Doctor Who Monsters, Aliens and Villains

Audio - Tomb Ship
Tomb Ship
(Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby)

 Name: Virna

 Format: Audio

 Time of Origin: Unspecified date in the far future.

 Appearances: "Tomb Ship"

 Doctors: Fifth Doctor

 Companions: Nyssa and Hannah Bartholomew

 History: Although she presented herself as a mother seeking to ensure her family's future once she was gone, Virna was in reality an arrogant, self-centred woman, concerned only with her own historical reputation regardless of how many of her children died in her name.

Fifth Doctor
Fifth Doctor

Throughout her time with The Doctor, she demonstrated a warped sense of family values as she carried out her archaeological expeditions, showing no hesitation about sacrificing those children to further her own goals. She had several sons - four accompanied her on the expedition where she met The Doctor and one of them noted that he knew of at least eight others - who she used as staff for her explorations (It is unclear how old Virna was, as she would only say that she wasn't old enough to retire, while still being old enough to have several adult children). She had conducted raids in at least two dozen systems, and had apparently once faced the Wirrn ("The Ark in Space") while carrying out a raid on a mining facility. Despite her large family, Virna had a very cynical outlook on motherhood, once stating that it was a mother's duty to tell her children everything would be fine even when it wouldn't be, providing the show of comfort without any genuine emotional warmth.

Although she had conducted a wide variety of archaeological expeditions, she was particularly obsessed with the myth of the Arrit, an insectoid race so powerful that The Doctor believed they could have come to rival the Time Lords if they had survived for long enough. Although they had died out long ago, the Arrit had left their stone-ships floating through space, with these ships being vast stone pyramids containing the remains of their god-kings, the ships containing such advanced technology as photonic convertors that allowed them to create light from the air itself, as well as the Arrit's 'slaves' in the form of the Arrit-Ko, a more primitive insectoid race who appeared to be the equivalent of monkeys to the original Arrit. Although the ships were also filled with various traps that would make it difficult for anyone to actually reach the heart of the ship, Virna became particularly fixated on the myth of the treasure that could supposedly be found in the heart of the ships.

To this end, Virna made at least two attempts to claim an Arrit tomb-ship for herself, with the second known attempt seeing her attempting an expedition accompanied by her four sons, Rek, Heff, Hisko, and Murs, each one trained in the various traps that they would encounter in the tomb-ships and the tools they would need to get through them. However, while Virna was supervising her sons Heff and Hisko as they tried to break down a wall, her other son Rek was killed when he was tricked by an initially unknown woman into standing under a slamming metal platform. When Virna, Heff and Hisko returned to the main chamber to work out another route, they discovered the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa in the chamber, the TARDIS having arrived in another part of the ship and Nyssa now caught in a gravity trap that would kill Nyssa by crushing her to death. Although Virna was initially willing to leave Nyssa to die in the belief that the two were responsible for Rek's death, The Doctor's protests convinced Heff to attempt to open a previously-locked door, The Doctor deducing that this door could only be opened once the trap holding Nyssa had been triggered. With the TARDIS having vanished when the HADS was triggered when the tomb's walls shifted, The Doctor and Nyssa were forced to assist Virna's expedition, Hisko being left to guard Nyssa in the main chamber while The Doctor travelled with the rest of the family through the traps.

While progressing further into the tunnel system, with traps including a teleporter that would send people into the wall unless they took a certain path, The Doctor noted the remains of members of a previous expedition, who possessed equipment similar to Virna, although she refused to give him the chance to explore this detail further. When trapped in a room that could be navigated via precisely following various complex equations, The Doctor and Virna were trapped under a force field while Heff and Murs were under another, the system requiring a sacrifice to spare anyone. Although Virna was willing to sacrifice Murs and Heff to save herself, arguing that she and The Doctor were better qualified to cope with later traps, The Doctor realised that the system demanded sacrifice as a concept rather than the reality to test the moral worth of anyone taking the challenges, choosing to 'sacrifice' himself and Virna and thus prompting the system to spare all four of them. In another part of the tomb, forced to retreat further into the tomb as the tomb's guardians attacked them, Nyssa and Hisko encountered a woman called Jhanni who had some control over the guardians, various clues prompting Nyssa to realise that Jhanni was another child of Virna who had been abandoned after a previous expedition went wrong.

As they approached the heart of the tomb-ship, The Doctor cracked another door cipher, but as the Arrit-Ko attacked, Heff was left behind to cover their retreat as he had the only working gun. Matters were further complicated when the tomb-ship came under attack, prompting The Doctor to realise that they had drifted into an inhabited system and thus leaving them with an unknown deadline until the attacking ships destroyed them. Although Virna was still fixated on acquiring the treasure within the tomb, she was given more to worry about when Jhanni activated an internal communication system and revealed her true identity to her mother. As Nyssa realised that Jhanni had formed a link with the ship's systems that allowed her to control the Arrit-Ko, she also realised that this link was why the ship had drifted into an inhabited solar system, as Jhanni's rage against her mother drove her to put the ship in a position where it could kill as many people as possible to vent Jhanni's own anger.

Fortunately, Nyssa found herself with an unexpected ally in the form of Hannah Bartholomew, an aspiring explorer from 1910 who had assisted The Doctor and Nyssa on their previous trip ("Moonflesh"), Hannah having stowed away in the TARDIS while The Doctor and Nyssa were saying goodbye to their other allies. Although Hannah only had a 1910 gun available to her, that was enough to help Nyssa rendezvous with the rest of the group as The Doctor and Murs reached the central tomb, where it was revealed that the god-king was kept on the brink of death by a psychic amplifier. Faced with this revelation, The Doctor realised that the system required someone else to enter the tomb and join the God-King in becoming a star, with the myths of treasure referring to the opportunity to become a star with him rather than actual material wealth.

When Murs sacrificed himself to save Jhanni as she lost her control of the Arrit-Ko, she was convinced to abandon her vendetta against her mother in favour of joining Heff in fleeing for the TARDIS, this action allowing her to redirect the ship back out into deep space where it could do no harm. Although Virna was left behind in the tomb as she desperately sought the treasure, The Doctor made every possible effort to convince Virna of the truth until he was forced to accept that he had to leave her behind, Virna incapable of understanding the truth about the 'treasure' that the God-Kings had left as their legacy. In the end, her ambitions for personal wealth and power came to nothing as Virna was unable to understand anything but the most superficial details of what she sought, leaving Heff and Jhanni to form a more genuine emotional bond with each other without the pressure of their mother's quests while The Doctor and Nyssa resumed their travels with Hannah as a new companion.

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Parts of this article were compiled with the assistance of David Spence who can be contacted by e-mail at
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