THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

BBC Books
Short Trips and Side Steps
A Collection of Short Stories

Editors Stephen Cole and Jacqueline Rayner Cover image
ISBN 0 563 55599 8
Published 2000

Synopsis: A collection of stories from the BBC books range featuring the Doctor in more incarnations than you'd think.


Reviews

Less of the same by Robert Smith? 1/4/00

Wow. I'm dining on my hat as we speak. I honestly thought it was impossible for Doctor Who to work in the short story format... this book proves my point by not being Doctor Who at all and simultaneously managing to work over and over again. Superb stuff.

All I can say is, it's about time. Time that the short story anthologies got their collective act together. Time that someone realised that DW can be so much more than the (admittedly rich) format we've been so used to. Time that we started exploring all the other avenues in this age of mass diversification of media. In retrospect, like all the best ideas, I'm surprised no one thought of it before, so much sense does this make. This collection feels like everything has come together sumptuously.

The intro is the most relaxed yet, after two terrible introductions by Steve Cole in previous volumes. It's lighthearted, enjoyable and best of all doesn't go on. So yes, just like the intros in the other two volumes, it's a metaphor for the book as a whole. You'd almost think someone planned things that way.

Somebody, somewhere has finally figured out what it is that makes a DW short story work. The answer is that it shouldn't be a) a novel b) a rejected proposal or c) by Paul Leonard. What it should be is a) fun b) snappy and c) short. ST&SS has this in spades... and even the longer stories are thoughtfully split up lest they threaten to bore us, even for a moment. And it works a treat.

And there you have it, the first successful DW short story anthology ever. Oddly the side steps are much better than the short trips (although given the track record on these things, perhaps that isn't so surprising at all), but even then there are no real failures, merely some disappointments. I found something to like in every story and I'm honestly hard pressed to pick my favourite. The last few aren't as good, but that's spiced up by splitting the two longer stories up across the book. Clever and appropriate editing from the BBC, who'd have thought it? If you're a diehard canonicity fanboy, avoid this like the plague. But if you're a fan with a sense of humour and a willingness to go with the flow -- even if you've hated other short story collections, as I have -- then this is the anthology for you.


A Review by Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld 12/5/00

The third BBC short story release, and the sixth Doctor Who short story release (not including Decalog 4 or 5, Perfect Timing 1 or 2, and others), Short Trips and Side Steps, didnít have very much was riding on it, considering people opinions of the previous releasesí qualities. But I, as well as many people I know, consider this the most successful short story collection to date. Hereís the breakdown:

Overall- Well, as you can see, the worst short story in this collection got a 6/10 from me, which makes this, in my opinion, the first real well done short story collection. This one is going to be very hard to beat. But letís just wait for Even More Short Trips & And A couple More Side Steps!

Overall Rating- 9/10


A Review by Mike Morris 29/6/00

The quick intro that we all already know.

All the short story collections before this one had, generally speaking, been pretty rubbish. Most of the stories were condensed novels, and not wildly good ones at that, leading to a lack of depth and "short" stories consisting of eight chapters and a prologue. Some good stuff, yes, but buried under a weight of... well, you know.

And then comes this. This, a book which certainly isn't without its flaws, and the odd clunker or two, but really works. It's finally an anthology that really feels like an anthology should - eclectic, energetic and vibrant. It's also experimental and far more "rad" - in its own way - than all this future time lord war stuff.

Okay, a (hopefully) brief run through the stories.

And that's the lot. And yet it isn't, because the merits of this collection aren't really captured by the stories as a whole. A word for the editors, who've arranged these absolutely beautifully, so that long follows short, funny follows serious. Congrats.

Something else worth looking at is the Doctors actually featured. 1 to 3 play little part in the collection; the Fourth is confined to the Special Occasions strand. In fact, the two people most heavily examined are the Sixth Doctor and Peri - which is certainly a balance that needed redressing.

I think it could have been two or three stories shorter, and it tails off a little at the end, but that hardly seems to matter. The strength of this book really lies in its variation and energy. It feels like a snapshot of Doctor Who fandom, where we all have different takes on the series and thrive on the differences. In fact, nothing sums up this collection better than the eerie ending of Special Occasions 4, followed by the unexpected Lawrence Miles joke; we fans can take ourselves seriously one minute, and laugh at ourselves the next. And so, because it seems to capture the spirit of Doctor Who so beautifully, Short Trips and Side Steps is - somehow - beyond criticism.

Essential reading.


