Doctor Who
Short Trips: 2040

Editor: John Binns
Big Finish
RRP £14.99
ISBN 1 84435 111 4
Available 26 November 2004

In 2040, the human race has broken out of Earth's confines, with bases on the moon and missions to the outer planets. Terrorist threats are contained by ever-larger military alliances, using vehicles and weapons that can think for themselves. Large corporations are increasingly working as the partners of government, the largest of these companies being Perseus. But is this a good thing...?

In 1948, George Orwell transposed the final two digits of the year in which he was writing, and so titled his cautionary tale about the direction in which human civilisation was heading Nineteen Eighty-Four. In 2004, editor John Binns has done much the same thing with his anthology, Short Trips: 2040.

The problems and concerns of today are shown to have escalated in these stories. The twin threats of terrorism and nuclear disaster converge in The Nuclear Option by Richard Salter; neighbours and co-workers become ever-more distanced from each other in Tara Samms' Separation; the intrusiveness of reality TV reaches new heights (or rather depths) in Observer Effect by Lance Parkin; the Seventh Doctor and Mel meet an eccentric cult in Xanna Eve Chown's Daisy Chain; and numerous endangered species face extinction in The Last Emperor by Jacqueline Rayner.

The instances described above form the main thrusts of their respective narratives, but in other cases pertinent issues are alluded to in passing. The nanny state has become even more health-conscious than it is today in Thinking Warrior by Huw Wilkins; sea levels have continued to rise according to Marc Platt's Outsourcing; the European state has become a reality and congestion charging has forced most vehicles off the roads in The Baron Wastes by Alexander Leithes.

In addition to the obviously Nineteen Eighty-Four-ish concept of 2040, Binns has also throw an element from another Orwell novel, Animal Farm, into the final story of the collection, his own The Ethereal. Like the pigs that become indistinguishable from their former human masters, the aliens behind the businesslike façade of the Perseus Corporation are revealed to be porcine beings posing as humans.

But aside from its moral fibre, is this collection worth reading? Well, there's some good stuff here. Tara Samms, who previously excelled at depicting character-led internalised terror in tales such as Glass (in the BBC's first Short Trips collection) and Frayed (for Telos Publishing), to name but two, pulls it off again with her poignant and unnerving Separation. The Last Emperor is similarly moving. Both Observer Effect and Artificial Intelligence, the latter by Andy Campbell, are by turns darkly humorous and horrifying. The Baron Wastes is a terrific yarn, embroiling the Fourth Doctor in a James Bond type espionage adventure, with elements of The Avengers and Die Hard added for good measure.

However, the other nine contributions either confused me or left me unmoved. The confusion arises because, although they are all set in the same year, the stories do not always appear to follow a logical sequence, from either the Doctor's or the Earth's point of view. For example, in Matthew Griffiths' Sustainable Energy, we are told that the Sixth Doctor is cut off from his TARDIS, but we are not shown how this came about until four stories later, in Outsourcing, which supposedly takes place beforehand. It would have made more sense to transpose these two tales. Furthermore, we never discover how the Doctor manages to get his ship functioning normally again. The concluding entry, The Ethereal, is guilty of telling, rather than showing, what becomes of the Earth after 2040, via copious paragraphs of description.

Fans of the Seventh Doctor, and in particular his New Adventures, should enjoy themselves, because he appears in no fewer than five of the stories, often accompanied by companion Chris Cwej. In many other respects, though, this is a rather lacklustre anthology.

Richard McGinlay

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