Doctor Who
Short Trips: Time Signature

Editor: Simon Guerrier
Big Finish
RRP: 14.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84435 235 7
ISBN-10: 1 84435 235 8
Available 16 October 2006

A world devastated by time itself. A city with a mind of its own. A country torn apart by revolution. A television programme with a rather ingenious theme tune. A man in a boat with a biscuit tin... The Doctor doesn't just affect the lives of those around him: his actions resonate through history, shaping the universe, changing it, rewriting it in his own hand. But making it better? It's a good job he never sticks around for long afterwards. And yet, for all that the universe may be infinite, for all that he keeps moving on, the Doctor can't outrun the consequences forever...

As with the previous Short Trips anthology, The Centenarian, the stories in this collection develop ideas from a previously published tale, in this instance editor Simon Guerrier's An Overture Too Early from The Muses. Isaac, a former companion of the Doctor; temporal anomalies; and the mysterious grey-suited beings known as Black Rose and White Tulip crop up repeatedly throughout this volume. Guerrier's story is reprinted at the beginning of the book for the sake of clarity.

This collection is rather more reminiscent of the Decalogs that Virgin used to publish than the BBC's Short Trips anthologies from which this series has inherited its name. There are fewer stories than usual for a Short Trips book (ten, in fact, if you don't count An Overture Too Early, which the back cover blurb doesn't) but they tend to be meatier affairs of longer duration than we have grown used to of late.

The Virgin Publishing era is further evoked by the involvement of several key writers from the Seventh Doctor's television and literary era - Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel and Marc Platt - though only Platt actually writes for the Sylvester McCoy Doctor here, in The Hunting of the Slook. Aaronovitch and Cartmel both write about Colin Baker's Doctor, in the light-hearted Gone Fishing and Certificate of Destruction respectively. The Sixth Doctor appears in four stories in total, on each occasion accompanied by a new companion called William. The other two tales are the high-concept Walkin' City Blues by Joff Brown and Matthew Sweet's The Earwig Archipelago, which mixes comical and sombre themes to good effect.

Great news for Sixth Doctor fans, then - but not so good for followers of the Fourth. None of the stories collected here feature Tom Baker's version of the Time Lord, though his presence is briefly felt at the end of the Third Doctor tale An Overture Too Early.

There's also a distinct lack of companions familiar from the television series, apart from Sarah and the staff of UNIT (in An Overture Too Early); Ian, Barbara and Susan (in Philip Purser-Hallard's The Ruins of Time); and Jamie and Zoe (in The Avant Guardian by Eddie Robson).

The standard of the stories is generally very high, though I did find the foreign viewpoints depicted in Jonathan Clements's Second Contact a little confusing. Both The Hunting of the Slook and Simon Guerrier's DS al Fine work better as parts of the whole than as individual narratives in their own right, as they tie together and resolve plot strands from previous stories. The phrase "DS al fine", by the way, is, like "time signature", a bit of musical terminology.

My favourite entries include the Sixth Doctor/William tales Gone Fishing and Certificate of Destruction. Both have their fair share of humorous moments, though Gone Fishing also includes a rather awesome sci-fi concept, as one might expect from the pen of Ben Aaronovitch. Certificate is sillier and ends the collection on a comfortingly comical note. Best of all is The Ruins of Time, in which Philip Purser-Hallard brilliantly captures the essence of the original TARDIS team. His story also features a cliffhanging end-of-scene moment on practically every other page, which makes it a real page-turner.

I'll sign off by concluding that Time Signature is well worth making time for.

Richard McGinlay

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