Doctor Who
Short Trips:
The Ghosts of Christmas

Editors: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
Big Finish
RRP: £14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 270 8
Available 15 December 2007

Christmas: a time for home, family and laughter... Everybody has special memories of Christmas, but for others it brings shadows of things that should not have been: unearthly visitors who open their eyes to new worlds and new experiences, pantomime coats, robot dogs and a big blue box parked beneath the Christmas tree. Some think these fleeting guests are apparitions. Some think they are angels. Some think they are demons. But all know that Christmas will never be the same again. The Doctor and his companions travel to Christmas Past, Christmas Present and those Christmases Yet to Come. They bring festive cheer and Yuletide joy, creeping dread and screaming horror, slipping in and out of time like the ghosts of Christmas...

As is common with these anthologies, there’s a degree of stylistic and thematic hangover from the previous collection, in this instance Short Trips: Snapshots. Like all of the stories in that collection, many of the tales in The Ghosts of Christmas are told from the perspectives of characters other than the Doctor and his companions. The full implications of the travellers’ exploits often remain a mystery to the observer (and, in the case of Dan Abnett’s “For the Man Who Has Everything” and Michael Abberton’s “Jigsaw”, a mystery to the reader, too). These observers include a Home Secretary’s PA in “For the Man Who Has Everything”; an electrical engineer in Ann Kelly’s “The Cutty Wren”; the original Aladdin in Jonathan Clements’s panto-themed “The Nobility of Faith”; an old man in a care home in Simon Barnard and Paul Morris’s “The Christmas Presence”; shop workers in John Binns’s “Snowman in Manhattan” and Mark Magrs’s “Christmas Every Day?”; various eye-witnesses in “Jigsaw”; the reluctant organiser of an office party in Trevor Baxendale’s “Dr Cadabra”; an anxious expectant father in Iain McLaughlin and Claire Bartlett’s “Far Away in a Manger”; a starship stewardess in Eddie Robson’s “Decorative Purposes”; and a terrified fugitive in Steven Savile’s homage to virtually every zombie movie ever made, “The Stars Our Contamination”.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the festive subject matter, the point of view is frequently that of a child, as in Colin Harvey’s “But Once a Year”, Ian Farrington’s “24 Crawford Street”, Neil Corry’s “Dear Great Uncle Peter” (complete with BIG LETTERS for emphasis), Xanna Eve Chown’s “Do You Believe in the Krampus?”, Scott Handcock’s “They Fell” and Richard Salter’s “The Crackers”.

Just occasionally, though, the viewpoint character is one of the Doctor’s companions or former companions: Ben Jackson in Gary Russell’s “Do You Dream in Colour?”; Tegan Jovanka in Joseph Lidster’s “Keeping it Real”; and the Brigadier in the three-part story “Faithful Friends”, penned by the editors, Cavan Scott and Mark Wright.

The book itself is divided into three sections: “Christmas Past”, “Christmas Present” and “Christmas Yet to Come”, containing stories that deal respectively with humanity’s past, present and future. “Christmas Past” is characterised by ghostly tales, the spooks and scares being caused by extra-terrestrial artefacts (as in “But Once a Year”), alien presences (as in Scott Matthewman’s “Tell Me You Love Me”) or temporal rifts (as in Peter Anghelides’s “The Sommerton Fetch”). Alien artefacts and/or presences are still in evidence during “Christmas Present”, though the stories have a decidedly more oddball flavour to them: memory-stealing centipedes in “Dear Great Uncle Peter”; a figure from Austrian folklore in “Do You Believe in the Krampus?”; the Second Doctor playing Santa in “The Christmas Presence”; a possessed toy in “Snowman in Manhattan”; and the Sixth Doctor standing in for a missing magician in “Dr Cadabra”. Futuristic ways of marking the season are a recurring theme of “Christmas Yet to Come”, including genetically modified trees and fairies in “Decorative Purposes”; an entire fake Christmassy town in “Keeping it Real”; and a dreadful consumerist culture in which Christmas shopping dominates each and every week, in “Christmas Every Day?”

Knitting these sections together like the yarn of a festive pullover is the three-part “Faithful Friends”, which precedes the first two sections and rounds off the collection at the end. However, Paul Cornell fans might be upset to learn that the elderly Brigadier of “Faithful Friends: Part Three” has outlived his wife Doris. This contradicts Cornell’s New Adventures novel Happy Endings, in which the Brig is rejuvenated, and the same author’s Eighth Doctor novel The Shadows of Avalon, in which Alistair outlives Doris. Perhaps the Brigadier of “Part Three” has grown old for a second time, and the Doctor has brought his guests from the past...

A more minor, internal inconsistency crops up in Scott Alan Woodard’s “All Snug in Their Beds” and in “Keeping it Real”. In the first story, the Fourth Doctor wraps up against sub-zero temperatures, whereas in the second tale, the Fifth Doctor is said to not usually be troubled by the cold. Ironically, this situation is the reverse of an inconsistency in the TV series: the Fourth Doctor is unaffected by the Antarctic chill in The Seeds of Doom, whereas the Fifth Doctor detects “a nip in the air” in Time-Flight (and the Sixth Doctor really suffers inside a cold-storage room in Attack of the Cybermen). Evidently the Doctor’s resistance to low temperatures varies from time to time, perhaps due to some as-yet unexplained Gallifreyan biological rhythm.

Like a box of festive chocolates, some stories are tastier and more memorable than others. My personal favourites (the orange crèmes, so to speak) are “Dear Great Uncle Peter”, “Snowman in Manhattan” and “Dr Cadabra”. Also well worth sampling are “Tell Me You Love Me”, “The Nobility of Faith”, “24 Crawford Street” (despite the repeated misspelling of lava), “The Sommerton Fetch” (which includes an amusing Terrance Dicks-style description of the “young-old” Third Doctor), “The Christmas Presence”, “The Crackers”, “All Snug in Their Beds”, “Decorative Purposes” and “Christmas Every Day?”

With more than twenty stories to choose from, it really can be Christmas every day - or at least most of the month.

Richard McGinlay

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