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 III here.
In Short Trips IV continues the success rate of this series, offering eight stories featuring the first eight Doctors, and ranging in quality from pretty good to very good. As before, each story is read by someone associated with that Doctor’s era, and their reading is supplemented with incidental music and sound effects to make for quite an immersive experience.
The readers in this volume are William Russell (who played Ian, a companion of the First Doctor), David Troughton (the son of Second Doctor actor Patrick Troughton), Katy Manning (Jo Grant, a companion of the Third Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela, the Fourth Doctor’s companion), Peter Davison (the Fifth Doctor), Colin Baker (the Sixth Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace, a Seventh Doctor companion), and India Fisher (Charley, an audio-only companion of the Eighth Doctor).
The volume starts with A Star is Born by Richard Dinnick,which is actually the most straightforward and detailed adventure that the First Doctor has had so far in this range. It’s by Richard Dinnick, and, is features the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan discovering a generational alien space ship whose people are dying, and which is caught in the gravity of a planet they are hoping to make a new home on. The creatures have lost hope of surviving, and as the Doctor attempts to help he discovers that the things are not as straightforward as they appear. The Doctor gets the chance to show a lot of righteous indignation, which is always interesting. It’s a pretty interesting and detailed plot, although the ending is perhaps a bit too upbeat to not feel contrived.
The second story is Penny Wise, Pound Foolish by Foster Marks. It’s quite interesting in that it is told largely from the point of view of one of those apparently hapless menial characters who often inhabit the start of Doctor Who fiction, and usually wind up as the first victim of the monster. But this time, Jack–who claims his job is to guard a hole on a remote mining planet–turns out to actually be the monster…or the villain anyway. The Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe fall afoul of his trap, but of course they eventually get the better of him. It’s an enjoyable tale.
Lost in the Wakefield Triangle is by Vin Marsden Hendrick, and feature the Third Doctor and Jo Grant stumble across an alien invasion taking place in a forcing shed of an English countryside home. The rhubarb inside is growing at an astronomical rate, and is thus a dangerous threat to any people who come inside. The Doctor is able to help a poor guy who is suffering from poisoning as a result, and to make contact with the microscopic aliens who are accidentally causing this. Amusingly, the aliens insist the shed is theirs by right of conquest, an assertion the Doctor is happy to live with, setting up an odd trade agreement between the aliens and the farmer who owns the shed. The whole thing is a light-hearted and quirky tale that would never have made a TV episode, but works perfectly in short-story format.
The Old Rogue is by John Grindrod–it talks about an alien dictator and conqueror who has been forced during a previous encounter with the Doctor to live as a human, running a cafe, unable to act on his violent impulses. Every ten years, a different Doctor and companion show up to check on him, and this time it’s the Fourth Doctor, Romana and K9. The Old Rogue is possibly my favorite story in all four Short Trips collections that I’ve listened to–it’s a unique plot with witty writing which perfectly captures the the Fourth Doctor’s sometimes manic delivery and ability to abruptly shift from flippant to deadly serious. The interplay between the characters is compelling, and although of course it’s not substantial enough to be a full adventure, it’s the story that I can most clearly see playing out as a televised scene. It’s also helped by the fact that Louise Jameson has been one of the best readers in this series from the beginning, and does a great job here.
The Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa pay a visit to London in 1843 in The Lions of Trafalgar by Jason Arnopp, where they discover something odd going on with Nelson’s Column. The famous lion statues are already in place, years ahead of when they should be. This turn out to be part of an alien’s plan to set in motion the eventual destruction of the earth in the future by hiding a missile inside of the column, as part of a strategic military maneuver. The Doctor of course doesn’t take too kindly to this and has to find a way to defeat the aliens. Complicating things is the fact that the lions have come to life and are attempting to kill Tegan and Nyssa, trampling over anyone who comes in their way–which is even worse than it sounds since they are invisible to anyone but the time travelers. The story has a simple plot but quite an elaborate rationale, and I was definitely gripped by it.
To Cut a Blade of Grass by Cindy Garland is a quieter story about the Sixth Doctor and Peri visiting an old friend of the Doctor’s as he is dying in hospital. As Peri points out, this is unique because there is nothing overtly special about the man–he was just someone who did well at his job (as a baker), whom the Doctor had befriended at some point. The Doctor visits him to help the man’s daughter pursue a happier career path, and then to take his dying friend on a trip to the future to see that daughter’s wedding. It’s all very low-key, but makes for a nice tribute to the significance of every person’s life.
The Seventh Doctor and Ace appear in what I guess was my least favorite story of the bunch, The Shadow Trader by Charles Williams. But still, it’s not bad. The story is about a guy who makes his living by stealing people’s shadows. In his society, this is apparently a thing people do, and in fact is something he learned from his father. Things don’t go too well for him, though, when he attempts to rob Ace. The Doctor then gets involved and helps to the man to realize that what he and his forebears have done has a devastating impact upon people–people without shadows no longer make an impact on history or the world around them, and go on to live unfulfilled, frustrated lives. It’s an interesting idea but things are never really explained and it’s a long time into the story before any of the implications are discussed. The concepts could simply have stood to have some more development.
The last story in the collection is The Quantum Heresy by Avril Naude. It’s an eerie tale about a person who seems to be endlessly working in a data archive, eventually realizing that they are repeating the same hours of time over and over again. The Eight Doctor appears at different moments each time, and together they have to find a way to stop some sort of interdimensional presence from breaking through. It turns out to all be an experiment being conducted by the alien presence in an effort to take over the Doctor’s reality, but thanks to ability of the worker to become aware of his or her (I don’t think it’s clear) situation, the Doctor is able to do something about it. It’s a cool story around the theme of fighting for self-determination.
And on that note, my experience with Big Finish’s Short Trips range comes to an end. I’m not planning on getting more at this point, but I have say that I happily recommend all four volumes to anyone who thinks that a collection of Doctor Who-themed stories sounds interesting!