Short Trips (audio)
Earth and Beyond
Out of Darkness
A Collection of Short Stories
|ISBN||0 563 40560 0|
|Synopsis: A collection of stories from the BBC books range featuring the Doctor in all eight of his incarnations....|
A Review by Robert Smith? 30/1/99
The Doctor Who short story has never had a particularly successful career. Every single Decalog has contained some of the worst fiction ever published under the Doctor Who name. This had usually been tempered only slightly by having one or two utterly brilliant or standout stories in each collection. With the BBC's first short story collection, there are the inevitable comparisons to Virgin's output. So just how did the BBC do when compared to Virgin's failures?
Sadly, the answer is that the BBC can't master the art of the short story any more than Virgin could.
Short Trips starts off unintentionally amusing. The BBC Books' typos have now made their way to the back cover, which perhaps should have been some hint as to the volume's (lack of) quality. Steven Cole's introduction seems quite earnest and agreeable, until you realise that his aim of making the reader unaware of the lengths of each of the stories is rather undercut by the fact that he included a table of contents, complete with page numbers, only one page previously. Once again, this should have been a hint that the collection might appeal to people who haven't yet mastered the art of subtraction, but would be somewhat lacking for the rest of us.
"Model Train Set" - A good choice to begin the collection (fooling the reader into thinking the rest of the stories will be this good). It's very clever and very interesting... right up until the point where the story decides to point out to the reader just how clever it's being (probably for those readers having problems with their subtraction again). In the best Tegan tradition, the story feels the need to point out that the metaphor is actually a metaphor. I wouldn't mind having my intelligence insulted -- if this were a story by Terrance Dicks. But it isn't. What had the potential to be a truly great story is let down by a lack of subtlety and reduced to merely being good. I actually came away with a bad taste after reading it, but this was only alleviated by reading the other stories and realising that at least this one had the potential to be great.
"Old Flames " - It's passable (barely) but one is left with the feeling of "What's the point?" This story seems all over the place, trying to be many things and succeeding at none of them. I'm left with the feeling of not looking forward to Magrs forthcoming novel at all if it's anything like this.
"War Crimes" - The pain. The sheer, unbridled pain of it all. It's been pointed out that the only good thing about this story is that it's short, but as I had whole years of my life taken off from this travesty, I can only shudder in fear to think what would happen if it were longer. When I finally finished this story, I never wanted to read anything ever again. The only possible explanation for this story I can think of is that Bucher-Jones has some sort of death-wish and is perversely hoping to be tried for the war crimes of writing this story. If so, I'll happily serve on the jury. My friends sometimes laugh at me for enjoying Doctor Who and I can go to great lengths to point out that it's not what they think at all, that's it's clever and well done and far better than anyone thinks. After this story, I think I'm going to keep very, very quiet in the future...
"The Last Days" - An intriguing idea, let down by the fact that we've seen it all before, only better. This felt like a cross between Jim Mortimore's mini-epic, "The Book of Shadows", in the first Decalog and Matthew Jones' "The Nine-Day Queen" in the second, yet lacked the sparkle of either. Having Barbara been unconscious for the last few weeks seems an awfully contrived way to cut the story down to the required length. Still, I'm not complaining: if this were written by Paul Leonard, we'd have had it all in excruciating detail.
"Stop the Pigeon" - A story that is neither as clever nor as amusing as it wants (and needs) to be. I read this story before I read Illegal Alien, "Pigeon" just ended up pushing that novel further down on my reading schedule. There's also lots and lots of continuity thrown in for no real reason. The back cover blurb also gives away the identity of the villain in the next story once you've read this one. Oh, and there was absolutely no point to the epilogue.
"Freedom" - This really should be a lot better than it is. When the main comment that comes to mind about a story is that it's sub-Falls the Shadow, you know you're in trouble. On the plus side, Lyons gets the third Doctor and Jo down very well, but the Master is more Ainley than Delgado.
"Glass" - At last! This was a great story, I really enjoyed this one. Written very well, it had a flow to it that, unlike every other story in this collection, made the reader actually want to keep turning the pages. It also knows just how long to be (ie not very) and stops at a natural point. Not quite brilliant, but easily the best story in the collection (and it's actually good, as well!).
"Mondas Passing" - Like so many stories in this collection, this had a good idea let down by the lack of talent of the author. Ben's characterisation is quite good, although Polly's feels a little off to me. However, there's a pivotal moment towards the end of the story that is written with such a lack of emphasis that I literally blinked and missed it. This really need to be emphasised, not played down, making it look like the author didn't really understand his own story.
"There are Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden" - and that's where this story should be, not being published. I shudder to think of the quality of the rejected stories if things like this and "War Crimes" make it through. At least this one's short. Come back Decalogs, all is forgiven!
"Mother's Little Helper" - I quite liked this one. Matthew Jones has far too much talent to be writing for this collection. His description of the second Doctor is original and utterly brilliant. This is the first time I've actually seen the second Doctor I adored on TV captured even slightly well in print and Matt even makes it seem effortless.
