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The Bekdel Test was the first story of the audio anthology, The Diary of River Song: Series Five. It was written by Jonathan Morris and featured Alex Kingston as River Song and Michelle Gomez as Missy.

Publisher's summary[]

Back at the start of her imprisonment, Doctor Song becomes a guinea pig for an innovative new security system.

But it's her fellow prisoners she needs to be most wary of.

Because it's early days for Missy, too. The Doctor is dead, and she is outraged that somebody else killed him first...

Plot[]

River Song wakes up in The Bekdel Institute (a place she doesn't recognise) and immediately meets a Cube. Initially, she believes she has drunkenly bought herself a hotel room, but quickly dismisses this when the Cube refuses to answer her questions or bring her an espresso. After asking to be taken to someone who can answer her questions, the Cube reveals that its purpose is to guard her. When River Song attacks it, it fires a weapon, and she decides it was not defensive but rather a warning shot.

As soon as she meets with the Director, she reveals that she knows she has been given a pacification drug, because she recognises the aftertaste. In answer to her questions, he reveals that she was brought to the Institute as a publicity stunt. The Bekdel Institute is a prison, and she has been brought here to prove that it is escape-proof. When she says "A prison hasn't been built that can hold me", the Director writes it down to use as a part of a tagline to advertise their prison. He believes that if she attempts to escape and fails, their prison is proved to be the perfect escape-proof institute, and if she decides not to cooperate by sitting in her cell and refusing to try to escape, then they can advertise by saying that "Even River Song knows when she is beaten".

Upon further questioning, the Director reveals that "a hundred or so of the most dangerous and unscrupulous criminal minds in this corner of the universe" are also currently being held in the prison, but River Song is their most valued guest. She also finds out that there are over a thousand Cubes within the prison, and that her Vortex Manipulator was randomly placed inside one of them, with no one knowing which it is in.

The Cube takes her to the dining hall, where she meets Zerelda Nineheart, who is a political prisoner, Darial Cho, who carves people up as a form of artistic expression, and Grandian Hewel Araskas Of Baltasar, who is a war criminal. When Hewel and Darial Cho start physically attacking each other, River Song uses the distraction to run away with Zerelda Nineheart, asking her to lead them to the docking bay. The Cubes force both of them to submit and return to their cells, saying that they will receive immediate punishment if they do not.

Back in her cell, the Director pays River Song a visit to taunt her for not escaping as quickly as she expected to. Before he can say more than a few sentences, River uses Venusian Aikido to choke him and force him to lead her to his office. When they arrive, she discovers that there is another Director waiting in the office - they are solid holograms (she shortens this to Solidogram). If one Director is compromised, he can be instantaneously replaced by another, with all memories and motivations intact. They are an artificial intelligence, but they are completely indistinguishable from a genuine living being, even to the institutes own internal security systems.

Zerelda shows River Song to the Hiroclonix Center, where they grow their own food, so that no food or materials need to be brought from the outside. All of their energy is solar, as it comes from the sun.

When a transporter ship comes out of warp, River originally assumes that her future self has sent someone back in time to collect her, then decides that it must be a new cellmate. A Cube informs her that the new arrival is one of the most dangerous criminal geniuses in the known universe, that they are wanted for crimes in over two hundred systems, and that they have an outstanding death warrant in both dalek and cyber empires. They have lead revolutions, overturned empires, and caused the obliteration of the ninth Sontaran battle fleet. Their real name is unknown, but they have a self-proclaimed designation which is presumed to be an alias, and they are a Time Lord. River assumes this is the Doctor, and the Director decides to play along, telling the Cube to take "the Doctor" to her cell.

