrrrda ya say laddie?" and then change the subject to alcohol. For smeg's sake...
Angus warns them that flesh-eating beasts have been seen to emerge from Loch Crag on rainy nights and causing people to disappear.
- Katie whispers to Ben that she thinks Angus is mad. Her very unhelpful and rude whispered asides will ultimately rival her alocholism as her dominant character trait until in The Operation: Delta Interviews she loses any hint of self control and gets a lecture from Ben, who actually has the moral highground for once.
- A Scottish barman named Angus who knows all about hideous amphibuous monsters and urban legends of disappearances? Not a bit like Terror of the Zygons, then? Nice to know that sparacus is picking the creame of media to rip off when it comes to new and innovative plots and characterization.
- So this thriving fishing village is just next to a lake no one fishes at? Give me strength...
Suddenly someone barges into the pub...
- The old "someone's at the door" cliffhanger, a sure sign sparacus has got bored and wants to end the episode.
The intruder is Ben's Uncle Henry, come to the Stag Inn to collect crates of Scotch and finest French absinthe.
- We learn, for some reason, that Henry isn't Ben's uncle. He's actually his "grandfather's brother". So he's Ben's Great Uncle. Why this distinction needed to be made is unclear. He's also apparently dressed as the Third Doctor and clearly based on Uncle Monty from Whitnail & I. Just why he needs to restock his cellar in the middle of the night at a pub five miles away from his place is rather odd, too. He also completely ignores Katie, even when she tries to make conversation with him. It seems misogyny also runs in the Chatham bloodline.
- Henry's vintage car works fine, but more modern cars seem to break down with curious frequency in Stangeness according to Angus. Is someone or something causing this to happen, or is it some crappy horror movie cliche sparacus lacks the wit to subvert?
Uncle Henry gives the pair a lift to his place. On the way there they encounter a group of identical-looking bald figures in pyjamas standing in the rain, blocking the group. A few shouts from Henry cause them to flee.
- Exactly who these odd folk were, or a reason for their behavior, is never given. Perhaps Henry's assumption they're locals on the piss is actually correct for once?
- Ben intends to stay in Stangeness for a few weeks as he needs to "get away for a bit". Get away from what? Since Death in the Cloisters (where he lived as a monk for a few days), he's spent all his time lying around his flat doing absolutely nothing, then gone to his parent's place to do absolutely nothing, then moved flat. Is this his way of trying to get rid of Katie, who is "too clingy" like Rose before her? It seems Ben much prefers men who don't obsess over him over women that do...
The murder and the strange behavior of the group leads Ben to consider calling in the Doctor, but Katie (eager to have Ben all to himself) convinces him not to.
- Ben has a "special contact device" to get in touch with the Doctor. Given that the new series established any super mobile would fulfill that function, sparacus is clearly still got his head jammed in Terror of the Zygons, where psionic beamers were used to send space-time telegraphs to the TARDIS. Given they somehow know where the Doctor is in Crete, and he's in the exact same time zone, why Ben would be carrying this gizmo with him on a trip to Scotland is unclear. Is he just waiting for Martha to leave the TARDIS so he can rejoin?
Arriving at Henry's house, they are introduced to his butler, a young village boy called Jamie.
- Jamie is, in actual fact, the ONLY original character in the Chathamverse not to be Caucasian. Presumably a young Scot in a kilt isn't as much fetish fuel as a young black man in a kilt "showing off his shaply legs".
- Ben orders Katie to drink absinthe, deeply annoyed at the fact she doesn't like it and calls her "finicky". Either Ben enjoys this sadistic abuse relationship he has with Katie, or he's deliberately being so unpleasant she'll leave him alone. Notably, Ben immediately decides to summon the Doctor the moment Katie makes it clear she would rather have a normal holiday with her boyfriend - and, what's more, hides this fact from Katie. Can you believe that no one is willing to stick around in a relationship with this superficial and decietful bully?
No sooner has Ben texted the Doctor, Katie sees a face at the window and screams.
- Another pathetic cliffhanger, with all the readers convinced the resolution would be Ben pointing out that Katie is actually reacting to her own reflection. Mind you, having been forced a potent psychotic drink like pure absinthe, Katie could hardly be blamed for the odd hallucination...
Katie claims she saw one of the bald figures watching through the window, but Ben assumes she's simply overtired.
- Why would one of the locals follow the trio the house and then pull faces through the window? If they meant any harm, why allow the group past them in the rain? We're left with absolutely no evidence that the face wasn't part of Katie's imagination.
- Katie's insistance she "is not some kind of mental case" is ironic as the next story has her sent to an asylum.
The TARDIS materializes and the Doctor and Martha emerge in response to Ben's signal.
