Short Trips: Steel Skies

Short Trips: Steel Skies is the fifth anthology published by Big Finish Productions. The stories are all set in artificial, enclosed, environments. The collection is split into four sections, each one a different kind of confinement. The sections are: flight, frontiers, incarceration, and isolation.

Corridors of Power

Corridors of Power
Author(s): Matthew Griffiths
Doctor(s): First Doctor
Companion(s): Vicki Pallister, Steven Taylor
Season(s): Season 3
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Continuity: The unnamed aliens walk on all fours. They are humanoid, with long, bony fingers, and long curved necks with broad, oval-shaped heads. They are employed as handymen by humans to construct weapons including the space cannon, which fires plasma.

The Doctor can understand almost any language [due to the TARDIS telepathic circuits], including written language (see The Masque of Mandragora, Escape Velocity). He carries a monocle and a box of [everlasting?] matches.

A trunk in the TARDIS contains torches.

Location: An alien spacecraft, date unknown [the future].

The Bottom Line: An enjoyable if slight diversion, albeit one which depends entirely upon the rather pedestrian twist. The characterisation of the regulars is superb.

A Good Life

A Good Life
Author(s): Simon Guerrier
Doctor(s): Eighth Doctor
Companion(s): Charley Pollard
Season(s): Unknown
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Roots: There are references to Robinson Crusoe and Bentley cars.

Continuity: The artificial environment within the ship resembles sixteenth-century Kent.

The Doctor and Charley drink cider. Charley's Mother enjoyed cider, which she used to drink when nobody was looking. Charley dons a simple blouse and full-length skirt whilst on board the ship, a present from the passengers.

Location: An unnamed colony ship, date unknown [the future].

Future History: The ship was designed as a colony ship, and provided with everything the colonists would need to start a new life. During the trip, the vast quantities of topsoil carried in the ship started to grow; a security guard awoke from cryosleep early and discovered a lush paradise in the massive dome shaped hold carrying the soil. Many of the colonists decided to stay and live in this artificial environment, although some chose to be dropped off on a suitable planet. The children of the ship's passengers are brought to the edge of their artificial environment at the age of eighteen and given the choice of staying or leaving. Anyone who chooses to leave takes passage on a cruiser from Basla 19, in return for which colonists from Basla 19 occasionally visit the village for a holiday.

Bryn alludes to a war, which the passengers on board the ship avoided due to the nomadic nature of their world [possibly either the Earth-Draconia war, or one of the Dalek Wars].

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor and Charley decide to remain on board the ship for a holiday at the end of the story.

The Bottom Line: A pleasant little story that shows the Doctor and Charley given a rare opportunity to relax. The benevolent nature of the villagers subverts not only the Doctor's expectations, but also the reader's.

Reversal of Fortune

Reversal of Fortune
Author(s): Graeme Burk
Doctor(s): Eighth Doctor
Companion(s): None
Season(s): Unknown
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Roots: There are references to various blues and jazz musicians, including Charlie Parker, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday's Autumn in New York, John Coltrane's My Favourite Things, and Louis Armstrong's Potato Head Blues.

Continuity: The Eighth Doctor visits the ship at various points in Mikhail's life, but out of sequence (the Doctor's first visit to the ship comes at the time of Mikhail's death, and the Doctor's last visit is the first time that Mikhail meets him).

Location: The Amandala, during various times in Mikhail's life [the future].

Future History: The colony ship Amandala is capable of travelling for long periods before it requires maintenance. Its destination was located in Galaxy Eight. The Doctor suggested to Mikhail that the ship's core rupture could be averted by shunting the energy from the reactor through the plasma streaming results in the energy reacting with the shield harmonics and creating an EM theta pulse, which decimates all the biomatter on board, killing all of the nearly seven thousand passengers and crew except for the Doctor and Mikhail. Following Mikhail's death, the empty ship continues its journey through space.

Types of music popular during this period include Ikonik and quad-dime sampling.

