We’re back! You may have thought this site was abandoned–after all, the gaps between my posts are longer than the gaps between Doctor Who‘s television episodes–but here we are. Welcome!
Full disclosure, though: We’re not yet back to a regular schedule. Quite some time ago, we reached fifty episodes of the Monthly Adventures range of Doctor Who audio dramas; and ultimately I want to continue that range, along with some others (especially now that the Monthly Adventures range has ended). But, life is hectic, and that’s a commitment of time and energy that I can’t spare now. Eventually, maybe.
In the meantime, we’re looking today at a handful of Short Trips audio adventures, covering several Doctors and companions. These, too, are out of order; I chose selections based on what looked interesting at the time. If, eventually, we cover all of the Short Trips range, I’ll make sure that the links at the bottom of the relevant pages will give you the entries in the proper order.
But for now, let’s get started! Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t listened to the stories below. Continue at your own risk!
Written by John Pritchard; Read by Stephen Critchlow
The Fourth Doctor and Leela arrive–unintentionally as always–in the Soviet Union, mid-1950s. Their landing site is in the middle of a test zone for a new weapon: The atomic bomb. Naturally the scientists in the area fear the very thing they’re developing, although the soldiers are much more confident. However, the bomb isn’t the only danger present; a monster lurks in the area, a monster that lives on the radiation–and they’ve just given it a feast.
Although certainly entertaining, I found Sound the Siren and I’ll Come to You, Comrade to be the weakest of today’s selections, to the point that I found it difficult to pay attention (you’ll notice that my spoilers up there don’t include the details of the ending–chiefly because I’ve forgotten some of them). Not that it’s a bad story; it just didn’t grab me. Your mileage may vary. While the setting is interesting, there’s not a lot to work with in terms of plot. There is some novelty in placing a story in the early days of the Cold War; but once you set off an atomic bomb, everything else fades into the background. Having a set piece that large removes weight from whatever events are taking place around it.
Continuity references: None to speak of. This story is fairly self-contained.
Written by James Swallow; Read by Nicholas Briggs
A retired Knight of Velyshaa, Kalendorf, has grown elderly; but still he remembers the war against the Daleks. Even when the rest of the planet seems to have moved on, he remembers. He frequently comes to the war museum, where he sits and thinks in front of a glass case containing three dead Daleks. As he broods on his past and his bitterness, he is unaware that one of the Daleks is not dead at all; indeed, it has monitored him while it gathers its minimal power, and it wants its last act to be one of defiance: Killing the man who killed so many Daleks in his time. Kalendorf is unexpectedly joined by the Eighth Doctor, nearing the end of his life. The Doctor reveals he is facing a choice, a moral dilemma (implied to be concerning the Last Great Time War). He and Kalendorf debate the morality of their respective causes–as the Dalek finds itself also facing a choice: Kill Kalendorf, or the Doctor? Both are great enemies of the Daleks. It chooses, and fires–just as a schoolchild on a tour runs in front of it, taking the shot. Kalendorf destroys the Dalek, then finds the child dead–and finds the Doctor gone, apparently having made his choice.
This story was originally published in print, in the Short Trips: Dalek Empire anthology. There’s a great deal of connection between this and other Dalek Empire stories, as well as other audios (all the way back to Big Finish’s first Doctor Who audio, The Sirens of Time). I have by no means read or listened to all the relevant material; however, one could almost consider Museum Peace to be a coda to those stories. As such it contains everything you need to appreciate it; its references to other works dangle out there as hooks for further reading and listening, but you aren’t obligated to follow them up. I like the portrayal of the Eighth Doctor here as old and tired; he’s not far from the man he will be in The Night of the Doctor. He fits right in with Kalendorf, who is now aged himself. The death of a child is a little extreme for Doctor Who, and a bit shocking, though not entirely unanticipated if you pay attention in the first half of the story. Overall, it’s sad and melancholy, and a little foreboding–but definitely a worthwhile listen.
Continuity references: Mostly to previous Dalek Empire events. The Doctor references two televised Dalek stories: The Daleks, and Genesis of the Daleks, making reference to the potential destruction of all Daleks. The Doctor previously met Kalendorf on the planet Zaleria; Kalendorf does not at first recognize him now, as that was in the Doctor’s seventh incarnation (Return of the Daleks). The Doctor knows his regeneration is coming soon (The Night of the Doctor). The Knights of Velyshaa are in the process of developing time travel, which will be realized in The Sirens of Time.