- With Uncle Henry taken aback by a police box appearing out of thin air, Ben promises to "explain everything later". This was done with no irony whatsoever.
- Not only does sparacus describe the time machine as a "Tardis", he also describes "the familiar vroom vroom noise". How can an avid DWM reader have forgotten the actual description is "vworp"?!?
- Katie is delighted that the Doctor is present, seemingly having forgotten she wanted him to stay away. Presumably she's frightened from her absinthe-induced hallucinations and rightly guessed Ben is not going to lift a finger to keep her safe.
Ben explains the situation and Martha is far from impressed.
- Spartha Jones makes her second appearance in the Chathamverse. Even though her point (this is a police matter hardly worth interrupting the Doctor and Martha) is entirely valid, one can't take her side. Given they have access to a time machine, they could easily have finished their vacation before replying to the message. Nevertheless, Ben's "adjusting" the truth somewhat, claiming that the place is "swarming" with strange men in white and there are "strange (not "stange"?) goings on" at the new electronics plant (which he just assumes is new, because it wasn't there the last time he visited). He even admits that this is merely "odd", as though he's just looking for an excuse to drag the Doctor and Martha into things. This obsession continues in Harvest of Evil, and following the reset, Ben goes the whole hog and rejoins the TARDIS. Clearly either sparacus or Ben has lost their faith in his ability to sort out even minor problems unaided...
- Uncle Henry notes that the electronics plant (unnamed) was built two years previously, despite objections from the villagers. Um... why? Why build a factory in a coastal Scottish village if the output has no connection to the locale? Now, if it was some kind of processed fish factory, that would make sense, but electronics? In such a wet and miserable place in the middle of nowhere? If they want some kind of privacy, they've gone about it in a rather strange way, upsetting all the locals and not even bothering to get themselves their own name - surely a company called Stangeness Electronics would be homegrown? Yet all the workers are shipped in from Glasgow and they never actually produce any equipment. Financially, "stange" doesn't do this place justice. It should have bankrupted itself long before now.
The Doctor suggests they all retire for the evening.
- Why? He's just been in Crete, so for he and Martha it should be the middle of the day! Just jump ahead six hours if you're worried! This delay will merely give the villains a chance to remove the bodies and the car, and all those chaps in white clothes to run around getting up to mischief. Notably when Martha raises these objections, the Doctor doesn't disagree, but urges her back to the TARDIS. Is he just pretending to be involved, giving him and Martha a change to slip away quietly without putting up with Ben's inevitable temper tantrum?
- The Doctor knows of Uncle Henry's "porcelain (sic) collection from the William Beckford collection at Fonthill", apparently. This is interesting, given Ben never speaks of his family - or indeed of anyone bar himself and Bowie. One can only wonder how the hell that little factoid came up in natural conversation aboard the TARDIS, or why the rather forgetful Tenth Doctor would remember it...
Ben takes a bath and, wearing nought but a white towel, chats with Jamie about their mutual love of Bowie.
- Note that Ben and Katie have rooms apiece. Henry's house seems to lose these rooms later in the story, forcing everyone to bunk up.
- The in depth discussion of music consists entirely of "You like Bowie then?" "Och yeah , especially the early stuff." before Ben "finds himself deeply attracted to the lithe young Scotsman with his dark, mysterious eyes". That makes Ben able to commit to a long-term relationship for less than one story. Mind you, Katie's doing better than Genna Miles, at least...
- So Ben and Jamie are flirting like mad. Is this some kind of porno version of Season 4 (which did, after all, feature companions of the same names sharing a bedroom which the Second Doctor described as "gay"...)? It could be a coincidence and sparacus' inability to come up with new names, but given his later claims that Polly was a slut banging her boss and bearing his child, maybe there IS some horrible agenda at work...
Jamie confides in Ben he is convinced the mysterious happenings in Stangeness only began when the electronics factory was built.
- ...and this is has what to do with David Bowie, exactly? I mean, that's what you were talking about! Where's the segue?! Is Bowie behind the murders or something? After all, it wouldn't be the first time, as StarMan proved...
Katie enters and is annoyed to find her boyfriend "fraternising with the servants".
- Understandably so, it must be said. She goes out of her way for Ben, moves in with him, accompanies him across the country... and he immediately tries to sneak up the kilt of the first fit bloke they come across. "I want to be your girlfriend - proper girlfriend and I think you secretly want it too," she pleads, only for Ben to want to talk about Jamie instead. Katie angrilly rants that Ben must sort himself out lest he become "a obvious sad old poof" - and the antisocial drunkard drooling over houseboys is exactly what Ben becomes as can be seen in The Operation: Delta Interviews.