A Review by Rob Matthews 26/7/00

My first encounter with Who fiction since the Target novelisations! And since the thing I love about Doctor Who is its infinite potential, this seemed like the right tome to pick up. What clinched my decision was noticing that the book featured a Peter Cushing Doctor story; the continuity lore that built up over the many year's of the show's run can be restrictive, and what I really wanted was to see the whole mythos presented afresh - I was guaranteed at least one story featuring a Doctor who was not a Timelord from Gallifrey but a strange old bugger from Chipping Sodbury.

All in all, I'd say the collection is still more 'potential' than real delivery - though with very notable exceptions. I guess I'll pick up Short Trips#2 sooner or later (for my first full-length novel I'm considering either Heart of Tardis [my two favourite Doctors] or Lungbarrow. Suggestions welcome, folks!).


When the Sequel Is Better Than the Original by Tammy Potash 29/7/00

I waited a long time to be able to read ST&SS. Thankfully it was well worth it. We've come a long way from the mostly dreadful Short Trips.

On the whole, lots more cream than crap. A Town called Eternity is the first short story I've ever read that begs to be considered canon. 7 out of 10: run out and buy it.


A Review by Gordon DeGroot 1/8/00

This is a complete change from the latter Decalogs and the first two Short Trips anthologies. Stories that are appropriate for their length. Better yet, stories that are entertaining. The "Side Steps" of the title is something of a nifty premise (I don't feel I'm spoiling anything as the back cover and usually the first line of the story reveals this). The idea of drawing from not only the TV series, but the comic strips, the movies, the annuals and even the stage musical is playful fun, and revisioning the TV series into different forms an even more impressive gamble that pays off hugely.

Anyway, here's my review of the stories:

Overall: There's more variety here than in other collections. The stories are less earnest and more fun. They're shorter too, and what long ones there are they've cleverly split them up into episodes and distributed them throughout the book. This leads me to feel that they've taken some thought and care into the overall effect of the book. There are some duff stories to be sure, but fewer than previous Short Trips volumes, but the good ones really stand out, and even the more ordinary pieces are enjoyable reads. The stories average out to 8/10, but I'll give it a 9/10 because I haven't had this much fun reading a Doctor Who short story anthology since the first Decalog anthology.


Short Trips and Side Steps - the ultimate review by Finn Clark (and friends) 10/8/00

No kidding. Trust me. :-) Oh, and NO SPOILERS as usual. Read on in safety.

I found it hard to get around to this book - short story collections are easy to pick up, but hard to finish. And I don't like reading half a book. But at last I've read it - and what's more, I've written this review! Well, sort of.

As I've said before, reviewing an anthology is almost impossible. Book appreciation is subjective, but short story appreciation doubly so. Thus I've gaily stolen the wiser words of those who went before me on rec.arts.drwho and cut-and-pasted them together into a composite review from the lot of us. Thus my modest contributions are but one opinion among many, hopefully giving a more rounded picture of the stories herein. I have obtained no permission whatsoever from the owners of this material and I can only hope they'll still be speaking to me after they've read this. (Note: I've gotten permission instead - Robert Smith?).

I've snipped occasional fragments of their deathless prose, by the way. This is solely to satisfy my usual NO SPOILERS requirement and I've otherwise presented everything exactly as culled from the newsgroup.

I guess I should kick off with some kind of overview. This is an anthology with a difference, merrily venturing where the canon-sensitive would fear to tread. These are the Side Steps, variously set in the universes of the Cushing movies, comic strips, stage plays et al. Almost all of these find wonderful humour in their quaintly alternative TARDIS crews, but then stupidly plonk them in a story that isn't funny at all and needs humour like a hole in the head. The results are... interesting. (The big exception to this rule is Gary Russell's Countdown to TV Action, which I hated for a completely unrelated reason.)

Many of the funniest stories herein are more conventional Short Trips, albeit whimsical ones. There are of course several abject failures herein and the collection as a whole could most generously be described as a curate's egg.

None of this stops it from being my favourite BBC short story collection to date, although it has to be said that it earns that title in large part by default. Many of these stories have a delightful lightness of heart and so sail off into oddness or outright silliness that I found charming.

That'll do for now. On with the reviews!

MA - Matt Marshall
ME - Meddling Mick
OR - Orinoco
OT - Oliver Thornton
SG - Sean Gaffney
RJ - R.J. Smith?
FC - Finn Clark

THE LONGEST STORY IN THE WORLD

MA - Quite nice, but doesn't really say anything.

SG - Short, metaphorical, nothing special but a nice intro. 7/10.

OR - Well, is it any more obvious that Paul Margs is fascinated by Arabian Nights? Not a bad thing, but the Scheherezade take on Dr Who doesn't add anything, and I didn't particularly like or dislike this.

RJ - Great stuff and perfect to start the collection (for more reasons than one). And thankfully no Iris.

FC - The first Paul Magrs short story I've enjoyed, probably because it's short and sweet. Dragging this out for even another couple of pages might have killed it.

