Not to be confused with The Beginning of the End, which is a film about giant grasshoppers crawling on photographs of Chicago. This Big Finish audio drama is about the Doctor in four regenerations in four different time periods, but all of them eventually facing the same cosmic crisis.
A brief prologue introduces us to the Kethlar Death Lords—an “ancient order of ruthless warriors”—who were engaged in a great war eons ago. Only one survived their final battle and, while floating aimlessly through the millennia, he “declared war on the Universe.” This survivor, Vakrass, is the narrator of this opening piece, and provides occasional bridging comments between the three short dramas that follow.
Part 1: Death in the Desert
The 5th Doctor (Peter Davison) and his companion Turlough (Mark Strickson) are on Earth in the Middle East during WWI. Given this setting, it’s not surprising that we get one or two oblique references to Lawrence of Arabia, although that gentleman does not appear in this story.
The Doctor is in search of an object which Turlough describes mysteriously as “that thing out in the desert.” As the story begins, the two have fallen afoul of an English adventure named Quarrington, who wants information from them about a lost city which he’s been searching for. This city is said to contain a fabulous gemstone… which may be the same object the Doctor is after. There are legends about an angel who went by the name of the Pilgrim—“Gostak” in his own language—who came down into the city in ancient times. The name Gostak is familiar to the Doctor.
With the aid of an old enemy of Quarrington’s, a Bedouin chief named Ibrahim, the Doctor and Turlough trek out into the desert. Someone is following them. Quarrington? Perhaps, but this person is on foot and not carrying any supplies necessary for survival in this harsh and arid climate.
The travelers eventually arrive at the gorge where they left the Tardis behind when Quarrington first captured them before the story began. He catches up with before they can get inside the Tardis and forces them to take him to the location where the Doctor believes the city to be—just a short walk down the ravine, not far from where the Tardis is parked.
When they reach the site, it appears that the lost city is buried beneath tons of sand; only an obelisk is visible. But this is exactly what the Doctor was hoping to find. The writing carved on the obelisk is not in Egyptian hieroglyphics nor Arabic, but in Gallifreyan.
The Doctor opens the obelisk. What a surprise: it’s another Tardis, with a much more ostentatious control room than the Type 40 standard interior the Doctor used through most of the original series run. The gemstone is there. It’s actually a data crystal that contains a holographic message for the Doctor from Gostak.
It’s only now that that Doctor explains that Gostak was his tutor back in his Academy days, but that Gostak left Gallifrey in search of a legendary lost moon. This moon’s disappearance from the Gallifrey sky in ancient times was used as a parable in the Book of Rassillon; most Gallifreyans believed that the story was never to be taken as literal. But Gostak did. He thought that it still existed somewhere under another name.
The data crystal also contains a holomap that shows the location of this moon. Gostak says that the Doctor can find him there.
This should be mind-boggling stuff for an early-20th-century human, but all Quarrington can see is the potential value of the crystal as a large jewel. He grabs it… which turns out not to be a good idea. Gostak’s Tardis enters a temporal collapse.
The Doctor: “Run!”
The Doctor pockets the crystal in the confusion, but it’s only one piece of what he’s looking for. Two more data crystals are needed to complete the information he needs; I expect they’ll turn up in the next two parts of the story.
As the Doctor and Turlough walk back to the their own Tardis, they are confronted by that other mysterious stranger who has been following them. He introduces himself as Vakrass, the last of the Death Lords. “I’ve been waiting for you, Time Lord.”
Part 2: Flight of the Black Star
The 6th Doctor (Colin Baker) and his companion Constance Clark (who isn’t a character I’m familiar with; she seems to have been picked up during WWII) are on a spaceport around Titan in 5122. Unfortunately, 5122 is when the Organo/Robotic Wars occurred, and the spaceport is attacked by a band of robo-pirates, El Zeddo and the Freebooters.
Will the two of them fight alone “against a robotic gang of thieves?” Mrs. Clark wonders.
Of course not. The Doctor thinks that the assistance of a third person would increase their chances of winning this battle. He calls upon an old friend, Calypso Jonze, who’s a smuggler and bit of a low-key pirate herself.
When the Doctor confronts El Zeddo to deliver an ultimatum to leave Titan alone, he discovers that he’s not the first Time Lord El Zeddo has encountered. Another was responsible for El Zeddo’s freedom; by repairing a mining bot with a “crystalline operating lattice,” this Time Lord inadvertently upgraded the machine to self-awareness, and the robotic revolution was born.
The Doctor recognizes this “operating lattice” as another one of those data crystals Gostak wanted him to find. It’s just a matter of retrieving it from this hostile, sentient robot and “restoring factory settings” before El Zeddo launches his plans to get rid of all the “organics.”
Meanwhile, Mrs. Clark and Calypso Jonze are busy sabotaging the Freebooters’ ship and it’s up to them to rescue the Doctor from incineration.
Well, this is the Doctor so he doesn’t get incinerated, and defeating El Zeddo doesn’t take very long. But just as this adventure is being wrapped up, the Doctor and Mrs. Clark are beamed aboard a mysterious ship that’s been lurking at the edges of the story… and there’s Vakrass again.
Part 3: Night Gallery
The 8th Doctor (Paul McGann) has just arrived in 1999, which he calls a good year: “… fine for me, as long as I avoid San Francisco.”
Fortunately for him, he’s in London.
As soon as he steps out of the Tardis, the Doctor finds a messenger waiting for him–a man who thinks the appearing police box is a street-magician’s trick, and who hands him tickets to a midnight showing of an art exhibition titled Darkness! While he’s curious about this, the purpose of the Doctor’s visit to the city at this time is to see an old friend/enemy. So off he goes to pay his call, leaving his companion Charley to fend for herself until they meet at the art gallery that evening.
Along the way, street news vendors are shouting out the latest information about grisly “vampire” murders in Chelsea. The Doctor is not pleased to hear this.
As it turns out, the Doctor’s old friend/enemy is a 234-year-old vampire who currently goes by the name of Highgate. Of all the secondary characters we meet in this drama, he strikes me as the most interesting and I’m sorry he’s not around longer. Conversation quickly establishes that the two haven’t seen each other in 30 years, and that at that time, the Doctor extracted a promise from Highgate not to kill people.
Given the news on the streets, the Doctor doubts that this promise has been kept–but Highgate insists “non mea culpa.”
Highgate claims that since the Doctor last saw him, he’s been paying high prices for fresh bloodbank pints by selling his paintings. He was apparently a famous painter during his pre-vampiric lifetime (although his original name isn’t given, I did begin to wonder what artist might have been born around 1765). He isn’t the vampire victimizing London, but he does know who it is and he needs the Doctor’s help to tackle this young upstart vampire who was once something of an artistic protégé of his. Highgate was the person who sent the Doctor the Darkness! tickets to get him to that art gallery.
So when a demonic figure, tale and pale with blazing red eyes, swoops down on the unwary Charley on the evening streets, one might reasonably conclude that this is the vampire. No, it’s just Vakrass again, but Charley flees from him and runs straight to the gallery belonging to Thurber, the vampire-artist.
Charley is not in immediate danger. Thurber is happy to give her a sneak preview around the gallery, which is an old building ominously converted from an abattoir. His artwork ins similarly disturbing. He tells her that he’s invited every snobby critic in London to his exhibition, as well as all his old art-school chums who would have nothing to do with him when times got hard. No one else has arrived yet; the show begins at midnight and, presumably, the bloodbath soon afterwards.
The Doctor and Highgate arrive in time to rescue Charley, but the other guests are also just coming in. How can they prevent the slaughter and rid London of this vampire menace, especially when daybreak is hours away?
Hint: If it’s the middle of the night, you can fry a vampire using UV black light and a glittery, reflective disco-ball.
