The Doctor and Brian head to Magnox to pose a question that might well decide the ultimate fate of the Time Lord Victorious
It’s a mark of just how enthusiastic and committed the various Doctor Who licencees have been that almost every medium is involved in Time Lord Victorious. Now we come to BBC Audio’s entry, The Minds of Magnox. It’s a new audiobook threading its way through another part of the Time Lord Victorious tapestry.
Leveraging the talents of mimic Jacob Dudman, it forms halfway house between a reading and a performance. Dudman’s takes on David Tennant’s Doctor, or Silas Carson’s Ood never quite convinces you you’re listening to the real thing. But combined with the dizzying array of distinct voices he serves up for the rest of the cast, it frees the text from requiring quite so many “said the Doctor,” moments. If anything, the narration element is more a substitute for the sound design of a full cast drama. It describes the bustling city streets full of vendors’ stalls, for instance, rather than letting us hear them. It’s an effective approach that, if it sacrifices a little ambiance, compensates with a brisk pace that covers a dense amount of plot in its one hour and twelve minutes.
Magnox’s information based society is finely sketched in Darren Jones’ intelligent script
That plot sees the Tenth Doctor and Brian the Ood arrive on Magnox looking for answers. More precisely, the Doctor is looking for one very specific answer to a question he refuses to share with Brian. This effectively splits the story in two as the pair split up to pursue their separate agendas. Before finding themselves on a collision course at the end with mutually exclusive goals. Magnox is home to the greatest repository of knowledge in the Dark Times. But to gain an audience with the Minds that hold it all the Doctor will need to jump through hoops both bureaucratic and potentially lethal. Meanwhile Brian simply wants to get himself into enough trouble to keep himself entertained. Before long, he’s presented his credentials as an assassin to local rebels and found himself with a contract to fulfill.
We also get to see the two sides of the Magnox through their respective eyes. The Doctor deals with the great and the good of the academic world. A place populated with cognocrats with exotic skulls shaped by their vast accumulation of knowledge. Meanwhile Brian walks down the meaner streets of the poorer side of town. A place where people pay discrete volumes of data in bars in exchange for shots of a sort of anti-alcohol that gives focus and clarity. It’s a deft bit of world building that makes Magnox stand out in the Doctor Who canon.
Tied deeply into Time Lord Victorious, Minds of Magnox demands more knowledge of the crossover than most entries
This all ties into the wider Time Lord Victorious arc, of course. And it’s one of the few cases so far in the multimedia event that isn’t entirely accessible to casual listeners. Part of that is likely due to it being set partway through the upcoming novel All Flesh is Grass. So if you’re not at least conversant with events in first novel The Knight, the Fool and the Dead you might feel slightly lost.
Yes, at one level The Minds of Magnox is simply a story of both the Doctor and his companion trying to gain entry to somewhere for different reasons. But at another level you may be left cold by the nature of the Doctor’s question, once it’s revealed. And even more perplexed when the Kotturuh crash the party doing Kotturuhish things with little explanation. Even if you are, you might still find yourself thinking hard for a moment to recall the current status of the Doctor’s ship.
If Brian has appeared semi-reformed, The Minds of Magnox reveals how malign he can be when the Doctor’s not looking
One of the breakout stars of the crossover, however, has been Brian the Ood Assassin. Like fellow TLV star the Dalek Strategist he’s an invenerate schemer. His motivation for travelling with the Doctor is superficially similar to many previous companions: he doesn’t want to be bored. But there’s an added wrinkle that’s totally unique. He thinks it’s a good way to meet interesting new people to kill in interesting new ways. And, due to the Doctor’s lifestyle, usually with the plausible deniability that it was save him or the universe.
And in The Minds of Magnox he’s back to being the full blooded psychopath of He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not. Although that seems like a discontinuity with his Knight, the Fool and the Dead persona. There he displays more of a light grey morality similar to Captain Jack’s when we first meet him. But it’s probably justifiable. After all, in that novel he’s trying to wheedle his way into the Tenth Doctor’s confidence, just as the Strategist is doing with the Eighth elsewhere in the epic. And, crucially, we never see events from Brian’s perspective in that novel. But in this audiobook, we spend an awful lot of time in the company of Brian’s internal monologue. Or, rather, his internal dialogue as he debates matters with his even more psychotic alter ego ‘Mr. Ball.’
The combination of the Doctor’s Time Lord Victorious obsessions and Brian’s bad influence leaves you genuinely uncertain what happens next
Brian’s unpredictability is ultimately Minds of Magnox’s greatest strength. Perhaps even of the entire multimedia project. Particularly allied with the dark path he’s been steadily prodding the Doctor along, like the Iago to his Othello. It’s a rare thing for Doctor Who to reach the climax of a story and not know what’s going to happen. “I always win, you see,” Tom Baker is fond of saying of Doctor Who’s structure. But as the Doctor, Brian, the Minds and the Kotturuh all collide in the final scenes it’s excitingly impossible to know how it will end. And even as the Doctor is held to account in one of those rare moments where he’s forced to confront the price others pay for his whims, the same could be said of Time Lord Victorious as a whole.
Doctor Who: The Minds of Magnox
The Doctor travels with Brian, the Ood assassin, to the planet Magnox, one of the greatest receptacles of knowledge the universe will ever know. The Doctor needs to ask a vital question, but the answer is Grade 1 Classified! In order to gain an audience with the Minds of Magnox themselves he must take a dangerous test. Is he smart enough to get through?
Meanwhile, Brian gets involved with the criminal fraternity and is given a job: to assassinate the Minds of Magnox. However, others also have the planet within their sights…