Doctor Who
Short Trips: Zodiac

Editor: Jacqueline Rayner
Big Finish Productions
RRP 14.99
ISBN 1 84435 006 1
Available now

The Doctor - all eight of him - is involved in twelve tales connected to the mystical signs of the zodiac...

Whereas the previous three Short Trips collections were released by BBC Books, the short story torch has now been passed to Big Finish. Precisely why they felt the need to retain the Short Trips series title rather than invent one of their own is beyond me. They even credit Stephen Cole for creating the concept, as if the idea of publishing a set of short stories in one volume was a relatively recent one! Even within the realm of Doctor Who, Virgin Books began published its own Decalog collections years before Cole began his Short Trips.

Right, that's the first clause of the book's title dealt with. Now for the "zodiac" bit - a curious theme for a Doctor Who publication. Each story takes an astrological sign as its inspiration. Given that these include the signs of the bull, crab, lion and fish, Nimons, Macra, Tharils, Pescatons and Selachians are all conspicuous by their absence. The stories' connections to the zodiac are more varied than that. For instance, Mark Michalowski's creepy Edgar Allen Poe homage deals quite obviously with a ram's skull, whereas the only virgin aspect to Sarah Groenewegen's Virgin Lands is the Doctor/Ace/Benny team that featured in Virgin Books' New Adventures.

Some of the links are even more tenuous than that. For example, Ian Potter is inspired by the sideways movement of the crab to tell an intriguing post-Inferno tale of sideways travel into alternate realities, Still Lives. Meanwhile, Paul Leonard's Growing Higher, Simon Guerrier's The Switching and Paul Magrs' Jealous, Possessive are connected to their respective star signs - Taurus, Libra and Scorpio - only by the emotional characteristics of those signs.

However, that doesn't affect the enjoyment of the stories themselves, my favourites being Jealous, Possessive and Anthony Keetch's Twin Piques. The former transcribes bitchy correspondences between K9s Mark 1 and 2. Both K9s present the appearance of genial conversation whilst belittling the other - at one point, Mark 1 signs off as "The Original"; the next letter from Mark 2 addresses him as "Dear Prototype"! Twin Piques is a frequently bawdy tale (including much dirk-polishing and an embarrassing "kilt/breeze situation" for Jamie) of rival brothers. The story starts out like the Hartnell serial The Ark, with a giant statue getting finished off without the head that the TARDIS crew had expected, but it ultimately defied my expectations.

Several other stories are also comedic in nature. The Switching has the imprisoned Master doing a mind-swap with the Third Doctor, but the Master proves to be a far more polite prisoner and genial scientific advisor than the Doctor. The Stabber, by Alison Lawson, contains many an amusing moment with some apparently telepathic fish, although it also conveys a serious and worrying message about genetically modified foods. Andrew Collins combines bizarre horror with comedy in The Invertebrates of Doom, in which a race of jellyfish attempt to conquer the Earth. And the lighter moments in Simon A Forward's Constant Companion concern a troublesome pet cat.

Rather less enjoyable is Todd Green's Five Card Draw, in which several incarnations of the Doctor are summoned to help the original one out of a sticky situation. I'm not sure which aspect of this story is sillier: the fact that the First Doctor summons his other selves at all (he doesn't usually do that, even when in the deadliest of situations) or the fact that the various Doctors play cards to determine which will go into danger in his place. I'm also at a loss to see the point of the fairly incomprehensible Virgin Lands.

Of all the Doctors, the second and third incarnations get the best deal in this collection, appearing in three stories each. On the other hand, the Fourth Doctor only features fleetingly in 'I Was a Monster!!!'. In this tale, Joseph Lidster, the writer of the Seventh Doctor audio drama The Rapture, once again captures the dizzying spirit of nightclub culture.

At 177 pages, Short Trips: Zodiac is a much shorter set of trips than the mammoth tomes the BBC used to publish (and far more expensive). However, the signs are that there's still plenty to enjoy in this book.

Richard McGinlay

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