The Short Trips range is one of the strongest sets from Big Finish at the moment. Sometimes though, we get even more treats, listeners really do get more from Big Finish! The Short Trips Rarities Range feature stories that have previously been released as either free-gifts with Doctor Who Magazine or subscriber-only downloads. We’ve had ten so far and last month we were treated to a further five. Featuring a range of Doctors, companions, stories, authors and readers, these thirty-minute stories are a real delight for the ears.
THE HORROR AT BLETCHINGTON STATION
The first story of this new set features the First Doctor and Dodo. Coming from Chris Wing, the story concerns the Doctor and Dodo becoming embroiled in the mysteries of a nearby tunnel being dug. The workers talk about a beast that lives in the dark tunnels and the Doctor and Dodo begin to investigate, they soon discover though that it is something that is perhaps best left alone…
One of the first things that will be apparent to the listener is what a great handle Wing has on the main characters. This story could easily fit between the television stories, The Savages and The War Machines but listening to the relationship between the Doctor and Dodo, one might even include the Missing Adventures novel, The Man in the Velvet Mask, given that their relationship seems to be a little fraught here at times.
But you could easily hear William Hartnell and Jackie Lane performing this play. The story from Wing is a fairly basic runaround but that isn’t a bad thing, with complex stories coming out from Big Finish all the time, sometimes it is nice to go back to Doctor Who basics, a little runaround, solve a mystery and then go back to the TARDIS before people even know your there. In that respect, this story is one of the most enjoyable of the five.
Stephen Critchlow does a good job narrating this tale. His impersonation of Hartnell is excellent, effortlessly getting the characterisation he had towards the end of his tenure. Over the course of the Hartnell era we saw him go from a scary old man who wanted to leave Ian and Barbara at the mercy of cavemen and Daleks to a happy, loving man who would do anything for his friends to someone who had become distant and detached from his companions by the time The Tenth Planet comes around. There is a moment here were he contemplates leaving Dodo behind. Luckily he doesn’t and the pair goes off to have more adventures but this is certainly the detached Doctor from the latter half of his era. Critchlow does a good job of recreating that attitude.
His take on Dodo, however, was not nearly as good. I’m pretty sure Dodo didn’t come from whatever accent he was trying to give her but it is very distracting. While you get used to it over the course of the story it is very jarring. It is understandable how he got it wrong, there are only three surviving stories with Jackie Lane for us to enjoy but there are plenty of BBC audios to listen too. Had Wing not got the writing absolutely spot on, you would wonder if the Doctor once travelled with two companions called Dodo…
But that is a minor quibble as The Horror At Bletchington Station is a decent release overall, well worth the £2.25 price tag. It is enjoyable half-hour with some strong writing, a good performance and some nice direction from Neil Gardener to keep things in check.
A HOME FROM HOME
2015 saw the Doctor discovering a hidden trap street. It was here that Masie Williams betrayed him, sending him off to the Time Lords and where Clara met her ‘sort-of’ death when she faced the raven. But in terms of continuity, the Third Doctor got there first, discovering a hidden village in the depths of the Scottish Highlands.
Set during the first year of Jon Pertwee’s tenure, A Home from Home, sees Liz Shaw on the Doctor’s trail after he seems to have gone missing, looking for a holiday home. She stumbles across a strange pub, the landlord isn’t what he seems. But she quickly discovers that she isn’t the only one hunting tonight…
With the sad passing of Caroline John we don’t get many Liz Shaw audios any more, it is a shame that she didn’t get to meet Tim Trelor’s version of Three as we would have gotten some fantastic sets. But the beauty of these Short Trips format is that we can get stories about companions or Doctors whose actors have sadly passed on. Nick Wallace has written a beautiful story here and it is annoying that it has taken Big Finish so long to release this story as an available release for people who don’t subscribe.
Nick Wallace does a great job here, capturing the characters of the Third Doctor and Liz perfectly and the story would easily fit in between Inferno and Terror of the Autons. It is a story about refuge and refugees, survivors and hunters and has some impressive real-world mirroring. Making it as relevant today as it would have been when it was first released.
Stephen Critchlow is once again on narration duty and he seems a lot more on form in the world of the Third Doctor than the First. He once again captures the spirit of Pertwee’s performance, so much so that there are times when you wonder if Pertwee himself is doing it. He also makes the wise decision of not really trying to impersonate Liz Shaw but just giving her the same attitude she had on screen. In many ways, his narration is far superior to that of the previous release.
Overall A Home from Home is another great release for the Short Trips Rarities with Wallace giving us some strong Third Doctor storytelling. He does a brilliant job of capturing the characters of Three and Liz Shaw as well as some menace from the villain. Critchlow seems to have a blast on narration duties and once again there is some strong direction from Neil Gardener.