Missy arrives in the cell, and declares herself to be a big fan of River's. They both realise that she wrongly assumed Missy was the Doctor, and River attempts to guess who she really is, teasingly guessing The Rani, Romana, and The Monk, before finally guessing that she is the Master. Missy says she's jealous that River was the one who killed the Doctor at Lake Silencio (TV: The Impossible Astronaut), saying that she should have at least been invited since she's his oldest friend, and he had a crush on her in the Academy. Missy adds that she was his first love, and doesn't believe River when she says that she was his last. Missy infers that she doesn't believe that the Doctor is actually dead, and says that even though she came up with many plans to kill the Doctor, she could never bring herself to actually go through with it. The Doctor told River this, and believed that it meant that deep down, she wanted him to stop her, and that it meant she could be reformed, though Missy says it was purely because if she killed him, she would have no one else to play with.

The two women decide that they aren't just here for publicity, though they don't know the real reason - Missy suggests that it might be her future self playing with them. River introduces Missy to the other prisoners she has met, and Missy says she adores the work of Darial Cho, though she then takes a soil sensor, turns it into a weapon, and shoots her, much to everyone's surprise. After killing five of the other prisoners, she gives the weapon to River Song, and is put into solitary confinement. Through the comms, someone listens as Missy says that she knows she is being watched, but she won't say anything until she knows who is really in charge.

River Song tells Zerelda she is going to make another escape attempt, and takes her to Missy's new cell, where Missy reveals she is twenty-seven steps ahead, has already planned their escape, and that their next step needs to be a visit to the Solidogram Generation Suite.

While Zerelda stands guard outside, Missy creates three solidograms of themselves, saying that they can trick the prison into believing that they are sitting quietly in their cells while they escape. Once their solidograms have been escorted back to their cells by the Cubes, River Song says that the reason they didn't find the real versions of themselves is because the equipment generates an intense electromagnetic field which overwhelms their sensors.

After realising that the ship which had brought Missy has left, they decide to head towards the communication center - but the only way to reach it undetected is via the waste disposal pipes. Due to the horrible stench, Missy breathes through her respiratory bypass. As they crawl through the pipes, River asks why Missy decided to 'upgrade' her gender, and Missy tells her that it wasn't a conscious choice, as River should know, since she has regenerated herself (TV: Let's Kill Hitler).

A growling comes from a creature behind them, but Missy isn't overly bothered since she's at the front of the line and Zerelda is at the back, so she knows "it's not going to eat anyone important". River hands Zerelda the weapon, and she shoots at the creature, making it leave them alone, but not before it injures Zerelda's leg. Missy sees the end of the pipe, takes back her gun and shoots the camera, meaning they can all move into the communications room, where they barricade the door closed.

After having a look on the computer, Missy decides that since there are no ships in range, and neither her nor River Song have any allies, sending out a signal would be pointless. Zerelda points out that they could contact the Doctor, saying that it could be possible he's still alive. At last, River Song realises why they have been brought to the prison - everything that has happened so far has been a trick; a way of trying to force them to contact the Doctor, as they are the two most likely people in the universe to know if he was still alive. Irritated that she had been lying to them, Missy shoots her.

When the Cubes knock the door down a moment later, the Director admits that they are only there to prove to him that the Doctor is still alive - he had to trick them, otherwise he would never be sure if they were lying. Missy suggests that he use a mind probe, but he is aware that it would not work on either of them, as it would simply overload the machine. The Director refuses to say who hired him to find out if the Doctor is alive, and since neither of them are willing to give anything away, he sends them back to the detention level, escorted by the Cubes.

Back in the dining hall a little while later, River discovers that Zerelda and Darial Cho are still alive, though Missy points out that they were never alive, as they have been solidograms from the very start. She says that everything that has happened so far has been for her own benefit, and throws boiling hot tea over River, injuring her. When the Cubes take her back to the Director, she says that since River also wasn't real, she wouldn't have felt any pain - it was just a way of getting the attention of the cubes so they could take her back to the communication center and she could deliver the Doctor in exchange for her release. Her one demand is that they return her gun, which they happily do when she points out that since they're all solidograms, she can't actually harm anyone. But as soon as she gets it back, she turns it on herself. Missy says that it's not because she would rather die than betray the Doctor, but that she wants to annoy the Director with her death as revenge for bringing her here against her will.

