“Short Trips: Repercussions”

Short_Trips_RepercussionsBetween 1998 and 2009, BBC Books then later Big Finish published 32 books of short stories in a series called “Short Trips” featuring all of the classic Doctors. The idea of this appeals to me mostly because I rarely find myself sitting down to read an entire novel, but short stories are nice bite-sized chunks. These books are all out of print, but I’m working on collecting them, and the first of these that I’ve read is “Short Trips: Repercussions”.

Spoilers to some extent.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading this book. I knew that the stories all had to do with the repercussions of the Doctor’s actions, and that it dealt with how the Web of Time is affected by his meddling, but that’s a pretty vague notion. What I didn’t know was that the stories were all connected to each other by an overarching story. At the very start of the book, Charley wakes up on an airship that she knows is not the R101, but she doesn’t know where she is and the Doctor is nowhere to be seen. She asks around and she finds out that everyone on board knows the Doctor. Some of them like him, some hate him, and some are indifferent, but they’re all going in the same direction; what direction that is, Charley doesn’t know. The Steward on board suggests that she learn their stories, and that forms the basis of the anthology. It’s all rather like The Canterbury Tales in that all of the stories are titled “The _______’s Story”, everyone has a story to tell, and they help pass the time on their journey.

As Charley hears the stories, she realizes what they all have in common: everyone telling the story had their life significantly altered by the Doctor, usually either by chance or as a result of something he was doing that was only tangentially related to them. For example, when visiting a planet where a colony had died years back, the Doctor discovers the ghost of girl who wants to come back to life. He realizes that the girl and the colony had been killed by a semi-sentient lichen, and having accidentally brought some of the lichen into the TARDIS had given the lichen the ability to project a shadow of the girl’s consciousness. This tormented ghost of the girl should never have existed, but he created her by accident. The point is that whatever the Doctor does has repercussions: some bigger than others, but it’s something he always has to be aware of.

In short, I enjoyed the book. Of the sixteen stories, there were two or three that I really didn’t like, but the rest were average or above. These are the tales I enjoyed the most.

“The Rag and Bone Man’s Story”: Unlike most of the stories in this book, the repercussions for this man were beneficial, rather than harmful. While at Coal Hill School, Susan uses what amounts to a good luck crystal to try to get her fellow students to like her. When it backfires, she buries it, and the protagonist of the story finds it. It brings him incredible luck, giving him a comfortable life and a family. This story was well-written, and didn’t end in misfortune and despair, as I expected it to.

“The Inquisitor’s Story”: The titular Inquisitor condemns the Doctor for having saved the life of a child that was being executed at the time because their seers had foretold that the child would grow up to be a cruel, brutal tyrant who caused a civil war in which millions had died. That foretelling had come true, and when the Doctor returned to the world, he was taken prisoner to pay for the deaths of all those people. This story explores all of the ways to view such an event and the results of that action. The characterization of the Doctor in this story was perfect.

“The Schoolboy’s Story”: Bobby, an intelligent but timid boy, travels in the TARDIS with the Doctor, Steven, and Vicki, but he finds that telling people about his adventures, and maintaining that he’s telling the truth, as his parents and teachers have always told him he must do, doesn’t have the effect he expects.

“The Juror’s Story”: I heard about this story, and it’s the reason I bought the book, and it didn’t disappoint. The First Doctor is on trial for murder and is pleading self-defense, having killed a young girl who he claims was a werewolf and was about to kill him. The debate in the juror’s room slowly changes the opinion from all but one saying he’s guilty to a unanimous vote of not guilty. How the verdict is transforms so completely is just wonderful Doctor Who.

“The Tramp’s Story”: The Doctor saves a tramp’s life. Why? This one is a little hard to get into, as it’s written in snippets from the point of view of a number of people who are tangential to the tramp’s story, but once you get used to the cadence, it’s rather brilliant.

 

 

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“Renaissance Man”

renaissancemanthecover_cover_large“Renaissance Man” is the second of the Fourth Doctor Big Finish adventures, featuring Leela as the companion again.

Spoilers!

