And two other audio stories featuring River Song (Alex Kingston) and the 10th Doctor (David Tennant). It’s especially noteworthy that this set was recorded during these months of social isolation. Each of the actors involved recorded their own part from a “studio” set up in their own homes.
Given the method of recording, it seems appropriate that much of this first story in the CD set is in the epistolary style. It’s a delightful follow-up to the 10th Doctor’s first encounter with River Song in Silence of the Library.
After receiving a “message in a bottle” from River on a piece of psychic paper — which allows for immediate response — the Doctor engages in a correspondence/conversation with this mysterious woman who claims to know him so intimately even though he’s only just met her. He’s interested in finding out who she is, without giving away “spoilers” regarding her fate at the Library.
“Who are you? How do we know each other? How do I know I can trust you?”
To that end, and with growing suspicion about her motives, he follows clues that lead him to places where she’s been. He traces the bottle her message arrived in back to its point of origin, where a camelid priest tends a 300-year-old temple to the Priestess of Eternity… and her statue looks just like River. The Doctor leaves a note with the priest and finds that she’s left another message there waiting for him. He next traces the parchment source of that second message to another place where River has stolen the crown jewels of the Tyranny of the Shining Eternal Quartz; the Doctor writes her another note from prison before he escapes and overthrows the tyranny. And so it goes, as he backtracks her from place to place and where she’s left some problem for him to solve — a tyrannical government to overthrow, a natural disaster to advert, a species to save.
“…solving problems with archeology and time travel.”
River’s goal is to get the Doctor to the Apocalypse Vault at the Quantum Vatican at the End of Days. In each message she sends him, she persistently urges a meeting at the Vault.
The “expiry date” of the title is the date on which the Universe will die, which is written on a scroll locked in the Vault; at the End of Days, the priests open the Vault to check the date, and destroy their own entire planetary system just to be sure that it does end.
Since the End of Days is a fixed point in time, an event that can’t be changed, the Doctor refuses to go. He’s also naturally resistant to people who try to get him to do things.
Along the way, there are a couple of amusing plotlets, the parts of this story that I enjoyed most.
One of the Doctor’s messages to River describes his recent visit to Regency Bath, where he’s been hunting werewolves and vampires and dancing all night with Jane Austen.
“We Sir Roger DeCoverly’d ’til carriages at dawn and only stopped for syllabub and scandal. … What a woman! She absolutely terrifies me, otherwise I’d ask her aboard the Tardis like a shot.”
The Doctor adds that he thought he glimpsed River at the gaming tables in Bath one evening. “Isn’t that a remarkable coincidence?”
The tone of River’s response contains more than a slight hint of jealousy.
At a later point, River makes a date to meet the Doctor on May Day 2160 at the Café de Paris, where she has previously met the 5th Doctor in my very favorite Diaries of River Song story, My Dinner with Andrew. And here’s the 5th Doctor (Peter Davison) again, popping in for a quick sandwich and cup of tea laced with too much Salome Serum. He sends her a barrage of serum-induced obsessive messages, and ends up picking his future self’s pocket to steal back a 700-year- old forgery of the Scroll of the End of Days, which the 10th Doctor had found while tracing River’s recent journeys.
“I have the strangest sense of Deja Vu.”
Back on the Tardis while doing some spring cleaning, the Doctor finds a curt letter addressed to Mrs. Song from his first self, rejecting an invitation to meet her at the Apocalypse Vault.
There’s also a long-forgotten telephone answering machine message from the 6th Doctor (a Colin Baker cameo), left over from a time when his companion Mel tried to “bring me into the 1980s… which the more I think about it sounds like a threat. If you’re calling to try and get me to the Apocalypse Vault, the answer is: ‘Not today, Madame’.”
He begins to recall other memories of meeting “a rather glamorous vivacious woman” who wanted him to come with her to the Apocalypse Vault. River’s been trying to get him there for a very long time.
It’s with renewed suspicions that this is all some sort of scam and that he go to the Vault alone and well ahead of a time he arranged to meet River there. It’s only when he returns to the Tardis that he (and we) learn what all this is about — the trip to the Vault, the forged End of Days Scroll, even the multiple side-trips.