"The Parliament of Rats" - Ho hum. Something is seriously wrong with the universe when a Daniel O'Mahoney story inspires not gasps of awe or great controversy, but merely boredom. Plus, it never seems to end, even though it's not as long as some of the other stories.
"Rights" - In my review of Dogleg 5, I pointed out that there should be absolutely no way anyone (I'll make an exception if it's Steve Moffatt) should be allowed to write more than one short story in the same collection. It's never truer than it is here. I can only suppose that there were some last minute cancellations and this was written in a hurry. It looks as though somebody made a bet with Paul Grice to see if he could write a short story where the Doctor utters the words "sperm count" and "aborting the foetus and snaffling it up for later use". It's a pity no one tried to make a bet with him to see if he could actually write a decent short story (and no, I wouldn't make that bet either).
"Wish You Were Here" - It's not offensively bad, so that automatically makes this one of the better stories in Short Trips . Colin's Doctor is captured very well and the idea is reasonable, but it never really shines. The ending is also rather distasteful and for no real reason.
"Ace of Hearts" - It's less than five pages long, but I'm still going to invoke my rule about multiple stories from the same people. There's no point to this story that hasn't been made a thousand times in the NAs and it looks as though the story was actually written around the desire to give Audrey a surname that makes this the most downright offensive in-joke since David McIntee's "Housewarming".
"The People's Temple" - Somebody should really explain to Paul Leonard that there's a actually difference between a short story and a novel. The story itself isn't actually awful (although the prologue - at no less than four pages - is), but it just goes on and on and on and on and on... There's nothing said here that couldn't be said in half the space. On the bright side, I didn't actually mind Sam so much (despite acts of gross stupidity throughout that never seem to bother the Doctor). But for crying out loud, this thing has a four page prologue, no less than eight chapters and an epilogue! Give it a rest, already...
So there you have it. Another dismal failure in the Doctor Who short story collections series. Collect the whole set. There's one great story ("Glass"), two decent ones ("Model Train Set" and "Mother's Little Helper"), a bunch of barely readable crap and then there's "War Crimes". Not only are some of the worse stories on par with the worst of the Decalogs, there's no correspondingly brilliant story to alleviate the experience. If it weren't for Decalog 5, this would be the worst short story collection I've ever read.
I recommend this book to the only people it seems to be aimed at: those with trouble grasping the concepts of spelling and subtraction (since those with trouble grasping the concept of the short story all appear to have written for it). And god help us, I just know there are going to be sequels...
A Review by Sean Gaffney 25/11/99
I dunno, maybe I was in the wrong mood when I read this. It just didn't seem to be as good as the other anthologies. That being said, there's were some standouts...
Model Train Set: Nice start to the volume, with a lovely story illustrating both his desire to be different from his predecessors and the danger that can lead to. Very 8th Doctor. 9/10.
Old Flames: On the one hand, the Doctor and Sarah were well done, and the young couple was interesting. On the other hand, the story dragged a lot, and Iris was so obnoxious I wanted the creature to kill her. 5/10.
War Crimes: Boy, this was dull. 4/10.
The Last Days: This, on the other hand, rocked. Yes, it's been done before, but who cares? Everyone was beautifully characterized, the angst was incredible, the plot rolled along to its remorseless conclusion... Wow. 10/10.
Stop the Pigeon: This one was too complex for its own good, had one too many villains, a rather faceless Doctor and Ace, and didn't even MENTION Dastardly and Muttly, despite the title. 5/10.
Freedom: Well, it's a generic Third Doctor story, but at least it's a GOOD generic Third Doctor story. Everyone done well, plot interesting, and a nice Klein bottle of a prison. 7/10.
Glass: Ouch. If I say the Fourth Doctor and Romana were characterised superbly here, I risk getting flamed, but they WERE. Easily the most disturbing story in the collection. 8/10.
Mondas Passing: Short, tries to be sweet, but doesn't quite make it. 5/10.
There Are Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden: An odd duck, the first of two in this one, this was very well told, but seemed a bit...distant. Unemotional. Oh well. 6/10.
Mother's Little Helper: Meh. 5/10.
The Parliament of Rats: Leave it to Dan O'Mahony to write something this bizarre. The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa are characterised differently (VERY differently), but I didn't find it annoying or wrong. And the plot was intriguing. 8/10.
Rights: Meh 2: Electric Boogaloo. 5/10.
Wish You Were Here: The plot leaves something to be desired, but the Sixth Doctor is written so well that it elevates it. 7/10.
Ace of Hearts: Short, tries to be sweet, works a it better than Mondas Passing. 6/10.
The People's Temple: Incredibly dull, Sam tries to be worthy, I ended up skipping over huge gouts of text... What a way to end a collection. 2/10.