- Ben furiously shouts that Kate is not allowed to judge as she "knows nothing about him". Well, Ben, who's fault is that? You've been bonking her for months! And you haven't opened up to her in any way emotionally?
- It's sinister in retrospect that shortly after she gives an ultimatum to Ben, Katie ends up declared insane and abandoned in a mental asylum, before Ben giving her up as dead...
There is a crash and a gunshot. Heading downstairs, Ben and Katie are taken prisoner by two gun-weilding men standing over the body of Uncle Henry dead.
- Henry is not confirmed as dead for an episode or so, for some unaccountable reason.
- These men with guns certainly aren't the bald pyjama-ed loonies wandering around the place. But why did they shoot Henry? And why are they happy to kill a man who has been in Stangeness for twenty years and thus a notable member of the community whose death would be noticed, but not kill Ben and Katie (two newcomers only met by the insane landlord Angus)? Furthermore, given their willingness to kill people in cold blood (without silencers) why are they worried about getting Ben to put some clothes on before kidnapping him?
- A close relative of Ben Chatham, spending vast amounts of cash, suddenly dies shortly after Ben meets them. Given his treatment of his sister, and his apparent need for a new car, would Ben murder his great uncle to get his hands on the inheritance? The men with guns never say they were the ones to kill Henry, nor is it ever said he was shot. Given Ben's desire for more money and to get rid of a relative who has already embarrassed him (as Katie notes), is it impossible to think that once the Doctor, Martha and Katie were out of sight, he killed the old man, then went upstairs for a bath to destroy any evidence? Henry's bemoaning of living in such "vulgar moneygrabbing times" in front of Ben might be a fatal mistake. This begs the question of what the two goons were shooting at...
As Ben and Katie are dragged away, Jamie is revealed to have been hiding behind the curtains.
- So, if they were shooting at Jamie, the plot to kill Uncle Henry suddenly makes horrible sense...
The "flunkeys" drive Katie and Ben to Stangeness Electronics where they are greeted by suave-looking Simon Brett, an exhuberant loony.
- It's hard not to visualize Brett as being played by Ken Dodd: "Welcome friends! I’m Simon Brett and I trust your journey here wasn’t too unpleasant!" "Yes it damn well was!" Katie retorts. "Oh come now dear Lady, I’m sure we can overcome the initial impressions and reach a sense of understanding!" Even Ben needs a double-take, helplessly asking "Are you for real?"
- Brett notably is surprised at the accusation it was his men that killed Uncle Henry...
Brett explains that Stangeness Electronics is creating "new models" of human beings, but these are prone to making mistakes - such as their botched execution of two reporters that Ben stumbled across. He reveals that SE is actually run by WOTAN - a huge computer with screens showing cold Germanic features.
- ...sigh. Yes. WOTAN (pronounced Vow-targn because otherwise the Wagner connection isn't so blindingly obvious). The Will-Operating Thought Anologue was a free-standing computer bank at the top of the Post Office Tower, an early attempt to create the Internet in 1966's C-Day in the William Hartnell story The War Machines. As predicted by four separate characters in the story before the end of the first episode, WOTAN decided to conquer the entire world and ignored any pesky things like logic and strategy. Having somehow got a nifty "brainwash humans" feature built in, WOTAN decided the best way to conquer the world was to prank-call various scientists, brainwash them over the phone, make them resign their jobs, go to a warehouse in Covent Garden and then build wannabe-Daleks entirely from scratch - inside 12 hours. Amazingly, WOTAN somehow managed it given the amazing inability to even speak coherent words. The real blinder was the computer thought the best time to pull this stunt was BEFORE it had been linked up to every single computer in Britain, while its servants were so stupid they had to be told not to murder passers by and dump their bodies directly outside the front door. Twice. Finally, it turned out that WOTAN's stupidity was catching as war machines either tried to kill everyone or just got bored and went to sleep. The Doctor decided he was completely bloody sick of this, prodded one war machine with a screwdriver and sent it up in a lift to the Post Office Tower where it promptly smashed WOTAN to pieces, killing as many innocent brainwashed victims as possible. And sparacus decided this story merited a sequel.
- Except... he hadn't actually seen The War Machines. In fact, he had next to no idea what actually happened and instead is basing all his material on The Green Death - what a surprise... - as can be told by the incredibly camp and self aware behavior of a computer that likes being called "boss". Following the First Great Canon Reset, sparacus attempted to do this properly with a straight sequel. Thus, Cyborg featured the shocking truth that BOSS (not WOTAN) was the one running the sinister and mysterious chemical plants that were popping up in Middle England with the aide of the Time Meddler.
Back at the house, the Doctor and Martha discover Henry dead and the others missing.
