The Companion Chronicles – ‘The Blue Tooth’
An educated scientist, Liz Shaw is having a bit of a professional and personal crisis. Her life has been turned upside down after getting dragged into service of U.N.I.T., a kind of James Bond outfit crossed with UFO enthusiasts. What’s worse is that she has been saddled with a flamboyant stranger who claims to have traveled in time and space and dresses like a stage magician. The fact that she regularly encounters the impossible hardly helps. Her quiet life of normalcy has been replaced with a wild mad experience and she is in desperate need of something familiar. She is therefore overjoyed when an old school friend rings her up. Sadly, the bizarre world of the weird and frightening knows no social bounds and soon Liz finds that while there’s no escaping the monsters, the monsters cannot escape the Doctor.
A filler story that serves as a bridge between Inferno and Terror of the Autons, this audio adventure attempts to give fans some closure on why Liz Shaw left U.N.I.T. One of the more inspired companions, Liz Shaw was a direct reaction to the screaming leggy assistants by outgoing producer Derrick Sherwin. When the ratings were crashing in 1969, Sherwin had many notions on how to enhance and modernize the program. An alien genius, the Doctor rarely had anyone to speak to on an equal ground. Liz Shaw would rectify that, and actress Caroline John wasn’t hard on the eyes either (even through those massive false eyelashes).
Sadly, script editor Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts disagreed with many of the concepts that Sherwin hads left them with and the character of Liz was deemed to be ‘too clever by half’ and written out for their second series on the program. But Liz Shaw never got a farewell scene (something she shares with few other companions including Peri and Ace) or even any development as to why she would leave. Liz Shaw clearly bristled at working with the military, but The Blue Tooth shows how the horror of the alien threats she faced touched her on a personal level, leaving the listener with plenty of reason for why she would move on.
On screen, Caroline John and John Pertwee gelled and presented what to many is one of the more iconic pairings in the program’s history. A period of reinvention, the seventh series of Doctor Who was far more sophisticated and mature than it had ever been before. The character of the Third Doctor was often ostentatious and grand, but he could be very sensitive and serious as well. Liz Shaw softened the hard edges of the Third Doctor while making his more dramatically heroic moments all the more exciting. A highly intelligent and forthright personality, she was rarely a ‘lady in distress,’ as her predecessor Jo Grant was, which raised the bar for threats. When Liz was in a pickle, the situation was clearly dire.
The Blue Tooth sees that bar and raises it.
Finding the apartment of her old friend ransacked, Liz is at a loss. When the Doctor and the Brigadier arrive to assess the damage, a personal crisis becomes part of her job. A line has been crossed. On the surface, it might have looked like a kidnapping or robbery, but the shredded reference books, melted television console and strange small bore holes in the front garden catch the Doctor’s eye. This was no ordinary intrusion.
After some additional investigation, it becomes clear that there has been a series of similar abductions with one connecting thread, a particular dental practice. While the Doctor and Brig look for more clues, Liz attempts to crack the mystery by playing detective and instead becomes a victim. I have lots of issues with dentists and dental pain, so this story really hit home for me. An adventure where humans are assaulted by alien blue metal that infiltrates the body through a dental filling is one of the craziest and scariest plot ideas I have ever heard. On screen, it would have worked as well!
Soon, the connection to a crashed space craft containing a damaged Cyberman is revealed and the Third Doctor finally gets to face the steely foes. There are several tragedies of Doctor Who such as the death of Roger Delgado, the loss of several episodes and of course Delta and the Bannermen, but for me one of the biggest tragedies is that the Third Doctor never faced the Cybermen. Nigel Fairs’s The Blue Tooth rectifies that and while it is an audio adventure that Jon Pertwee sadly could not be heard in, it serves the purpose.
There is a lot of body horror and inspired plotting in this story that makes it a real stunner. An invention developed by a lone desperate Cyberman, the blue metal that infects humans is an ingenious device that I would love to see another writer pick up. While they are an iconic monster, on screen, the Cybermen have a spotty record of success.
A race of alien nomads, the Cybermen are members of a race on the verge of extinction driven by extremes to embrace the logic of cybernetic enhancement, even at the loss of their own personality and free will. In the 1960’s, they were terrifying zombie-like creatures that came in the night, abducted you and transformed humans into members of an undying blank-faced legion. The 1980’s saw some enhancements but an eventual devolution into an silver action figure.
The new BBC Wales series does them no favor whatsoever as they have been reduced to Irish step-dancing buffoons. The Blue Tooth is a harsh reminder of why Cybermen are cool… and scary.
A brilliant story full of action, horror and continuity, The Blue Tooth comes highly recommended.