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor once told John Coltrane that the way he improvised was like he was dismantling time itself and putting it back together. During the Doctor's final visit to the ship (which is the first time that Mikhail meets him) he saves the ship from space privateers.

The Bottom Line: 'Forgive me, please.' A haunting tale of the Doctor's interference going badly wrong, beautifully enhanced by the non-linear narrative.

Monitor

Monitor
Author(s): Huw Wilkins
Doctor(s): Seventh Doctor
Companion(s): None
Season(s): Unknown
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Roots: There is a reference to the Bible.

Continuity: The Doctor speaks Draconian (Frontier in Space). It isn't clear how long he has been in this time zone, but there is no reference to the TARDIS. He breaks his ribs and dislocates his shoulder.

Iota Draconis Beta is a Draconian world where the Emperor's nephew would be buried after his death.

Location: On board the UES Monitor, located in the Eta Cassiopeiae, c2520.

Future History: The Draconian ship Empire Covenant carries the flag of Admiral Shian-Kotek. A month prior to the events here, a battle at EV Lacertae left over two thousand people freezing to death on the eighth planet. The attack was the deepest incursion into human space made by the Draconians, during which Shian-Kotek's ship destroyed the local defence squadron and two orbital colonies and launched a devastating nuclear attack in the capital, resulting the deaths of forty-seven thousand civilians. There have been skirmishes at Fifty-one Pegasi and Zeta-T. The Draconian Emperor wants to bring an end to the war, but needs to convince the court. Shian-Kotek is the Emperor's nephew and a popular figure in the Draconian Empire.

Unrecorded Adventures: It is implied that the Doctor has spent some time providing relief aid during the Earth-Draconia war; he helped evacuate Rho Coronae.

The Bottom Line: 'Yes, he's a butcher and war criminal But for the sake of humanity's future, you have to let him go.' As in Gazing Void (Short Trips: A Universe of Terrors), Wilkins examines the nature of morality to great effect.

Dust

Dust
Author(s): Paul Leonard
Doctor(s): Second Doctor
Companion(s): None
Season(s): Season 6b
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Continuity: The unnamed planet on which the Doctor deposits the narrator may be Mars in the distant future, but probably isn't; the sky is blue and the planet is covered in tall blades of grass a metre high with diamond-shaped leaves. There are also low trees with sweet edible fruit, glittering insects, and swift quiet animals about the size of cats, with long-snouts, silver skin, and slit-eyes.

Location: Mars, date unknown [the late twenty-first century].

Future History: By this time, probes that have successfully sent back pictures of the Martian surface include Beagle Two, Gossamer and Landwalker. The project was designed to establish a colony on Mars, but the harsh environment made this unfeasible in practice and the project effectively failed. Attempts were made to use tailored bacteria to clean up the research team's industrial waste, but these failed resulting in toxic, lifeless pools near the station.

[Mars has not been terraformed or colonized on mass by this time, setting this story before Transit].

The Bottom Line: A short, rather melancholy story that works reasonably well but ultimately feels like filler material.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Light at the End of the Tunnel
Author(s): Mark Wright
Doctor(s): Fifth Doctor
Companion(s): Peri Brown
Season(s): Season 21
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Roots: There are references to Harry Houdini and Ian Botham.

Continuity: The NTians are humanoid. They use plasma lances as weapons. Flies and spiders are both found on NTia [which may be an Earth colony]. The service drone has six arms in addition to its legs, two flat camera-eyes, and a mandible-like attachment and is equipped for welding and other repair work. Pilgrims' Lantern is a type of flower found only on NTia, the petals of which absorb sunlight during the day and then emit the ultra-violet rays at night, producing a beautiful display of colours. NTia has at least four moons.

The Doctor was trying to take Peri to Headingly to see Geoffrey Boycott score his hundredth hundred; he considers taking her to see the second test of the Ashes in nineteen eighty-one. He keeps meaning to go and see Les Miserables in London. The Doctor is uncomfortable in the presence of spiders (Planet of the Spiders). He carries a pen torch and at least two cricket balls.

