The Doctor - all eight of him - is involved in twelve tales
connected to the mystical signs of the zodiac...
the previous three Short Trips collections were released
by BBC Books, the short story torch has now been passed to
Big Finish. Precisely why they felt the need to retain the
Short Trips series title rather than invent one of
their own is beyond me. They even credit Stephen Cole for
creating the concept, as if the idea of publishing a set of
short stories in one volume was a relatively recent one! Even
within the realm of Doctor Who, Virgin Books began
published its own Decalog collections years before Cole began
his Short Trips.
that's the first clause of the book's title dealt with. Now
for the "zodiac" bit - a curious theme for a Doctor Who
publication. Each story takes an astrological sign as its
inspiration. Given that these include the signs of the bull,
crab, lion and fish, Nimons, Macra, Tharils, Pescatons and
Selachians are all conspicuous by their absence. The stories'
connections to the zodiac are more varied than that. For instance,
Mark Michalowski's creepy Edgar Allen Poe homage deals quite
obviously with a ram's skull, whereas the only virgin aspect
to Sarah Groenewegen's Virgin Lands is the Doctor/Ace/Benny
team that featured in Virgin Books' New Adventures.
Some of the links are even more tenuous than that. For example,
Ian Potter is inspired by the sideways movement of the crab
to tell an intriguing post-Inferno tale of sideways
travel into alternate realities, Still Lives. Meanwhile,
Paul Leonard's Growing Higher, Simon Guerrier's The
Switching and Paul Magrs' Jealous, Possessive are
connected to their respective star signs - Taurus, Libra and
Scorpio - only by the emotional characteristics of those signs.
that doesn't affect the enjoyment of the stories themselves,
my favourites being Jealous, Possessive and Anthony
Keetch's Twin Piques. The former transcribes bitchy
correspondences between K9s Mark 1 and 2. Both K9s present
the appearance of genial conversation whilst belittling the
other - at one point, Mark 1 signs off as "The Original";
the next letter from Mark 2 addresses him as "Dear Prototype"!
Twin Piques is a frequently bawdy tale (including much
dirk-polishing and an embarrassing "kilt/breeze situation"
for Jamie) of rival brothers. The story starts out like the
Hartnell serial The Ark, with a giant statue getting
finished off without the head that the TARDIS crew had expected,
but it ultimately defied my expectations.
other stories are also comedic in nature. The Switching
has the imprisoned Master doing a mind-swap with the Third
Doctor, but the Master proves to be a far more polite prisoner
and genial scientific advisor than the Doctor. The Stabber,
by Alison Lawson, contains many an amusing moment with some
apparently telepathic fish, although it also conveys a serious
and worrying message about genetically modified foods. Andrew
Collins combines bizarre horror with comedy in The Invertebrates
of Doom, in which a race of jellyfish attempt to conquer
the Earth. And the lighter moments in Simon A Forward's Constant
Companion concern a troublesome pet cat.
Rather less enjoyable is Todd Green's Five Card Draw,
in which several incarnations of the Doctor are summoned to
help the original one out of a sticky situation. I'm not sure
which aspect of this story is sillier: the fact that the First
Doctor summons his other selves at all (he doesn't usually
do that, even when in the deadliest of situations) or the
fact that the various Doctors play cards to determine which
will go into danger in his place. I'm also at a loss to see
the point of the fairly incomprehensible Virgin Lands.
all the Doctors, the second and third incarnations get the
best deal in this collection, appearing in three stories each.
On the other hand, the Fourth Doctor only features fleetingly
in 'I Was a Monster!!!'. In this tale, Joseph Lidster,
the writer of the Seventh Doctor audio drama The Rapture,
once again captures the dizzying spirit of nightclub culture.
177 pages, Short Trips: Zodiac is a much shorter set
of trips than the mammoth tomes the BBC used to publish (and
far more expensive). However, the signs are that there's still
plenty to enjoy in this book.
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