Missy declares that she's always twenty-seven steps ahead and shoots herself, making the Director realise that she has been a solidogram all along, and that the ones he sent back to the cells must have been the real versions. When he goes to speak to River Song in her cell, it's instantly clear that this version of her is a solidogram, too. She tells him that when they first reached the generation suite, Missy created two sets of solidograms. One set was sent back to the cells, and the other set went into the waste pipes with Zerelda, so the real versions could stay in the generation suite and hack the computer. She says that they've been there all along, and are still there waiting for him to come and get them.

The Director goes to the generation suite to find them, and shuts down all solidogram projections (other than himself) so he can be certain that they are the genuine articles. Once he sees that they are, he orders the Cubes to escort them back to their cells. However, the Cubes lead them away from the detention level, and place them into an airlock. Missy explains that once she'd hacked the computer, she inverted it's understanding of the topological universe - it now believes that the inside of the prison is the outside, and that the outside is the inside. Missy suggests that River Song call the Doctor to save them before they get blown out of the airlock, but she refuses, saying that for all she knows this could be a part of the trick. When River says that Missy could call him, she refuses, saying she'd rather die than have to call the Doctor for help.

Once they've spent a few moments relishing in the idea that the other was about to die, one of the Cubes enters and drops River's Vortex Manipulator and Missy's sonic umbrella onto the floor, before leaving again, saying that their personal possessions needed to be put inside the prison.

When River Song tries to use her Vortex Manipulator to escape (planning to leave Missy to die) Missy uses her sonic umbrella to scramble the coordinates until she agrees to take her with her. After a moment of consideration, River decides that the Doctor was right - that Missy can be rehabilitated one day - so Missy sets new coordinates on the Vortex Manipulator, and the two of them vanish, landing on a farm. Neither of them are happy about landing in a muddy area, but Missy says she took them here because it has a space port, so she can catch a ride to where she left her TARDIS.

After unscrambling the Vortex Manipulator, Missy says that the reason she hasn't killed River yet is because she is a complex space-time event, and that one tug in the wrong place could cause the whole causal nexus to unravel. Although she'd like to do it, it would only be worth it if she could watch the Doctor's reaction.

River Song realises that Missy never asked if she really killed the Doctor because Missy is from his future, and already knows that he's alive. Although she deliberately doesn't explicitly agree with this conclusion, Missy says that if it is true, it means that River can't warn him that the Master is still alive, because in her point in time, the Doctor still believes him to be dead. After seeming offended by River's comment that she wouldn't need to warn him because he always defeats her anyway, Missy calls her "the rebound girl", and says that the Doctor is only settling for second-best, then uses her sonic umbrella to reprogramme the Vortex Manipulator's coordinates, and sends River back to the Stormcage facility, where the guards have celebration drinks upon realising she has returned.

Cast[]

References[]

Notes[]

  • This is the first audio drama to feature Missy. Michelle Gomez had previously appeared in Valhalla as a different character. This is also the first Big Finish story to feature a character originating from the Twelfth Doctor era.
  • The story's title is a transparent reference to the Bechdel test (pronounced the same way), which is intended to measure women's representation in fiction. To pass the Bechdel test, a story should feature women talking to each other about something other than a man. While River Song and Missy's discussions in this story are mainly focused on the Doctor, whom they both know from male regenerations, in an ironic twist, the current Doctor's regeneration at the time of the story's release was female.
  • The Doctor Who Role Playing Game by FASA previously stated that the Master and the Monk were one and the same Time Lord. Here, Missy takes offence at being mistaken for the Monk.
  • This story is a posthumous release for Laurence Kennedy, who died in October 2018.

Continuity[]

External links[]