- A baffling goof as the Doctor and Martha "search the house for Ben and Martha". But not Katie or Jamie?
- Martha is suddenly determined not to sleep in the TARDIS, obsessed with being polite and making use of "this big house full of rooms". She insists he is "a gentlemen", yet in the previous episode she dubbed him "half-baked" and wanted to get as far away from him as possible.
The Doctor and Martha decide to use the TARDIS to home in on Ben via the communicator he has.
- The Doctor thinks it "fortunate" the TARDIS can do this, as if it is lucky a device specifically designed for the TARDIS to home in on it can actually do what it's supposed to! Any fortune should be that despite being held at gunpoint Ben was somehow able to collect the device without anyone noticing (yet didn't text "HELP ME" or anything during the long car journey there).
- "At least you get some things right," Martha sneers. When, exactly, has he got anything wrong?
At Stangeness Electronics, WOTAN outlines its plans for world domination.
- ...and here is when it all falls apart. The "first Professor Brett" (that's Simon Brett's father, not that Simon has actually been called a Professor) "designed a prototype" apparently. "What his father started out of curiosity the son continued out of love." Now, this is baffling given that Brett senior survived the events of The War Machines and would be the first to know how utterly dangerous WOTAN (which was not a prototype at all). Between Brett, Sir Charles and the British army, it beggars belief that anyone could build WOTAN II without suspecting it might just overthrow humanity... especially after the creation of BOSS by Global Chemicals in The Green Death.
- There's also the question that of where Brett's son came from, given he's clearly a confirmed bachelor on screen. Sparacus fobbed this off as Brett having an affair with his secretary and Simon being the lovechild. Given that Brett's secretary was Polly Wright, companion of the First and Second Doctors (and manifestly niether had a lovechild during her time aboard the TARDIS and definitely had no interest in Brett), this epic fail of the whovianologist lead to him being "pwned" by all the readers and three weeks passing before the next installment.
- WOTAN intends to become the "future government" because it is "perfectly rational" unlike organic and inefficient human beings. OK. But it wants to stop mankind polluting, fighting and over-populating by replacing them with "enhanced human augmented replacement units"? Why not just let mankind destroy itself? WOTAN I was determined that machines inherit the Earth, and since computers does not require clean air, water or such to survive, it could easily wipe out mankind altogether. Brett, after all, rants about wiping out the filth of humanity in the final episode. So why go to all the trouble of turning them into cyborgs? And if the MIBs are cyborgs... who are the bald loonies in pyjamas?!
WOTAN then hypnotizes Ben and Katie.
- So... why go round shooting people if you can hypnotize them so easily? Surely those brainwashed reporters would be more useful alive and assuring their superiors that all is well than being bloody heaps in a broken down car? It's ironic the lines are down and no one can get a signal in Stangeness, because otherwise WOTAN could take control of everyone over the phone network... but that's probably a coincidence rather than any wit on the author's part.
- Ben's chanting of "I will serve you, WOTAN!" is actually a clue that he's not actually hypnotized but only pretending. (Katie, who is hypnotized, stays silent). Exactly how Ben was able to effortlessly resist this brainwashing is unclear (the Doctor was barely able to manage it in The War Machines, and he's got the mind of a Time Lord!), but presumably the vast amount of absinthe he's imbibed, his brain no longer functions correctly enough to be taken over?
At the house, the Doctor and Martha find Jamie and the corpse of Henry...
- Another sign of the incipient retcon as the entire scene of the Doctor and Martha going to Ben's rescue is undone and rewritten. Instead of waffling on about being polite and sleeping in the bedrooms provided, the Doctor is determined to drink himself to sleep since "the night is young". Not only does sparacus repeatedly ignore the TV Doctor's dislike for alcohol, he also seems to ignore the fact that the TARDIS contains plenty of booze (as established in The Ark in Space). Are we to assume the Doctor has drunk it all? Well, he has been forced to endure Spartha Jones for weeks on end...
- "Your behaviour is frankly irresponsible!" Martha complains of the Doctor drinking, odd given her own first story had her knocking back red wine and refusing to help out with a murder mystery. It doesn't stop her being right once again though.
- More evidence Ben is a killer: when asked what happened to Uncle Henry, Jamie doesn't know - despite being in the room when the shot was fired. So clearly Henry was dead already...
Jamie explains Ben and Katie were kidnapped and taken to SE, so the trio head for the rescue in the TARDIS.
- So, the whole plot of Ben having a little communication device was completely pointless then?
At SE, Ben and Katie are sent to work.
- That "work" being to "move some large crates into the back of a lorry in the yard". So WOTAN doesn't have access to a fork-lift truck? Why get the humans to do the hard work when they're all inefficient and organic? So much for WOTAN's claims to be rational and logical...