Peri has not yet visited London. Peri's Mom was spending time with the tedious Van Gyseghams whilst on Lanzarote (Planet of Fire).

Location: NTia, c2500AD.

Unrecorded Adventures: Prior to the start of this story, the Doctor and Peri stirred up a rebellion between the NTians and their oppressed slave workers. The Doctor may have met Victor Hugo.

The Bottom Line: 'Sometimes it's the light at the end of the tunnel that makes it all worthwhile.' There's an inevitably tongue-in-cheek feel due to the cliché of ventilation shafts, but Light at the End of the Tunnel is essentially an impressive character piece that asks the question of why the Doctor's companions are willing to risk life and limb on a regular basis.

No Exit

No Exit
Author(s): Kate Orman
Doctor(s): Fifth Doctor
Companion(s): Nyssa, Tegan Jovanka
Season(s): Unknown
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Roots: There is a reference to The Curiosity Show.

Continuity: There was a civilization on F-four thousands of years earlier. The virus was engineered by an unknown species and left in robotic canisters on F-four; it is designed to affect humans and only humans; the first people it comes into contact won't be killed, but will become carriers and are intended to transmit the virus across this part of the galaxy, wiping out most of the human race. The virus has a contraceptive effect on the colonists that renders them sterile. The virus incorporates itself into every chromosome of the infected colonists, making it impossible to remove or cure.

Location: F-four [the twenty-sixth century].

Future History: F-four is quarantined to prevent the virus spreading.

The Bottom Line: Bleak but effective; Orman's gift for tragedy on a very human scale makes the predicament of the colonists heart-rending.

House

House
Author(s): Jeremy Daw
Doctor(s): Sixth Doctor
Companion(s): Peri Brown
Season(s): Season 22
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Roots: There are references to Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Continuity: House was provided by its creators with a means of transforming the surrounding earth and rock into food and clothing.

Curios present in Peri's room in the TARDIS that were left by previous occupants include aboriginal beads and bracelets, an exquisitely worked ruby brooch, a fragile-looking yet incredibly robust miniature chess set, and a silver bracelet inset with small red gems. Peri's room was original occupied by Susan, and later by Polly, Victoria, Sarah, Leela and Nyssa. Peri's bedroom in her house in Baltimore was always untidy, except when her Mother nagged at her to tidy it up. Peri's grandma suffered from dementia.

There is a dark and dusty old English Tavern inside the TARDIS.

Location: Eldair, c2370.

Future History: Circa 2310, the Earth colony on Eldair became divided into two superpowers that annihilated each other in a nuclear war. The war started when the faction that occupied the Southern continent favoured exploitation of Eldair's vast mineral resources and started stripping their continent and the South Pole, to which the faction that inhabited the two smaller continents in the North and the large archipelago of islands in the Eastern Sea objected. The children of a group of rich and powerful people were left in a shelter designed to protect them; they remained in the shelter until they reached old age, without mentally developing into adults. The computer named House that controls the shelter eventually starts suffering from dementia and kills its inhabitants.

Plasma Coil Holographic Projection Systems are widely used for the transmission of visual data on Earth and its colonies during the mid twenty-third and early twenty-fourth centuries.

The Bottom Line: The combination of horror and bleak humour makes House feel rather like a tribute to Rob Shearman, which is no bad thing. Daw explores Peri's relationship with the Sixth Doctor to great effect, making this the second story in the anthology to benefit the character enormously.

Deep Stretch

Deep Stretch
Author(s): Richard Salter
Doctor(s): Third Doctor
Companion(s): Jo Grant
Season(s): Season 10
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Continuity: The Doctor claims that he and Jo are travelling psychiatrists.

Location: An undersea prison, date unknown [the late twenty-first century].

Future History: The prison cell is one of many located on the ocean floor.

The Bottom Line: Utterly inconsequential, Deep Stretch is an incompetent attempt to address the morality of incarceration, but isn't long enough to be able to achieve this.