One more thing: The Doctor here mentions that he has an opportunity to destroy the Daleks completely, clearly referring to the events of the Time War. However, modern additions to the lore have rendered this unlikely. The story was first published (in print) in 2006, late enough to have established the existence of the war, but long before the War Doctor was known to exist. At the time, the assumption was that the Eighth Doctor was the one who ended the war (not even the Moment was known at that time). Of course we now know better–but the story still retains the line in which the Eighth Doctor admits to facing this choice.
Written by Jenny T Colgan; Read by Mark Strickson
This story is told in first person perspective, from the point of view of Vislor Turlough.
Turlough and Tegan have been verbally sparring for some time, especially regarding Tegan’s (fully justified) lack of trust in Turlough–who, unknown to the others, is under the influence of the Black Guardian. The Guardian wants Turlough to kill the Doctor; Turlough just wants peace. Therefore, when Turlough deliberately causes the TARDIS to land, Tegan is outraged. The Doctor and Nyssa, however, take it in stride; and Nyssa recognizes their landing place as the Gardens of the Dead, a cemetery world covered in dust that has a unique property: It shapes itself into the form of the beloved, departed dead, allowing the mourners to have a moment of closure. The Doctor refuses to go out into the dust, for personal reasons. However, Nyssa goes out, longing to see her father again; and Tegan follows. The Guardian prompts Turlough to kill the Doctor here, but Turlough resists. They quickly discover a kind of psychic parasite in the dust, which tries to use the dust to choke and kill the mourners. Turlough slips and allows Nyssa to know about the Guardian’s demand that the Doctor be killed; but before she can reveal it to the Doctor, she slips and hits her head. The parasite attacks first an old man nearby, then Nyssa, and at last the Doctor, forcing Turlough to make a choice. Defying the Guardian, he returns to the TARDIS, ultimately stumbling into a room that looks just like the gardens, but without the dust; there he finds a water hose, and sprays the dust away from the others, saving their lives. As the planet’s caretakers come in to clean up, the group departs in the TARDIS; fortunately for Turlough, Nyssa doesn’t remember anything of the day’s events.
I’m fond of the Fifth Doctor’s TARDIS team, and especially of Turlough, who I feel is underrated as a companion. Therefore it was inevitable I was going to at least enjoy this story. It makes for an excellent followup to a previous Short Trip, The Toy, which was released the previous year, and focuses on Nyssa. Both stories address the topic of her grief regarding the Master’s takeover of the body of Nyssa’s father, Tremas. This time, though, we see it through Turlough’s eyes; and we see the full measure of the conflict he felt while trying to serve the Black Guardian. You get the impression he’s nearly at the turning point here, though the resolution of the story essentially allows him to put the choice off a little longer (the story takes place between Mawdryn Undead and Terminus, so actually closer to the beginning of Turlough’s arc). For all that the story concerns the Fifth Doctor, his role here is limited; were this an episode, it would be a Doctor-lite story. Still, it doesn’t suffer for that; the dynamic among Turlough, Tegan, and Nyssa is good enough to carry the story.
Continuity references: Just a few, but they’re major. There are several references to the events of Mawdryn Undead, especially with regard to Turlough’s deal with the Black Guardian. As well, Nyssa speaks at length regarding her father and the Master (The Keeper of Traken). The Black Guardian’s anger at the Doctor stretches back to the events of the Key to Time story arc.
Written by Ben Tedds; Read by Jacob Dudman
This story was the winning entry of the 2019 Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trip Opportunity, and can be downloaded for free from Big Finish’s website.
On Dowdonia, a man named Dracksil Forg specializes in ideas. He has made his fortune selling solutions to problems; but lately, perhaps having grown a little greedy, he has begun to cultivate a new clientele: Those who want to rule over others. Warlords and dictators come to him, and he sells them plans, which are inevitably successful…until suddenly they aren’t. It begins with one rather intimidating shark-headed customer, whose plan of conquest backfired spectacularly–but that’s only the beginning. Soon he realizes that there’s a common thread to the failed plans: A grey-haired gentleman who calls himself the Doctor. At last, with Dracksil’s name, reputation, and fortune on the line, he comes face to face with the Doctor…who reveals that Dracksil is, and has ever been, a thief and an opportunist. The ideas don’t come from him; they come from the customers. Dracksil is mildly psychic; he sieves ideas from the people around him like a net collects fish, and replaces them with a psychic lure that brings them into his shop in search of answers. And that would be fine, except that his powers are being used for evil by the various warlords. However, as the Doctor points out, he faces a choice: Stay, be arrested, possibly killed; or leave, forge a new identity and a new life, and use his powers for good.
