Doctor Who
Short Trips: The Muses

Editor: Jacqueline Rayner
Big Finish
RRP: £14.99
ISBN-13: 978-1-84435-009-4
ISBN-10: 1-84435-009-6
Available 09 October 2003

Tell me, O Muse, of that many-aspected hero who fled his home world to travel every corner of time and space. Tell me, daughter of Jove, of his battles and his tragedies, of the strangers he encountered and the evil plots he foiled. Speak with laughter, with tears, through songs and visions of the Doctor, the hero and champion of this world and many others. The nine Muses have, since ancient times, brought inspiration to those willing to receive it. Nine authors have received such inspiration, to speak of the mysterious Time Lord known as the Doctor. Here they tell tales of History, of Dancing, of Comedy and Tragedy, of Sacred Poetry, Epic Poetry and Love Poetry, of Music and Astronomy. May they speak to your hearts...

Big Finish didn’t send Review Graveyard a copy of this book for review when it was published back in 2003. However, I’ve just caught up with it - nearly four years after the fact - and I felt that I simply had to share my, um, musings with you all.

I have to confess that, before I read it, I wasn’t especially looking forward to the experience. When it comes to prose, I much prefer novels to short stories, and the Muses concept didn’t strike me as a particularly interesting idea. However, the stories in this collection are fewer but longer than average, which gives the reader a better chance to get into the narrative and characters before the tale comes to an end, and the Muses angle is only the loosest of hooks for the writers to hang their ideas upon.

For example, Thalia, the Muse of comedy, does not appear in Gareth Roberts’s contribution, “Thalia: The Brain of Socrates”, though it does concern comedy and is a comic piece of work itself. Nor does Erato, the Muse of love poetry and mimicry, enter into Ian Potter’s “Erato: Confabula”, though the story deals with both love and mimicry. On a broader level, all the tales are concerned with inspiration in one form or other.

In case you’re wondering, Thalia, the Time Lady from Arc of Infinity, does not appear in this book. Nor does Erato, the big green blob from The Creature from the Pit!

The anthology does contain some welcome blasts from the past, however, including a few of my favourite things. Two of my best-loved authors, Gareth Roberts and Steve Lyons, have contributed. Roberts has written another amusing Fourth Doctor tale, “Thalia: The Brain of Socrates”, though this time “his” Doctor is accompanied by Leela rather than his usual choice of Romana. In “Calliope: Katarina in the Underworld”, Lyons, the man who managed to give Dodo Chaplet a convincing back story (in the novel Salvation) fleshes out another underused First Doctor companion - you can guess who from the title. “Urania: The Astronomer’s Apprentice”, by Simon A. Forward, features one of my favourite alien settings from the whole of the series’ history, the planet Traken, while Tara Samms’s “Melpomene: Mordieu” is set during one of my preferred eras of the novels, BBC Books’ Eighth Doctor “stranded on Earth” arc, taking between Endgame and Father Time. Samms effectively compares the plight of an exhausted Hollywood writer, who is desperate to sell another story idea, with that of the amnesiac Doctor, who is struggling to regain his lost memories.

One entry that doesn’t really work for me is “Polyhymnia: Hymn of the City”, by Sarah Groenewegen. Still introducing its major characters nearly halfway into the narrative, the tale seems only then to decide in which direction it is heading. No sooner had I got a grip on the story than it came to an end. Some might argue that this is what the art of the short story is all about. Maybe this is why I prefer novels.

On the other hand, Simon Guerrier’s “Euterpe: An Overture Too Early” is so full of intriguing ideas (including a former travelling companion of the Doctor, whom we’d never met before, temporal anomalies and a pair of mysterious grey-suited beings) that it inspired a Short Trips anthology of its own, Time Signature.

What is most remarkable of all about The Muses is how it pre-empts the style of the new television series, which was still a year and a half away from transmission and had been announced for mere days when this book was published. Robert Shearman’s touching “Terpsichore: Teach Yourself Ballroom Dancing” sees the Sixth Doctor acquiring the skills he would later put to use in The Doctor Dances. Both this and “Erato: Confabula” toy with the notion of characters feeling romantic love for the Time Lord and the possibility of him actually reciprocating those feelings. The final story, “Clio: The Glass Princess” by Justin Richards, is not only a tear-jerker comparable with the most emotional episodes of the new series - and The Girl in the Fireplace in particular - but it also contains the soon-to-be oft-used phrase, “I’m sorry... So sorry.”

I’m not sorry that I’ve finally experienced this truly inspirational book.

Richard McGinlay

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