A TOWN CALLED ETERNITY

MA - Bit fanwanky. Doesn't that mean the Doctor has a bad memory in < SNIP >?

SG - An intriguing premise and good characterization battle with a somewhat standard and dull execution, but in the end the good wins out. Peri is written very well here, and I love the Brown 'family'. 7/10.

OR - Well, it's not a short story - it's a novella split in two parts, and perhaps couyld even have been extended out to full length for a better PDA than some we've had. I think I'm trying to say that I actually enjoyed this story.

RJ - I really liked this. It's written with style and the Doctor and Peri are just perfect. Sensibly split in two with a cool cliffhanger.

ME - Stinkers? Sure. 'A Town Called Eternity' is really bad (sorry, Lance and Mark) and, it seems, is the only story to appear to contradict TV continuity. And if I see one more story featuring < SNIP >, I will effing well scream!

FC - What a load of rubbish. I didn't buy the set-up, as with Beige Planet Mars from the same authors. "The Doctor knew enough about how the universe worked to suspect that it wasn't simply a coincidence" is the nearest we get to an explanation of a howling coincidence. I think it contradicts the TV story it follows, I was annoyed by the Fountain of Youth and the Doctor is wrong from beginning to end. Zzzz... But on the positive side, the Browns were good and cutting the story in two worked well.

SPECIAL OCCASIONS

MA - He he he! Loved the not-so-sinister sponge; great surreal fun.

OT - I just loved 1 and 2, although 4 rather spoiled it by (I assume it was trying to) delivering a serious side.

OR - Typical Gareth Roberts silliness and quite lovely. Good short stories. Did he write the other two under pseudonyms though?

SG - Seeming to take place in the 'post-Well Mannered War' universe, these are 3 episodes of total 4th Doc-Romana fluff followed by a freakout scary ending. I wonder if the first 3 came in and Steve/Jac wrote the last to tie them together. Eerie, nonetheless. 9/10.

RJ - All four of these are great and very different, although the first one is easily my fave. K9 sulking and his reason for doing so is just too amusing for words. The last one is just spooky and I defy you not to reread it when you reach the end.

FC - #1 is hilarious, complete with a ridiculous planet that Tom Baker would have adored. All four stories are full of the finest possible silliness, but the ending of #4 is scarily weird. I'm not quite sure what it's saying, but I admired it anyway.

NOTHING AT THE END OF THE LANE

MA - Didn't really understand this one. Pity, as it was so long. :-(

OR - The first Daniel O'Mahony story that I've liked. It had to happen sooner or later. I was a bit curious as to when this was meant to be happening - was it before Barbara found the TARDIS, was it a 'what-if?', was it a 'memory-virus' (tm Star Trek)?, but just as I decided it was one, a twist took it in a slightly different direction.

SG - OK, what the hell was this? The most stunning, brilliantly written story in the entire book... and I have no idea what was going on! The ending was... what was that? HUH?! I'm still, however, giving this a 10, as it was gorgeously written and I couldn't put it down. But as for comprehension... nope. 10/10.

RJ - Spooky and vivid. I think I figured out what was going on, but I'm not sure. And it doesn't really matter anyway. This is Dan O'Mahony as he should be. There are so many little touches here, but my favourite is the reference to Lola McGovern. Very enjoyable.

ME - There are a few gems in the collection, but Nothing at the End of the Lane wins hands down, AFAIC.

FC - Huh? I love what this story does, recreating the beginning of the saga in considerable style, but I haven't got a blessed clue what's going on therein.

COUNTDOWN TO TV ACTION

MA - Wahey! Great fun with Dr Who and Betsy.

OR - Loved it for what it was - a very good pastiche of the Pertwee comic strips. How do you know? - I'm Dr Who and I'm a scientist *8-)

SG - OK, this was a lot of fun. I read the Classic Comics when Gary first put them out in all their awful, mischaracterized glory. And that's exactly what we get here, with a dead-on pastiche on Countdown. The Doctor saves a small English town... for SCIENCE! 9/10.

RJ - Its heart is in the right place and it's fun in a goofy kind of way. Not quite as good as it wants to be, but loopy enough that it doesn't matter terribly much.

FC - I wanted to love this, but by the end of the second paragraph I was already bristling like an electrified porcupine at the wanky character names. I'm sorry, but this kind of thing has come to really piss me off. The story's an amusing piece of fluff, but I question the wisdom of making your story almost unreadable for those few hardcore comics nuts who'll actually get all the strip business going on here. After finishing this, I nearly threw the book against the wall. Kill me now.

THE QUEEN OF EROS

OR - Odd. I'm not sure whether I liked it or not. Nothing wrong with it, but I don't think it was my cup of tea.

