A Note About Original Content

All material posted on this site is the original creation and property of the site’s owner.  Please note that the author also regularly contributes to other sites, such as Reddit’s /r/Gallifrey subreddit and the TARDIS wiki.  Any material duplicated in those locations is not plagiarized here, but has been written by the same author in all three locations.  Some material has been reused as appropriate, without plagiarism.

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Audio Drama Review: Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to Penny Wise, Pound Foolish, the Second Doctor’s tale in the fourth Short Trips collection. Written by Foster Marks, and read by David Troughton, this story features the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe. Let’s get started!

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Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

A man named Jack sits down with his breakfast in his cabin on the planet Juno 1-0. He hears a strange grating sound outside, and checks it out; it turns out to be three people coming toward him. He meets them outside. He warns them about a hole in the ground ahead of them. They check it out; it is more than twenty meters wide. They introduce themselves as Zoe, Jamie, and the Doctor. The Doctor thanks him for the warning, and inquires as to how long Jack has been here—a few centuries, it turns out. He claims he is a Larian, with a bit of Terian blood; the Doctor thinks the job—warning people about the hole—is a bit menial for a Larian. Zoe says that they want to look around; the Doctor’s scans had detected an extensive series of cavities beneath the surface. Against Jack’s will, they go to check out the hole, leaving Jack at the cabin.

The hole seems to go down forever. The Doctor muses on Jack’s expertise. They are interrupted by a series of explosions behind them—another hole opens up, pulling the trio in! Jack watches, completely unperturbed, then returns to his cabin. He reveals a hidden control console behind a wall, and brings up audio and video of the companions’ fall into the hole. To his surprise, he sees that the trio have survived the fall, the debris having broken their tumble.

The Doctor determines they are in a metal-clad tunnel, not a natural hole. They hear a mewling sound down the tunnel, and go to check it out. Jack tries to follow their progress, growing more irritated; he determines that, no matter who they are, they are in his caves, and he is going to kill them all. He sets up a quick flush of Hadron gas in the tunnels, which should kill them without disrupting the work schedule. However, he is interrupted by an alert: his holding stock is nearly full—and his buyers will be waiting. While the Hadron flush is preparing, he activates the launch sequence for the stock. Rocket engines can be heard, and he goes outside to watch the rocket launch. However, his happiness turns to horror as the rocket comes apart on launch and explodes. He runs to check out the wreck.

The nose section, thrown free by the explosion, lands safely, and its hatch opens. Creatures stream out—furry halflings, a few dozen of them; and they are followed by the Doctor and his companions. The halflings become aggressive when they see Jack.

Jack demands to know how they got aboard the rocket’s capsule. Zoe claims to have cracked its security code; and the Doctor says that the eject sequence was printed out inside the cabin. Jack claims ownership of the halflings, and demands to know why and how the Doctor freed them. The Doctor explains that he played his recorder to lull them. The creatures are hybrids, bred for mining branzine, a dirty power source that is unfortunately lucrative. The way Jack was mining this planet would soon implode its core—and the implosion would pollute the entire quadrant. Jack knew, and didn’t care; his plan was to take the money and buy another planet in the Paradine system, which he would continue mining. He already owns six planets in that system. The Doctor points out that Jack’s Larian caste values the means of commerce over the ends, and will not stop this pursuit. However, the issue of revenge is taken out of their hands when the halflings surround Jack. Still, the Doctor does have a plan; and he asks Zoe to prepare Jack’s transmat.

On Paradine Alpha—one of the planets owned by Jack—the Larian awakens on a beautiful beach. However, he roars in anger as he realizes he is trapped here—a paradisiacal world, but one where there is no chance of advancement, only contentment. Truly it is the worst possible punishment for Jack.

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Let me take a moment and talk about another popular science-fiction franchise: Star Trek. While remaining wildly popular, Star Trek has gotten more than its share of criticism over the years, for various reasons, some of which are valid. One such reason is the series’ tendency to portray one-note alien races; that is, races which are defined by one or two characteristics, such as Vulcan logic, Klingon violence and honor, and—most relevant to us today—Ferengi greed and commerce. Star Trek does this again and again, and it’s rare that individuals of those races have much personality or character development (well, beyond the main characters of each installment; Spock and Worf get their moments, but not so much the others of their races). On the one hand, it’s almost a necessary form of shorthand in science-fiction writing; it’s nearly impossible to invest the time and energy necessary to understand true alien complexity, and so we use these shortcuts to display alienness. On the other hand, it’s very easy to devolve into lazy writing.

For the most part, I find that Doctor Who avoids this trope. While alien races in Doctor Who do have their quirks—“Exterminate”, anyone?—this series seems to make a mission out of subverting and exploring those quirks, in a way that many other franchises never attempt. How many stories have we had which explore the inner workings of the Dalek mind? How many Ice Warrior stories have explored the idea of Ice Warrior honor and when and how it should apply? And frankly, that’s fantastic. The Doctor himself is an alien, and shouldn’t react with the standard human trope of generalizing everyone he meets. Indeed, he doesn’t do that; he tries to look past the surface even of his enemies, and draw out the best in them.

