We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! It’s been awhile, but today we’re continuing the Short Trips range with the second entry of series five, Little Doctors. Released on 6 February 2015, this story was written by Philip Lawrence, read by Frazer Hines, and features the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this story! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.
Zoe Heriot transmats into a maintenance corridor. Still in touch with Jamie McCrimmon over a communication circuit, she encounters a small gremlin, which leaps at her.
The transmat hub of the planet Olympos is busy and bustling, watched over by its superintending computer, Zeus. Zeus monitors a pair of humans, Lev (female) and Drex (male), whom he has matched up, as they head home; and he muses on the many pastimes he offers to the humans under his care. Lev and Drex are now expecting a child, and Zeus watches them select and buy a crib from a matter former—but instead of a crib, a giant, blue, wooden box materializes…
Inside the TARDIS, Zoe watches as the time rotor comes to rest. The Doctor congratulates himself on the landing. Jamie isn’t so optimistic; but he affectionately hides his concern from the Doctor as the Time Lord checks the scanner for any dangers outside. With no problems detected, the Doctor leads them outside—and encounters Lev and Drex, who are utterly perplexed by the box, its inhabitants, and the travelers’ clothes.
Lev and Drex recover quickly enough, and introduce themselves. They announce that they are collectors of twentieth-century Earth artifacts; and they begin to show off their collection. The Doctor, however, finds it disturbing; the items are far from accurate. Jamie asks where the items were from, and Drex explains that they have earned them—or rather, earned the points that are used to manufacture the items in the matter former (or plasmonic converter, as Drex calls it). As they leave the room, the converter springs into life again, producing a robot that examines the TARDIS—and sends its results back to Zeus, who is concerned.
The travelers use a moving platform to visit the city, much to Jamie’s consternation. The Doctor remarks on the pastel sameness of the people as they approach. They sample some nutritional paste—terrible, admittedly—prompting the Doctor offer Drex a jelly baby. It’s an intense experience for the local—but he accepts the rest of the bag. Zoe notices the microdomes of hydroponic farms spread among the surrounding buildings. Finally Drex and Lev have to leave to go to work, leaving the time travelers alone.
Zoe is impressed with the city; she remarks that colonies like this were being planted in her time, and as Jamie mentions, the people seem happy. The Doctor is less charitable; he feels the people have no spark, no vitality. He is at first annoyed at the idea of Zeus—until Zoe explains that it is an artificial intelligence, governing the colony. The Doctor decides to speak with Zeus, and tampers with a transmat booth to allow passage to the control zone. Zeus decides to allow it, but warns his council members to acknowledge the visitors, but not approach. When the Doctor and his friends arrive, he announces his desire to speak with Zeus, but the council members ignore him; but the nearby converters begin to hum, producing a stream of robots called Enforcers—shaped like armor mounted on small tanks. The Doctor and his friends run.
As they race through corridors, fleeing the Enforcers, Zoe casts back through her own photographic memory, trying to remember the plans for these colonies. At last, she leads them to a chamber with an old, rusty headset—a neural interlink, connecting to the Zeus mainframe. The Doctor puts it on, and for him, everything goes dark.
Later, the Council members apologize for the misunderstanding; Zoe accepts the apology, as the Doctor is unconscious in an infirmary. His mental contact with Zeus had provided them with safe identities, but the effort had left him unconscious. However, as they watch his sleeping form, the attached medical monitors abruptly melt, then return to their own shape. Suspecting a power drainage, the council member leads them back to central control, where a technician claims to have seen childlike figures in various nodes of the system. He accepts Jamie and Zoe’s help, giving them communicators and transmat access in order to figure out the problem. Jamie visits the first site, and finds bubble gum pasted over the camera lens through which the technician would have been watching. He then hears a commotion, and rushes back to Zoe, finding her thrashing about, wrestling with a strange, cackling, childlike creature. Jamie throws it to the floor—and suddenly they find that it looks like the Doctor! The creature escapes to the top of some shelves, taunting them. It throws instruments at them, laughing all the while. The technician tells them he is repairing the system damage now. Jamie gets ahold of the creature and knocks it out. The technician calls back that a dozen more power failures are happening as they speak. The figure melts in front of them—it is a plasmonic construct, just like the Enforcers. And to their horror, they realize there are plasmonic converters all over the city.
In his quarters, Drex finds a miniature Doctor in his bathroom. Across Olympos, others find the creatures as well, destroying things everywhere they can like true gremlins. The people panic, running and screaming. The creatures appear in the control room as well, pressing buttons at random. Zoe realizes that the Doctor’s contact with Zeus must have altered the Enforcer programming. The only hope is to reprogram Zeus—and only she can do it. She runs to the neural link.
Two of the duplicate Doctors have found the original, but Jamie knocks them off of the Doctor, who promptly wakes up. Meanwhile, Zoe puts on the link, and finds herself in a mindscape of a building under slow but steady destruction.
