Doctor Who
Short Trips:
Destination Prague

Editor: Steven Savile
Big Finish
RRP: £14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 253 1
Available 30 June 2007

A city saved from the ravages of war and the Third Reich because of its beauty, Prague is home to Rabbi Loew’s Golem, Rudolph II’s obsession with finding the elixir of youth, and scientific genius in the form of Kepler and Tycho Brahe. There are believed to be magnetic energies whose lines intersect at several spots, and astronomy, astrology, numerology and magnetic forces have all played a role in building the city. But how will they influence its future? How will Prague adapt in the centuries to come? Will it have a glamorous rebirth or wallow in a dystopic nightmare, and what will be the role of the old superstitions in the new world? For the Doctor and his companions, the answers to these questions are only the start of further mysteries...

As though to prove that the Doctor doesn’t just materialise in London (and more occasionally of late, Cardiff) when he visits the planet Earth, all of the short stories in this collection are set in the beautiful and historic city of Prague.

The tales are presented in no particular order that I can detect, in terms of either Prague’s history or the TARDIS’s travels. For example, in “Sunday Afternoon, AD 848,988”, by Paul Crilley, the first of two Seventh Doctor / Ace stories, it is stated that this is not their first trip to the city, whereas the subsequent tale “Fable Fusion”, by Gary A. Braunbeck and Lucy A. Snyder, indicates that Ace has never been to Prague before.

Perhaps this random arrangement is an attempt to obscure the fact that the majority of the tales take place in Earth’s future, which is a little curious, given the historic flavour of the city. For instance, both Sean Williams’ “Midnight in the Café of the Black Madonna” and Robert Hood’s “Gold and Black Ooze” deal with alien abductions of the entire city in future centuries. “Room for Improvement”, by James A. Moore, has the First Doctor and Ian tackling a new kind of plague in the year 2908. “War in a Time of Peace”, by Steve Lockley and Paul Lewis, has the Eighth Doctor and Charley facing the consequences of a futuristic defensive shield erected around the city.

Nevertheless, though some of the 21 entries in this collection could arguably have taken place elsewhere, most of them make good use of the city’s renowned architecture and rich cultural heritage. Franz Kafka, author of the famous novella The Metamorphosis, is the obvious inspiration for two very different stories, Stephen Dedman’s “Nanomorphosis” and Stel Pavlou’s “Omegamorphosis”. The legend of the Golem of Prague, an animated being fashioned from inanimate matter, comes into play in Keith R.A. DeCandido’s “Life from Lifelessness” and Kevin Killiany’s “Men of the Earth”.

Several authors known for their Star Trek work have contributed to this anthology, including DeCandido, who has penned numerous Trek books, and Killiany, who is the author of two Starfleet Corps of Engineers novellas. Mike W. Barr, the writer who launched DC Comics’ first celebrated series of Star Trek comic books, provides another First Doctor story, “The Long Step Backward”, while Paul Kupperberg, who also wrote for the DC and SCE series, supplies the Sixth Doctor tale “Strange Attractor”. The Star Trek associations don’t end with the authors’ names, however. Killiany’s story bears comparison with the plot of the Original Series episode The Devil in the Dark and the Next Generation episode Home Soil. Risa, the hedonistic vacation planet visited in Enterprise, Next Gen and Deep Space Nine, is mentioned by Ace in “Fable Fusion”.

Perhaps because many of the writers are not British, the characterisations of the TARDIS crew sometimes seem a little off-base, most noticeably in “Fable Fusion”. Here, the Seventh Doctor speaks more like Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker, but with a few of Sylvester McCoy’s Season 24-style mangled metaphors thrown in. However, he is travelling with Ace, by which point in the television series the Doctor had lost that verbal habit. Ace herself seems far too in touch with her own feelings. The Doctor is also said to wear suspenders, which seems extremely kinky to a British reader - I presume the writers mean what Brits call braces!

A few stories are so off-beat as to be almost incomprehensible. “Strange Attractor” deals with a personified force of anarchy. Cue lots of bizarre spatial anomalies. “The Time Eater”, a Second Doctor / Jamie story by Lee Battersby, features a dying temporal creature. Cue lots of bizarre time anomalies. Tim Waggoner’s “Across Silent Seas” isn’t so bad, but it has the misfortune of being similarly themed (an imprisoned time-sensitive animal) and featuring the same TARDIS crew (Second Doctor and Jamie).

Many contributions are merely very strange or silly, though not in a bad way. Brian Keene’s “The Dogs of War” is a kind of Planet of the Apes but with dogs, with Prague having been overrun by intelligent canines. Appropriately enough, K-9 saves the day. “Suspension and Disbelief”, by Mary Robinette Kowal, has the Fifth Doctor helping a man to escape execution with the aid of an animated life-size marionette. Supermarionation indeed! “The Dragons of Prague”, by Todd (son of Anne) McCaffrey, sees the Fourth Doctor being set a culinary challenge by a dragon disguised as a chef. As you do.

However, my favourite stories are “Sunday Afternoon, AD 848,988”, an amusingly complex time-paradox narrative, and James Swallow’s “Lady of the Snows”, a poignant tale of love involving an artist and an amnesiac Charley. I also particularly enjoyed the Golem-themed “Life from Lifelessness” (a flashback within a flashback) and “Men of the Earth”, as well as the Third Doctor / Jo Grant “ghost” story “Spoilsport”, by Paul Finch.

With 21 tales contained within this chunky 300-page volume, there’s certainly plenty to see, and it does make me want to take a short (or indeed long) trip to Prague, which was surely part of the editor’s intention. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then make your destination the bookshop.

Richard McGinlay

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