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.
See comments on Volume II here.
In Short Trips III, as in the others, there are eight stories featuring the original eight Doctors, but this time things are mixed up a bit. The first story is also the last story–Seven to One is by Simon Miller is in the position of the collection’s First Doctor story. But in reality it features the first seven Doctors, each in their own segment, presented in reverse chronological order in the Doctor’s life.
It’s an interesting little puzzle story, in which each Doctor is brought to a mysterious “Grey Space” by all-powerful entities (who sound like a combination of the Celestial Toymaker and the Guardians) to pass an intelligence test. It appears that they have to defeat a powerful but fairly dumb android in order to get a locked door. We hear each of the Doctors do this, each in their own way. It’s actually quite amusing to hear the variety of ways the Doctors achieves this.
But each one then falls victim to some unspecified trap once the door is opened. Because it’s happening in backwards order of the Doctor’s life, each Doctor is caught unaware with no warning about what is about to happen. It finally gets to the First Doctor, who only knows that seven of his future incarnations have failed this test. Of course he succeeds, but it’s cool to hear how he does it.
Each segment of the story is presented in between all the others. Most of it is narrated by Big Finish producer Nicholas Briggs (also the voice of the Daleks for many years now), who hasn’t been a voice in these collections so far. When we get to the First Doctor segment, “regular” reader William Russell (the actor who played companion Ian Chesterton on TV) takes over.
The rest of the readers are the same as the previous volumes:
• 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 Second Doctor story is called The Five Dimensional Man by Kate Orman, and features a 1950’s American housewife named Betty who is shocked when Zoe Heriot materializes in her kitchen. It’s a cute story showing the Doctor and his friends through the eyes of this guest character, who gets to go on the ride of her life into the future. Kate Orman has also written a bunch of Doctor Who novels, making her one of two writers in this collection with previous experience with the franchise.
In Pop-Up by Dave Curan, Jo Grant feels sorry for a little advertising robot and almost destroys the TARDIS as a result. It’s a nifty little idea, as the Third Doctor has to purge the TARDIS systems of a computer virus which allows in all manner of spam-like ads. There’s a fun bit at the end where the Doctor has to dig out all his original software in order to rebuild the TARDIS systems, only to find an unopened “anti-virus” package that he’d never installed.
The Wondrous Box by Juliet Boyd is a historical story featuring the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith. In it, the travelers visit the circus of P.T. Barnum and lose the TARDIS key to a pickpocketing clown. The attempts to get the TARDIS back turn out to be a distraction from the real point of the story, which has to do with the real-life death of the famous elephant and circus star, Jumbo. It’s quite sad at the end.
The Fifth Doctor and Peri appear in Wet Walls by Mathilde Madden, which is about a woman in the early 1900’s who is going mad because of visions she is having during the night of dampness all over her room. The Doctor can’t see it, but it turns out that Peri can, and she is able to help the Doctor solve the mystery. These sort of “alien explanation for a haunted house” stories are not new for Doctor Who, but the answer here is certainly a novel one.
Peri shows up again, this time with the Sixth Doctor in Murmurs of Earth, by Michael Deacon, Jamie Middleton and Chris Wraight, which features the travelers seemingly discovering evidence of human civilization where none should exist at the edge of the solar system. It turns out to be a re-creation put together by an alien being presence on information sent out by real life space probes. At first, the builder of the false reality is offended by Peri’s less-then-perfect presence intruding on its ideal image, but eventually decides this new input is really good, even if it introduces flaws and conflict into its little paradise. It’s a fine story, but not terribly memorable.
The most developed plot of the whole collection is The Riparian Ripper, featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ace. I guess this shouldn’t be a surprise as it is written by Andrew Cartmel, who was the script editor for the original Doctor Who series’ last two seasons. The plot is about some Jack the Ripper-type crimes, except that the victims keep miraculously surviving. The Doctor figures out that it’s not actually caused by anyone malevolent, but is rather being done by an alien surgeon who is out to cure people of otherwise untreatable medical maladies. Of course, the locals don’t understand and respond with fear and anger, provoking him to leave while the Doctor stands by watching sadly. It’s a good story that could easily have been the basis of a modern series episode.
And finally the Eight Doctor appears in All the Fun of the Fair by Bev Conway, which is about the TARDIS falling into the hands of a carnival worker who uses it to send hapless customers into the who-knows-where as a way of making a quick buck. In spite of his quite wicked (although fortunately harmless) actions, the story is fairly upbeat and comes to a positive conclusion, with the criminal and a police officer becoming friends because they have something to talk about that nobody else understands–ie going to the future. This story features the original-to-audio companion Lucie Miller, who I have never actually heard in a story before. So, strangely, my first exposure to Lucie Miller has her being voiced by India Fisher (and not Sheridan Smith).
Short Trips Volume III is another good entry into the Short Trips series. It’s an interesting mix of stories, and Seven to One provides a nice shake-up from the normal format.