SG - Blah. My anticipation of Coldheart went way down. Putting the Doctor in a modern-day Amanda Quick novel, complete with lovelorn warrior maiden. And boy is Sam an annoying bitch in this one. Not a favorite at ALL. 2/10.

RJ - Yuck. It's fairly clear from this story and The Janus Conjunction that whoever uses Trevor Baxendale for a pseudonym really doesn't like Sam very much at all. Which makes it odd that he wants to write for her, really. She's at her most unlikable here, just when we thought we were rid of her, or that she'd be reinterpreted positively in glorious fannish retrovision. The rest of the story is pretty lame as well. There's a half-baked attempt to explore the Doctor's need for freedom that peters out pretty quickly.

FC - To my surprise, I enjoyed this. I dislike Trevor Baxendale's 8DAs and as a story about the Doctor this sucks, but if you turn it on its head and regard the annoying bitch queen as the heroine, it's actually a nice little piece. Though having said that, the laws regarding mortal combat on page 88 are the most unbelievable thing in all of Doctor Who.

THE ANDROID MAKER OF CALDERON IV

OR - I'm sure I've seen Miche post here, so I'll be extra nice. This is a wonderful short-story with a great twist, even if I did guess it a page before the end *8-p. One of the best in the book. Any more by this author anywhere? (makes me miss the biogs which told me this sort of thing).

SG - Short, cute, fun. 8/10.

RJ - Ha! Snappy and fun, just the way I like 'em. The arrangement of stories is great, mixing the long with the short so we don't get bored.

FC - Only three pages long, but I laughed out loud. What more could you ask for?

REVENANTS

OR - In a 'sideways' book, we had to have a new Dr. It's a shame that this one has no character that I could tell. This has more about the companion that I could get a handle on. The story was a good use of time-travel, and I did enjoy it

SG - This was very reminiscent of another story by Gareth Roberts I remember from a previous Decalog. But the companion was wonderful, and made up for that. More Guin, please! 8/10.

RJ - This is better than Peter's last future-Doctor story, but it's still not terribly good. Guin is okay, but she suffers by comparison to Benny. The story's desperately unoriginal and there aren't any twists to liven it up, sadly. It feels suspiciously close to the sort of fan fiction everyone writes in high school, so maybe Peter had just cleaned out his attic when they were casting for stories.

FC - I have a theory that future Doctor stories don't work, as was demonstrated in Perfect Timing 2. You can't slap the Doctor's name on any random character and expect the readers to gasp in amazement. Peter Anghelides is trying so hard it hurts... but no.

PLEASE SHUT THE GATE

OR - another good short story (by my definition of short story). I loved the idea of the Dr wrecking that probe and having to clean up a picnic that he'd left behind.

SG - Short, cute, fun. 7/10.

RJ - Silly, but thankfully short. Even the bad stories in this collection aren't terrible and they're usually over pretty quickly so you don't get a chance to hate the whole collection based on a few misfires.

FC - Good for a laugh, I s'pose.

TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY

OR - a good look at Peri's thoughts on the Dr, and works well without his presence. The villain is nicely OTT, and the Dr's claiming to have solved it all with Peri's intervention being ineffective was typical of ColDoc.

SG - This was huge fun, and featured a wonderful characterization of Peri, the second in this book. Loved it. 10/10.

RJ - Fun stuff. Peri's fantastic and the Javaman is very amusing.

FC - Graeme Burk could have gone in all kinds of directions with this particular idea; the story he produced is perhaps a tad understated but still enjoyable.

DR WHO AND THE HOUSE ON OLDARK MOOR

MA - The usually dependable Justin Richards messes things up here. A wasted opportunity...

OR - The Cushing Doc lives! Ian is even more bumbling than in the film (almost as if he was based purely upon his last scene). Once the houseowner was introduced as Tarkin, everyone appeared in my mind's eye as Peter Cushing (even Susan!). I'm sure I missed a couple of other in-jokes. The actual story however well written was a tad dull though. BTW, does anyone else think that Ian had just shagged Barbara for recreational purposes?

SG - Weird, with another confusing ending. Were the < SNIP > ever really explained? 6/10.

RJ - The only problem with these types of stories is that once you see their potential the actual story seems rather drab. A Cushing story, complete with bumbling Ian, has real potential to be lots of fun. This isn't bad, but the story doesn't quite capture the sparkle it should.

ME - I very much enjoyed it.

FC - Trying to be two things at once. The Cushing movie pastiche is really well done and lots of fun. However the story itself is really dark, with a disturbing and tragic ending. Bizarrely, I thought that was effective too. There's a lot of worthwhile stuff going on here, but I can't help feeling like I've just witnessed the attempted marriage of a giraffe and a dolphin.