Overall: This collection just didn't work overall for me. There were a few excellent stories, a couple of dogs, but the big problem is the DULLNESS of so many. It took be a long time to struggle thruogh this, and it's an ANTHOLOGY, with easy breaks. Not a good sign.
So, Great job to Evan Pritchard and Jon Blum, good job to a couple of others, but still...
A Review by Alan Thomas 27/4/01
So, there you have it. A rather bland collection onthe whole, but it does contain a few good stories.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 18/2/04
A different publisher promised a renewed hope in the short story medium. Decalogs from Virgin had been a mixed bag. There were moments of excellence, but the majority of stories were forgettable and unlikely to live in the memory that long. Edited by Stephen Cole, the first BBC Books short story anthology looked terrific. With all the Doctors on, it really had be bought for the cover alone. It remains one of the best covers for any DW book.
The authors were a mixture again of established, old and new. I still hadn't read any fan fiction anthologies, but it was time to read some short stories again. I was confident of the standard, because the BBC Books novels had been better than the Virgin novels generally.
Model Train Set by Jonathan Blum
We begin with a delightful tale of the 8th Dr and his train set. I never owned one of these, but plenty of my friends did. I admired their enthusiasm, even though I never shared it. Having a train set seemed totally in keeping with this Doctor's personality. There's some lovely writing too, and my initial hope for this anthology looks to be being paid off. 9/10
Old Flames by Paul Magrs
Forever installed this will be as Iris Wildthymes first excursion into DW. The character leaps off the page with her vitality, it was no surprise that she has returned again and again. The 4th Dr and Sarah-Jane are the fellow attendees of the ball, and Magrs flowery descriptions make the setting superb. Another hit. 8/10
War Crimes by Simon Bucher-Jones
The end of The War Games, with its wiping of the companion's memories, is the inspiration here. Unfortunately though the focus is away from the 2nd Dr, Jamie and Zoe, and towards Ossu-Male - a soldier suffering deprogramming problems. I couldn't relate to him at all, and only the 2nd Dr's involvement makes this worthwhile. 6/10
The Last Days by Even Pritchard
A historical 1st Dr story may not be the most original entry into this book, but it feels right, and it is nicely written. There's a real tragedy at the heart of this 1st Dr, Susan, Ian and Barbara tale - and I found it intriguing. 8/10
Stop the Pigeon by Mike Tucker
Tucker and Perry continue their personal mission to dominate the 7th Dr and Ace's missing adventures with this lighthearted tale. There's a lot in there too, resulting in a higher page count. Shapeshifters, Krynoids, Talking Pigeons, and a return for the Master. Entertaining stuff. 8/10
Freedom by Steve Lyons
A story fully in keeping with the 3rd Dr, Jo, UNIT, Master season. There's plenty of double-crossing, and following of dubious causes - this is classic 70s TV - it translates pretty well to the printed page too. 7/10
Glass by Tara Samms
Rather a solemn tale of alien possession this featuring the 4th Dr and 2nd Romana. It's rather creepy too, which isn't a bad thing. The collection continues to diversify well. 7/10
Mondas Passing by Paul Grice
Exactly the sort of side-step that I want to see. A wonderful very short insight into a future Ben and Polly. Sensitively written. Terrific all round. 10/10
There Are Fairies at the Bottom of My Garden by Sam Lester
This is very weird. The 1st Dr and Dodo materialize in a disease ridden world. Turns out to be something very different. Quite trippy and more Summer of Love than anything DW has thus produced. Didn't like it at all. 4/10
Mother's Little Helper by Matthew Jones
The real world reasserts itself, with a cameo from the 2nd Dr. Rolling Stones song rolling about in my head the whole time, this is an adult tale, with a downbeat ending. Didn't leave me feeling that wonderful, but it's a good story. 6/10
The Parliament of Rats by Daniel O'Mahony
A disjointed planet sees the 5th Dr and Nyssa play in Constantine's fantasy. The title refers to a spaceship. Rather a strange story this one, and I can't see I enjoyed it very much. 5/10
Rights by Paul Grice
The 4th Dr and Sarah-Jane as animal rights activists motivates this tale. Rather political message rammed home here - Grice should stick to short side-steps like Mondas Passing. 4/10
Wish You Were Here by Guy Clapperton
This leisure complex story with the 6th Dr feels like Terror of the Vervoids. I heard this one (by Nicola Bryant), rather than read it - and I can't say it justified that treatment. Very ordinary story. 5/10
Ace of Hearts by Mike Tucker
A nice little side step with the 7th Dr and Ace's mother. It serves as a nice addition to Curse of Fenric. 8/10
The People's Temple by Paul Leonard
This is another one I heard rather than read. It was so wonderful to hear Paul McGann be involved in Who I just loved it! The story itself is rather good, focusing around Stonehenge as it does. Definitely one of the best of the collection. 9/10
A couple of the above stories I heard on audio readings (Out of Darkness and Earth and Beyond), but I never have heard the actual Short Trips audio collection. This was read by Nick Courtney and Sophie Aldred enthusiastically apparently.
