Big Finish: Doctor Who SHORT TRIPS VOL 11 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who SHORT TRIPS VOL 11 Review

Tony enjoys a new selection box.
The Short Trips range has often been the home of stories that celebrate the esoteric nature of Doctor Who as a property. Where stories might not perhaps have the legs for four episodes, each with a cliffhanger, but are nevertheless worth telling, a Short Trip has allowed for the broadening of the fabric of the Doctor Who universe without overpadding or beating an idea to death.

For a little while, Big Finish has been releasing its Short Trips as individual stories, with additional recordings released as Subscriber Bonus material, so it’s an interesting move to come back to the anthology format and deliver Volume 11 as a single release.

The questions are; what the release has in store, and whether it benefits from its anthology presentation.

Let’s take those questions in reverse order. Because we can, so nehh. Do we benefit from the anthology format here? Unquestionably, yes. What’s the benefit? Well, while most of the stories here could absolutely survive as single-release titles, there’s probably one that needs the anthology format to survive – not because it’s of lesser quality (in fact, it’s among our favourites), but because it’s relatively Doctor-light, and so would probably struggle to justify a solo release.

And what does the anthology offer?

Six new stories, six different Doctors, from an exciting group of writers, each giving an authentic but off-beat look at the world of the Doctor and their adventures.

The set kicks off with Rearguard by Alfie Shaw, and let’s be up-front – this is the story that most benefits from the anthology format, because it tells the story of a loyal Sontaran trooper, Stron, who is given orders to attack the planet Ubreus, destroy the ‘alien scum’ who live there (and who have allegedly been supplying the Rutans), and to fight and die for the glory of Sontar.

When his entire troop is destroyed in what is otherwise a successful mission, Stron is left alone, forming a ‘rearguard’ on the planet, and following Sontaran military discipline. He files reports, scouts for enemies, sings rousing Sontaran victory songs (It’s not all “Sontar-Ha” in the Sontaran army!), shoots the occasional tree, and grows progressively older while waiting for reinforcements or redeployment.

The days, and months, and finally years drag on, with no enemies to fight, no response to his signals – until the Eleventh Doctor turns up, with a reality check and an offer. Turn your back on all this, he begs, and be of service to others.

Naturally, Stron refuses, and the years continue their slow, slow progress. It would be criminal to spoil the ending for you, but there’s pathos and truth in the fate of Stron as an examination of unshakeable belief in a cause, irrespective of how idiotic and pointless the cause may seem to the outside universe.

Dan Starkey adds sympathetically to his roster of Sontarans here, and we learn more about the way Sontaran clones are generated, in what is an emotionally affecting, exquisitely written and expertly played short story to open up the set.

Messages From The Dead, by Rochana Patel, read by Matthew Waterhouse, takes us to that gap in the Fourth Doctor’s timeline between Romana’s leaving and his visit to Traken, where it’s just the Doctor and Adric on board the Tardis. While the story itself is involving and centres on a ship with messages recorded, seemingly for broadcast into a black hole, the real value in the story is in the detail of the relationships between the Fourth Doctor and the Second Romana, and between the Doctor and Adric. With the boy genius trying to feel accepted by the ageing, spiky Fourth Doctor in the absence of his fellow Time Lord, Messages From The Dead is an important vignette in terms of the transition between companions and the Doctor’s emotional response to them. In addition to which, it ends on a genuinely hopeful note that seems to act as a kind of catharsis, both for the Doctor and for the only Alzarian in N-Space.

Felicia Barker’s The Threshold is a highly challenging concept, and you have to listen to it actively to get the most from it. Focusing on the Delgado Master and the Third Doctor, having Jon Culshaw on reading duties pays double dividends here. The Master faces a choice after a collision in the vortex. He can die, or he can change. The ‘Doctor’ is not quite what he appears to be, giving the Master visions of potential futures in which he can exist – if he can embrace such a future and not be fundamentally the Master as he understands himself.

