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BOOK
Doctor Who
Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury

Editor: Paul Cornell
Big Finish
RRP 14.99
ISBN 1 84435 112 2
Available 31 December 2004


Join the Doctor as he visits a Christmas truce in the trenches, gets caught up in an alien plot concerning the recording of
Do They Know It's Christmas?, runs into another yuletide television institution, has a serious chat with Santa Claus, and even manages some last-minute shopping in Oxford street...

Due to a combination of this book's release date, the Christmas post and Sci-fi Online's seasonal break, I ended up reading this book in January rather than December. Oh well, at least I managed to finish it before Candlemas, which, as Stephen Cole's Evergreen story tell us, is regarded by some as the traditional end to the Christmas season.

And this collection did manage to enthuse me with a degree of Christmas spirit. Not all of the tales were to my liking, though: I never really got into the first one, Simon Guerrier's Last Christmas, and both Darren Sellars' Never Seen Cairo and Martin Day's It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow seem more like anecdotes than stories. However, there are so many of them - more than 20 in all - and they are all so relatively short that, like sketches in The Fast Show, if you don't like one then you can rest assured that another will be along in no time at all.

My favourite stories are the amusing yet poignant The Little Things, by Paul Beardsley, The Clanging Chimes of Doom, by Jonathan Morris, both of which feature characteristically witty banter between the Fourth Doctor and the Second Romana; and Steve Lyons' All Our Christmases, which steps outside the box to tell the peculiar story of a magazine editor who alters history by "fixing" some of the deficiencies in his favourite television show.

As you would expect, many of the tales have a humorous and/or celebratory flavour. However, Christmas can also be a sad time, and accordingly some stories have a more tragic tinge to them. Last Christmas, Never Seen Cairo and It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow all deal with war, while Peter Adamson's Water's Edge concerns a train crash, J. Shaun Lyon's Goodwill Toward Men tackles homelessness and Evergreen takes place on the anniversary of a husband's death.

In addition to short stories, the collection also includes four poems, four recipes and even instructions to two Who-themed games! The instructions for Lawrence Miles' board-based The Game of Rassilon are far more complex than those of Jim Sangster's action-based Animus, Zarbi, Menoptra, though it is instilled with instances of sly humour, such as the fact that the characters are compatible with the old Weetabix Doctor Who pop-out figures. By contrast, the very basic rules of Sangster's game don't even work properly: is the Animus stronger than the Menoptra or vice versa?

The recipes, all by Paul Condon and affectionately written in the style of Gary Downie's Doctor Who Cookbook, are similarly inconsistent, in this instance in terms of their ingredient lists. Condon cannot seem to decide whether to place the metric measurements before the imperial ones, or, in the case of his 50g of caster sugar in Beep the Meep's Grundian Egg Nog, whether to include an imperial measurement at all. He explains to American readers that caster sugar is known to them as superfine sugar, but fails to explain that unsalted butter is also known as sweet butter or that a vanilla pod is the same thing as a vanilla bean. You can tell I've proofread more than a few cookbooks, can't you?

All four poems are witty and entertaining, though my two favourites are the equally irreverent In the TARDIS: Christmas Day, by Val Douglas, and The Feast of Seven... Eight (and Nine), by Vanessa Bishop. Both lampoon their chosen characters to perfection. Douglas picks on the Season 19 TARDIS team, complete with bad-tempered Tegan and greedy Adric. Bishop highlights some well-known aspects of the various Doctors' on- and off-screen personas, as a fluffing First Doctor hosts a seasonal dinner party for his mischievous second, lisping third, boozy fourth, bland fifth, gluttonous sixth, "r"-rrrrrolling seventh and kissy eighth incarnations.

Never mind that it's no longer Christmas. Get down to the supermarket, buy some cut-price Chrimbo cake or mince pies, and curl up on the sofa with this anthology. With A Christmas Treasury it can be Christmas every day.

Richard McGinlay

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