The first BBC Books short story collection is rather good. There's still the odd dud, but most hit their mark quite well and effectively. Hopefully the next will be as good, or better. 7/10
Around the World in Eight Doctors by Andrew Feryok 8/6/12
I'll keep the introduction short as the individual story reviews speak for themselves. I was surprised by how negative reviews were for this volume prior to reading it. Yet I found this to be a solid and enjoyable collection of stories. In fact, compared to More Short Trips, this is remarkably consistent in prose writing and each author at least chose some interesting scenarios for the different incarnations to tackle. There did seem to be a problem with the length of many of the stories as I think several authors got carried away thinking they were writing novellas instead of short stories, but nothing was poorly written (except War Crimes). The three standouts from the volume were easily the Last Days, Freedom, and Wish You Were Here. In particular, The Last Days was extremely moving and well written. I can't wait to see more from Evan Pritchard and hope that he can find time to do a fully fledged book in the future as he definitely has a talent for these things. The worst stories of the volume were definitely War Crimes, Mondas Passing and The Ace of Hearts. All three were heavy on continuity and low on actual thought as to what they were doing.
So without further ado, here are the individual reviews:
Model Train Set
I was dreading this story a little bit. Having read More Short Trips which started with a short Eighth Doctor character piece, I was beginning to think this was going to be the same. To my great surprise, Jonathan Blum has written a marvelous little character piece that opens the volume splendidly. Stephen Cole mentioned in his introduction that the theme he wanted for this volume was "freedom" and that is exactly what this story is about: the Eighth Doctor giving a sense of freedom, independence and creative thought to his model train set. It's interesting how the train set becomes not only a reflection of the different personalities of the Doctor over the years, but in the end becomes a metaphor of his own life, especially when the Doctor gives the train set freewill and he discovers that without his constantly watching it and helping it, it spins out into chaos and destruction. The Eighth Doctor in this story is given a rather interesting personality: a person who tires of having to watch over the universe all the time and longing for the simpler days when he was just an observer marveling at the wonders and splendors of the universe. But over so many regenerations and personalities, he has grown to become a caretaker to the universe and this incarnation is going through almost a mid-life crisis longing for simpler times. This is a marvelous little character piece that any fan of the show will absolutely adore. 8/10
This is one of the longer stories of the volume and divided into four parts. I've normally associated Paul Magrs with post-modern writing that usually doesn't make much sense (at least to me). But here Magrs presents a straightforward story and it is absolutely fantastic! He captures the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith during their Season 14 height to a tee. While we don't get much of a feel for the time period (I kept imagining the 1820s instead of the 1760s), Magrs makes up for it with a great wintry setting and some fantastic characters. His descriptions are vivid and exciting. Lady Huntington feels like an evil old crone who is glowering and waiting to bite your head of if you go anywhere near her granddaughter. But easily the show stealer is Iris Wildthyme. I've never really been a fan of this character, but I have to admit that in her first-ever outing, she's quite enjoyable. She gives the Doctor a run for his money, almost like a female version of the Meddling Monk who is out to not only tamper with history, but tamper in it for her own pleasure and selfishness. In fact, I could easily see her being the girlfriend of Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee's Doctors. Her wacky, arrogant, larger-than-life personality makes her a perfect match for the Doctor in this period. I would be quite interested to see how she would fare alongside the zany Tom Baker of the Williams era. THAT would be an interesting character story with maybe some jealous bitching between Iris and Romana. I was rather surprised how Iris ends up treating her companion in the end. Essentially she leaves him broken in body and abandoned in time and space once he is of no further use to her. Perhaps this is why the Doctor and Iris broke up all those years ago? She can't hold friendships because she only thinks of herself and her TARDIS and would sell or kill anything else that got in her way. And although the Doctor also seems to abandon him at the end of the story, I'm sure he would have taken responsibility for getting him home if it wasn't for the fact that he knew he was in love with Bella and would have a much better life with her. On the whole, this is a great story. The longer length gives the story room to breathe and presents us with great characters, atmosphere, and enough mystery to keep you turning the pages. The way this volume is shaping up, I can't wait to see what is next! 9/10
After two great stories, the volume stumbles a bit on Simon Bucher-Jones' War Crimes. What exactly is this story about and why should I care? These two questions kept tumbling through my head as I attempted to make heads or tails of this short story. To begin with, it's never made clear whether this is Earth in some primordial time or whether this is an alien planet. There are no real characters in the story other than Coloth who gets skinned alive as soon as we meet him. We never even get a name for the creature that has been thrown back to his planet by the Time Lords. Worst of all is that the Doctor and friends don't even appear until the very, very end. And then, it seems to be only a token appearance. Bucher-Jones at least captures the three regulars well, but no sooner do they arrive and take interest in the dead mutant in the ocean than they have to run away from the Time Lords. There is some sort of attempt to draw an impact on the Doctor at the end, but I don't buy it. For all I can tell, this story was mostly written to reconcile the Time Lords of The Deadly Assassin with the Time Lords of The War Games and show that the omnipotent Time Lords of The War Games were just as corrupt and inept as the ones from the Robert Holmes classic. On the whole, this is just a bit of poor filler for the volume. Such a shame since the Second Doctor is my favorite incarnation. 3/10