That’s why a story like this, Penny Wise, Pound Foolish, seems a little out of place to me. This story pits (literally, and I definitely intended that pun) the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe against a Larian named Jack, who is performing legal-but-highly-dangerous mining on a planet called Juno 1-0. In the process, he’s enslaving an engineered race, though that’s sort of a footnote here; if you removed the Halflings from the story, it wouldn’t change substantially. That’s all fair enough; the Doctor has stood against corporate greed and environmental hazards many times (the VNA Cat’s Cradle: Warhead comes to mind). But the villain, Jack, is portrayed as having no real choice in the matter; he’s a product of his race and caste, who always single-mindedly pursue commerce with an eye on the means rather than the ends. Sound familiar? Jack may as well be a Ferengi! It makes for a clever ending, in that Jack ends up in a situation that would be paradise for anyone else, but is torture for him or anyone of his race and caste; but it comes across as lazy to me. As well, any punishment seems like a harsh punishment for something that can’t be helped; Jack’s crimes are serious, certainly, but he’s literally wired to commit them—it’s in his nature. That renders the otherwise-clever ending unsatisfactory, and makes the Doctor seem a little malicious.

I hate to make the complaint over which I’ve labored, because it’s a fun story, right up to the end. It’s only in the last few minutes, when the statement about Jack’s race and caste is made, that it goes south. Otherwise, I enjoyed it completely.

Next time: We’ll join the Third Doctor and Jo Grant for Lost in the Wakefield Triangle! See you there.

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.

Short Trips, Volume 4

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Audio Drama Review: A Star is Born

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we begin a look at the final collected volume of Short Trips audio dramas, August 2011’s Short Trips: Volume 4. I will confess that I’ve been anxious to get through these early collections; I keep a checklist of audio dramas that I’ve reviewed, which is organized by release, meaning that each seven-part collection constitutes only a single entry on the list. Naturally, I feel like I’m not making much progress. But, here we are, at the final collection; after this we’ll move to the monthly releases. We’ll begin this collection with A Star is Born, written by Richard Dinnick. Featuring the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan, this story is read by William Russell. Let’s get started!

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Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

An enormous, damaged spaceship drifts, pulled slowly toward the planet by gravity, falling through the planet’s exosphere. It sends out a distress signal on all available frequencies; and the signal is received by the TARDIS. The time ship’s arrival is overheard and detected by Egrabill, who is on his way to the Provost’s cabin; he is sidetracked by the ship and the aliens that come out of it—two males, one female, and one, the smallest, of which he is unsure. They tell him that they have come to help; and so, he takes them to the Provost, Rode.

Barbara finds herself marveling over the ship and its people, the Metraxi, who are very alien indeed. They resemble sea lions; and they originate from an aquatic planet called Kinneret. However, a virus some generations ago had stripped away their ability to procreate; and so they had turned to cloning technology to save their race. However, this is not without its problems; each successive generation loses a little genetic information, and so experiences a shortening of the lifespan. Some Metraxi had blamed their world, and so they set out into space to seek a new home. That was seven generations ago, on this very ship. And now, the ship is dying—or it will, if it falls to the planet below. Barbara pities them; they have done nothing to deserve this fate.

The Provost introduces himself as “Rode”. He shows them a projection of the engine deck, where the propulsion generators have failed. The reactors are leaking radiation. His crews are not able to handle the situation, though they try. Fortunately, the Doctor is familiar with propulsion systems, and Ian has a science background as well. Rode has Egrabill take them to Greneva, the young but capable female who serves as chief engineer. Greneva, oddly, is suffering from a strange fatigue and bouts of pain. The Doctor examines the control rods in the system, determining that there is no leak after all—and in fact, there is no malfunction at all. Ian agrees that this is very odd, and the Doctor sets out to investigate the engine’s vents, where any remaining leak must be.

The Doctor, Greneva, and Ian don ill-fitting radiation suits, and head into the ductwork. The conduits running inside the ductwork is searing hot. They reach the junction that marks the beginning of the vent network, and Greneva explains how it is supposed to work—a set of pipes redirects steam overflow into the vents. The group tracks the pipes through the ductwork.

Returning to the engineering deck, they find Egrabill explaining more of their history to Barbara and Susan, and expounding on how events fit into the Metraxi religion. The Doctor is enraged at something as he listens to the folklore; and he catches Egrabill’s statement that the reactors have been leaking for years—since before Egrabill was created. The Doctor storms out of the room. Greneva quietly explains to Barbara that the engines have been sabotaged.

The group follows the Doctor to the Provost’s quarters, where he tells Susan that they are seeking the truth. The Doctor confronts Rode, calling him a traitor and scoundrel, and claiming that Rode is responsible for the sabotage and the radiation poisoning of his people—but, why? Rode begins to weep. Greneva says that the radiation was being recirculated into the secondary life support system. Egrabill demands to know if it is true; Ian insists that only Rode has the control over the ship necessary to see it happen.

Rode claims that he gave up a long time ago—that he had decided their search was hopeless. Therefore he took action; the radiation seemed to be the best way to end it all. But now, he sees the irony in his choice: the world below them is the new haven they’ve been searching for. But it was too late! Twenty years of radiation poisoning could not be undone so easily—and besides, now the engines have failed, and they will crash. He counters the Doctor’s accusing tone by insisting that the Doctor and his friends could not comprehend what it was like to be an exile from their homeworld—but, Susan says, they can indeed.

Rode insists he had no choice but to kill them all this way; the ship will burn up on re-entry without its engines. In his mind, he has saved them all from the misery ahead. However, the Doctor says that Rode may have achieved something unexpected: the opposite of what he intended. For Greneva, it seems, is pregnant. In fact, though she didn’t know it, she is probably in early labor. The radiation, it seems, has caused a beneficial mutation, restoring their fertility.

Rode is quickly arrested, and the Doctor takes the Metraxi aboard the TARDIS, along with as much technology and information as they can load. He lands the TARDIS on a beach below. Above, the colony ship is a burning streak across the sky; the Doctor had managed to put it on a course that will cause it to burn over several months, rather than crashing. It will now be a beacon of hope for the Metraxi. Last to exit is Greneva, with her newborn; she thanks the Doctor for saving them. He sends her off, and tells her to look over the child. As she leaves, the Doctor muses that it would be very unlikely for Greneva to be the only fertile Metraxi now; perhaps the race should get used to the sound of children.