GONE TOO SOON

OR - A nice view of ColDoc coming to grips with his impending regeneration - similar in a way to SlyDoc in later NAs. A good use of the short story format and fits with the view that he knew he was going to sacrifice himself.

SG - The best of the short, cute, funs. Lovely ColDoc charaterization, some hilarious images, and even quite touching. 10/10.

RJ - Wow! This is an amazing tale, with the perfect length. The image of Colin Baker dressed in black and strumming guitar for you-know-who is incredible. Powerful stuff.

OT - enjoyed the fab Doctor - wouldn't we all like to have done that?

FC - A poignant string of vignettes, but nothing more.

REUNION

OR - Not terribly engaging. Pretty much forgotten once I'd finished it.

SG - Suffers from being a long, serious story that's too caught up in its plot. I never really sympathized with the narrator, and the Doctor seemed to be there to explain the plot, nothing more. 4/10.

RJ - It has some potential, but it doesn't really come together. The Doctor isn't terrible, but all he really seems to do is wander in and explain the plot every so often.

FC - Okay, but perhaps less than the sum of its elements. Its ideas and imagery are far creepier than they became here.

PLANET OF THE BUNNOIDS

OR - another wonderful story. The twisting of the Doctor's emotions to get what it wants, plus the Doctor's willingness to manipulate his companions are high points.

SG - Um... Long, not as cute, and not as fun. No real idea why I didn't care for this, I just didn't get into the idea. 4/10.

RJ - Silly, and not in a good way. Too dumb for words. And the last line was painful. A story that would benefit enormously from being a Side Step.

FC - Hardly a masterpiece, but I thought it was lots of fun. I laughed out loud once or twice, which can't be a bad sign.

MONSTERS

SG - You'll pardon me before I write these lines as I slit my wrists with this rusty spoon. There are creepier stories in this collection, but none as bleak and depressing as this one. I felt awful after reading it. Still quite good, of course, but wow, why not kick us in the stomach again? 7/10.

OR - A very good SlyDoc story. Fits nicely into his era, with Ace doing the work and he appears every so often to push the pieces and manipulate them.

MA - Ahh, this is more like it. A disturbing story that fires on all barrels and a twist ending that really pushes the knife in. Depressed me for the rest of the night.

RJ - Wow! Tara Samms delivers again. This is an excellent story, with a tragic ending and gripping all the way through. Very, very human and beautiful.

OT - I must, absolutely must, repeat my call (first made after the last Short Trips release) for the BBC to commission a novel from Tara Samms as soon as possible. She is an excellent writer of Dr. Who, and these short stories of hers (three to date, all fantastic) are just not enough! Tara, if you're out there, I'm a big fan! :-)

FC - Superb writing, unconvincing ending. I didn't buy the Doctor's (non-) explanation of why he couldn't stick around to help that poor girl. He's a time traveller, isn't he? What's his problem? But the demented mother was a superb character and I desperately wanted those yobs to meet a foul end. Powerful.

FACE VALUE

OR - the return of the stageplay. And the bit where Jason and Crystal do 'that thing they do best together' was absolutely hilarious. A wonderful piece of misdirection.

SG - I wanted to like this more, as Steve is a favorite of mine, but I'm unfamiliar with the source, and the balance of silliness and gripping drama really never balanced. 5/10.

RJ - This should be better than it is. I like some of the touches, especially the reference to David Banks' portrayal and the singing is appropriate and hilariously introduced, but it doesn't quite click. I think I'd rather have seen more of the panto Doctor than we did.

ME - blurgh!

FC - Yet again we get a Side Step with wonderful comedy potential (the singing!) placed into a story that's completely unsuited to it. I've got a feeling this was meant to be funny but somehow didn't turn out that way. I can even see the jokes; I just didn't laugh at them. The plot's clever and it's not actually bad, but why can't the BBC get anything out of Steve Lyons that's even half as good as his Perfect Timing masterpiece?

STORM IN A TIKKA

MA - another wasted opportunity. Why not introduce more EE characters? Otherwise what's the point? Does Mike Tucker think Rosa owns an Indian restaurant?

OR - Hmmm. Didn't like this at all. May be slotted between two cack stories, but that's no reason to make it turgid and crap (all IMHO of course). If all three stories are 'dreams', I dread to think what the Dr had been eating beforehand.

SG - Dull. Very dull. The most interesting part was when I thought Leo McKern and Eleanor Bron might show up, but they didn't. 3/10.

RJ - This feels like a rewrite of Survival, only not as entertaining. I'm positive the setting exists only to justify the title. It's a sad day when you realise the cleverest thing about the story is the linking of Search Out Science and Dimensions in Time.