Part 3 runs shorter than the first two, and the problem is resolved very quickly. Once that’s done, Highgate gives the Doctor a medallion with a gemstone embedded in it that he’s had for years, given to him by a “Pilgrim.” When the Doctor holds it, the data crystal activates and he remembers that he’s already found the other two crystals… although he can’t quite recall what he did with them.
Well, here’s Vakrass again. He says that if the three crystals are reunited and used, the Doctor(s) will die.
The 8th Doctor and Charley have been teleported in their Tardis aboard Vakrass’s spaceship, which is parked near the spot where the last Death Lord battle was fought and all the others died. He takes them to the “humble, rogue asteroid” that serves as his base of operations, and his cool-sounding Fortress of Night there, carved from a mountain of obsidian.
Vakrass reveals his plans and explains his philosophy–neither of which are what the Doctors nor the listener has been expecting, given all this talk of “Death Lords” and the “War against the Universe”. It’s an interesting and unexpected twist.
This is also where the three Doctors finally come together. While Vakrass is talking to Doctor 8 and Charley, Doctors 5 and 6 are elsewhere in the fortress with Turlough and Mrs. Clark, discussing whether or not they’re at the coordinates that Gostak provided as the location of that lost moon. It think it’s no surprise to anyone that the asteroid is the lost moon. No explanation yet for how it got there.
These two Doctors get on astonishingly well. If I have one complaint about this story, it’s that there’s very little of the personality clashes between Doctors that I fully expect in these multi-Doctor stories.
Doctor 8 joins them, and there’s an amusing conversation as introductions are made and some of the Doctors sort-of recognize companions they shouldn’t know yet but strangely do. It’s all a little bit timey-wimey, and then Vakrass gets down to the matter at hand.
From his Fortress, he’s been monitoring a “Great Unravelling” in the fabric of the Universe, which will be the end of everything unless it’s taken care of. Like the moon/asteroid, it’s of Time-Lord origin, which is why he’s brought the Doctors here with the data crystals. However, there’s a danger if the Doctors use the three crystals all at once; it will lead to their deaths as a matter of fact. They require a control plinth to operate the crystals from; Vakrass had tried to get hold of another Doctor to bring them one, but he couldn’t make contact.
Anyway, it turns out that the “map” displaying the lost moon as it was isn’t a holoprojection from the data crystals, but a portal to the moon in that long-ago time. While the Doctors are considering jumping through the portal into the past, Doctor 6 takes the lead and impulsively jumps first–which leads to the one snarky exchange in the story:
Doctor 5: “I turn into a bull in a china shop, don’t I?”
Doctor 8: “Don’t worry, you grow out of it.”
But they follow him. As promised in the messages he left behind, Gostak is there on the moon in antiquity, delighted to see his former student. He has plans for the moon, which isn’t really a moon at all, but a “cosmic restorator” that can undo the errors of the past. He means to restore the Time Lords to the former glory and requires the Doctors’ assistance. Unlike the twist regarding Vakrass, it’s not much of a shock to find that Gostak, like many a Time Lord before and after, is completely looney.
The Doctors are horrified. They try to stop him, and things start to get ugly. By using the companions as hostages, and zapping Doctor 8, Gostak forces them to do as he wants and set the machine in action. It doesn’t turn out as he hoped and we learn how the moon disappeared from the Gallifreyan sky and became a rogue asteroid in the first place.
It’s an entertaining story in each of its four parts. Since none run very long, there’s no chance for the plot to lag at any point, and the denouement is brisk and effective.
So what about the 7th Doctor, as advertised in the cover art and credits?
After the Doctors turns the moon-machine upon itself, the 7th Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) pops in to the rescue, bringing along that control plinth that was needed and engaging in a bit more banter with his future and previous selves as he gets them and their companions out of there. It’s more of a cameo.
Even though this group of Doctors gets along well enough, there’s still no party in the Tardis before they go their separate ways, and I remain disappointed.