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There’s absolutely nothing experimental here; and perhaps that’s the best way to start this collection. This story would fit well in the usual canon of First Doctor stories; the portrayal of the Doctor is spot on, both in writing and in voice acting, and the companions are also well portrayed, though a bit short on dialogue. (Admittedly, it’s hard to do justice to four major protagonists in a serial-length story, let alone in a twenty-minute Short Trip; the fact that it’s accomplished at all is frankly amazing.) The Doctor is perhaps a bit more proactive than he usually would be in the Ian-Barbara-Susan era; he chooses to answer the Metraxi ship’s distress call, and takes the lead in dealing with the Metraxi. That isn’t completely unprecedented, however; my impression is that he tends to be more assertive in alien settings than Earthbound stories. Slightly more conspicuous is that he is able to make the TARDIS do what he wants here; he is able, first, to home in on the distress signal, and second, to land the TARDIS by choice on the planet below. The Doctor’s degree of control over the TARDIS in the early stories is usually stated to be minimal, but occasionally we get these incidents where it does just what he wants it to; it’s a little odd, and the only explanation I can come up with is that the TARDIS is doing it by choice—she happens to agree at that moment with his decisions.

The Metraxi are interesting aliens; they resemble large sea lions, but they have been victimized three times. First, their race experienced a viral epidemic that left them sterile; second, generations of cloning (due to the absence of natural reproduction) have left them genetically degraded and with shortened lifespans; and third, as the story reveals, they have experienced two decades of radiation poisoning—which may not be an accident. As a result of all of this, their capabilities are a bit diminished, and one can’t help feeling a great surge of pity for them, as Barbara does in the course of the story. Aside from those conditions, however, they behave very much as humans do. The premise of the story sees their damaged colony ship falling toward a planet; they have been searching for several (cloned) generations for a new world, one that won’t try to kill them, and now, ironically, a new world will do exactly that. It’s a premise we’ve seen on television before; 42 featured a ship trapped in a star’s gravity well, and World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls puts a colony ship over a black hole, adding time dilation for an additional twist. In terms of urgency, this story falls somewhere between those two. (For another continuity reference, which doesn’t merit a paragraph of its own, Ian mentions the radiation poisoning he experienced in The Daleks.)

Overall, I enjoyed this story. It has a happy ending; no one dies, and the villain is arrested. There’s no real bearing on any larger events; but the Metraxi represent a race that could appear again at some point, though I am not aware of them having done so as yet. It’s a good start to this collection, and worth the twenty minutes it takes to listen.

Next time: We’ll join the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe in Penny Wise, Pound Foolish, by Foster Marks. See you there!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.

Short Trips, Volume 4

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Audio Drama Review: Seven to One

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re concluding our journey through 2011’s Short Trips, Volume 3 collection, back at the beginning: We’re listening to the First Doctor’s contribution, Seven to One. I say it’s the First Doctor’s story, but truthfully it features the first seven Doctors; this story, uniquely, is spread out in eight parts across the entire collection, between the other stories. It’s a different experience, and I’m looking forward to it. The story was written by Simon Paul Miller, and read by Nicholas Briggs and William Russell. Let’s get started!

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Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

Part One:

The Seventh Doctor and Ace find themselves walking across a grey landscape under a grey sky—in fact, the realm is called Grey Space. The Doctor explains it was created by two entities, bound together, as a compromise between their desires for individual spaces, black and white. This place is their only achievement; they must work together, but never agree.

They see an RWR-Mark II android ahead, holding an energy rifle and guarding a grey door with a combination lock. It announces that the Doctor has seven chances to solve its test of intelligence—and if he fails, he will be removed from all space and time. If he succeeds, he will be freed to keep traveling. No further instructions are given. The Doctor knows the entities—which are speaking through the android—love games; on his previous visit here, he was able to use a Monopoly set to distract them while he slipped away in the TARDIS. They are not unaware; they brought him here this time without the TARDIS. But why is Ace here? At any rate, she suggests getting pass the door. The Doctor orders the android to shut down, using an unchanged default password; he then circles the grey door, which only comes up to his waist. He suspects it leads to another dimension. He manages to crack the lock, and confirms his suspicions—and tumbles through as if pushed.

Part Two:

The Sixth Doctor approaches the RWR android with Peri, and confronts it. He banters with it over military intelligence; then it announces that its purpose is to prevent anyone from opening the door. He manages to use logic to get the android to shut down, by convincing it the door is no longer a door, and therefore the android has no purpose any longer. He quickly unlocks the door and pulls it open, then looks inside—and falls in as if pushed.

Part Three:

The Fifth Doctor, accompanied by Nyssa, uses a fake Engineering Maintenance ID card to get the android to shut down, and then works the lock. He questions whether they should open the door; this test has been remarkably easy, after all. But Nyssa begs him to open it and get them out of here; and so he opens the door—and hurtles through as if pushed.

Part Four:

Romana looks over the android, which has been subdued with things from the Fourth Doctor’s pockets—his scarf, his jelly babies, other sweets. She reflects that it wasn’t very intelligent; but the Fourth Doctor says that as a soldier, it didn’t need to be. He uses his sonic screwdriver to unlock the door, musing on how unintelligent the robot was; but Romana reminds him that its processor indicates it has already beaten three of his future incarnations. She wonders what is behind the door as he pushes it open. “Why conjecture,” he says, “when we can see the answer for ourselves—“ and then he cries out as he tumbles in.

