We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today, we’re picking up our tour of the Short Trips range. When we last heard from this range, we were in the middle of Short Trips Volume IV, the last of four early volumes of short trip audio dramas. We pick up today with the Third Doctor’s contribution, Lost in the Wakefield Triangle. Written by Vin Marsden Hendrick, this story is read by Katy Manning, and features the Third Doctor and Jo Grant. Let’s get started!
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 Martin Chisom is moving rhubarb into his forcing shed. He hears a snapping sound, and realises to his surprise that it is the sound of the rhubarb growing. He discovers he is surrounded by something, and is captured.
Later, the Doctor and Jo Grant approach Martin’s home, intending to buy some rhubarb, which was advertised as being on sale. A woman meets them and asks if he is a doctor; naturally, he says he is, and the duo are shown inside. They are led to Martin, who is in the grip of a fever, having been poisoned with rhubarb leaves; he had been found by a couple named Brian and Claire Forest. The Doctor treats him for the fever, calming his thrashing; but from Martin’s words, he determines that something is wrong with the rhubarb. Suddenly he discovers that Jo is no longer in the room; Brian says that Jo—whom he has taken for a student nurse—has gone to the forcing shed. The Doctor runs after her.
Brian and Claire follow the Doctor into the shed, and they hear the snapping sounds. The Doctor lights a candle, and the noise stops. By candlelight, he finds a large, metallic insect, the size of a housecat. It shrieks at him before switching to English and speaking; it first says that it is claiming Earth by right of conquest, but then corrects itself and only lays claim to the shed. Surprisingly, the Doctor agrees that this is a reasonable demand.
The Doctor finds Jo, who says that she went into the wrong shed. He explains the end of the situation: Brian has negotiated a trade agreement with the aliens. Brian will supply manure to the aliens, and in return, they will provide “the tenderest rhubarb in the galaxy, grown at a rate unheard of on Earth.” It’s an oddly satisfactory deal; the aliens have no interest in expanding beyond the shed. In the meantime, the Doctor is leaving with all the ingredients for a great rhubarb charlotte.
These early Short Trips tend to alternate among a few moods, from mystifying to whimsical to silly. This story is definitely the third. The Third Doctor and Jo Grant are on a walk in the countryside when they find a house offering rhubarb for sale; and that’s all it takes to get this story started. Add in a few small aliens with a misguided sense of scale, and everything is complete. It’s hardly saving the world; it’s more like saving one garden shed. No story too small, eh?
And yet, this isn’t so unusual for the Third Doctor. Perhaps more than any other Doctor, his stories run the gamut of scale, from inconsequential to world-breaking. Maybe that’s a side effect of spending so much time on Earth, but regardless, the effect is that this story, while silly, is believable. I can’t see the Fourth or the Ninth Doctors, for example, handling this situation with the same dignity and charm.
There are no real enemies here, so I’ll just refer to the aliens involved instead. Insectlike and small, they aren’t given a name, though they remind me a bit of the Rovie from No Place Like Home–delusions of grandeur, but a severe misunderstanding of what their ambitions might entail. At any rate, these childlike aliens ultimately settle, not for conquering the world, but for conquering a simple forcing shed. And yet, in that sense, they’re more successful than most invaders, as they immediately set up a profitable trade relationship with the humans—or at least, with one human. It’s not often we get a situation that the Doctor can safely leave alone, but it’s nice to see it happen every once in a while.
This story is read by Katy Manning, but her usual character, Jo, doesn’t serve much purpose here. She wanders into the story and immediately wanders out again, not to be seen again until the end. This is just my opinion, but to me that indicates that this is early in Jo’s time with the Doctor. The television series eventually gave her more maturity and awareness, but at first it was almost criminal in its treatment of her; she was vapid and mindless, mostly there just for her appearance. That’s how she comes across here; she gets lost walking from the house to the forcing shed, and ends up in the wrong shed, requiring perhaps an hour to make her way back. It’s a little disappointing; I’ve grown to appreciate Jo (though I disliked her at first), and I don’t like seeing her be portrayed as stupid. One detail I missed, however, may contradict my thoughts about the placement of this story: in Jo’s early stories, the Doctor was still restricted from TARDIS travel except when summoned by the Time Lords; but here, the local character Brian Forest has a cell phone, indicating this story occurs in more modern years. It’s not referred to as a cell phone or mobile phone, just as a phone, but it can be heard ringing when called, while Brian is in the room with the caller.
There are a few continuity references, which is unusual for these early Short Trips. The Doctor uses Promethean Everlasting Matches, seen in Venusian Lullaby and other prose stories. (Thanks to the TARDIS wiki for this one, as I have not yet read any of the stories featuring that item.) As well, the Doctor considers wearing rhubarb—a plant similar to, but unrelated to, celery—in his lapel, but decides it is too garish; behind the scenes, this is a bit of a jab at the Fifth Doctor, who routinely wears celery on his lapel. (Full disclosure: I didn’t catch this myself, because I had no idea what rhubarb looks like. I’ve heard of it all my life, but it’s not common where I live, and isn’t popularly used in cooking here, and therefore I’ve never seen it. Thanks to Google, it makes a little more sense now.)
Overall: Not a bad story, but an exceedingly short and inconsequential one. It’s a good way for us to ease back into this series after a few months’ break, but if you’re looking for more action, you won’t find it here. Still, it’s worth a quarter hour’s time.
Next time: We visit the Fourth Doctor, Romana II, and K9 Mark II in The Old Rogue! See you there.
All stories featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.