- "The people they are working with are clearly humans under WOTAN’s influence rather than cyborgs as they are plain in looks and some are obese." My god?! FAT PEOPLE?!? Who AREN'T beautiful?!?
Ben discovers to his horror that Katie is genuinely hypnotized and runs for it.
- A touch of poetic justice as Katie gets her own back by humiliating and tormenting Ben instead of the other way round - pity she's not aware of it. Certainly her announcement of "You are disingenuous. You are an enemy." applies as much to their relationship as Ben simply turning against WOTAN.
- The cyborgs with their augmented senses and machine guns prove no match for an unarmed alcoholic who runs past them, takes a long time climbing a fence, then gets tangled on the barbed wire and cut his hand open, before falling over the other side, staggering to his feet and limping off into the night. Were they just having much more fun looking at Ben's deeply pathetic gymnastics to stop him? Was that why WOTAN didn't simply electrify the fence?
- Ben's "muscular arms rippling as the moonlight shimmers" - so where has the endless rainstorm and the Scotch mist gone? And did Ben take off his shirt just so he could shift some boxes?
Moments later, the TARDIS materializes inside the compound and the Doctor, Martha and Jamie emerge.
- There's irony for you. If Ben had just kept his mouth shut he'd be rescued...
- In The War Machines, WOTAN was sensitive enough to detect any unauthorized moment and sense the Doctor's brain. It fails to do either here.
- "This is not a game. Ben and Katie could be dead for all we know," Martha chastizes the Doctor. "Right little beacon of hope aren’t you?" the Doctor retorts, finally snapping after thirteen episodes of the whinging bitch. Her response: "Grow up."
- Martha berates the Doctor for not taking this rescue mission seriously, and then starts complaining about the clinical look of the building. "Its typical of such modern buildings. Its totally irresponsible of planners to allow such developments in the Scottish countryside!" Her obsession with architecture continues into the next episode, and seemingly becomes the Tenth Doctor's bugbear as well. Critiquing architecture is far more interesting than travelling in time and space in the Chathamverse.
On the run, Ben passes the shore of Loch Crag when suddenly two hideous scaly monsters rise out of the water and advance on him...
- Again, sparacus seemed a lot more interested in remaking Terror of the Zygons than sequeling The War Machines.
- Angus the landlord was certain these monsters only went on the prowl during rainstorms, but the weather is totally clear. Has Ben's "young flesh" (or maybe the gaping wound in his hand) attracted them?
- For some unaccountable reason, this episode is done in sparacus usual prose style instead of the script style every other part of the story is written in.
Ben runs away from the monsters.
- Despite being exhausted, drunk and losing a lot of blood, Ben is still as "swift as the greyhound".
- So what are these blobby sea monsters that clearly have absolutely nothing to do with the plot at all? Well, in a moment of inexplicable insight, Ben "realises that they must be the results of Brett’s genetic experiments designed to augment the numan (sic) race combined with cybernetics". So an electronics firm conducts genetic experiments? What evidence are that these not-really-Zygons have any cybernetic implants? They can't even chase Ben without grunting and wheezing, so there are no augmentations to their lungs or limbs... it's clear that, like the bald folk, this a plot thread that sparacus couldn't care less about and resolved simply due to the high volume of reader complaints.
At SE, the TARDIS crew watch Katie and the other enslaved humans moving crates of humanoid robots onto a lorry.
- Typically, the inefficient humans drop the crates, cracking them open and needing to repackaging it all over again. How very efficient...
- Is this an electronics factory, firm or plant? Sparacus can't make his mind up.
The Doctor realizes androids are being built here to be distributed across the country as part of a takeover bid.
- A clever deduction, especially given there was never any mention by WOTAN this was going to happen. It seems to be an attempt to copy The War Machines slightly closer than precious episodes, with the brainwashed servants building robotic death machines.
Jamie knocks Katie unconscious and they drag her back to the TARDIS.
- “Well done that man!" the Doctor beams. Nothing like violence against women to cheer up characters in the Chathamverse.
Reaching a road, Ben catches a lift from Hamish Campbell, a friend of Ben's uncle.
- Significantly, "Ben doesn’t have the heart to tell him that Harry is dead", even though saying "Stangeness Electronics murdered my uncle and we need to do something about it!" could possibly help him, especially with bald loonies and not-Zygons lumbering around the place. More proof he murdered his grandfather's brother.
- “When the mist comes down across the loch things can happen round here. Strange, sinister things,” Hamish notes. Ben doesn't confirm this, even though that sort of information could be somewhat useful to the natives. Perhaps it was because there's no mist at all when the strange sinister things happened at the loch?