The Last Days
After a small dip with War Crimes, the collection skyrockets with Evan Pritchard's The Last Days. This is, hands down, one of the best Doctor Who short stories I have ever read and I could easily imagine it being expanded into a full multi-episode story for TV. The story showcases the Hartnell era at what it does best: adventures in history. In this case, Pritchard tackles one of the more gruesome parts of Roman history: the mass suicide of Jewish rebels during the siege of Masada. It's actually an historical event that I'm surprised had not been tackled before. But then the whole noble suicide issue would have been too strong for TV. In fact, it may still be too strong for modern TV! All of the regulars are captured to a tee, but the heart and soul of the story is Ian and Barbara. Never before has their romance been treated in such an adult fashion. They love each other, but this isn't the laughing, playful love of the season 2 story The Romans, but is summed up best by Barbara in one scene when she asks Ian if he would love her so much that he would have killed her in order to keep her out of the fate of being a Roman slave. This story also reopens the whole issue of interfering in time and references strongly what Barbara went through in The Aztecs. But in many ways, what Barbara went through in that classic story is nothing compared to what Ian has to endure here. He has spent well over a month helping the rebels in Masada repel the Romans and given hope to their cause. Then it's all snatched away by the inevitability of history and he is then forced to bloody his hands as he is chosen to be the one to kill the others and be the last survivor at Masada. Ian has never been explored this deeply before in a story. Usually it's Barbara who goes through the emotional journey and character development, but here Ian gets to be front and center and more than just a man of action. He has to confront the fundamental nature of who he is as a person and his bedrock belief that where there is life there is hope. He is not the same man when he emerges at the end and the story is better for it. I also like the character of Elezear. Throughout most of the story we assume, like the Romans, that he is just a cult fanatic enacting cult justice on his followers. But in fact, Elezear spares Ian because he knows that Ian doesn't want to die and that it is a sin to kill someone who doesn't want to die. He also acknowledges everything that Ian has done to keep their hope alive in their darkest hour. I cannot even begin to describe how much I love and adore this story. It is easily in my top ten short stories now and should not ever be missed by fans. 11/10!
Stop the Pigeon
This was a really good Seventh Doctor and Ace story. I admit that around this time it was getting tiring that Robert Perry and Mike Tucker seemed to be the sole writers of anything Seventh Doctor, but at least they were good on plot. I love the fact that they went out of their way to write a Master story. So few authors make use of the Master that it's such a shock to see him used as the main villain in a dastardly time-bending plot. And the Master cooks up a doozy in this one! Posing as a leading scientist, he claims to turn the elderly back into babies and get a new lease of life. Little do they realize that these babies are actually those individuals being stolen out of time at birth and being given to their family in the future, thus creating massive time paradoxes. All in the name of saving the Master from the Cheetah virus. I also love the fact that they continue the whole Cheetah virus thing from Survival, since that is where the character last left off. However, I can't rate this as a classic for two reasons. One, it is WAY too long for a short story. I almost felt like they should have either cut this story down or expanded it into a novella. Second is the Krynoids. Now I will admit that the Krynoids are a favorite monster of mine. The Seeds of Doom is one of my favorite stories and I am itching for the series to re-explore these creatures. Unfortunately, we don't get that here. We learn nothing new about them and they seem solely there to stretch out the story and mount on the threat to the Doctor and the Master. In fact, I think it's because of this that the whole story gets dragged out longer then it should. It's almost like this was one of their unused ideas for a novel that they couldn't get to expand into a full book, so they just slapped it into a short story volume. But they should have just cut out the Krynoids and focused on the Doctor/Master conflict which was much better thought out and much more interesting. So great story overall, but I don't think Tucker and Perry have quite got the idea of what "short" story means. 7/10
So far, the collection has had great momentum and we get another fantastic story from Steve Lyons this time. This story manages to capture wonderfully the feel of the UNIT family era. You have the Doctor arguing with the Brigadier, the Master whispering sarcasms to Benton while under arrest, you have the Master running around in disguise causing mischief with his latest inventions and you even have the Time Lords using the Doctor as a pawn. The story is very much about the Third Doctor's exile and his angst over being confined to one planet and one time. At several points in the story, the Doctor compares his exile to the Master's confinement to a prison cell or Jo's later feelings of anxiety as they are trapped in the Arbrocknel construct. The Doctor actually manages to feel sympathy for the Master's desire to escape imprisonment and argues at the story's opening for the Brigadier to provide a humane cell with some semblance of freedoms even though he realizes in the end that the Master would exploit any small sliver of freedom to escape. The Doctor even later gets a beautiful moral dilemma as he has an opportunity to flee from the Time Lords with his exile lifted and go into a wandering renegade lifestyle as he had done during his first two incarnations. Or he could go back to Earth and save it from certain destruction but in the process lose his freedom. In the end, he does make the right decision, but for a good while Jo and the reader are actually convinced by Lyons that the Doctor may be so desperate for his freedom that he may be willing to let the Earth burn to a cinder for it. After all, he nearly did it in The Claws of Axos as well. A fantastic story that captures the era perfectly, the characters are well recreated, and the author even manages to go beyond simply providing the basic surface details and really gets into the issues and themes of that particular period of the show. 10/10
