Two legends collide as the Eighth Doctor helps the greatest samurai in history, Miyamoto Musashi, prepare for a duel, leading him to learn a valuable lesson that he’ll carry into the biggest conflict of his life: the Last Great Time War.
Written, Performed, and Edited by Ben Wan
This was a 2020 submission to Big Finish’s Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trip Opportunity contest.
Original Submission (Story Summary & First Page Excerpt): Doctor Who_ The Ronin of Time_Submission
Doctor Who- The Ronin of Time Short Story: Doctor Who_ The Ronin of Time_Full
BEHIND THE SCENES- THE SUBMISSION
During the 2020 pandemic, I discovered Big Finish’s Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trip Opportunity contest. I had been listening to Big Finish’s Doctor Who range for years, but didn’t know that they had a writing contest. I jumped at the opportunity to write my own take on Doctor Who. The question was, what would it be? After over 50 years of history, what would be a new story?
With my focus at the time in martial arts and in studying Musashi for another writing project, I started looking into whether or not The Doctor had ever encountered Musashi.
What I found was that there weren’t many Doctor Who stories set in feudal Japan in general. The only crossover with Musashi was a reference in the audio story “The Sontaran Ordeal” by Andrew Smith in which The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) says, “I was trained by Musashi himself.”
So The Doctor had to have met Musashi before the events of that story. With the choice among the First through Eighth Doctors, I chose the Eighth, partially because he’s one of my favorites on audio, but mainly because I could have his encounter with Musashi tie into his arc with the Time War and push him to take a more active role, making this a prequel to The Night of the Doctor.
But why would The Doctor get training from Musashi?
The idea, then, was that The Doctor would ask for training as a means to help Musashi in some way. Perhaps Musashi was in a similar emotional state as The Doctor, with both men afraid of upcoming conflicts and feeling like they were no longer living up to the legends that they used to be. The Doctor would then ask Musashi to train him in order to help the samurai get his groove back.
The arc would be for Musashi to regain his confidence and win the duel thanks to The Doctor’s help, while The Doctor would develop Musashi’s sense of honor that would compel him to take a more active role in the Time War (setting up his eventual regeneration in The Night of the Doctor as the War Doctor).
I researched possible confrontations that would work. While Musashi’s duels against the Yoshioka clan and Sasaki Kojiro are among his most famous ones, it seemed like the duel with Shishido was the best choice. It was during a period of time where Musashi had been laying low. It featured a more interesting kind of fight, between Musashi’s swords and Shishido’s chain and sickle. And most of all, it seems to be the first duel where Musashi used his two-sword technique.
I got feedback from my friend and fellow writer, Morgen Stern, who encouraged that Musashi would be partially inspired by The Doctor. I then submitted the proposal.
I finished the one-page summary and the first page excerpt required by the contest, then submitted it.
While it didn’t get selected (“Free Speech” by Eugenie Pusenjak for the Tenth Doctor was produced instead), I thought about doing my own Doctor Who Short Trip. Obviously this wouldn’t be easy, but it’d be a hell of a lot more doable than trying to film my own version or even get someone to animate it.
BEHIND THE SCENES- THE FULL STORY
In talking to my sifu Steve Garrett, who’s also a fan of the show, he pointed out that it’d be out of character for The Doctor to simply watch Musashi kill Shishido (as he’s said to have done in real life).
This provided an even more compelling dilemma: could The Doctor allow this other man to die? This is how Shishido’s family ended up becoming part of the plot to deepen the dilemma further.
What if Musashi didn’t end up killing Shishido? We only know from stories that Shishido had lost and had been killed, but what if they were wrong? After all, Musashi only needed to develop the two sword technique and survive the duel. He did not have to actually take Shishido’s life. This loophole helped create the emotional component of the final fight.
I also discovered, when writing the story, that The Doctor arguably had a minimal role in the story. Musashi, of course, had to save himself in the duel and come up with the two sword technique, but The Doctor needed something else to do.
My original story submission was a pure historical story, one that’s a bit of a rarity these days for the show. While I liked having it that way, I felt like there needed to be a sci-fi element to give The Doctor more to do. This is how the Aurorium steel (my invention) became part of the plot, with Shishido using it for his chain and becoming a formidable opponent.
Lastly, the original submission kept Musashi’s identity a mystery until the very end, but I found, in writing the detailed version, that it’d be more difficult to keep it a secret until the reveal. It was far better to just have him known as Musashi the whole time, rather than a nameless “ronin.”
Around the same time, in November 2020, I went through a brief potential cancer scare (stemming more from paranoia than actual symptoms). As someone who had already survived cancer, I dreaded the idea of potentially battling another form of it. I channeled that into the story, with the scene where Musashi and The Doctor bond over the uncertainty of their battles ahead.
I wrapped up the prose story right before going into a test that showed I was all-clear. Like The Doctor and Musashi, I would live to face another day.
A year later, I’ve now edited and narrated this into my own audio and released it on Doctor Who Day of November 23, 2021 (the 58th Anniversary of the show). There are some audio hiccups (Trained ears will be able to pick up on the obvious retakes that I wasn’t able to match with the rest), but it’s far better than I had originally expected.
Consider this my own love letter to Doctor Who, The Eighth Doctor, and Big Finish until the potential day I get to explore the TARDIS in a more official capacity…
Thank you to Morgen Stern and Sifu Steve Garrett for their feedback that led to changes in the story from the original submission.
Big thanks to my manager Le’Ander Nicholson at Believeland Management and my research assistant Dan Yamat, who created the thumbnail as well as helped gather the sound effects and ambience for this video.
Doctor Who- The Time War arrangement by Howard Carter
This is the Doctor Who theme for Big Finish’s Time War-related audios for both The Eighth Doctor and The War Doctor
Samurai Patrol by Teknoaxe- Main Ronin of Time theme
Tsudzumi JAPAN 3 by SHW- Combat music
Yugen by Keys of the Moon- Musashi’s Theme
Yugen by Keys of Moon | https://soundcloud.com/keysofmoon
Music promoted by https://www.free-stock-music.com
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
“There’s A Man I Know (8th Doctor Theme)” by Jamie Robertson
This is the Eighth Doctor’s theme in the Big Finish audios, used in the Doctor’s introduction as well as in the final scene