Big Finish has very little Twelfth Doctor material, so there’s not much to which to compare this story. It’s a slow starter; it’s late in the story before the Doctor is even mentioned–but that’s alright. When he appears, it’s sans companions (a requirement for the Paul Spragg Memorial Opportunity); combining that with a description of his short hair would indicate that this story takes place during Series Eight, between the Doctor’s adventures with Clara Oswald. The story is clever and to the point, and fits the Twelfth Doctor’s no-nonsense, blunt manner very well. Regarding the presentation, Jacob Dudman does a passable impersonation of the Twelfth Doctor’s accent and manner; he sounds as though the Doctor has a cold, but otherwise, it’s convincing.
Continuity References: None to speak of. This isn’t a reflection on the story, but rather, on the contest for which it was written. Due to rights issues, stories presented as part of the Paul Spragg opportunity are not permitted to use previous companions or monsters; this usually causes the submissions to be isolated from most of the series’ lore.
Written by Ian Atkins; Read by Sarah Sutton
We’re on an “x of the dead” kick with the Fifth Doctor, apparently!
London, 1982: The TARDIS materializes onstage in the middle of the debut showing of The King of the Dead, an interactive play based on the events of the king’s abdication in the 1930s. Immediately the team gets separated by a staff member, Patrick, who seems to know more than he lets on. The Doctor finds himself giving medical attention to an injured man–and in the process he discovers a swarm of spiderlike, extradimensional aliens who seem to feed on the minds of humans. Nyssa and Tegan, meanwhile, learn that there’s something odd about Patrick. When the group manages to reunite, they put their heads together and learn the truth. Patrick’s father was a member of UNIT, who died in an unknown operation. Patrick, seeking revenge, joined UNIT himself, and discovered both the aliens and the means to bring them into this reality. Now, he intends to unleash him on the more than six hundred audience members, creating a crisis which UNIT can’t hide, and discrediting the agency. However, Nyssa tells him about her own desire for revenge on behalf of her father–and how she had at last come to forgive the Master, who murdered her father and took his body. Faced with a new choice, Patrick refuses to help the aliens, and returns them to the place from which they came.
The King of the Dead is a much more complex story than I expected from the Short Trips range, with more mystery and more action. On those points I can’t fault it–it’s an exciting story. It also adds to the theme we had in Gardens of the Dead, regarding Nyssa’s grief over her father, Tremas. This is an older, more mature Nyssa (not by much, I gather, but enough to make her mention it–I admit I’m not entire clear on the chronology, having skipped far ahead in her story to get here), and it shows. The trade-off for all of these high points, is that the story is chaotically put together. We leap straight into the action with no explanation at all, and it takes a few minutes to catch up enough to realize what’s happening. From there, we bounce between viewpoints and scenes erratically, until we arrive at the ending a little sooner than we expected. It almost feels like a found-footage film in that regard–just a little shaky, a little random. In the end, that’s not enough to ruin the story; you should definitely give it a listen.
Continuity References: There’s a fair bit of discussion, again, of Tremas and the Master (The Keeper of Traken) and of Traken’s destruction (Logopolis). The play is based around the 1936 abdication of King Edward VIII, which is also mentioned in the Sixth Doctor novel Players. Reference is made to the Brigadier (various UNIT stories) and to the UNIT vault (Tales from the Vault; The Scales of Justice). The Doctor mentions his exile on Earth (Spearhead from Space and most of the Third Doctor era). At the start of the story, the Doctor was attempting to reach the 2012 Olympics; he eventually visits them in later incarnations (Fear Her; Good as Gold).
And that’s it for today! Next time: Who knows? Thanks for reading.
All stories presented here can be purchased from the Big Finish Productions website. Individual sale pages have been linked at the titles, above.