FC - Almost worthless, though the teaming of the seventh Doctor with Ace and K9 felt oddly right.

VRS

OR - Very short, and once I'd worked out what it said, enjoyable.

FC - Raised a smile, which is pretty good for seventeen words.

SG - For an epitaph, it's a winner. What the heck, 10/10.

RJ - ...pwrfl, clvr stry, wth jst th rght lvl nd ttle tht tk m gs t fgr t. Trns th bck cvr blrb int lgh-t-ld jk fr ll th rght rsns. Fbls!

So there you have it. Lots of learned opinions and mine as well. Enjoy!


A Review by John Seavey 13/9/00

In quickie form: ST&SS was another Doctor Who short story collection, full of plusses and minuses.

First, let me just say that the "theme" of ST&SS, that of "out-of-continuity" adventures, rarely if ever works. Most of the stories are ones that work just as well in continuity as out of it, and those that don't are usually distinguished by mind-numbingly painful badness. There's only one that a) is clever, and b) uses its status as being out of continuity to good effect...Face Value, by Steve Lyons, which does clever things with the idea of a musical version of Doctor Who, and is quite funny to boot. So, going down the line in quickie reviews...

The Longest Story in the World is an alright introduction to the series, but not really a 'story' in the sense that it has no ending. Then again, that might be the point. A Town Called Eternity (which is, appropriately enough, split into two parts) seems almost schizophrenic -- like either Lance was planning a farce and Mark a serious story, or the other way around. It's a clever idea, but the style is very inconsistent, which grates slightly. The first three Special Occasions stories are great, and then the fourth derails the whole concept by trying to link the first three into something (I think perhaps The Well-Mannered War, but I'm not sure), and the whole thing falls apart. Nothing At the End of the Lane, which is split into three sections, reminds me of how much I'd like to see Daniel O'Mahoney write for Doctor Who again. It's basically a retelling of An Unearthly Child via a plot device similar to 'Shades of Gray' (the ST: TNG episode), but O'Mahoney has a masterful love of the language that evokes the strange and terrifying in the everyday. It falls apart a bit at the end...OK, a lot at the end...but it's worth reading for its haunting text. Countdown to TV Action...at first, I wasn't sure whether to lambast Gary Russell for his agonizingly bad prose, or to let him off the hook by saying, "He's just duplicating the bad dialogue and plots of the comics." Then I thought about it for a moment, and decided to lambast him for deliberately celebrating that which should be left forgotten in the name of nostalgia. It's like doing a pastiche of Timelash, or trying to make a perfume that precisely re-creates the scent of dog vomit. Yes, it can be done, but _WHY_? The Queen of Eros is Doctor Who meets "The King and I", but well done for all that. The Android Maker of Calderon IV is the best story in the whole book, and one that I made all my friends sit down and read. Revenants is alright -- a clever little time puzzle. Doesn't fit into continuity, but who gives a rat's arse? Please Shut the Gate is a cute little one-joke premise that does a good job of nailing down the Second Doctor, and it's short. Turnabout is Fair Play is a nicely done twist on the old 'body switch' idea (nice one, Graeme.) The House on Oldark Moor is a good little story, but was there any reason why this had to be done with the Peter Cushing Doctor? Gone Too Soon is a great story about the Doctor indulging in a little bit of cosmic vandalism that's nicely paced, too. Reunion is a pretty bog-standard Doctor Who story, but not bad. Planet of the Bunnoids isn't nearly as clever as it thinks it is. Monsters is a nice evocation of the Cartmel era of Doctor Who, right down to the scenes of the Doctor being strangely philosophical in ways that turn out to fit into the plot. Face Value is, as I said, quite clever. Storm in a Tikka is, as I've said, not -- and again, why did this have to take place in between Dimensions in Time and Search Out Science, other than the writer wanted to use K-9? Vrs is the second best story in the book, and I'm gonna miss Lawrence, dangit.


Short Trips, Shorter Trips and Mind Trips by Richard Salter 11/11/00

Short Trips and Side Steps works very well as a collection. As others have commented, the breaking up of longer stories and the careful ordering makes for an enjoyable read and encourages starting at the beginning and reading all the way through.

That said, there's some real drek in here amongst the gems, but they don't stand out as much as bad stories in previous collections.

7/10

And now the inevitable breakdown.


So why aren't they short? by Steve Crow 22/4/01

Okay, many of them are short. But if I pick up a collection of short stories, I really don't want to slog through novellas. Or if I do, they'd better be darn good ones. I read this collection over the course of a month, so I'm going to try to relate it as I remember it now, without going back and re-reviewing stuff.