Only Connect is perhaps one of the strangest Doctor Who premises I’ve ever heard. James Willaker has been working hard, he’s tired and its been a long day and wants a taxi home. Chatting to your driver is something common for everyone. But those conversations can’t change the future. But maybe they can, when the Doctor is involved.
Andy Lane delivers a really strange yet interesting story. The Doctor is working as a taxi driver, something that seems very suitable for the Fourth Doctor a man who could make friends with anyone. Lane does an excellent job of connecting this story with The Seeds of Doom, a classic Baker story.
But the story is about more than a connection to one of the greatest stories of all time, it is a story about how one person’s life can be turned upside-down by meeting the Doctor. But it also shows the crueller side of the Doctor, one side that will use people to get the information he wants. And that is a shame as the Doctor and James had a great chemistry together. It feels a little odd though because this feels like a later Fourth Doctor, one that is travelling alone between The Deadly Assassin and The Face of Evil.
That is another minor quibble though because this story, as strange as the premise might be, is very enjoyable. John Banks does a tremendous job on narration duties and does a reasonable job at imitating Tom Baker’s performance. While his take on the character might not be as good as Stephen Critchlow’s in the next story, you instantly know which Doctor he is supposed to be. And his narration skills are very enjoyable effortlessly bringing the story to life.
Overall, Andy Lane has crafted a bittersweet story, one that shows the best and worst aspects of the Doctor. Telling us about the wonders of the universe and time-travel and then leave you behind to wonder who he was and why he singled you out. Ken Bentley has always been one of Big Finish’s strongest directors, and his track record continues here. This is another successful outing.
THE WARREN LEGACY
Julian Richards gives us another Fourth Doctor story, this time paired with Mary Tamm’s Romana, where they find their lives inexplicably connected to the generations of the Warren family.
Richard’s story is a good job and is enjoyable enough, though it isn’t as good as Only Connect. If anything is the problem it is that the story goes on for a little too long. Once we learn the connection between the Doctor, Romana and the Warren family, you only really need to hear a few meetings between them and the past generations of the family.
However, it is a nice outing for the Fourth Doctor and Richards has a good handle on the main characters. They feel like the Fourth Doctor and Romana from the television series so that helps make the story more listenable than it might have been otherwise. I also liked the villains of the piece, the Quell, monsters who feel a little like the Weeping Angels. The cover is a little deceiving too, a lot of lamb skulls might imply that it would something more demonic than it actually is. But that isn’t too much of a problem because Simon Critchlow is hand to deliver some fantastic narration.
Critchlow’s impersonation of the Fourth Doctor is practically pitch-perfect, like his impersonation of Jon Pertwee, there are moments when you would think that Tom Baker was delivering the lines. He was fantastic as the Fourth Doctor and one thinks they might have found a way to continue the Baker era on audio in many years time.
The series of Short Trips comes to an end with Lant Land, a story featuring the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough, who find themselves in a world that doesn’t seem real.
It is a story with an interesting premise, even if it something that has been done to death in sci-fi land. Stuck in a reality where things don’t seem to make sense, what is real and what isn’t.
Jonathan Morris does a fairly good job though with the story, trying to give us some new elements to this old trope but as with these other releases, he has a good handle on the characters with each one feeling like their television personas. Morris gives us some new character Yvonne and Derek who have some interesting story surrounding them.
Duncan Wisby is on hand to deliver some good narration. He does a decent job, his performance of the Fifth Doctor and Turlough are passable but his Tegan is terrible. Like Critchlow didn’t have a good handle on Dodo, Tegan doesn’t sound very good. Morris has a bad habit of making Tegan whiny and moany which is annoying, particularly for me as she is my favourite companion. Unfortunately Lant Land isn’t the best way to finish this enjoyable set-off but it isn’t all bad as Nicholas Briggs is on hand to give us some nice direction and keep the story moving along.
Overall, these new releases are thoroughly enjoyable, with A Home from Home and Only Connect being particularly strong stories from Nick Wallace and Andy Lane. While some of the narrators haven’t got a good handle on some of the characters, the writers certainly have and each story has something suitable unique about them. We’ve got a nice mixture of Doctor’s in this set of releases too which offers plenty of variety. There are a couple of stories, however, Only Connect and Lant Land that stop so abruptly that I had to check that the app hadn’t stopped working. But for five new enjoyable releases, that is nothing but a minor quibble. The Short Trips Rarieties is a great series, re-releasing those subscriber-only stories for those of us who don’t subscribe would miss otherwise. Let’s hope Big Finish carry on with them, it would be a shame for them to stop now.