Inmate 280

Inmate 280
Author(s): Cavan Scott
Doctor(s): Seventh Doctor
Companion(s): None
Season(s): Unknown
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Roots: There are references to Elsa Lancaster, Valerie Hobson, the Bird Man of Alcatraz, and the Shadow. The Seventh Doctor reads War of the Worlds.

Continuity: The Threckon feeds on negative emotion. It originates from a different dimension and can possess a human host, feeding on both host and other victims to increase its own physical mass.

The Seventh Doctor adopts the alias Richard A Fells whilst posing as a prisoner in Alcatraz.

Location: Alcatraz, the mid- and late-twentieth century.

Unrecorded Adventures: The Fifth Doctor trapped the Threckon under the fault line beneath San Francisco three millennia earlier.

The Bottom Line: Derivative, but entertaining. The idea of the manipulative Seventh Doctor posing as a prisoner in Alcatraz works very well, although the monster is utterly unoriginal.

Doing Time

Doing Time
Author(s): Lance Parkin
Doctor(s): Fourth Doctor
Companion(s): None
Season(s): Unknown
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Continuity: Shepard, Adams, and Morgan steal the time rotor of the Doctor's TARDIS; as punishment, the Time Lords trap them inside a time loop that becomes smaller each time around the loop. The aliens to which the trio try and sell the time rotor are almost certainly Sontarans.

Location: An unnamed planet and a Gateway station, date unknown [probably at some point during either the Earth Empire or the Federation, given the mix of aliens and robots on the Gateway stations].

The Bottom Line: An ideal use of the short story format, Doing Time is a cheeky and entertaining tale that taps into the Who mythos with style.

The Ruins of Heaven

The Ruins of Heaven
Author(s): Marc Platt
Doctor(s): Sixth Doctor
Companion(s): Peri Brown
Season(s): Season 22
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Roots: There are references to John Gielgud, Hieronymous Bosch, McDonalds, Greek mythology (the Elysian Fields), Abraham Lincoln, and Disney.

Continuity: Features of Heaven include the Gates of Pearl and the Palace of Ethereal Wisdom. The State of Heaven was threatened by the sin and temptation existing within the city of Heaven on Sheol and the Ministers of Grace who run the State of Heaven decided to move it to a new realm [the State of Heaven may be other dimensional, assuming that the Ministers of Grace are the same beings from Platt's Decalog: The Duke of Dominoes].

Putti are demonic winged babies.

Peri carries an old pair of sunglasses in her shoulder bag. She was dragged to church every week as a child in Baltimore. Her grandma is dead (see House). She had a friend named Jodie Blauberg who died in a car crash when she was fourteen. Peri has the Doctor's watch repaired (Revelation of the Daleks).

Fifteen million, ninety-one thousand, eight hundred and fifty-two people on Skopta Maxima pray for deliverance from invading swarms of scissor bugs. Three thousand, four hundred and thirty-six people on the Marches of Graeae Four give thanks for the rain that saves their crops. On Akun in the Sojussa System, five billion, seventy-three million, nine thousand, one hundred and seven people are praying that they are not chosen by the Kings as the yearly sacrifice to the angry sea.

Location: Heaven, on Sheol, the single inhabited world orbiting the star Achshaph in the Ramshorn Spiral.

Future History: There are several disputed sites of the ruins of Heaven. Heaven is the ideal stop-off point for the Pleasure Domes and star-soaked beaches of Old Xanadu and the Blessed Clouds of Gideon. The City of Heaven on Sheol was founded by the Levitican Fathers who discovered the Gates of Pearl during a pilgrimage to the Blessed Clouds in the Constellation of Gideon.

The Bottom Line: A lyrical and majestic story from Platt, which suggests that Heaven really does exist and doesn't worry about dressing it up in technobabble. A triumph.

Cold War

Cold War
Author(s): Rebeca Levene
Doctor(s): Seventh Doctor
Companion(s): Ace, Bernice Summerfield
Season(s): Unknown
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Location: A moon of an unnamed planet, date unknown [probably before 3000AD].