You would think that you would know what you are getting when you have a story set in Season 17 with the Fourth Doctor and Lalla Ward's Romana. It's obviously going to be a wacky, over-the-top, comedy story in the style of City of Death and The Horns of Nimon. But Stephen Cole... I mean Tara Samms... has presented us with the complete opposite. This is a highly disturbing story about the mental breakdown of an ordinary, unnamed shop assistant. She is just content to be ordinary and get by in life, but the sudden disruption that comes when she can see a mysterious face watching her from a glass window becomes too much. She at first tries to ignore it as being part of her overworking. But as the faces start to appear in anything glass that she sees, it starts to eat at her paranoia until she becomes a nervous wreck who is driving friends, family and colleagues away in droves. One of the interesting things is how the story takes a different perspective to the Doctor and Romana from Season 17. We're used to seeing them flippant and silly, but what is it like for someone real and frightened to death suddenly meeting these flippant characters? Suddenly, the Doctor and Romana aren't funny any more. They just end up being strange and aloof. This isn't the Fourth Doctor as we typically know him. He isn't the warm, heroic uncle figure who is going to reassure us that everything is going to be okay. Although the Doctor tries to show sympathy towards her, since the story is written from her perspective, none of the Doctor's humor and warmth comes through. She only sees him for one thing: someone who believes her and understands her. The story comes to a rather quick end, especially when the Doctor and Romana finally show up. This is one of the shorter stories in the volume, but I was riveted from page to page. A disturbingly new perspective of the comedic season 17 style. 9/10
I really dislike these types of stories. There seems to be a trend in the short story collections to write stories about the companions after they have left the Doctor and portraying them as having broken and unfulfilled lives. More Short Trips had two of these: Missing and Good Companions. This volume has Mondas Passing, a story about middle-aged Ben Jackson and Polly Wright in the year 1986 when the events of The Tenth Planet were unfolding. I did like the idea of a companion going through their normal lives and trying to be present or alert when they know an event is about to occur that they had a hand in stopping when they were time travelers. But the relationship between Ben and Polly here is strange. You would think that after everything they went through from The War Machines to The Faceless Ones that they would have become lovers and gotten married, or at the very least stayed friends and lived their lives out together in that manner. But Paul Grice instead hints that there was some sort of rift between them in the intervening years and they haven't seen each other since. They both lie to their families and sneak away to see each other almost like they are committing adultery. But why? Why do they subject themselves to this? Why didn't they stay friends? Surely it must be easier than sneaking around. Did they really hate each other that much that they've stayed away from each other like that all these years? The way Polly hightails it out of the apartment, you would think she's some old girlfriend who just wants to end their relationship once and for all. These are not the people I recognized as being friends of the Doctor and each other. There's certainly stuff you can get out of it (almost seeing the story as a metaphor for the real life actors) but I just disliked this interpretation of Ben and Polly and the aftermath of their lives. 4/10
There Are Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden
This is a strange story, but also a wondrous one. It reminds me of some of the imaginative sci-fi worlds that the Hartnell years used to visit like Vortis in The Web Planet or Aridius in The Chase. Worlds so completely alien that we could not even begin to understand them. This sense of the alien has been lost over the years as TV producers have wanted audiences to actually be able to relate to the aliens on the screen. But Sam Lester takes us back to a different time in Doctor Who's history. His choice of pairing the Doctor with Dodo is an interesting one. Dodo is easily one of the very worst companions in the series. Her joining scene was tacked on and awkward at the end of The Massacre and her leaving was abrupt and off screen in The War Machines. And even though most of the stories she was in do survive, she still remains largely unknown to fans. I happened to have seen some of her surviving material and was struck that Lester takes a different approach to the character. Lester's Dodo is more like that of a typical teenager. In fact she reminded me a lot of Sam from the BBC Book Eighth Doctor adventures. She pouts and doesn't seem to like where they are traveling. She lacks the Doctor's curiosity in the surrounding world and just wants to get back to the TARDIS. But at least some of the explorer in her does come out when she discovers the crystal garden and fairies. The Doctor doesn't appear much in the story, but when he does, he is completely true to form as the grouchy, but well-meaning Doctor. Although I don't think he would have just up and left Dodo wandering around in a place he's never been before. The imagery of the story is breathtaking. From the strange blind monster that feels along the wall with tentacle hands and the rancid organic tunnels to the beautiful crystal surface, the story gives us a gorgeous alien world to explore. The story itself is a bit slight, but the revelation as to what the planet truly is is so worth the read that I won't spoil it. Both the First Doctor stories in this volume have been winners and while this might not be in the same league as The Last Days, it is certainly a good story. 8/10
