Doctor Who
Short Trips: The Centenarian

Editor: Ian Farrington
Big Finish
RRP: 14.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84435 191 6
ISBN-10: 1 84435 191 2
Available 18 September 2006

There is nothing special about Edward Grainger. His life is much like any other - full of family and friends, love and passion, incidents and turning points. He travels, works, laughs and cries. He has parents, a wife, a child, a grandchild. He lives life to the full. There is nothing special about Edward Grainger. Except... from the day he was born, until the day he will die, he keeps meeting the Doctor - sometimes a different Doctor, sometimes the same Doctor. There is nothing special about Edward Grainger...

Taking as its springboard the Grainger family depicted in Joseph Lidster's story She Won't Be Home from the previous Short Trips anthology The History of Christmas, this volume focuses on one particular family member, Edward, and his encounters with a certain Time Lord over the course of his 100-year lifetime. Later stories (Childhood Living by Samantha Baker and Forgotten by Lidster) also deal with Grainger's granddaughter Linda, who was the main character of She Won't Be Home, while the first two tales (Lidster's Prologue and Gary Russell's Echoes) tie in with the appeal of the Eighth Doctor's audio adventures by featuring members of travelling companion Charley Pollard's family.

The stories are presented in the order in which Grainger experiences them, though the book could be re-read in Doctor order. Indeed, the Fourth Doctor's solution to an invertebrate menace in Stel Pavlou's Checkpoint makes more sense in light of the First Doctor's actions in the subsequent Childhood Living.

Grainger himself is a far from flawless protagonist, particularly during the learning experiences of the earlier tales. He is an unruly and obnoxious little boy in Echoes, a tomb robber and accessory to murder in Steven Savile's Falling from Xi'an, a snob in Richard Salter's Log 384 and Stephen Hatcher's Testament, and the would-be assassin of an innocent woman in Simon Guerrier's Incongruous Details. From the eve of his 50th birthday in John Davies's Dear John, halfway through his life and about halfway through the book, he feels he is old and that his best years have passed. However, we as readers know, thanks to this book's title, that Grainger will live to a ripe old age, so perhaps the overall moral of this anthology is that one should keep looking forward rather than back and not write oneself off prematurely.

During much of his working life Grainger operates as a secret agent. Therefore, several stories - The Church of Football by Benjamin Adams, Incongruous Details, Checkpoint, Childhood Living, The Lost by L. J. Scott, and Old Boys by James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown - have a flavour of the espionage thriller about them, even though they involve aliens.

Other repeated themes are less acceptable and come across as mere repetition. Many stories have a supernatural aspect to them: Prologue/Forgotten, First Born by Lizzie Hopley, and Dear John all depict possession of one kind or another; Echoes and Dear John feature ghosts communicating through record players; Falling from Xi'an deals with animated statues; and Ancient Whispers by Brian Willis involves ancient magical symbols. As mentioned above, both Checkpoint and Childhood Living describe an invasion by alien invertebrates, with a similar solution to the problem in either case.

In spite of the repetition, Forgotten and Childhood Living are my two favourite stories in this anthology. In Forgotten, Joseph Lidster takes the reader's assumptions about his own prologue and ingeniously turns them on their heads. In Childhood Living, Samantha Baker effectively compares the viewpoints of two teenagers, Susan Foreman and Linda Grainger, as their respective grandfathers tackle a deadly threat.

I also enjoyed the timeline-bending Testament, in which (perhaps a little late in the day) Edward Grainger finally pieces together the connections that exist between his past encounters with various Doctors. Ian Mond's Direct Action, a speculation on the future of historical documentary filmmaking, also stands out, even though it goes somewhat off-topic by concentrating on Grainger's father rather than Edward himself.

In fact, this is generally a very strong collection, with only two stories really coming across as weak points. One of these is Glen McCoy's rather nonsensical Dream Devils. The other is Falling from Xi'an, which is a decent enough story, but features a Fifth Doctor who talks more like the Tenth. I can easily imagine that Steven Savile would really have liked to write about the Tenth Doctor, Rose and Mickey, had he been allowed to, rather than the Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough.

Conversely, one aspect of the new series that has made its way into the book is the sonic screwdriver, descriptions of which - in First Born and Checkpoint - seem more like the new version than the device that the Fourth and Fifth Doctors would have used.

All in all, there is something special about The Centenarian.

Richard McGinlay

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