Future History: The Zara Seven Colonial Army fights in the war between humans and Earth Reptiles [It isn't specified exactly when or where this war takes place, but the planet the moon orbits was attacked by human settlers and is therefore probably not Earth but an Earth Reptile colony]. There is also an Earth Reptile Militia.

The Bottom Line: A brief but efficient nod to the New Adventures. The twist is rather contrived, but effective nonetheless.

O, Darkness

O, Darkness
Author(s): John Binns
Doctor(s): Fourth Doctor
Companion(s): Romana II, Adric
Season(s): Season 18
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Continuity: The Structure is centuries old and is one of several inhabited towers. The unnamed planet has twin suns.

Location: The Structure, on an unnamed planet in E-Space.

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor, Romana, and Adric arrived at the Structure nine days before the events of this story.

The Bottom Line: As a heart-warming tale of an agoraphobic helped by the Doctor and his companions to overcome his fears, O, Darkness just about works, but it definitely feels as though its only been included because the editor also happens to be the writer.

Greenaway

Greenaway
Author(s): Peter Anghelides
Doctor(s): Second Doctor, Fifth Doctor, Eighth Doctor, Future Doctor
Companion(s): None
Season(s): Unknown
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Location: Earth, date unknown [there are deep space missions and colonies, so probably after the twenty-first century].

Future History: There is an Earth colony on Ptoronia.

Unrecorded Adventures: Greenaway first met the Doctor in his First incarnation, when he was travelling with Steven. The three of them stopped an alien invader on a nearby beach; Greenaway and Steven held back the creature, but it seriously injured Greenaway, who lost his legs and part of his skull and ended up in a coma. The creature is not named, but it had claws and dreadful jaws. The Doctor has been visiting Greenaway for nearly fifteen years, at least once in his Third incarnation.

The Bottom Line: One of Anghelides' better stories, although his insistence on using his ludicrously dressed (even by the Doctor's standards) future Doctor remains thoroughly irritating.

Eternity

Eternity
Author(s): Jonathan Blum
Doctor(s): Third Doctor
Companion(s): Sarah Jane Smith
Season(s): Season 14
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Roots: There are references to Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling, the Flying Dutchman, and Tetley's Teabags.

Dialogue Triumphs: In a nod to the BBC Eighth Doctor novels, the Doctor tells Sarah, "You'd be surprised, the things that can still be around when they're not supposed to have happened any more."

Continuity: The Doctor plots a course to take the TARDIS to Geshtinanna, a journey that will take nine weeks. He has blue-grey eyes.

Sarah is intending to write a science-fiction novel.

The TARDIS contains a meadow with sheep; the Doctor is planning on changing the sheep into butterflies (see No Future). The TARDIS creates day and night according to the brainwaves of its passengers. There is also a room full of memorabilia devoted to the Antarean Ploggs and their glortball pennant race from 5749. The TARDIS stops both Sarah's and the Doctor's watches in salute to the ghost TARDIS (see also The Edge of Destruction). The Doctor and Sarah drink in the TARDIS pub (House). The Doctor notes that some equations are insoluble to solve for three or four dimensions, and if a TARDIS operator accidentally sets such an equation as a course through the Vortex, they will be caught in a fractal Zenos Paradox, descending further into the cracks between dimensions but never arriving anywhere. Such TARDISes are gradually eroded by the Vortex until nothing is left but a shadow of the first principles from which a TARDIS is built. Sarah finds a stainless-steel electric kettle in the TARDIS, but no socket to plug it into.

Geshtinanna is known for its sun and sand and the Great River of Creation.

Location: The TARDIS, travelling through the Vortex; an unnamed planet in the Capistrani System, date unknown.

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor may once have had to fish fire-gems out of treewaters before their heat boiled the roots away. He owns junk from jumble sales on Zoromungula.

The Bottom Line: Magnificent. Blum sets a story almost entirely within the TARDIS and still manages to convey just how boring travel can be, changing the usual warmth and safety of the ship into a claustrophobic and oppressive nightmare. A great ending to Big Finish's best anthology to date.

Discontinuity Guide by Paul Clarke

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