He’s back! I confess: I was a little worried when 2017’s Short Trips lineup from Big Finish contained no stories for old Sixie. His place in the lineup seemed to have been taken by an assortment of (very good, for the most part) New Who based stories, and pleased as I am that BF are producing New Who content I was a concerned that some of their Classic content might fall by the wayside.
But for January and February of 2018 they put out two Sixth Doctor stories in a row, one for each of his TV companions (and there’s another one coming in August for BF’s own companion Constance Clarke). I listened to them more or less back to back, and had a great time…
The Authentic Experience by Dan Starkey
Peri is a soldier in an unknown war, teased by his fellow soldiers for his sensitive nature and love of plants. He doesn’t remember how he came to be in the army, or even where his home is.
The Doctor and Peri Brown land in a drab, grey city in the future, drawn in by a temporal disturbance. They quickly track down the source… a travel agency.
I called the reveal in The Authentic Experience very early on, but fortunately the story doesn’t hinge too much on surprise. Once the initial mystery is solved it blossoms into something fun and globe-trotting and delightfully creative.
This is author Dan Starkey’s second Big Finish writing credit, and first solo story. (You may know him as Strax.) A really delightful Short Trips debut. The strengths of the Doctor and Peri’s relationship are showcased in spite of the story being light on characterisation.
The central idea of The Authentic Experience may not be the most original but it’s well-executed and, by the end of the story, made into something truly mind-bending.
Mel-Evolent by Simon A Forward
One morning in the TARDIS, Mel finds the Doctor brooding in the TARDIS theatre. (She didn’t know the TARDIS had a theatre.) Exploring she sees, reflected in a mirror, her own face, but somehow twisted and sinister.
Something has invaded the TARDIS. Something has stolen Mel’s face. Something very old and very malevolent.
Mel-Evolent goes to some strange places. Like the best Sixth Doctor and Mel stories it’s superficially comic – the image of an evil version of Mel, one of the sweetest, most upbeat, most harmless companions the Doctor has ever had, borders on the absurd – but beneath the comedy and the trappings of fantasy there’s a sense of real fear.
The imagery is gorgeous, an eerie and surreal blend of science fiction and fairy tale. The reveal about the origins of the ‘Witch Queen’ is simultaneously some classic Doctor Who stuff whilst also being genuinely surprising and unsettling. The ending may take you by surprise.
The 2018 Short Trips lineup promises some really exciting and novel stories, including I Am The Master, written and performed by Big Finish’s original Master Geoffrey Beevers, and Erasure, an exceptionally niche story featuring the Fourth Doctor, Adric, and CIA Co-Ordinator Narvin of Big Finish’s Gallifrey.
But the quality of the range as a whole is best judged through more classic, more run of the mill stories like The Authentic Experience and Mel-Evolent. And both of these were a delight to listen to. Season eight off to a very strong start.