Mother's Little Helper
This is a really good story and far better than the previous Second Doctor story in this volume. We never really learn who the mysterious boy and his pursuing "mother" is, but they make great characters and we learn all we need to know about them through their actions in the story. Matthew Jones does a great job pacing the story so that it is just long enough without going overboard and gets us to be emotionally involved in the story. A lot of this has to do with the character of Nanci. She doesn't come across as likeable initially, since she's basically a teenage girl living in anger over the betrayal of her boyfriend and best friend, which is clearly understandable, but not going to win any friends. But we do get to learn a lot about her past and her emotions. Her moving to a new country and not knowing how to fit in. We learn about her mom's divorce and her shaky relationship with her mom who seems more concerned about sticking her nose into textbooks about teenage emotions than actually interacting with a real teenager. In fact, one of the telling moments is when she explains about the telescope in her room. It was a treasured rare present from her father and her mother flipped out about it because it was expensive and he hadn't made his alimony payment. The villainess in the story is also great. Once again, we don't learn a great deal about her, but through her actions we can speculate about the cruelty of her race; how they exploit empathic children and selfishly use someone else to dump all their emotional problems on rather than dealing with them on their own. In fact, if such beings or an analogous technology ever developed on Earth, I could easily see humanity evolving into spoiled monsters like this woman. I thought Matthew Jones overplayed the childishness of the Second Doctor a bit much and he doesn't seem to be as powerful a manipulator as he once was. He pretty much does nothing in this story but make futile talk to the mysterious woman. He can clearly see that she's not going to listen to him or listen to reason at all, but rather than coming up with a plan to deal with her, he just goes on making futile arguments until Nanci and the little boy eventually intervene and handle the problem for him. But, it is still nice to see the Second Doctor and he even describes him exactly like he is in The Two Doctors! On the whole, a good story and well worth the read. 9/10
The Parliament of Rats
This story should have come across a lot better than it did with me. For some strange reason, this one by Daniel O'Mahony just didn't excite me or demand that I read further. I had to lumber my way through it and I'm still puzzling over why. The story has a great sense of imagination and horror. The idea of ghost ships piloting through time-wind-infested waters is a great concept, as is the idea of a time sensitive using ancient Gallifreyan technology to alter reality. I also like the idea that the ship is on a mission to destroy an ancient god and the revelation of what that god actually is. So with all these great ideas, why does the story feel so dull? First of all, the regulars aren't very well written. I'm beginning to wonder if O'Mahony wrote this as a Sixth Doctor and Peri story originally, because this doesn't feel like the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa at all. They don't seem to get along and are constantly snapping at each other. The Doctor doesn't even trust Nyssa and would rather confide in a complete stranger like Brunner than confide in Nyssa. Nyssa also spends a lot of the story worrying about how weak he has become since his regeneration and how little she trusts his ability to stand up to the evil at the heart of the story. And O'Mahony writes the "weak Fifth Doctor" extremely literally by having him crippled by a migraine headache at the beginning of the story which seems to vanish inexplicably later on without the author explaining why. The story is particularly long and doesn't feel like it has satisfactory space to tell its full story. This could have been expanded into a full length novel, but given how O'Mahony was interpreting things, I'm not so sure if it would have been a good read. So this is a middle of the road story. There are far worse stories in the volume, but it pales to some of the other better ones. 5/10
Like The Parliament of Rats, I found this to be a good story, but felt there was something unsatisfactory about it after finishing it. It left me wanting something but I don't know what. The story is one of the longer of the volume, but oddly it feels like it wants to be longer so as to get all its ideas out. On the positive side, I love the alien race of the Farrashians. They are an interesting race with a totally alien personality. Their internal politics as well as their seemingly racist views towards bipeds makes them more than just 2D allegories for human behavior, but a three dimensional race with a past and a future. Paul Grice captures the regulars to a tee. His depiction of the Fourth Doctor in his early period is particularly noteworthy. We often think of the Fourth Doctor these days as his silly Williams-era persona, and forget that there was a time when he was an actual serious character. And not only that, but he was a dark and brooding character as well with sparks of bright personality. Not only does he capture Tom Baker's verbal inflections, but he also gets his body language perfectly. His long stares into nothingness with a grim expression on his face. My favorite moment is when he shows up at the conference. He plops his floppy hat on Sarah's head, pulls an apple out of his shirt, bites into it, and then starts cheerfully offering it to delegates as they are entering the conference room. Sarah Jane seems more like her personality from when