Between 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.