- Hamish doesn't notice the fact his friend's great nephew was wandering around in the middle of the night, topless and bleeding. Ben also seems to have forgotten he's badly injured too.
Hamish drops Ben off at Henry's house, and cops a feel off the smoothe one.
- God damn it! Is there anyone heterosexual in this village?!
- Bizarrely Ben is "unnerved" at Hamish's advances, and doesn't have the bravery to tell the old lech to back off. Katie's argument that he's not as gay as he claims gets more and more credible, doesn't it?
- Why doesn't Hamish go in to see Henry? They're good friends, after all, and surely the only reason that he's in the area this late at night is to enjoy the intake of booze Uncle Henry went to so much trouble to collect at the start of the story.
Ben enters the house, just as the TARDIS arrives with the Doctor, Martha, Jamie and the brainwashed Katie.
- Hah! Ben's bad luck continues - surely this has to be karma for murdering his relative?
- In The War Machines, the Doctor's companion Dodo required extensive hypnotic de-programming to be free of WOTAN (followed by a rest in the country) and those that were released from its thrall were left dazed, confused and almost total amnesiacs. Despite numerous demonstrations of telepathy, the Tenth Doctor makes no effort to stop Katie muttering "must obey WOTAN" and simply has Martha slap her until she loses consciousness. And sparacus wonders why people think he has a problem when it comes to women...
Over drinks, the group discuss the situation.
- Some very crude retconning occurs as sparacus makes a half-assed attempt to reconcile the plot. Apparently WOTAN II is a "far more dangerous" version of the computer (despite still being completely immobile, insane, stupid and relying on inefficient and incompetent slaves) and is conducting "genetic and cyborg experiments with a view to producing a new species of human race devoid of all that the machine considers to be imperfections". And why would the "half-baked" (Martha's favorite term for people she hasn't met) Simon Brett do such a stupid thing? Well, it turns out he IS half-baked! "Somewhere in his disturbed mind he has the desire to inflict on himself what his father suffered. He needs to do this to feel closer to his father,” the Doctor rationalizes, yet has never met the man or heard anything beyond the biased testimony of an incoherent drunk suffering bloodloss. Long distance diagnosis treated as gospel fact? Only in the world of Ben Chatham.
- The Doctor "suspects compassion and emotion" will not be kept by the neo-humans, yet WOTAN and Brett made Graham Norton look sober and anodyne in comparison.
Ben orders everyone to go to bed as it's late and, after getting Jamie drunk on brandy, drags him to Ben's bedroom...
- A tedious cliffhanger by any standards, as everyone decides to call it a night despite being surrounded by danger and the threat of the world in balance. Even Ben doesn't seem to care about events, as he's not working on raw lust to seduce Jamie. In keeping with the mood of the story, everyone seems totally bored.
- Katie is left dumped on the sofa, rather than anyone putting her to bed that might give her a good night's sleep or anything theraputic like that. Taking its cue from The War Machines, it seems any woman brainwashed has a miniature nervous breakdown and needs to be written out of the series to recuperate. The next story, the aborted Harvest of Evil, would have Katie falling prey to the Limes Clinic off-screen and then mysteriously disappearing, before being declared dead by the Doctor. Ben for his part, doesn't care if she's alive or dead, just as long as her family don't pester him... but whatever her fate, she would seemingly be lost in the First Great Canon Reset, ultimately being reintroduced as a colleague of Ben in The Zombie Kids of Death (aka Quatermass and the Skins), and the palsied harridan never left him alone since...
The Doctor and Martha retire to Uncle Henry's room.
- Apparently they want to "respect the fact that they are guests in someone's house". They do this by taking the room of the dead owner. How exactly does this show more respect than crashing in the TARDIS like they did earlier.
- Martha is not remotely concerned that she's taking the bed of a man not dead six hours, far more determined to criticize the unimpressive decor. "This could be a really nice room if someone altered the colourscheme and removed those awful pictures of naked Greeks." So... a devoted medical student like Martha is offended by images of naked human beings? And, given her disgust when it comes to anything male, is this supposed to make us being that Spartha J is actually some psychotic lesbian? This would make her the only gay woman in the Chathamverse...
The Doctor tries to seduce Martha, but fails spectacularly.
- Yes. You read that right. It seems sparacus was "inspired" by the news that the Doctor and Martha would share a bed in the new series - an understandable hyping of a scene from The Shakespeare Code being taken completely out of context. There, the Doctor and Martha retire (fully-clothed) in a double bedroom provided at the White Elephant Inn, where the Time Lord is completely unaware of any sexual subtext his companion might be finding in the situation... and then kills the mood entirely by talking shop, digressing onto Rose, and going to sleep...