Part Five:

Jo Grant is focused on the laser rifle—or antimatter particle rifle, as the Third Doctor points out. The android, meanwhile, is in marketing mode; it explains how it came by the rifle, and how much it costs. The Doctor tells it that Jo is in the market for high-grade weaponry herself, and asks to see the wide-beam setting in action. The robot asks where to shoot it; the Doctor suggests the ground. The beam creates a hole in the ground, which will continue for infinity, as the particles will go on forever. Jo insists she can see the bottom; when the robot leans in to check, the Doctor kicks it into the hole. Meanwhile the Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to open the door; and then falls in with a cry, as if shoved.

Part Six:

Jamie admires the antimatter rifle as the Second Doctor admires the android’s impenetrable zamanite casing. The Doctor questions its impenetrability, and Jamie joins in. The Doctor persuades it to fire the rifle at itself; and of course its head is burned off by the antimatter. Perhaps the robot really isn’t very intelligent. The Doctor tells Jamie that the robot wasn’t wrong; zamanite was impenetrable by all known technology when the robot was created, but the antimatter rifle was invented later. Fortunately the robot wasn’t good with such concepts…but that’s of no consolation as the Doctor tumbles into the doorway with a yell.

Part Seven:

The First Doctor—the youngest in age, but oldest in appearance of all the Doctor’s incarnations—ponders the oddly simple combination lock as his granddaughter, Susan, looks on. He is more mystified by the fact that—according to the entities that own this place—six of his future incarnations have failed here. Susan suggests that he’s more clever than they, but that should not be the case, if they came after him. They should be older and wiser—and anyway, it takes no great intelligence to outwit the android. He had distracted it by giving it a piece of paper with “P.T.O.”—Please Turn Over—written on both sides. Susan wonders what’s on the other side of the door; the Doctor doesn’t know, though Susan suggests it might be the TARDIS. The Doctor asks her to not stand so close to him as he contemplates the door. He wonders if his future selves had any companions with them. He continues to unlock it while musing on the basics of sleight of hand—distraction and division of activities. When he opens the door, he quickly springs aside—and whatever was impersonating Susan tumbles through the doorway as it tries to push him.

Part Eight:

The First Doctor has passed the test; and so, in keeping their own rules, the entities restore the seven Doctors back to the places and times from which they were taken. The entity that had bet against the Doctor complains that seven chances were too many; but its opponent, the other entity, insists that the number of chances had been determined by the roll of the Monopoly dice. After centuries of arguing, their game of Monopoly can at last start…or maybe not, as they set to arguing over who gets to use the dog token.

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I’ve called a few entries—mainly those to which the Fifth Doctor has been subjected—silly. I thought about applying the same term here; but it’s not really accurate, and at any rate I liked this story. A better term would be “absurd”, or perhaps “surreal”. That makes sense, as we’re dealing with a created realm here, similar to the Land of Fiction (The Mind Robber, et al). It’s not the most serious story ever, but it’s enjoyable just the same.

This is a multi-Doctor story of sorts, but unlike most such stories, the incarnations don’t meet. That fact dictates the story’s structure, and in turn defines it as a First Doctor story; because the incarnations don’t meet, they will each retain their memories of this situation, and so it has to take place in a very particular order. The parts of the story take place in chronological order, but the Doctors are summoned in reverse order, from Seven to One (hence the title). Otherwise, each progressive incarnation would retain the full memory of what has gone before. In this way the entities in control of the situation hedge their bets; the Doctors become successively less well informed as the contest goes on.

And contest it is. The two entities—unnamed, but affiliated with the colors black and white (and presumably not to be confused with the Black and White Guardians)—who created this Grey Space in which the Doctors find themselves, have set a test before each Doctor. There is a door which must be opened, guarded by an android which must be overcome—and one other aspect of the test as well, which I won’t spoil here. Each Doctor completes the first two parts of the test, but fails the third; only the youngest and least informed, the First Doctor, manages to succeed. There’s no solid reason why that should be so; but it is executed in a way that seems very fitting for his character.

William Russell has the smaller part in this story; he narrates the First Doctor’s segments in parts seven and eight. As usual his impersonation of the First Doctor is spot on. Oddly, his usual character, Ian Chesterton, doesn’t appear here; it is Susan who accompanies the First Doctor. Nicholas Briggs reads the other parts in the story; of course it’s long been established that he is extremely versatile with his voices, and none of his Doctor or companion roles sound bad. Of particular note is his Fourth Doctor impersonation; for a moment I thought I was hearing Tom Baker. I haven’t had much occasion to hear him impersonate Tom; I had no idea he was that good at it.

The only real problem I have with the story is a logical one. Though great pains were taken to set the story up in a believable way, it would almost have been better if the Doctors had encountered one another, so that memories wouldn’t be preserved; because the various later incarnations should have retained the First Doctor’s memory of how he defeated the entities. This is complicated by the fact that their experiences here happen in reverse order; if, say, the Seventh Doctor had remembered, and subsequently won the contest, then the First Doctor’s encounter would never have happened, setting up a paradox. In short: Time travel is confusing as always.

But regardless, if we set aside that objection, it’s a fun story. And that’s where we’ll leave it. With that, this collection ends on a high note (or at least a decent one), and we’ll move on to Volume Four! After that, we move to a monthly series format of twelve releases a year (plus the occasional bonus release). See you there!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.

Short Trips, Volume 3

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Audio Drama Review: All the Fun of the Fair

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today, we’re examining the Eighth Doctor’s contribution to the Short Trips, Volume 3 collection, All the Fun of the Fair. Written by Bev Conway, this story features the Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller, and is read (oddly enough) by India Fisher. Let’s get started!