The Doctor brings Leela to a research institute in the future to see the unveiling of a new wing of its museum. When they arrive, they meet a lepidopterist who tells them about her work. Some time later, when they meet her again, she’s amnesiac and confused, and tells them that “they’ve taken it all.” The Doctor also notices that a bit of information that he tells the museum curator, that the curator didn’t know, appears a few minutes later in an exhibit. The Doctor experiments with this, telling the curator some false information, which also later appears in an exhibit. To make a long story short, it turns out that in the quest for acquiring all of the knowledge in the universe, the curator has been stealing the knowledge from people to put it into the museum, leaving them without memories or skills and barely alive. While he’s able to acquire knowledge from what the Doctor says, the Doctor is immune to the mind wipe, though the curator does steal Leela’s hunting skills. The Doctor realizes that misinformation unravels the curator’s web of information, so he continues to feed lies to the curator, and it all comes apart. When the web is destroyed, the information is returned to its rightful owners, and everyone recovers.

While this concept of this story was unique and interesting, its execution left a lot to be desired. First, the setup of the conflict – the Doctor figuring out what was going on – was rather boring, with too much talking and no action at all. Then, the Doctor realizing that he could destroy the whole thing by feeding in lies means that he didn’t need to do anything: since he had already fed in lies at that point, the web was going to collapse eventually, taking out the need for the Doctor to effect any solution. The most disappointing part of the story, though, was that the Doctor was never in any danger, because the mind wipe didn’t affect him. It would have been a much more interesting story if the Doctor had had to race against the impending mind wipe to figure out what the solution was.

The one thing that did stand out in this story – and I think this is becoming a trend here – is Leela. She was superbly written and performed, and at times, she made me laugh out loud. I leave you with my favorite line from the entire audio.

Villain (paraphrased): There’s nothing you can do, so you’d better just give me that knife.

Doctor: You’d better give it to him.

Leela: AT LAST!! RAAAAH!! (attacks the villain)

“Destination: Nerva”

Destination_NervaDestination: Nerva, to my understanding, is the first Big Finish audio to feature the Fourth Doctor. It was in 2012, and featured Leela as the Doctor’s companion.

Spoilers ahead!

It begins just after the Doctor and Leela leave London at the end of “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” with Leela wondering if they’ll ever meet up with Jago and Litefoot again. The Doctor sends the TARDIS following a beacon, and lands only about ten years later, to find a dying alien called a Drelleran who claims that some humans stole his spaceship and have flown off. Chasing after that ship, the TARDIS takes them into the future, to a ship bearing constructions workers to a space dock called Nerva orbiting Jupiter. It’s a new station and its facilities don’t quite work right yet, but ships from intersystem flights can dock here after its passengers pass decontamination.

The Doctor discovers that something seems to be infecting the occupants of the space station, turning them into an alien lifeform that collects all of its newly-transformed individuals into itself, making one big mass of alien. The alien lifeform is led by Lord Jack Corrigan, the original person who, over two hundred years before, had stolen the spaceship from the Drelleran. The Doctor and Leela escape with the only human left uninfected, Doctor Alison Foster, back to the construction worker ship, and discover a new Drelleran ship, which they travel to, to talk to the Drelleran to figure out what’s going on.

Originally, the Drelleran ship had landed on Earth to make contact with the humans and offer them new technology, but Lord Jack, determining that the Drelleran were corrupt because they didn’t adhere to human (mostly Christian) practices, denounced them, killed them, and stole their ship in order to go into space and teach them “better” ways. When the humans reached the Drelleran homeworld, the Drelleran, disgusted with the primitive humans, infected them with the alien lifeform and indoctrinated them with the desire to absorb all humans into the alien mass. Thus, centuries in the future, the ship returned to destroy humanity, first landing at Nerva on its way to Earth.

The Doctor, Leela, and Dr. Foster pleaded with the Drelleran to reconsider the doom they had pronounced on the humans, explaining that the humans were simply not advanced enough at the time to handle the gifts or the new philosophies the Drelleran had offered and making the case that the entire race should be punished for the actions of a few. The Drellerans relented and administered an antidote to the infection, freeing all of the individuals subsumed into the alien mass.

Simply as a story, this was an adequate episode. The dialogue at the end, when the three are pleading with the Drelleran to stop, is a bit preachy. The story was nothing exciting, though it had a very classic show feel: the Doctor’s role here was to gather the evidence to figure out what had happened and to get the characters out of trouble, as opposed to taking a direct role in defeating the menace. One thing I did notice in this piece was how effective the sound effects can be for painting a picture of what’s happening. The alien lifeform that the humans were becoming was never adequately described, but the squelching noises they made as they transformed were very evocative, allowing me to paint my own picture of what it looked like in my head. And let me tell you, it wasn’t pretty. These audios really allow you to exercise your imagination while you listen to them.