Magrs Intro: By the time I was done, I had forgotten he had written it. This seems to be par for the course for me with Magrs' stuff. If you asked me what Scarlet Empress or Verdigris were about, I couldn't tell you. Odd, given the reputation he engenders in fandom.

A Town Called Eternity: I hated this. No American/Western cliche is unturned here. The Master is at his "walking in a straight line would make him dizzy" mode full-strength here (even the Doctor comments on his most ludicrous "master plan" yet in part 2). The writers seem to know this. However, knowing it and making it entertaining aren't the same thing. And the scene where they distract the mob is just annoying. Might have been okay as a shorter work but too long as is.

Special Occasions: Funny through, and short enough to be harmless at worst.

Nothing at the End of the Lane: As other reviewers note, you don't really know what's going on here. There are parts that make for compelling reading, and parts where you just want to shout at it to move along a bit.

Countdown to TV Action: More appropriate to the "theme" of the collection, but way too many cliches even for a story that is parodying cliches.

The Queen of Eros: In retrospect (after the Lost on Earth arc), the idea of a more romantic 8th Doctor really doesn't seem that out there. So it's just a normal 8th Doctor story at the end of the day. Okay if you're a fan of Harlequin romances, I suppose.

The Android Maker of Calderon IV: Short and sweet. Don't think about it too hard, though, or you'll wonder how many other signaling devices the Doctor has left with people he helped.

Revenants: A standard SF/TV plot, and a Doctor who you don't totally realize is a future Doctor until you get a bit into it... which just makes you realize how generic this one is.

Please Shut the Gate: Amusing, although some of the imagery (the 2nd Doctor about ready to wet himself?) is a bit offsetting.

Turnabout is Fair Play: Funny, and pokes fun at the cliches without overdoing it like Countdown... does.

The House on Oldark Manor: A confusing ending, along with a sense of "So what?" We never really care about the antagonist, so who really cares which one survives? Granted, within the confines of a short story this would have been difficult, but Richards' doesn't seem to try, relying on atmosphere and the adequate concept of a Cushing-Doctor story.

Gone Too Soon: Effective and touching as a character study.

Reunion: Relies too heavily on a plot convenience or two (the alien ship simply stopping, for instance), and the 2nd Doctor isn't memorable enough here to really make an impression.

Planet of the Bunnoids: The imagery that is summoned up is kind of amusing, but doesn't seem to know if it's being serious or not.

Monsters: As with other reviewers, I'd consider this the best story of the collection. Dark, somber, and very late-7th Doctor-y with scenes like the sequence in the tomb and the abrupt departure.

Face Value: Not enough singing! The idea of characters that burst out into song is only really capitalized on once. The return of an old enemy is interesting, but the 6th Doctor (sort of, I guess) is off-stage far too long.

Storm in a Tikka: Ugh. Nothing much really happens here. People die, two ancient beings we don't care about duke it out, one loses with a little help from the Doctor, and...that's it.

Vrs: Short, amusing, to the point.

Ironically, I reread this book because various American stations were offering it as a gift for donations. And yet, I can't imagine that most of the more devoted fans that contribute to public television would necessarily understand a lot of what's going on here, and would be confused by the likes of Countdown... and perhaps even Oldark Manor. I guess we'll see. It wouldn't surprise me if this anthology gets some more reviews as it undergoes a resurge of distribution in the U.S.


A Review by Alan Thomas 29/5/01

Well, what can I say? This is, hands down, the best short story collection I've ever read. This book is so sure of its direction, it amazes me that it's taken so long for the DW books to come out with something useful and worthwhile. Here's my opinion:

There you have it. I hope the BBC produce a sequel. The key successes were interesting stories with an effective mix of different aspects of DW lore, and short stories mixed with longer stories. Some great editing by Stephen Cole and Jacqueline Rayner result in this being the most interesting collection to date.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 24/2/04

There is that much DW out there, and the format has been established for that long, it's nice to come at it from different angles. Big Finish have picked up on this with their Unbound series. BBC Books achieved it with this anthology, released in 2000 under the joint editorship of Stephen Cole and Jacqueline Raynor. It has since been hailed from virtually every quarter as the best short story collection that DW has ever produced, it seems this collection finally put the DW short story on the map.

