Doctor Who: Short Trips – Volume 02 [Big Finish]

Thanks to the wild world of inexpensive deals on a website called Humble Bundle, I’ve added all sorts of odd offerings from Big Finish Productions to my collection. These guys have been making original Doctor Who audio material since 1999. Most notably that’s been full-cast audio dramas featuring actors and characters from the TV series, but it has also expanded into all sorts of ancillary material.

One of these lines is Short Trips, which is a collection of short stories set in the Doctor Who universe. One of my purchases included four of these collections.

Doctor Who - Short Trips Volume 02

In Short Trips 2, there are again eight stories, each featuring one of the original eight Doctors, and each read by an actor associated with that Doctor’s era. Added to those simple bare bones are some music, audio effects and sound design which all come together with the stories to make quite an enjoyable little package.

See comments on Volume 1 here.

Like the last time, our readers are

• William Russell (TV’s Ian, a companion of the First Doctor)
• David Troughton (the son of Second Doctor actor Patrick Troughton)
• Katy Manning (TV’s Jo Grant, a companion of the Third Doctor)
• Louise Jameson (TV’s Leela, a companion of the Fourth Doctor)
• Peter Davison (TV’s Fifth Doctor)
• Colin Baker (TV’s Sixth Doctor)
• Sophie Aldred (TV’s Ace, a companion of the Seventh Doctor)
• India Fisher (Big Finish’s Charley, a companion of the Eighth Doctor.  Also the Sixth Doctor, but that’s not particularly relevant here)

The collection begins with 1963 by Niall Boyce, which is about the First Doctor finally bringing Ian and Barbara to the year they were from. However, things are not as they should be–because of problems with the TARDIS the whole world is frozen in time…or rather, the travelers are stuck in a single instant.  The story ends up being a bit of a contemplation on life and existence, focused around Barbara (certainly the most thoughtful of the early companions).  There’s not much plot but it’s an interesting character study.

The Way Forwards is by Steve Case and features the Second Doctor and Victoria meeting a genius boy named Sherman who has built a nearly functional time machine for his school science fair.  The Doctor fills in the missing bits in his equations, which Sherman enthusiastically applies.  Before the Doctor can stop him, Sherman creates a whole series of amusing time paradoxes, which result in multiple Sherman’s lamenting their inability to fix things.  It’s a pretty funny story–one of the paradoxes involves talking gorillas!  Actually, the story is filled with in-jokes:  the talking gorillas sound like the lady-characters that regularly appeared on Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  And even more obviously, Sherman is clearly a reference to the assistant to Mr. Peabody, a genius dog-scientist who appeared regularly in a segment on The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends.  Sherman references learning something from someone called Peabody, and in the cartoon, the machine was called the “Way-Back Machine.”

Walls of Confinement is by Lawrence Conquest, and is about the Third Doctor early in his exile to earth.  The Doctor broods around in a zoo, looking at an imprisoned tiger, finding in it a kindred spirit.  Plot-wise, the emphasis is on the Doctor saving a young boy who foolishly climbs into the tiger cage.  There are nice surprises in this story, as certain details about what is going on are kept from the listener until late in the story, which keeps things lively and interesting.  But the heart of the story is the point it makes about captivity and the Doctor–that no matter how pleasant his cage, the fact there is a cage at all is a situation he cannot tolerate indefinitely.

Chain Reaction is by Darren Goldsmith, and tells the story of a day where the Fourth Doctor is sitting outside an ordinary shopping mall, attempting to use time as a sort of Rube Goldberg machine to achieve something that isn’t clear until the story’s end.  It’s a bit of a fantasy, even by Doctor Who standards, as the Doctor seems to be able to repeat the same moment again and again until his machinations actually work, with no explanation as to how.  It’s inconsequential but cute, and includes a bit of a celebration of the ordinary, as the Doctor meets and is impressed by an otherwise unremarkable security guard who somehow exists as a free agent even when history is repeating itself.

The Fifth Doctor features in Sock Pig by Sharon Cobb and Iain Keiller.  It’s an odd little tale about an alien force that is entering into a woman’s home and bringing inanimate objects to life.  It’s not malevolent, but is still dangerous if the force would be allowed to grow and spread.  Fortunately, the Doctor is on hand to deal with it.  Unfortunately, the woman is struggling with a vaguely described loss and grief, and has found comfort in her now living home-made childhood toy, “Sock Pig.”  The whole thing is oddly reminiscent of a story I listened to recently, Cuddlesome, which is also about the Fifth Doctor showing up on his own at a woman’s home where a childhood toy has mysteriously come to life, but way less horrifying.  Anyway, Sock Pig was not my favorite story, but still not bad.

The Doctor’s Coat is by John Bromley, and talks about the difficulties the Doctor has retrieving his ostentatiously decorated coat when it’s mistaken by an alien child for a discarded shell (the coat contains his TARDIS key so the stakes are somewhat high).  It all seems like a just a charming bit of fluff of a story before it brings in an interesting comment right at the end:  the Doctor thinks of all his past companions whom he’s lost and how he pursued his coat more passionately than he did many of them, and he wonders why.  It suddenly turns the story into one of the strongest ones in the set.

Critical Mass is by James Moran, and tells the story of the Seventh Doctor and Ace investigating a planet where a doomsday weapon has been developed and has inexplicably activated.  Out of all of the stories, it’s the most extensive plot–the most like a full adventure.  But in that sense it’s also one of the less satisfying, as it’s not really developed enough to be a full adventure.  It’s not bad, exactly, but in all the running around there’s not necessarily anything new about the Doctor or his world that we’re exploring with this one.

That’s certainly not the case with Letting Go by Simon Guerrier, which concludes the collection.  In this one, the Eight Doctor and Charley visit the family of a young alien whom they had befriended on a previous adventure, but who had died in the course of their time together.  That adventure is revealed through selected comments by the characters, but the story itself is about the time travelers helping the family come to terms with their grief.  The story is in the first person, told by Charley, which gives the actual writing (and performance) an odd, stilted air that I didn’t really like.  But the content of the story was quite gripping, as Charley comes to understand why the Doctor doesn’t do this with everyone that he meets.

Short Trips Volume 02 is as good or better than Volume 01, and certainly makes for a diverting listen.  I’d say the most interesting stories were Walls of Confinement and The Doctor’s Coat, although none of them are bad.

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