Roots: The X-Files. There are references to Budweiser, Dickens, the Beatles, Garfield, Scientific American, Rubiks cubes, Freud, Disneyland, H. G. Wells, Kojak, Kim Philby, the Pied Piper, Roget's Thesaurus, William Katt in The Greatest American Hero, Sherlock Holmes, M. C. Escher, Robinson Crusoe, the Washington Post, J. R. R. Tolkien, Smurfs, the Key of Solomon, the Goetia, Key Largo, Tom Sawyer, Lego, McDonalds, Ghost in the Machine, Sesame Street, Theseus, Meccano, and Godzilla. Computer games Space Invaders, Tempest, Berserk, Pac-Man, and Shockwave Rider are all mentioned.
Dialogue Triumphs: The Doctor on his patchwork coat: 'What seems extraordinary in one place seems utterly ordinary in another. What's fashionable in one era seems ludicrous in another.'
Continuity: The unnamed aliens hail from a world orbiting Epsilon Eridani. They cannot travel faster than light, but have gradually established colony worlds over a huge volume of space, communicating with each other by slow messages and slow parcels. They sent a spacecraft containing a supercomputer broken into five components as a gift to a fledgling colony orbiting Van Maanen's star. The ship's flight path took it through Earth's solar system, in a slingshot around the sun; the Eridani did not anticipate the number of radio signals emanating from Earth however, which confused the slow package and caused it to land on Earth c1966. The component that Swan bought first came to light in 1970. The Eridani sent agents to Earth to recover the components so as not to allow Earth to become their technological rivals, but it took them eleven years to make the journey. During the three years they spend on Earth they manage to retrieve three of the components, before the Doctor offers to help. They have been slingshotting ships through Earth's solar system for centuries. It is implied that they may be avian; their agents on Earth always have a parrot on their shoulders. They secretly intend to use the supercomputer not as a gift but as an invasion tool.
The Savant is shaped like the letter Y and is covered in banana-yellow feathery scales. Its head is a long cylinder with a truncated beak the colour of mahogany. It forms a bond with the central nervous system of its user, possibly by interfering with the brains opiate receptors. It is designed to be the ultimate programmer, able to modify and hack any system with ease. It is programmed to reproduce itself, recreating itself in the minds of any human who it comes into contact with; it can adapt itself to the human brain just as it can adapt to a computer network. The presence of a tiny savant in a human mind renders them susceptible to control by the Eridani, and infected humans can infect other humans. The Eridani created it for this reason, so that they could take advantage of the population of the colony in orbit around Van Maanen's star.
At Peri's insistence, the Doctor wears a tailored black suit and multicoloured tie. The tie is printed with dozens of little cats. The Doctor and Peri have been travelling together for months. The Doctor uses the user name jeoffrey, offering the reason that he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command! He later uses the codename Merryman. The Doctor's pockets contain identity cards and spare change, as well as a wallet containing four American dollars, ten Scottish pounds, an autographed picture of Grace Murray Hopper, and a current Maryland driver's license. He builds a flamethrower out of various components that he finds lying around.
Peri's mother divorced and remarried when she was ten (Planet of Fire). Like Howard, her mother is an archaeologist. The Doctor intends to take her to visit her family, but gets the date wrong. She buys a T-shirt with WASHINGTON DC written on it. She also buys a new outfit, consisting of black jeans, grey sweatshirt, black coat, and sunglasses. Later, she bleaches her hair, dons a false moustache, and a baseball cap and red overalls; she stuffs her overalls with folded pillowslips to complete her boyish disguise. She loves filling in hotel breakfast request forms. She always eats large meals when she gets the chance, since experience has taught her that she might have to go for a long time between meals. When she phones TLA, she claims to be calling from Gallifrey Computer Supplies. She drinks Fosters lager and loves grape soda. Peri can drive, but is out of practice. During her first year of college, she saw a tiny white dog come of a church parking lot and wander out across the road, around a gas station, and onto a main road before vanishing along the pavement; realizing that if it had stopped moving it would have been killed, she compares it to the Doctor. Her favourite film is Ghostbusters. She used to smoke, but stopped several years ago. She claims that she had a crush on the Fifth Doctor, although it was the sort of crush that a student has on a teacher (see Warmonger).
Writer Chick Peters has written for Infodump, Computers Now!, Phreakfest, and Newstime.
Links: Peri reflects that she has faced ravening carnivores and rivers of lava (The Caves of Androzani and possibly Timelash). The Doctor is a vegetarian, suggesting that this story takes place after The Two Doctors.
Location: Washington, and Ocean City, c1980; Bainbridge Hospital in Washington State, 1982.
Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor and Peri once slept in a tube-shaped tent on a plain of ice in a screaming fifty-mile-an-hour blizzard. The blizzard lasted for forty-four hours, the noise of the wind keeping Peri awake.
The Fifth Doctor met young hacker Robert Salmon in 1975, when he stopped navy programmer Professor Xerxes from placing a trapdoor in navy software, which would have allowed him access to their computers any time he wanted it. He told Bob about regeneration.
The Doctor may have met Grace Murray Hopper.
The Bottom Line: A surprisingly fascinating exploration of the world of computer hacking in the nineteen eighties, which benefits from Orman's extensive research. The Sixth Doctor and Peri are captured perfectly, and Chick Peters' first person narrative is used to great affect.