We like short shorts, says Tony Fyler.
We’ve already taken a look at the first four stories in the new Short Trips single-story range from Big Finish.
As we head through the eighties, the question will be whether the range manages to maintain the era-specific flavor of its Doctors.
The King of the Dead, the Fifth Doctor entry into the run by Ian Atkins, is an exploration of rage, showing its destructive side in a story that takes us to a bizarre interactive theatre show gone badly wrong. What’s perhaps most surprising here is Sarah Sutton’s previously unsuspected skills as a mimic – she renders Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor well, but absolutely nails Janet Fielding’s Tegan to your ears, meaning the story sounds full and rich in the same way it did when Frazer Hines’ second Doctor was running around the place. The King of the Dead feels like a story of many voices – not least because within the ‘interactive stage show’ scenario, where people wander round a historic location and interact with ‘players’ from history, we get to talk to characters, and the actors who play them, Sutton subtly shifting intonations to show the difference, and while the Big Bad becomes a little nebulous, that’s pretty much in-keeping for Davison’s first or second season, so there’s a solid sense of the story ‘belonging’ in his era. Sutton also gives an edge to the story by showing us Nyssa’s relationship to the Master, a monster staring back at her and the universe, though her beloved father’s eyes, and oddly, the only other person, in body at least, to survive the destruction of her world. Within the tone and parameters of the Fifth Doctor’s era, it’s a powerful Nyssa story.
The Shadows of Serenity too, the Sixth Doctor story by Nigel Robinson, has a sense of belonging, an early Sixth Doctor vibe to it, feeling very much more like the spiky TV incarnation than his later, mellower Big Finish version as he investigates Malgar, a planet with a fearsome reputation, which appears to have evolved into a place of peace and love and universal understanding. In fact, the story’s almost a metaphor for the Sixth Doctor’s character, and it takes what feels like an early version of the Sixth Doctor to rage against the dying of the freedom to be obnoxious, warmongering and violent, and to for Malgarians he meets choose the path of peace on their own behalf, rather than to have it foisted on them by apparently benevolent aliens. Nicola Bryant does her best to bring Baker to life, and occasionally manages it, but as with his namesake, Colin Baker’s voice is so much a part of his performance that it’s only rarely that we’re able to really relax into the portrayal of him here.
As a complete contrast to which, Sylvester McCoy’s voice is a thing full of idiosyncracies that invite imitation, and Sophie Aldred – an actress now making the majority of her living from her voice work, let’s not forget, delivers him up in all his rrrrrrrrrrollling broodiness in Dark Convoy by Mark B Oliver, a story extra-specially well suited to their pairing – an arctic convoy during the Second World War bringing a literal sunless darkness to the ‘Dark Doctor’ of the 80s, and riffing more than a little on the images and themes that became instantly classic with this pairing in The Curse of Fenric – cold, dark water and death.
Foreshadowing, the Eighth Doctor story by Julian Richards, really takes its time to make you love it. In the early minutes, there’s a combination that doesn’t especially work – Richards goes for bantering when the Doctor and Charley are arrested on an RAF base, but India Fisher, usually a solid narratorial voice, comes across initially sounding bored, showing up the slight clunkiness in the writing.
But Richards’ story grows on you – it’s agreeably quirky, although both the villain and the solution to the problem have a more New Who, Eleventh Doctor feel to them than normal. Charley does grow more like Charley as the story goes on, and the story thrills with a couple of thrilling connections that go beyond a typical Eighth Doctor and Charley story, paying off the premise of its title in a delicious way that becomes a kind of origin story for a character you may think you know, and joining bits of the Who universe.
The first eight Short Trips in this new series have taken listeners on a very broad range of adventures. They render their Doctors in new colours most of the time, while staying at least mostly true to the era in which they belong. While some of the Doctors are better presented through the narrator-choice (Sarah Sutton, Sophie Aldred) than others (Louise Jameson, Nicola Bryant), but at £2.99 a shot, they’re worth a punt, delivering quick listens, period feeling and for the most part, identifiable Doctors given half a twist.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk