Once and Future: The Martian Invasion of Planetoid 50

Posted in Audio by - September 12, 2023
Once and Future: The Martian Invasion of Planetoid 50

Released September 2023


The First Doctor arrives in Victorian London in the middle of a deadly alien invasion, but after changing to his Tenth form he soon discovers a strangely familiar backdrop to the desolation before him as Missy makes her presence known in ‘The Martian Invasion of Planetoid 50’ by Jonathan Barnes.

As was probably to be expected given the huge mishmash of characters from throughout Doctor Who’s history that was due to feature in these special releases, Once and Future has often stumbled with producing a coherent and foundational plot. There have been plenty of fascinating ideas in support of the Doctor flitting between past and future incarnations due to the effects of a degenerational weapon strike during the Time War, but there has been staggeringly little overall plot progression toward finding answers or solutions through four stories with the focus instead being on the natural charisma of and unique interactions between beloved characters in heightened circumstances. Fortunately, the inclusion of Missy brings with it a natural propensity for the absurd, she being a character who very much can create and revel in chaos for her own entertainment, and the appearance of Martian tripods and far-reaching red weeds straight out of The War of the Worlds in a locale designed to look like London is absolutely in character for this unique Time Lord who in this particular incarnation will come to mean so much to the Doctor.

Of course, there are still many plot points here that are not fully addressed, the most important perhaps being just why the Paternoster Gang is here anyway. Missy’s plan to entangle the Doctor in her affairs in no way hinges upon the trio’s involvement, and while Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax all help to fill certain roles from the original story alongside intrepid chronicler and journalist Jessamy Moore, this is a missing piece of information that could have provided much more depth and internal logic to the story. With the Doctor now visiting future faces, the story also by necessity has to become a little more fluid with what the Doctor can and cannot remember; ‘The Martian Invasion of Planetoid 50’ makes it clear that the Tenth Doctor here is still his previous incarnation referring to his new visage as his future self, and while none of the previous stories have necessarily referenced the changes in clothing or demeanour to accompany his many visual changes in order to keep the stories moving, it does become somewhat more notable that the Doctor has at least a fleeting memory of the Paternoster Gang from his future but will not be able to recall this interaction with Missy from what will become his past when they eventually cross paths during the Doctor’s Twelfth incarnation.

Even if the inclusion of Jessamy Moore is not as consequential as the role initially seems built up to be, ‘The Martian Invasion of Planetoid 50’ is very much another story centred around the interactions among its famed characters, and it delivers in every regard on that front. David Tennant effortlessly recaptures the dynamic energy and enthusiasm of his Doctor, and his exasperation with Missy who has gone through so much to get the Doctor’s attention is brilliantly in character while still paying homage to just how much these two characters have been through together. Intriguingly, Missy suggests that she is also suffering from the effects of a degenerative weapon and visiting a future face which- while again raising the prospect of why she is very much acting as Missy would in contrast to how any other known incarnation of the Master who uses that name might- finally allows for at least a semblance of plot momentum as she points out a unique substance at this locale that caused her scheme to go awry while finally giving the Doctor the name of the Union as something for him to pursue to get answers. Missy is quite over the top here at times, but the resulting journey that she takes the Doctor on is frenetic and energetic, providing another vigorous boost to the overall plot that now seems set to begin to address the much bigger underlying issues. Presumably the Master in some capacity will again feature at some point given how momentous that reveal is, but Michele Gomez proves to be a perfect foil for Tennant’s Doctor, and these interactions by themselves prove just why concepts such as that featuring in Once and Future are ones that will always be rife with potential.

Whether or not the Paternoster Gang is essential for this story, there is simply no denying how strong the interactions between Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart, and Dan Starkey are amongst themselves and with Tennant and Gomez. This unlikely group was a standout highlight of Steven Moffat’s time at the helm of the franchise on screen, and their unyielding bravery, commitment, and humour expertly intermingle with these strange affairs and Missy’s mesmeric influence. Indeed, even without an incredibly strong story and with so many plot questions unanswered, this is easily the most evenly paced and purely fun story of Once and Future to this point, Missy’s chaotic influence again providing the perfect explanation and excuse for anything and helping to bring this distinctly modern mixture of Doctor Who eras to life so incredibly vividly.

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