It’s an extremely entertaining story with great dialog, and it’s very hard for the subsequent stories in the set to top, or even to match.
Workers on a construction site in Edwardian London cause quite a sensation (and an explosion) when they discover fabulous collection of Tudor jewels known as the Cheapside Hoard. Unfortunately, it’s the gemstones that explode — or implode, to be more precise. Anyway, they left a great big hole in the ground where an old building ought to be, and there are others around, even among the Crown Jewels, that haven’t imploded yet.
The Doctor pops in to 1912 to investigate… and River’s already there on the same case. They both return to the Tardis to go to 1532 to find out where these dangerous trinkets came from and why they were hidden away in a cellar for nearly 300 years.
Their investigation leads them to a mysterious gem dealer, Gerard Pullman (and the even more mysterious unseen and perhaps late Mrs. Pullman), who has been bringing the finest gems from all over the world to his shop in London. He also keeps jars of Coralthracite, a highly dangerous contraband, intelligent and programmable implosive, illegal on all planets, stored in his workroom.
Mr. Pullman is currently on a sea voyage when the pair arrives in Tudor England. The Tardis provides information on Pullman’s fate: he was slaughtered by the ship’s crew so they could steal the treasure he carried with him. The Doctor and River hasten to the ship to find out where Pullman got the Coralthracite and what’s the deal with his wife Omara, a woman who could shape gemstones with her bare hands?
It’s not as engaging a story as Expiry Dating, but it does have its amusing moments, such as when River dresses as a Tudor lady and the Doctor poses as her servant, Jeeves, or during the jaunty, nautical section in which River sword-fights the greedy and murderous sailors while the Doctor questions Mr. Pullman.
There’s a poignant note near the end, when they catch up with what’s left of Omara on her spaceship; the Doctor proposes saving her to a data file on the Tardis so that she can continue to exist in some form. But River is horrified at the idea.
“What kind of a life is that? … No kind of a life for a mind like hers.”
This final story carries on that poignant theme regarding River’s fate at the Library — which she doesn’t know about, but the Doctor does.
The Doctor has been summoned by someone; it might be River, but not yet at the moment when he arrives to meet her, or it might be someone else pretending to be her.
They are on Demonies 2, also known as the planet of ghosts, or the most haunted planet. It became a dedicated burial world after the planetary system’s civil war, a place to bury the dead they would prefer to forget. In the centuries since the entire system has been abandoned, the ghost-planet has become a tourist attraction.
The Doctor doesn’t believe in ghosts but there they are, insubstantial figures walking all around them. But the ghosts are more insubstantial than usual, so faint that they can’t be seen clearly, and there are only a couple dozen of them now, where there used to be hundreds.
What’s most remarkable, however, is that two of the ghosts look a lot like River and the Doctor.
The Doctor knows that this is impossible. They can’t die here because River has not only met him in his future, but he’s met her in hers and this isn’t how she ends up.
“And you can’t die here, because-ur- because.. ”
“Because… I have to die somewhere else?”
“Well, we all have to die somewhere, River, and it’s not going to be here–I can promise you that!”
At this point in the banter, a really thick mist rolls in. Other people come out of hiding to urge them to run from it for their lives.
This little group of survivors has been taking shelter in a crypt. Two, Alfie and Betty, are an elderly couple on an anniversary trip; when they returned to their hotel after viewing the ghosts, everyone else had disappeared. The mist got them. The other two are a young sister and brother, Del and Siggy, hitchhikers who were camping on the planet with some friends who had also disappeared after walking into the mist. They’ve all been hiding and running for at least a week or 10 days…but it’s hard to judge time.
The ghosts of the Doctor and River reappear briefly to lead them up to an old, crashed spaceship that’s been there for at least 200 years, but has a low level of power that’s just about gone, and a remote holographic generator program that’s still running. The Doctor is quick to catch on that all the ship’s crew were backed up in the hologram program to save their memories and personalities after they were killed in the crash, which would explain not only why their “ghosts” are fading but why some of them have disappeared as the power runs out.
Except that that’s not exactly what’s going on. Nothing is what it seems: the mist, the ghosts including those apparently of River and the Doctor, even the six people who think they’re alive. (And even if they are only holograms, the ending is romantic and sad).