The Doctor and Jamie arrive at central control, soaking wet—the creatures have taken over Weather Control, and it is pouring rain. However, the Doctor points out something remarkable: while the creatures are destroying things, they are also spreading color all over the colony, painting the streets with sauces, growing flowers in the hydroponic domes, and even causing a rainbow in the sky. The people, long held to regularity and drabness, are intoxicated with the spectacle. The Doctor decides the duplicates are benevolent after all. He pulls something from his coat, and heads for the loudspeaker controls.
Zoe finds a door which won’t open, from which a voice warns her away.
The Doctor plays his recorder over the loudspeaker, and the notes of “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” play over the colony. One by one, the creatures fall asleep. However, Zeus is still behaving abnormally.
Zoe finds the virtual version of the little Doctors to also be sleeping now. The door opens, and she finds a pale, anxious man behind it. The man pulls her into the room, which is a massive, ancient document library. The man is Zeus’s avatar; he asks for her help, and then informs her he is making a weapon.
Lev and Drex watch their baby in its amniotank. Drex, for the first time, feels true emotion toward Lev, and is pleased by it—but suddenly Weather Control goes offline, and the room becomes chilly. Back at Central Control, other systems go offline as well. Before long, a hurricane arises, and chaos begins to settle in. Zeus diverts more power to his scheme. Meanwhile, Zoe tries to persuade Zeus to stop, but he insists on protecting the colony—by any means necessary. A blast of power from the satellites would take care of the aliens—and if there were casualties along the way, well, logic allowed for that. But, Zoe suggests, perhaps there was more to life than logic?
The Doctor persuades the colonists to sacrifice their plasmonic items—including the little Doctors—for reversion in order to give the system enough power for a modicum of stability. Then he races to the neural link—but finds Zoe already occupying it. Inside the library mindscape, Zoe tears through the shelves, until she finds the TARDIS. Zeus can’t help being captivated; the TARDIS represents the lure of the unknown. As he stares, one of the little Doctors knocks out the avatar with a book.
The Doctor takes advantage of the lull to reboot the computer, and return things to some form of normalcy. However, before he and his friends leave, they provide the colonists with new possessions: Not furniture, not treasures, but the materials and tools to make their own. As they leave, Lev and Drex set to work, building new furniture.
Inside the TARDIS, Jamie suggests resting a bit before taking off; and reluctantly the Doctor concurs. However, Jamie yanks the dematerialization lever; as she says, they could sit around, but where’s the fun in that? And in their wake, the colony surges to life.
Despite being read by Frazer Hines, this is chiefly a Zoe tale. She is central to the cold open, and is the real hero of the story, such as there is one (there’s not a lot of conflict to be had here, so the level of heroism is debatable). The story takes us to an Earth colony called Olympos, which is one of a series of such colonies built during Jamie’s time (although this one seems to have been long established at this point). Zoe is fascinated, but the Doctor finds the colony to be alarmingly dull and uniform; the people, led by the supercomputer Zeus, have lost their vitality and spark. The Doctor sets out to change that; but when he inadvertently causes the creation of hordes of miniature copies of himself, it becomes clear that he may have done more harm than good. It’s up to Zoe to put an end to the crisis—and maybe, just maybe, leave the planet a bit better than they found it.
Frazer Hines, as always, is good at what he does. I’ve always acknowledged that he captures the Second Doctor’s voice and mannerisms as well as anyone could expect. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of call for that here; there’s very little dialogue for the Doctor, who even spends a chunk of the story unconscious. Hines makes up for it with enthusiasm, and the story ends up being a pleasure to listen to.
That’s a good thing, because I suspect I’d have been a little frustrated had I been reading it instead of listening. It’s not a bad concept or plot; but in the second half it begins to jump around quite a bit. There were several times when I caught myself skipping back to listen again, thinking to myself “Now wait, how did they get there?!” Viewpoints shift among the characters frequently, and vital details are often given quickly and only once. It’s a lighthearted story, but it’s one to which you must pay attention; if your mind wanders, you will definitely miss something.
Still, it’s a good listen. The early anthology short trips, notably, ran shorter than the monthly editions; with the Second Doctor, especially, this always made the stories feel cramped to me. His television stories, while action-packed, seem to me to be more of a slow burn than those of some of his successors. He needs a little more time to build a good story. I’m glad to see he’s getting it here, even if there are some structural problems with the story; this story clocks in at about thirty-three minutes. It makes me look forward to future Second Doctor short trips. And, as always in this range, the story is supremely affordable at $2.99 (or the pound equivalent thereof), so there’s little reason not to check it out if you haven’t done so.
Next time: We’ll join the Third Doctor, Jo Grant, and UNIT in Time Tunnel! 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.