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Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

A carnival barker calls fairgoers into a futuristic ride: a strange box marked “Police Public Call Box”. Pay your coins, step inside—and arrive in the future!

The barker, one Mister John Smith, doesn’t mind the wheezing, groaning sound of the box—it attracts more customers. There was a bad moment when a real police constable, one Herbert Arthur Jones, came by yesterday; but John Smith handled things by offering a trip to the future to the constable. The constable steps inside…and that was the last of him. Just as well; the fair is winding down, and John Smith is mulling over how he’ll get the box moved. But no matter; he has plenty of money for that. If only he knew where the customers actually went…

Next morning, Smith is thinking over ways to make more money on the box; but his mind drifts over to why he claimed it goes to the future in the first place. It was that strange couple who first mentioned it—the young lady, and the odd man she called “the Doctor”. Perhaps he was a doctor, too, though it seemed unlikely. At any rate, that doctor fellow disappeared into the box and didn’t come out; the girl was outside yelling at him about not getting the controls right.

Smith is broken out of his reverie by a young gentleman who calls him by name. Smith offers the boy a ride in the “magic box”, but the boy declines. He calls himself Detective Miller, and tells Smith that he is following up on the testimony of Constable Jones, regarding a number of missing persons. He cites testimony from several of the neighboring shopkeepers; Smith concludes that this is a dangerous situation indeed, and redoubles his attempts to get Miller into the box. Miller agrees to open the door of the box; but as soon as he does so, he slaps a handcuff on Smith, and tells him that they will investigate the box together. Miller then calls for someone named Lucie—the girl who had been with the Doctor! She insists on going in as well, calling the box the TARDIS.

Inside, they close the door, and the wheezing sound is heard; and when Lucie opens the door, they are in the future. All of Smith’s victims are gathered outside, along with the Doctor; and none of them are happy to see Smith. They berate him, until the Doctor intervenes.

Detective Freddie Miller, Lucie reveals, is one of her own distant ancestors, recruited by her to help. He helps them get the missing persons back into the TARDIS. The Doctor tells Smith that Detective Miller will be taking charge of Smith to prevent any further troubles, and then takes them all back to the fair. It seems everyone gets to go home…except the Doctor and Lucie.

Later, Smith reflects that this was the beginning of a friendship between himself and Miller, with Smith eventually becoming godfather to Miller’s child.

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I have yet to find an Eighth Doctor/Lucie Miller story that I dislike; but I have to admit that this one is an oddity. First, there’s the narration. India Fisher does a great job narrating, as usual; but this story features Lucie Miller, not Charley Pollard, and it’s very odd to hear Charley’s customary actress dictating Lucie’s lines. I realize that Sheridan Smith, who customarily plays Lucie, may not have been available for this recording; but it seems it would have been a simple matter to alter the story to feature Charley rather than Lucie. The only change of any substance would have been the reference to supporting character Detective Miller as an ancestor of Lucie, and that change would only involve a single line.

Secondly, and more conspicuous to me, is that this story feels very incomplete. One gets the impression that this is a fragment of a much longer story—the resolution, perhaps, but still only a fragment. The story centers around a carnival barker who has somehow acquired the TARDIS and is using it in his show—but how did he acquire it? How did he manage to separate the Doctor from it? What’s wrong with the TARDIS, that it sends people to the future and locks them out—and how does it do that without ever leaving its spot at the carnival? There’s so much that could be told here, and even begs to be told, but isn’t.

It’s not a terrible story, and it’s performed and executed as well as possible under the circumstances; it simply feels incomplete. It’s also the shortest entry in this collection, at about twelve and a half minutes. We do get a single continuity reference here; Lucie mentions Gallifrey in passing, leading the barker, Smith, to speculate that Gallifrey is in Ireland (a gag that appears numerous times; the TARDIS wiki cites at least four occurrences, as far back as The Hand of Fear).

Next time: Back to the beginning! Sort of, anyway. We’ll wrap up Short Trips, Volume 3 with the First Doctor’s scattered contribution, Seven to One. See you there!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.

Short Trips, Volume 3

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Audio Drama Review: The Riparian Ripper

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to the Seventh Doctor’s contribution to the Short Trips, Volume 3 collection, The Riparian Ripper. Written by Andrew Cartmel, and featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ace, this story is read by Sophie Aldred. Let’s get started!

Short Trips Volume 3 a

Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

The Seventh Doctor and Ace make their way to a crime scene along the Red River, where they encounter a reporter named Walter Orpheus. The Doctor—letting Ace call him the Professor—manages as usual to be taken for someone official, in this case from the nearby university. He produces a newspaper clipping about the situation—a series of nearly-deadly attacks near the river, perpetrated by an assailant who has been dubbed “the Riparian Ripper” (“Riparian” meaning “on or of the riverbank”). Oddly, none of the victims have died, despite their grievous injuries; but none of them can identify the attacker as well. The current victim, a teenage girl, is in St. Saviour’s hospital. Her name is Dolores Gorman, and her uncle, Stan Gorman, is in the crowd here at the scene. Stan intends to kill the Ripper if he can find him—or it, as the Doctor thinks it may be an animal instead of a human. The wounds, after all, don’t look like knife wounds.

At the hospital, the Doctor and Ace investigate the victims’ case histories. All have survived—but, with the help of Dr. Leonard Milroy, they learn that all the victims have had an organ removed, though without having actually had the proper surgery—but with surgical skill. More interestingly, prior to their attacks, they all suffered problems related to the organs, which were eased when the organs were removed.

