Doctor Who
Short Trips: A Day in the Life

Editor: Ian Farrington
Big Finish
RRP: £14.99
ISBN 1 84435 147 5
Available 01 July 2005

In the early hours of the morning, a rock star gives a one-off comeback performance within a virtual reality dreamscape. Over breakfast, a woman waits for the love of her life to walk into a café. The afternoon sees vital peace talks between two warring factions. A new UNIT recruit faces terror at dusk in his first day on the job. As we leave one story and join the next, we switch location and era, but not the hands on the clock...

Is it just me, or does the idea of a collection of short stories "whose total 'running time' adds up to a single 24-hour period: a fictional 'day in the life of the universe' made up of fragments from throughout time and space" (to quote from the back flap blurb) seem a little pointless to you? Had these tales all been set within the same day on the same planet, with various Doctors and companions experiencing diverse yet interconnected adventures in different regions of the planet, that might have been more interesting.

We get a hint of such potential in three consecutive narratives - How You Get There by Simon Guerrier, The Last Broadcast by Matthew Griffiths and The Terror of the Darkness by Joseph Lidster - which take place sequentially within the confines of London. In these, the events of the preceding story have an impact upon the subsequent one.

The first and last entries in this anthology - Andy Russell's After Midnight and Before Midnight - are also linked, but unfortunately they are somewhat confusing. Before supposedly sheds light upon events in After, but in fact I found the time-looping "explanation" only added to my bewilderment. In fact, the opening After Midnight is a more comprehensible piece of writing when treated as a separate entity.

Only slightly less incomprehensible is One Wednesday Afternoon, by Alison Jacobs, which depicts, through the eyes of a middle-aged housewife, the Fifth Doctor and Turlough's battle against some humanoids and some floating lights. Or something.

Morphology also requires a high degree of concentration to make sense of it, but the effort is well worthwhile, since this is a most amusing tale. An alien visitation results in the inability of the populace to use any vowels apart from "o". Appropriately enough, this adventure features the Third Doctor, Jo and UNIT member Osgood, whose names are all unaffected by the linguist lurgy, but do I detect a pseudonym on the part of the supposed author, Ross Strow?

I also enjoyed Danny Oz's Sold Out, which depicts a logical extension of today's hi-tech, high-spectacle rock concerts; Nev Fountain's amusing poem The Five O'Clock Shadow, which deftly plays upon the reader's expectations; the Fourth Doctor's suitably whimsical antics in Ian Farrington's The Sooner the Better and Matthew Griffiths' The Last Broadcast; the surprising and rewarding The Heroine, the Hero and the Megalomaniac, by Ian Mond, which tells its story from three separate points of view; the heart-warming How You Get There, in which the Seventh Doctor brings individuals together during a tedious commute across London; and the horrifying Terror of the Darkness. The latter two stories feature the characters of Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood, Colonel Chaudhry and Lieutenant Hoffman from Big Finish's UNIT series, with The Terror of the Darkness describing Hoffman's first day on the job.

On the other hand, I found Dan Abnett's Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast and Xanna Eve Chown's A Life in the Day rather derivative. Six Impossible Things owes much to the opening episode of The Mind Robber, while A Life in the Day rehashes the fast-living subject matter of the Star Trek and Star Trek: Voyager episodes Wink of an Eye and Blink of an Eye.

However, my joint favourite two stories are Waiting for Jeremy, by Richard Salter, and Making History, by Trevor Baxendale. Both feature the First Doctor and Steven, and both make excellent use of the headstrong companion. You can almost hear actor Peter Purves bellowing the words "But we must do something, Doctor!" as he learns the sad tale of a loveless old lady in Waiting for Jeremy. This poignant story brings new meaning to the Doctor's famous line in The Aztecs: "You can't rewrite history, not one line."

In both stories, Steven ends up impersonating a military officer, but the tones of the two pieces could scarcely be more different from each other. Making History is an altogether more comical escapade, in which much mirth is caused by an idiosyncratic translating device and the medical condition of a gelatinous alien delegate.

This collection is a mixed bag, but, on balance, it's probably worth spending a day or two of your life with.

Richard McGinlay

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