For fans of the Third Doctor era, The Threshold is a deeper dive into the Delgado Master’s psychology than was ever attempted on-screen. It’s a story that would need a second and third act to be a full-length story, but in the Short Trips format, it’s just mind-boggling enough to take you from start to finish, feeling like you’ve spent some time inside the Delgado Master’s head – which is never a bad thing.

Death Will Not Part Us is Alfie Shaw’s second story in the collection, and takes us to a frontier in the early ‘years’ of the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. The world of Gernica is reasonably peaceful on the day Viola is due to get married.

The planet Gernica is attacked and destroyed on the day Viola is due to get married.

The planet Gernica doesn’t exist, and has never existed.

That’s the premise with which we’re dealing – the triplicate reality of the Time War. What would you do? More specifically, what would you do if you suddenly discovered a weapon that could roll back time and give you a chance to change things? Viola tries, time and time again, to change something, to change ANYTHING about the fate of her planet, at the expense of the days of her life – the fuel for the weapon.

With touches of Matt Haig’s Midnight Library – what happens if you remove crucial days from your personal timeline? – it’s a tender and heartbreaking story, into which the Eighth Doctor’s intervention is not necessarily for the best. It also shows the nature of the Time War, where everything, even the souls of the Time Lords, are up for grabs when taking the longer view of a chrono-war.

Fear Of Flying by Paul Verhoeven is a rather more fun and slightly flippant tale, as befits the chirpy Tenth Doctor. It’s a sweet thing, too – Hawa Hassan is an actor on the brink of quitting the profession, but flying to one last audition for a minor part.

Unfortunately, she has a fear of flying, which is not in any sense allayed by the chirpy, chatty, disaster-statistic junkie at her side.

Taking its cue from Monsters, Inc (yes, really), Verhoeven’s story is one of air travel with a slightly Douglas Adams twist – in the search for a green global energy source for its planes, one airline has stolen a march on the industry by Doing Something Spoilery, and the Tenth Doctor finds himself sitting next to Hawa Hassan – or as he knows her, the GREAT Hawa Hassan, leading actress of a generation, a reputation she has yet to earn.

You might question the degree to which he’s interfering with established causality as the story goes on, though you probably won’t, because the story’s so much absurdist fun, and involves a fake birth at several thousand feet, and one of those gloriously Tenth Doctor scenes where he’s out of his comfort zone, with prepared lines to say and an odd conviction that he’s saying them well. It’s comical and fun, but it also delivers a neat lesson about fear – and about how to overcomes it, whatever it is you’re afraid of.

And finally, Ben Tedds’ Inside Story is a neat story of art and history and the sharing of both between an Earth author and her alien muse.

Where the usual route to go down with a story like that would be ‘Alien trying to take over the world by some insidious group consciousness vibe,’ Tedds gives us a better, less straightforward story than that. Think John Wyndham’s Chocky – two personalities working together, but eventually the incomer endangering the human simply by their presence, not by virtue of any malice.

The way the story is presented is fresh and inviting, too – told from the point of view of author Helen Howard, the mind-sharing author, it’s a fun, surprising moment when Sophie Aldred starts reading this story from that perspective, because we’re so used to her as Ace. With Ace and the Seventh Doctor encountering Howard at a book-signing, it allows for some classic Seventh Doctor intensity, and also dips into Ace’s feelings about the Doctor’s seemingly using her to fight his battles.

It's a thing that’s been addressed a few times in the extended universe, but Tedds gives the whole uncertainty a dimension that’s wholly believable for Ace, while making the Doctor face some uncomfortable questions.

What you get from Short Trips Series 11 is a set of crown jewels, polished and faceted tales that exist between the bigger, broader stories of universe-threatening alien aggressors. Each of the stories in this collection is in the best tradition of the Short Trips range, and stands proudly alongside the best examples we’ve heard.

If you like Doctor Who stories that are shorter and more intimate than full-scale universal threat sometimes allows room for, you’ll already be a fan of the Short Trips range from Big Finish. And if you’re already a fan of the range, Short Trips Series 11 is a chocolate box of pure, affecting delights.

Doctor Who: Short Trips Volume 11 is available to purchase from the Big Finish website.

Tony 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 day, he 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

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