The Doctor and Ace stay overnight in the university’s student halls. They are awakened to news: the Ripper has been found! Stan Gorman’s brother, Herb Gorman, was attacked in the early hours, and brought into the hospital. The Doctor correctly predicts that the wounds were to the chest and upper abdomen; Milroy had already stated that Herb suffered from lung cancer. Ace realizes that the Ripper is not harming anyone—he is performing successful surgeries! The problem is that no one will understand it—and that means the Ripper will be mobbed and killed if isolated.

They rush to the site of the Ripper’s entrapment: a nearby storm drain. There they find workers from Stan Gorman’s construction company, wiring the place with explosions. Stan confronts them, and says he intends to murder the “monster”; but the Doctor informs him that his brother is doing very well, and was not, in fact, tortured after all. Nevertheless, Stan intends to blow up the drain tunnels anyway. In spite, the Doctor leaps up and into the drain pipe; Ace and Milroy follow. The Doctor has Ace covertly cut the detonation wire; and then they head deeper into the tunnels.

Before they can find the Ripper, they hear sirens; but they are coming from the darkness ahead, not from outside. Something approaches; the Doctor manages to pull his companions aside, just in time to avoid something large and silver streaking past in the tunnels. The thing—the ship—shoots out of the tunnels and flies away; the Doctor, Ace, and Milroy make it outside just in time to see it vanish over the horizon.

The Doctor laments that their “friend” is gone; and indeed, he can’t blame the Ripper for leaving. On the bright side, Herb Gorman will go on to recover fully, free of tumors. As the Doctor and Ace depart, they gift Milroy with a telescope; he intends to watch the sky, hoping the silver ship will return. Ace is secretly sure it won’t.

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We seem to be on a theme in this collection. Every story so far, with the exception of The Five Dimensional Man, has featured a villain that isn’t actually a villain, and in most cases is simply misunderstood. I, for one, wouldn’t want a steady diet of such stories; but it is a nice occasional diversion. It’s inevitable, in a universe as large as that of Doctor Who, that species or individuals with radically different outlooks on life will pop up; and it suits the Doctor’s character very well to defend them as well as humanity. This is a concept that goes back at least as far as Doctor Who and the Silurians, and probably much further (I’m a little short on time right now, and don’t have the time to look into it). We see it here, when the titular Riparian Ripper—whom we never actually see or identify—isn’t at all what he appears to be at first; and he nearly dies for his trouble, when in fact he is here to do good for the humans in the area. Unfortunately, that’s also a common theme in Doctor Who: that humans can be heavy-handed and insensitive to anything different and/or wondrous. (Related: The Ripper’s species and homeworld are never revealed, either; that wonderfully obscure word, “riparian”, means “of or on the riverbank”, which is where the attacks in this story take place.)

At just over sixteen minutes, this is one of the shorter entries in the collection. After the painful voice acting in the last two entries—at least where Peri Brown was concerned—hearing Sophie Aldred read this story is something of a relief; she doesn’t try to imitate the Seventh Doctor precisely, but settles for a suggestion of his brogue, which is all that’s really necessary. This story is told in first person from Ace’s perspective, which while unusual, is a good mode for Sophie Aldred’s narration. As is common in Seventh Doctor stories, there’s no real hint of any framing events; we don’t see the Doctor and Ace arrive or leave, and the TARDIS isn’t seen at all, nor do we get any indication of why they came here at this time. I always find that a little odd, given that the Seventh Doctor has such a reputation for manipulating events and scheming behind the scenes; nevertheless a lot of stories seem to happen in that way.

Overall: A short, pleasant story, and a nice change from the body horror and pain in recent entries (although, if “organ removal” counts, one could say there’s body horror here as well—but at least we don’t have to watch it happen). It’s almost a little too short, too easy; I would have liked to see the Doctor and Ace be involved in tracking down the Ripper, but that event is handled elsewhere and essentially handed to them. Otherwise, not bad at all.

Next time: We’ll wrap up with the Eighth—wait, no, we won’t! We’ll listen to the Eighth Doctor’s entry, All the Fun of the Fair, featuring Lucie Miller; but don’t forget, we’ve also put off the first Doctor’s entry, Seven to One, which is split among the various parts of this collection. We’ll try to get in both stories tomorrow, and start fresh on Monday with Volume Four, if possible. See you then!

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.

Short Trips, Volume 3

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Audio Drama Review: Murmurs of Earth

 

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today, we continue Short Trips Volume 3 with Murmurs of Earth, by Michael Deacon, Jamie Middleton, and Chris Wraight. Featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri, this story is read by Colin Baker. Let’s get started!

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Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

Aboard the TARDIS, the Doctor excitedly shows Peri a scan of a darkened scene: the Oort Cloud, the massive field of tailless comets orbiting the Sun at a distance of trillions of kilometers. Peri is unimpressed, until the Doctor points out that she is the first human to ever see the Cloud up close. However, it is the Doctor who is most shocked, when the scanner detects signs of life and atmosphere a mere eighty kilometers away! Intrigued, he takes the TARDIS in.

Peri is quite taken aback to find a vista of lush foliage and running water. It is, of course, impossible; the rock they are on lacks the mass to even hold them here, and that isn’t even considering the many other impossibilities—like the naked man and woman who step out of the trees to greet them! It all seems to be holograms; but the man and woman speak to them, and welcome them. However, things take a turn for the worse, when a hot blue light separates Peri from the Doctor and the others! The Doctor scans it, and demands to have her released—but a voice announces “Aberration detected!” Peri and the force field vanish, and the voice announces, “Aberration removed!” The Doctor swears to find her, as more couples—identical to the first—appear from the trees and greet him. But they can’t be real, can they?

At the other end of a transmat beam, Peri feels terrible. She sits on the floor of a transparent cube inside a dripping cave, with pulsing lights above. She spies a creature, but it escapes before she can talk to it. Meanwhile, the TARDIS arrives in the cave, outside the cube; the Doctor promises to help her escape, but the creature—tentacled and translucent—shows itself and looms over him. The Doctor thinks it is an alien sentinel, sent to the edge of the solar system to watch for intelligent life. Somehow the creature speaks, and confirms it; and it says that “cleansing must begin”. The Doctor doesn’t like the sound of that, and demands Peri’s release, but the creature refuses, calling her an aberration that must be destroyed. The cube fills with a painful blue light. The creature ignores the Doctor’s attempts to stop it.

The Doctor spies a single ornament in the room: a golden disc on the wall. He realizes what it must be; and he leaps to it and announces a greeting to the universe from the inhabitants of the third planet. The blue light instantly stops, leaving Peri slumped and in pain, but alive. The creature focuses on the Doctor, who says that he now understands. He explains to Peri that the Voyage probes from Earth contained gold discs like this one, containing comprehensive greetings to any life they encountered. The aliens, it seems, acquired this disc…the Doctor demands an explanation.

The creature, it explains with some chagrin, has been alone for a very long time. When it detected the brainwaves associated with the gold disc, it felt a great sense of welcome; and in response, it created this place, full of light, warmth—and its own humans, after a fashion. However, in the face of all that perfection and happiness, it finds Peri—with her real humanity and her negative emotions—to be an aberration. It simply does not know how to handle that—but it recognizes Peri as human, and it fears her.

The Doctor offers a deal: Let Peri out, and they will leave the creature and its creations in peace.

The creature, at last, opens a hole—but not in the cube; rather, in the wall. Its human creations walk in as it informs the Doctor that new information is now available, and must be used. Light fills the cube, and the Doctor realizes the creature is using Peri’s brain waves to reprogram its creations. Unfortunately, this is not a good development, as already the creatures are beginning to display distrust.

The Doctor quickly gets Peri out of the cube, and they rush back to the TARDIS. A final look back reveals that the creations are arguing with each other while the creature watches helplessly. Paradise, it seems, has been lost.

Still, the Doctor concludes, Peri may have done them a favor. Previously, they didn’t even know they were happy; but now they will be more authentic. Besides, the creature can always change them back, though the Doctor doubts it will. It seems—as the Doctor once pointed out to John Lennon—that love is not, in fact, all you need.

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This story takes the Doctor and Peri to an unusual location: the Oort Cloud, the field of comets at the furthest reach of the solar system, trillions of kilometers away. It’s an interesting venue, and just goes to show that the Doctor has a knack for getting into trouble, even when literally in the middle of nowhere.

We seem to be encountering a lot of amorphous, inhuman villains lately (though it’s sometimes doubtful whether they should really be called “villains”). This story is no exception; its monster-of-the-week is not named, but is definitely inhuman. That can be a good thing; with an entire universe and all of time to be explored, it only makes sense that the Doctor would encounter a lot of non-human races. On the other hand, they all eventually start to sound similar; and this one seems to have some characteristics in common with the Calopians from the previous entry, Wet Walls. (At least we have no house-sized artificial wombs this time!) This particular creature is also lonely and isolated from its kind; but instead of reproducing itself, it decides to reproduce humans, whom it has only encountered at a great remove, and in a very filtered manner. The arrival of Peri—a true human, with all the requisite foibles—upsets the creature’s world thoroughly. In fact, it nearly kills Peri before the Doctor can intervene.

Still, though, it’s not a bad story (and after Wet Walls, frankly, anything is an improvement!). It’s a small-scale story; but it leaves an opening at the end for further tales involving this monster-of-the-week, though I doubt that any have yet been written. Perhaps in the future?

I will say, I had high hopes for the voice acting; I commented yesterday about the ordeal of listening to Peter Davison try to imitate Peri. Unfortunately, Colin Baker doesn’t have it any easier; he’s always entertaining playing his own role, but hearing him imitate Peri is nearly as painful as Peri’s own experiences in this story. It seems the only one who can do justice to Peri is Nicola Bryant.

Next time: We join the Seventh Doctor and Ace beside the Red River, in The Riparian Ripper! See you there.

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.

Short Trips, Volume 3

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Audio Drama Review: Wet Walls

We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing our look at 2011’s Short Trips, Volume 3 with Wet Walls, featuring the Fifth Doctor and Peri. Written by Mathilde Madden, this story is read by Peter Davison, and takes place during a sometimes-controversial series of Five/Peri audios set between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani. Let’s get started!

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Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.

Shropshire, 1903, and the rain is pouring down on an old manor house, when the TARDIS arrives. With Peri, the Doctor rings the doorbell; the woman who answers tries and fails to send them away. However, upon hearing that he is the Doctor, she mistakes him for a medical doctor, who has coincidentally been summoned; and she lets them in. She introduces herself as Gretchen, the housekeeper; and she leads them through the dilapidated house to the rooms of the lady of the manor, Lady Catherine. She explains that Lady Catherine is raving mad.

The bedroom is shuttered, lit by candles; Lady Catherine lies in bed—young, pretty, but in her own state of neglect. She is weary, but speaks to the Doctor of children—but there are no children present, and Lady Catherine has never had any. The woman continues babbling, and insists that the walls are wet, but only at night.