- Here, however, the Doctor immediately "removes his outer clothes", prompting Martha (and the entire audience) to cry out "Hang on, what the hell are you doing?" and reminding the Time Lord: "You and I stay purely platonic!" Just in case you think Martha's got the wrong end of the stick, the Doctor immediately protests at this lack of the mummy-and-daddy-dance, and storms off in a sulk (prompting Martha to give the famous Spartha J catchphrase "grow up!"). This is not the first time the Tenth Doctor has tried it on with the Jones woman - he spends all of Death in the Cloisters trying to loosen her up, and in (the thankfully-lost) Return to the Orchid House finally gave up trying to get her attentions and sold her to the Blandische family as a sex slave so he could watch her being repeatedly raped.
- Nevertheless, Martha's not exactly being kind - her plan was to force the Doctor to sleep on the floor with a pillow (but not a blanket), even prior to any hint of nookie. Is this showing respect to the late lamented Henry Chatham? Why is there such a shortage of bedrooms in this place?!
Brett and some cyborgs drive through the mist towards the house.
- These augmented creatures can't run particularly fast, it appears. Nor navigate through fog. How, exactly, are they supposed to be an improvement on ordinary homo sapiens?
In Ben's room, Ben is seducing Jamie by playing his late uncle's bagpipes.
- Despite Henry being "fascinated" in Scottish history, and buying a set of pipes ostensibly owned by the Duke of Buckingham from King James, he never showed these precious items to his boyfriend, or even mentioned their presence? The Chatham line clearly prefer their concubines kept ignorant!
- Speaking of which, this is the last appearance of Jamie in the story. In the following tale, The Harvest of Evil, Ben wants Jamie to move in with him in Cambridge (bullying him into giving up his whole life for Ben seems to be the acid test for a relationship as far as Ben is concerned, yet he never shows interest in those that actually do go through with it, like Katie...). The story was never completed so we never found out Jamie's decision, but it was clear that Ben didn't care as within the hour he was already trying to seduce a complete stranger, and Jamie was completely forgotten.
- Ben can play Flowers of the Forest on the bagpipes, a skill never before hinted at despite his stated love for them. This goes with the numerous other musical instruments Ben has mastered (ostensibly due to his father's musical background), never used before or since. Obviously Ben never went into the music business because he wanted to get drunk with groupies before all that tedious playing music to chavs bit...
- Ben's chest is described as "firm", rather than smoothe.
The music of the bagpipes causes the Brett and the attackers to scream in agony before they can storm the house.
- The Doctor deduces that the frequency of the pipes is "interfering with the frequency of WOTAN's mind-control waves". Why on Earth would a computer use sonic waves to control augmented humans? Especially waves of so normal a frequency they could be interrupted so easily by wind instruments! This is Scotland, more specifically sparacus' idea of Scotland where no man dare walk alone without a haggis, a kilt and a beard! Surely they would have discovered such a weakness a bit earlier! Apart from anything else, in The War Machines, WOTAN brainwashed followers in a single go. Here it needs to continually control its members by radio signals? Mechanized evolution, my arse!
The Doctor urges Ben to keep playing, causing all the cyborgs to die of cerebral haemorraging.
- So... not only does the Doctor cheerfully request Ben to slaughter people, it seems he's forgotten that he's got a sonic screwdriver. Which works with sound waves and on numerable occasions is used to interfere with mind-control signals and the like (off the top of my head, just in Rose). So, an enemy the Doctor could defeat with a single blast of his molenski univarious... and he needs Ben to do it for him. With bagpipes.
Brett pulls a gun on Ben.
- Despite screaming in agony like all the others when he heard the pipes, Brett is now "unharmed". Maybe Ben's just really, really bad at playing the pipes...
- Brett now wants the planet to be "cleansed of the filth of humanity". Even though he, himself, is human. And he was quite happy to just rule the planet an episode ago. No wonder Martha dubs him "unhinged", as sparacus clearly can't be bothered to keep a track on motivations.
The Doctor grabs a vase and smashes it over Brett's head, killing him.
- Sparacus does so enjoy the Doctor killing people with his bare hands and encouraging violence over communication. The Tenth Doctor's cold-blooded slaughter of a mad man (and his delight at it) was first hinted at in the original Season 2 pitch where the Doctor took sadistic glee in slaughtering innocents "for the greater good", be they space pirates, hippies, mental patients or... most famously... a domestic gerbil Jackie Tyler was looking after. All of this makes it ironic that LBC, sparacus' temporary successor, was so besotted with The Doctor's Daughter that emphasized the Time Lord's pacifistic stance to an incredible degree.