The Longest Story in the World by Paul Magrs
This delightful story, about a young woman telling a tale to the Caliph, sets the tone for this collection beautifully. The magical nature of the premise of Doctor Who really comes alive as a result. 9/10

A Town Called Eternity by Lance Parkin
This bizarre combination of Western, Prehistoric epic, Fantasy and Myth stars the 5th Dr and Peri (a very common team for the short story format). With the Master appearing too, there's a lot here to get your teeth into. Very entertaining. 8/10

Special Occasions 1: The Not So Sinister Sponge by Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman

Humour paramount on a planet made of confectionary. The team that was later to give us the marvelous The One Doctor, show their talent - even though I found it a little too silly in places. 6/10

Nothing at the End of the Lane by Daniel O'Mahony
This places the Doctor's adventures as a psychotic dream for Barbara. The tone is dark and horrific, as the first episode of An Unearthly Child is woven into nightmare scenarios. It's not for the fainthearted, and could very well offend fans. But it fulfills the intention of the book to look at the Doctor's adventures sideways on. Compelling and solemn. 8/10

Countdown to TV Action by Gary Russell
We enter the crazy world of Countdown/TV Action Comic Strip here with the 3rd Doctor Who. I never really read these early comic strips (I joined DW comics in DWM), but I think I understand where this story is coming from. With its hypnotism, Klepton Parasites, and in-jokes about television, nostalgia is the key. A lot of fun. 7/10

The Queen of Eros by Trevor Baxendale
A Queen falling in love with the 8th Doctor. Not quite the side-step as many others here, and as a result not quite in keeping with the experimental nature of the rest of the book. Some nice characterization, okay. 6/10

The Android Maker of Calderon IV by Miche Doherty
A wonderfully simple idea (why didn't I think of it!), provides a nice brief side-step. Not much too it, just lots of smiles at its conclusion. Terrific. 9/10

Revenants by Peter Anghelides
A sequel to the dire Good Companions from the previous Short Trips collection was not something I wanted. Future Doctors are always shaky, and I couldn't get into the story either. A dud surrounded by excellence. 4/10

Please Shut the Gate by Stephen Lock
A wonderful postscript to a TV story, this is all about the Doctor not clearing up after his adventures. I could just see the 2nd Dr, Jamie and Zoe rushing around trying to save face! The collection is back on track. 8/10

Turnabout is Fair Play by Graeme Burk
Switching bodies is common Sci-Fi fair, but doing it between the 6th Dr and Peri, makes this one of the most unique body swaps I can remember. The focus is on Peri in the Doctor's body though, a shame - thoughts on inhabiting Peri's body would have made a wonderful fantasy! 7/10

Special Occasions 2: Do You Love Anyone Enough? by Norman Ashby
Another very small incident sees the 4th Dr showing his sensitive side to the 2nd Romana. Delightful. 9/10

The House on Oldark Moor by Justin Richards
Peter Cushing dominates in this wonderful tale. He's the Doctor, and it appears he's the villain too (Tarkin). This really feels like an old film, the kind you settle down to on a winter's night. Loved it. 9/10

Gone Too Soon by Christopher M. Wadley
Borne out of the 6th Dr's life being cut short on TV, this sees him on a wish-fulfillment tour to see out the incarnation in style. It's good fun all round really. 7/10

Reunion by Jason Loborik
2nd Doctor, Dan and Dobtcheff dominate this strange piece. The Underground train setting is good, but it gets a little lost in all the alien influence stuff. Still pretty good though. 6/10

Planet of the Bunnoids by Harriet Green
The 1st Dr is embarassed by this adventure, and I don't blame him! The naffest title ever, acting out of fairy tales - all very silly and not very funny at all. 3/10

Monsters by Tara Samms
Monsters, monsters everywhere. Feeling like Survival - modern day 7th Dr and Ace adventure, this would fit nicely into the later TV years. It is in keeping with that era totally, good story. 7/10

Special Occasions 3: Better Take Care by Steve Burford
These little gems are totally wonderful. I can just imagine Tom Baker as Father Christmas. Beautifully done. 9/10

Face Value by Steve Lyons
Using characters from The Ultimate Adventure (6th Dr, not 3rd), this is an enjoyable runaround at Leisureworld - theme park. I never saw the play/musical, but this is pretty good. 7/10

Storm in a Tikka by Mike Tucker
Anything set just after Dimensions in Time and before Search out Science has to be magnificent, doesn't it? The tone of the story is perfect, and yet another fun runaround, to be taken with a pinch of salt. 7/10

Special Occasions 4: Playing with Toys by David Agnew
A little too self-referential for my tastes, and trying to be a little too quaint. 4th Dr and 2nd Romana again. I still play with the toys I played with when I was a kid - they're called Target Books! 6/10

Vrs by Lawrence Miles
The last work by Lawrence Miles, allegedly - complete lie - thankfully we got Adventuress of Henrietta St - his best book by a long way. A fitting, strange way to end this collection. 7/10

As diverse as they come, this is ultimate Doctor Who short story collection. I love the expanse of stories DW can tell, and this shows that off wonderfully. There is the odd duffer, but this is by far the most successful collection that has been assembled. 8/10