Doctor Who: Beautiful Chaos

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Christopher Morley remembers...

Memories. Funny things, are they not? Making it all the more fitting that Beautiful Chaos is the last stand in print for Donna Noble, she who was forced to forget all about her travels through time & space with a strange man in a pinstripe suit. For the Doctor, though, this is all about re-acquaintance with a very old foe indeed, one from beyond the stars.....

And the Mandragora Helix was just one of many such enemies seen off with the invaluable assistance of Sarah-Jane Smith, who had of course by this point temporarily returned alongside the Tenth incarnation of the man she'd first known back when both were younger, School Reunion making it abundantly clear that age had robbed neither of a thirst for adventure!
DOCTOR: Hello, Sarah Jane.
SARAH: It's you. Oh, Doctor Oh, my God, it's you, isn't it. You've regenerated.
DOCTOR: Yeah. Half a dozen times since we last met.
SARAH: You look incredible.
DOCTOR: So do you.
SARAH: Huh. I got old. What are you doing here?
DOCTOR: Well, UFO sighting, school gets record results. I couldn't resist. What about you?
SARAH: The same. I thought you'd died. I waited for you and you didn't come back, and I thought you must have died.
DOCTOR: I lived. Everyone else died.
They had of course originally parted ways at the conclusion of The Hand Of Fear, shortly after dispatching Mandragora back to whichever dark corner of the universe it had come.
DOCTOR: We've landed, Sarah.
SARAH: What?
DOCTOR: We've landed.
SARAH: Where?
DOCTOR: South Croydon. Hillview Road, to be exact.
SARAH: That's my home. Well, I'll be off then.
Of course, she never forgot him really. Nor did Mandragora, on the evidence presented here! Though its modus operandi has changed somewhat by the time we reach Gary Russell's 2008 novel Beautiful Chaos, downloads are now serving as a potential gateway for its entry into our little corner of a very big galaxy. "Madam Delphi" is but one splinter of Mandragora, "Dara Morgan" another pawn in its long game as it bids to see off the threat to itself posed by the very people who'll be downloading it as part of its scheme to become the dominant power of the universe.
DOCTOR: It's the Mandragora Helix. I thought we'd avoided it.
SARAH: Oh. What's the Mandragora Helix?
DOCTOR: It's a spiral of pure energy that radiates outwards in ways no one understands, though at its centre there's a controlling intelligence.
SARAH: Intelligence?
SARAH: We're heading straight for it.
DOCTOR: Yes, it does seem more active than usual.
That first encounter took place in fifteenth century Italy, a time & place ripe for exploitation given the conflict between science & religion apparent then. But has a lot really changed, or have our electronic devices of various permutations simply become the new icons? Rise of The Cybermen/The Age Of Steel had earlier shown us what happened when that idea was taken a touch too far. But everyone touched by Mandragora here remains a person, brilliant, flawed, infuriating, given dignity even after its passage from this universe.

Perhaps the most human story of all here is that of Henrietta "Netty" Goodheart, lady friend of Wilfred Mott. A former astronomer now living with Alzheimer's disease, the gradual loss of the memories which made her her actually saves herself & the rest of the human race from the despairing clutches of Mandragora, an ending which reportedly made Russell T Davies cry after he read the book!

She left a lasting impression, clearly. For there she is, mentioned as being among the members of the Silver Cloak in The End Of Time, the intrepid gang of pensioners after the Doctor in what turns out to be his last bow.
OLIVER: Tall and thin, big brown coat.
MINNIE: The Silver Cloak. It worked. Because Wilf phoned Netty, who phoned June, and her sister lives opposite Broadfell, and she saw the police box, and her neighbour saw this man heading east.
DOCTOR: Wilfred?
WILF: Yeah?
DOCTOR: Have you told them who I am? You promised me.
WILF: No, I just said you were a doctor, that's all. And might I say, sir, it is an honour to see you again.
MINNIE: Oh, but you never said he was a looker. He's gorgeous. Take a photo.
OLIVER: Not bad, eh? Me next.
MINNIE: I'm Minnie. Minnie the Menace. It's a long time since I had a photo with a handsome man.
WILF: Just get off him. Leave him alone, will you?
MINNIE; Hush, you old misery. Come on, Doctor. Give us a smile. That's it.

(And with all the furore surrounding Class, we might reflect sourly that the Silver Cloak never got a spin off of their very own.)

Just to add to the heartbreak, of course, the prologue & epilogue are set after Journey's End in a final farewell to the best temp in Chiswick.
DOCTOR: I had to wipe her mind completely. Every trace of me, or the TARDIS, anything we did together, anywhere we went, had to go.
WILF: All those wonderful things she did.
DOCTOR: I know. But that version of Donna is dead. Because if she remembers, just for a second, she'll burn up. You can never tell her. You can't mention me or any of it for the rest of her life.
SYLVIA: But the whole world's talking about it. We travelled across space.
DOCTOR: It'll just be a story. One of those Donna Noble stories, where she missed it all again.
WILF: But she was better with you.
SYLVIA: Don't say that.
WILF: No, she was.
DOCTOR: I just want you to know there are worlds out there, safe in the sky because of her. That there are people living in the light, and singing songs of Donna Noble, a thousand million light years away. They will never forget her, while she can never remember. And for one moment, one shining moment, she was the most important woman in the whole wide universe.
Little wonder Russell T bawled like a baby, you might think. For sometimes, does not the alien remind us of all that indomitable human spirit, however fleeting and/or dulled by memory it may be? Worth a ponder next time you curse your lot in life - can there be anything worse, after all, than tasting glory on such a scale & having it snatched from you in a heartbeat?

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