- So, knowing all about Henry's collection of vases... the Doctor decides to smash them up to commit murder. That's treating the place with respect, isn't it?
Suddenly, UNIT forces arrive in respond to Ben's call and Brigadier Ashton enters the house to speak with the Doctor and Ben.
- And Brigadier Harry Ashton returns! What do you mean, you have no idea who he is? Well, it transpires that Ashton is a recurring character in the Chathamverse from its earliest days: a clear Lethbridge-Stewart replacement this "brisk man in his forties" (a rather unimgatinative choice compared to the likes of Bambera in Battlefield or Mugambo in Planet of the Dead), he first appeared in Fire & Judgement where he and Ben teamed up to destroy an entire hospital full of innocent people for the greater good, and seemingly became the reason why UNIT give any credit to a word this hormonal drunk ever says. Promoted to "UNIT Commander", Ashton appeared in EarthSpan to once again solve the ongoing plot with the greatest amount of civilian casualties. Ashton would survive the First Great Canon Reset, returning to his roots as a character by nuking innocents in Reptillian Dawn (reverting to Brigadier once more), before (returning to "UNIT Commander") doing it all over again in The Lindig Valley Mystery, and a nameless mention in Winter of the Lost before making a further appearance in Dark Yuletide II: Deadly Yuletide. By the time of the Third Great Canon Reset, this mass-murdering psychopath still is around the place - not only appearing in the film pitch Day of Deliverence (sic), but even guest-starring in sparacus' own rewrite of The Eleventh Hour (now "James" Ashton). In almost every occasion, his dominant trait (apart from massacring passers-by) is to namedrop his "now retired predecessors", and then fawn over the Doctor and Ben. Considering how extras like Kyle, Barry Tuck and Shakey Jake became regulars, it seems the one thing keeping Brigadier Ashton from such achievements is the fact he's completely utterly forgettable - he has thus escaped the fate of Ben's K9 by being so boring no one notices when he returns...
- What are UNIT doing here? Ben's made "numerous calls" to them, apparently. But when? We never saw him do that and as was established at the start of the story, there is no signal in Stangeness and the lines are down! The only possible answer is that UNIT was already on hand in Stangeness and the "reporters" were actually working for UNIT (much as was seen in The Sontaran Stratagem). Presumably their failure to report in lead to this operation... but why give credit to Ben? Well, Ashton is something of a drooling fanboy when it comes to the smoothe scumbag...
Ashton reveals that his men have stormed the electronics plant and shot WOTAN to pieces, destroying everything with fire.
- So in this age of wireless technology, there was no attempt to stop the computer from, say, downloading itself onto the internet to start again? Or a psychotic follower to rebuild WOTAN and start the whole damn thing all over again? And WOTAN was unable to mesmirise any of the attackers or in any way defend itself? Oh well, it's in character given how bowel-shatteringly moronic it was on television...
- Wait. Hang on a second. So UNIT stormed the electronics firm, destroyed WOTAN, and then rushed to the house? So, WOTAN was already destroyed when Brett and pals arrived? Which is when all the cyborgs dropped dead? This rather suggests that the bagpipes had absolutely nothing to do with defeating the cyborgs at all! It was just an incredibly moronic coincidence!
- Martha deems this "well good". It seems sparacus has got confused and started writing for Ace again, as he often did with Rose.
The Doctor praises Ben for his actions.
- His actions being "defeating Brett" and "persuading UNIT of the severity of the threat". Except it was the Doctor who killed Brett and Ben clearly had nothing to do with UNIT anyway? It seems in the Chathamverse UNIT's remit is niether homeworld defense nor investigating anything odd or unexplained: unless there's concrete evidence of a full scale alien invasion with lots of people dead already, they just won't get out of bed in the morning. Apparently Ben was able to convince the UNIT hotline, but oddly enough this incredible feat was never actually shown, but simply mentioning the Doctor would be enough to do it.
- Ben is embarrassed by being called a "hero". As he should be, but he's clearly too embarrassed to miss a chance to be the centre of attention.
The Doctor and the Brigadier immediately pour themselves scotch to toast the non-augmented human race.
- Sparacus seems to have an obsession with "single malt", given that it is consumed in every single episode.
- Ashton, of course, is quite happy to drink on duty with civilians.
- This is a happy ending, is it? Never mind Uncle Henry being murdered, lives being ruined and monsters prowling Scotland, everyone finds the Doctor's rampant alcoholism incredibly amusing and all is well in the world. I'm sorry, Spartha Jones "laughs"? And then drinks inferior booze in the company of puny men? Sparacus was clearly as sick of the story as everyone else and just wanted it over. Who can blame him?
Next Time: The Lords of Ancrazar