she was a companion to the Third Doctor, as she doesn't seem to have the rapport or trust with the Fourth Doctor that she had by this point in their travels. I guess ultimately what disappointed me the most was the ending. Paul Grice sets up this really interesting debate that parallels our own debate on abortion rights and brings up issues that led the Mondasians on the slippery slope to becoming Cybermen. But then just as the conference is getting underway, a giant robot comes seemingly out nowhere and conveniently disrupts the conference, kills off the two faction leaders, and leaves a vacuum for the Doctor to fill with new ideas. It doesn't really resolve any of the issues that the author brings up and the author seems to literally smash his way through to the end like the robot because he either didn't have enough space to fully flesh out the ideas, or couldn't think of a way out of the debate that was unfolding. On the whole, a solid story if a bit unsatisfactory for some reason. 6/10
Wish You Were Here
After two mediocre stories, the volume jumps back up to quality with Guy Clapperton's Wish You Were Here. The story itself is not especially deep. The Doctor visits a pleasure colony that's been warped and deals with a mad robot/computer. All the while dealing with mercenaries and tacky American tourists. What really sets this story apart is the Sixth Doctor and Lakksis. The story is marvelously written and has a definite wit about it. Clapperton seems to have discovered the secret to telling a Sixth Doctor story that David Stone and Colin Baker himself had previously discovered: play it for laughs! The Sixth Doctor is hilarious in this story with his bombastic personality and overconfidence playing well in the somewhat wacky surroundings. The entire opening of the story as a woman describes his horrible coat in exquisite detail before backing slowly from the room is a scream. He then proceeds to chase her rather casually all over the complex like Peppy-la-Pew while babbling on about roses. Then, after all this wackiness, he suddenly reveals with Sherlock-Holmes-type deductions that she is a heavily armed secret agent and entices her and the reader to come meet with him and learn more. Clapperton writes a charming and witty Doctor who steals the story completely and makes you want to read what else this guy is going to get up to. The mad robot Lakksis is also well played. While I found his quoting comedy cliches to be a bit grating, I loved his warped world view he has towards bringing people pleasure while denying people pain even if that pain (such as administering an insulin shot) could lead to something much more beneficial. And just when it seems that the Doctor may have taught Lakksis how some pain is necessary to people's normal functioning, leave it to a robot to take this lesson and twist it into something nastier! I was shocked by the stories' twist ending and the way in which Lakksis twists the Doctor's moral lesson into something even worse. Definitely one of the must-read stories of the volume. 10/10
The Ace of Hearts
This is quite possibly one of the shortest stories in the collection. It's also one of the most pointless. I will admit that I liked the way Perry and Tucker reconciled the clownish, spoon-playing Seventh Doctor with the brooding mastermind Seventh Doctor. They clearly know this character inside and out from having written so much about him and they make the transition from one version to the other seem very natural and part of the same person. However, the rest of the story is too slight to really make much of an impression. The story doesn't know if it wants to be about Ace's mom or the Doctor making a confession to the baby Ace in the middle of the night. Certainly, one or the other would have made a nice little "moment" to explore in a short story. But it feels like Perry and Tucker rushed this one and didn't give it much thought as both potential plots are made redundant and pointless and the story ultimately just becomes page filler. 4/10
The People's Temple
Short Trips closes out on a pretty solid story. I was actually thrilled to see the Eighth Doctor and Sam tackle an historical story and setting the story at Stonehenge was also an inspired idea. Paul Leonard does a nice job of capturing the Eighth Doctor. He's often a difficult character to pin down, either coming off as a one of the other Doctors thinly disguised or being so generic that he's uninteresting. Leonard makes him feel generic, but with enough mannerisms and behaviors to make him feel like McGann. Sam is really annoying in this story though and one of the reasons why I don't give this story a higher rating. Why on Earth does he travel with her? She blatantly disobeys him when he warns her not to interfere and then proceeds to stick her nose deeper and deeper into trouble, stirring events up, until I was cheering at the stories' end when Coyn finally slugged her across the face when she finally admits responsibility for everything. And when she does take responsibility, she does so in such a condescending manner as if responsibility is being thrust upon her and she feels obliged to do it rather than wanting to do it. The three other characters in the story are good ones. Coyn is suitably barbaric, power hungry and bloodthirsty. He's a truly wild force willing to kill even his own mother if he thought it would threaten him. His relationship with Shalin, the high priest, is rather touching and tragic and its a shame that more wasn't made of it. Dorlan also gets a rather interesting moment when he is led into the TARDIS and sees its wonders from the point of view of a caveperson. I think also what prevents this story from being really good is the fact that the story doesn't seem to have any focused point. It's written as if it was supposed to be a book, even providing a prologue, epilogue and chapter breaks. It would definitely have made a great novella, but as a short story it needed to be more focused. There were opportunities to explore what happens when one interferes with history, or the differences in the way that the Doctor and Sam choose to interfere. Instead, these end up feeling like afterthoughts and you feel like this was just a neat little story that could have been even better if it had a focused point. 8/10