As we look to add to the Encyclopedia McGannica with our Eighth Doctor celebration, where better for him to find himself than Fort Casey, near Roswell, in the midst of an invasion by an intelligent alien pathogen?
In essence this is the main selling point of Spore, Alex Scarrow's contribution to the 12 Doctors, 12 Stories anthology- the author giving McGann his chance to shine as a long-standing fan of his work, saying,
"I chose him because I felt I had the most room to manoeuvre, to explore a lesser known Doctor and add flesh to his character."Flesh being liquified & absorbed by an alien nasty is surely of more concern here, mind?
Clearly someone still believes or at least remembers the many conspiracy theories regarding this particularly mysterious corner of America, then. And the Doctor has visited before, in the very first of the Past Doctor Adventures novels- his Third incarnation coming across The Devil Goblins From Neptune in the company of Liz Shaw.
That excursion took place some time in the late 1970s, though here in Spore he remembers being present for a certain fateful event of 1947. Those with an interest in such matters will be well acquainted with what went down then. As the New York Times would recount in a 1994 article-
"Over the decades, the incident grew to mythic dimensions among flying-saucer cultists, who spun slim evidence into weighty charges while touting conspiracy theories in scores of books, articles and television shows.It's tempting to place Spore immediately post-Grace in the Doctor's personal time-line, as when asked to explain himself & his strange get-up by Major Platt of the US military, he simply states that he was called away from the opera. This was of course exactly what happened to Dr Holloway when she came to inadvertently cause his regeneration in the operating theatre.
The United States, they said, had possession of alien bodies and otherworldly gear that was incredibly thin and strong.
The Government, they charged, made death threats to keep knowledgeable people quiet. It studied extraterrestrial craft to learn the secrets of making stealth bombers and fiber-optic communications networks. Roswell was the greatest of all governmental cover-ups."
She had been taking in a performance of Madame Butterfly, with the then-newest incarnation of the Time Lord showing off quite a grasp of Puccini & his works as well as a rather surprising personal insight.
DOCTOR: I remember! I was with Puccini before he died.But for now its time to swap arias for aliens & their swift removal from the planet, the Spore being a rather nasty & seemingly ageless threat which was known to the Doctor even as a younger man back on Gallifrey, seeking to assimilate other worlds & planets for its nameless alien masters to wipe clean for their own ends should they feel the need, able to think & defend itself using the most rudimentary of thought processes & transformative techniques.
GRACE: Name dropper.
DOCTOR: No, I was, I was, I was.
GRACE: Shush. Oh, my God.
DOCTOR: You see? That's no echo. He died before he could finish Turandot. Alfano finished it based on his notes. It was so sad.....
Just as well the TARDIS has conveniently delivered the one man who might stand a chance of reasoning with it to Earth once more. Using UNIT credentials he's able to join the boots on the ground in their investigation into this most potentially horrific of threats to a planet he's come to love down the years.
The human imagination itself could be seen to be one of the biggest threats, if we're to take into account the hysteria around the Roswell incident. The Skeptical Inquirer took a more reasoned view in analysis of the claim that a genuine unidentified flying object had been discovered....
"On July 8, 1947, an eager but relatively inexperienced public information officer at Roswell Army Airfield issued a press release claiming a “flying disc” had been recovered from its crash site on an area ranch.So far, so good. It also mirrors the pathogen's crash landing in the deserts of New Mexico, the Doctor on its tail- he would also track a similarly alien object down to wartime London soon after his debonair get-up has been swapped for a rough & ready leather jacket & jeans by the time of The Empty Child.
The next day’s Roswell Daily Record told how rancher “Mac” Brazel described (in a reporter’s words) “a large area of bright wreckage” consisting of tinfoil, rubber strips, sticks, and other lightweight materials."
ROSE: What exactly is this thing?Sadly for those greedily gobbled up by the Spore, there's no "everybody lives" moment here, as most are already dead by the time the Eighth arrives. What follows is more a mental battle than a physical one between the Doctor and the Spore. Well, he wouldn't have it any other way, would he?
DOCTOR: No idea.
ROSE: Then why are we chasing it?
At just four chapters long, Spore is a quick read, but an enjoyable one at that, and one that feels very much like a potential episode for the Eighth Doctor's television series if it had been picked up by FOX back in 1996.