It was fantastic to hear Tom Baker take up the mantle of the Doctor again, though his performance in this one was nowhere near as good as it was in The Light at the End, the most recent audio he has been in. In this one, his voice was nowhere near as strident and commanding as we are used to. I would chalk that up to this being his first time back, so he hadn’t yet hit his stride with the character he hadn’t played for over thirty years. Similarly, Louise Jameson wasn’t quite Leela, though she was better than Mr. Baker. I am looking forward to the rest of the audios in this series, as I expect that they will both just get better and better.

 

“The Light at the End”

the light at the endMy current project at work is something purely visual, requiring no verbal or critical thought, which is unusual for me, because my previous projects all involved writing, usually documentation. While I’m working, I’m usually listening to music because it’s something that isn’t intrusive; I can continue to work and write with music in the background. However, I realized yesterday that while I’m working on something purely visual, I could be listening to something with actual narrative. I had purchased some Big Finish Doctor Who audio plays a week or so ago, so I downloaded one (luckily, work has a high-speed connection) and played The Light at the End while I worked, as an experiment to see if I could be productive while listening. (The result, by the way, is that I think I was more productive than before, because while my visual mind was working, my narrative mind, which is usually wandering far away and often distracting me with thoughts of “you should go look that up on the Internet!” was absorbed in listening to the story. I finished more work than I normally do in an afternoon.)

I had never listened to any audio plays of any type before this. Well, ok, when I was a kid, the morning radio program my mother used to play every day had two short humorous bits called Chicken Man and The Story Lady, which were about five minutes apiece and were short skits. But as far as I know, the U.S. doesn’t have a tradition of radio plays that lasted into the era of television, while the UK does. If you look on the BBC iPlayer website, there are radio dramas playing every day. Is there radio drama at all in the U.S.? I don’t really know, and I wouldn’t even know where to look.

So, I went into The Light at the End without any clue as to what to expect. I knew that it wasn’t an audiobook (another thing I’ve never experienced, but that will change soon), and that the original actors for Doctors Four through Eight were in it, as well as some companions, but beyond that, it was a fresh new experience for me. And it was a great one!

I had been afraid that I wouldn’t be able to follow what was going on without any visual cues. Who was talking? What were they doing? Can you really see what people are doing? I found that the writers and actors paint a very complete picture of what’s going on. First, the Doctors are all very distinct. Tom Baker and Colin Baker have very unique voices. Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor has a different accent from everyone else and rolls his Rs magnificently. Peter Davison and Paul McGann sometimes sound a bit similar, but you can usually tell from the words that are put in their mouth which is which; the Doctors all have different personalities and this extends to the way they speak and the words they choose. The companions were harder to distinguish simply by voice (except Leela; no one sounds like Leela), but again, their dialogue was very in-character. Second, the audio plays have sound effects that explain what’s going on, from explosions, to footsteps moving around in stereo, to fogged dialogue to denote dream sequences or characters being spirited away. Third, if something’s not clear, it was made clear in the dialogue, e.g. “Oh, look, here comes Ace.” Thus, I can definitely see that the script was written with its medium in mind, and I found that it was just as enjoyable as a TV episode.

I also very much enjoyed the story itself. (No real spoilers here, other than what you can glean from the episode’s summary and list of actors.) Something’s going wrong in an English town on November 23, 1963, something that will end in catastrophe, and the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Doctors, along with their companions, are trying to figure it out and fix it. Of course, part of the charm of this story is that you have five classic Doctors interacting with each other, but the story is robust and a lot of fun, compelling you to stick around to see just how it all comes out. All of the actors do a great job of bringing their characters to life, and you can really picture them swaggering around (for the Doctors, at least). Ace’s and Peri’s youthful enthusiasm were especially delightful, and, for me anyway, it was nice to meet Charley Pollard for the first time. I would also like to note that the play also provides some very sweet surprises for fans.

Since I was working at the time, I didn’t really get to pay too much attention to the technobabble details of the plot, so I plan to relisten to this sometime, and I’m really looking forward to it. I think this is a great audio play and was a terrific choice for a first-time listener. And, as the classic Doctors’ complement to “The Day of the Doctor” 50th anniversary special for the modern show, it was a great tribute to the old show.