Gretchen insists that the walls are not actually wet, but the Doctor insists on staying overnight to investigate further. As the day turns to night, the rain stops—but the peace is broken by a scream from Peri’s room. Peri insists that the carpet and walls are wet—not just to sight, but to touch—but the Doctor cannot feel it. To him, everything is dry. The Doctor has her touch the liquid in the carpet and taste it; reluctantly she does, and realizes it is both warm and salty. They are interrupted by a scream from Catherine’s room; they find her in a state of panic over the wetness that only she—and now Peri—can see. Gretchen is also present, and scoffs; but the Doctor insists that it may not be a delusion after all. Meanwhile, Peri insists that the situation is worse in this room, with walls dripping and oozing—and there is a sound, like a heartbeat. Catherine is rocking in time with it; and, Peri insists, there is something under the bed. A red, pulsing pipe sticks out from under the bed, according to Peri. She insists it is some bloblike animal—perhaps a fetus of some sort.

The Doctor theorizes that some alien entity is using the house to gestate its young, with a zonal shift to keep it out of phase with the inhabitants, but not quite perfectly. Perhaps Peri and Catherine sense it because they are female—but then, Gretchen does not. One thing is clear, though: Catherine is at the focus of the phenomenon, and if it isn’t stopped, it will kill her. Working on a hunch, he suggests finding the creature’s father—and what better place to find an expectant father than pacing in the corridor outside?

They follow the pipe—now suspected to be an umbilical cord—into the garden. When Peri looks back at the house, she sees it covered with a membrane, and pulsing. Against her disgust, she follows the cord into some nearby bushes, and finds a small spaceship. The Doctor knocks, and it opens onto a jellylike alien inside an artificial exoskeleton. He demands an explanation. The creature tries to refuse, but the Doctor doesn’t let it withdraw. He explains to Peri that the creature is a citizen of a planet called Calopia; the Calopians are a single-sex race, ostensibly male, though they wouldn’t view it that way. They usually breed and gestate their young inside damp caverns; but why is this one here, on Earth? The creature reluctantly reveals it had no choice; it needed a copilot to fly its ship, and its first one died in an accident—it seems they stole this ship for a joyride, and crashed here. Its offspring will be mature enough to serve as a copilot in about three hours—but that’s little consolation for Catherine, who may be irretrievably insane by then!

They are interrupted by Gretchen, who is pointing a pistol at the Calopian. Before the Doctor can react, Gretchen shoots the Calopian. The Doctor snatches the gun and tosses it away—but then Peri says that the house…is hatching!

The Doctor scoops up the hatchling, and places it in the now-vacant pilot seat. Peri objects that even with its parent’s memories, it can’t fly the ship alone—but, a second creature emerges. Twins! And conveniently so, as the Doctor points out, placing the second creature in the ship.

Catherine stumbles out of the house and falls on Gretchen, asking if it is over. Gretchen’s words are lost…but it seems to be so. She escorts Catherine to the house, then returns to see the Doctor and Peri off. Peri asks why she and Catherine could see it when Gretchen couldn’t; and Gretchen admits, with some chagrin, that “she” is not a woman. “She” is secretly a man, a former footman in Catherine’s father’s household—and Catherine’s lover. They would never have been permitted to marry; and so, when Catherine inherited the manor, they adopted this ruse in order to quietly set up house together. Peri is stunned by this news; and before the situation can become any more awkward, the Doctor pulls her back to the TARDIS to depart.

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It’s beginning to seem as though the unlikely combination of body horror and silliness is uniquely the domain of the Fifth Doctor. First there was The Deep, his contribution to Short Trips, Volume 1, which saw the TARDIS turn into a whale (and nearly mate with the native whales!). Things got a little better with Sock Pig in Short Trips Volume 2, where we traded horror for sadness. Now, however, we’ve come full circle in Wet Walls. Here the Doctor finds that a manor house has been turned into an alien womb; but only Peri and the lady of the manor can see the proof. (Yes, that is a spoiler, but it’s almost unavoidable; I’ll keep the ending a secret.) Yes, it is exactly as bizarre and disgusting as it sounds.

I have to admit that I’m disappointed by the way this story—and The Deep before it—handle the Fifth Doctor. Certainly the Fifth Doctor is very different from his other incarnations; he’s famously self-effacing and sometimes passive, and it’s popularly claimed that the Sixth Doctor’s bombastic personality is a direct response to the Fifth Doctor—implying that even the Doctor doesn’t like the Fifth Doctor very much. Still, one almost gets the impression from these stories that the writers are punishing him for it, by placing him in the most unlikely, garish, and silly situations they can imagine. No other Doctor has gotten this treatment in this series (so far, anyway, but as they say, the night is young). Personally, I like the Fifth Doctor; he, more than any other, embodies the idea that there are more ways to solve a crisis than violence. I prefer to see him get a serious—or at least believable—story.

I do appreciate that Peter Davison conducts his own readings in these early volumes, as does Colin Baker. Most of the time, his performances are good; I’ve heard other commenters claim that he sounds different from his television appearances, but so far I disagree. One glaring fault with his performance here, however, is his portrayal of Peri. He goes out of his way to mimic her accent and intonation, but only manages to parody Nicola Bryant’s performances. It’s painful to listen to, and I’m glad Peri only gets a few lines here. It would be much better if he would just read the lines in his own voice and leave it to imagination. Peri also features in the next entry, with the Sixth Doctor; let’s see if Colin Baker can do it any better.

Overall: My least favorite entry in this volume so far. We’ll brush this one under the (wet) rug and move on.

Next time: We’ll join Peri and the Sixth Doctor in Murmurs of Earth! See you there.

All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.

Short Trips, Volume 3

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