Short Trips: Life Science

This is the seventh Short Trips anthology published by Big Finish Productions. The stories are all themed around the nature of life.

Syntax

Syntax
Author(s): David Bailey
Doctor(s): Eighth Doctor
Companion(s): Izzy Sinclair
Season(s): Eighth Doctor comics (Izzy)
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Roots: Izzy first appeared in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip Endgame; Fey, another character from the comic strip, is also mentioned. There are references to Bambi, George A. Romero, Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and Jane Goodall.

Continuity: Jora is located in the Ellemede Galaxy. The planet has twin moons. Plant life on Jora possesses an equivalent of chlorophyll that is red in colour. The planet's sun is white; the complexities of its light index make photosynthesis ridiculously productive. The Jorans use huge solar panels made from genetically engineered algae in the seas to provide energy. Jora has a state bioscience department, as well as large cosmetic companies. Modified grain provides the planet's main food resource. Their computer systems are based on constantly regenerating cell tissue. They make lights out of the cells of bioluminescent fungi. Grain weevils are usually found in the farmland, feeding on one in every five fields of wheat. Joran genetic material consists of TNA [trioxyribonucleic acid?]. Deezer uses sterrites (sterilizing nites) to decontaminate the farm of xemes.

The Syntax is an artificial life form inadvertently created by a Joran scientist named Manser. He decoded the language of the pheromones produced naturally by the grain weevils, recoded them to work on Jorans, and eventually altered their molecular chains to translate their language into a form that the Jorans could understand. The recoded pheromones, which Manser named xemes, eventually formed part of a pheromone language, effectively creating a form of chemical telepathy; however, the xemes evolved, forming a sentient living entity, i.e. the Syntax. The Syntax is biochemically replicated by the Jorans own glands, allowing it to spread; because the Syntax is pheromone based, it can't venture far from its Joran hosts. It subjugates the will of its hosts, existing in a symbiotic relationship with them. The Doctor sabotages Deezer's attempt to destroy the Syntax because he decides that as a new life form it has a right to live.

Izzy is an atheist.

Location: Jora, date unknown.

The Bottom Line: An impressive start to the anthology, with some thoughtful use of fairly convincing pseudo-science. The use of comic strip companion Izzy is little more than a novelty, but she is at least more likeable than Sam, the probable alternative. The use of the Eighth Doctor in a story from Big Finish concerning a unique, but ultimately parasitic life form, is rather ironic, since the ethical stand he adopts is exactly opposite to the one he adopts in The Chimes of Midnight.

Primitives

Primitives
Author(s): John Seavey
Doctor(s): Third Doctor
Companion(s): Sarah Jane Smith
Season(s): Season 10
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Dialogue Triumphs: 'I see that you keep in shape on this planet through a rigorous exercise programme of jumping to conclusions.'

Continuity: The Builders resemble eight-inch slugs. They communicate through sophisticated pheromone secretions. The Builders can select their offspring's genetic characteristics intuitively as they gestate them, creating birds that spit acid and are actually sentries, insects that are actually repair drones, fungal trees, and giant flying beetles (warrior-drones) that can fire streams of volatile gasses.

The Doctor is able to communicate in a limited fashion with the Builders by controlling his pheromones.

Location: Planet Z02-80535, c2632AD.

Future History: The Builder Wars lasted for two centuries, during which more than thirty million humans perished. The Empire built the Entire Military Precise Resource Engagement Strategic System (EMPRESS), the ultimate battle computer that coordinates attacks on the Builders galaxy-wide and turns the tide of the war. The Empire finally destroyed the Builder homeworld in 2832AD. Following the Builder Wars, the Empire swore that aliens would never be given the chance to wipe them out again, and gave EMPRESS carte blanche to deal with aliens as it considered appropriate. EMPRESS was destroyed by an alien saboteur on 2nd June 2982 (see So Vile a Sin).

Trans-Planetary Mining sends research teams to planets it intends to exploit, in order to determine viability and the presence or absence of sentient indigenous life [references to other corporations and industrial sabotage imply that this is a legal, rather than an ethical, requirement].

The Bottom Line: Impressive. In the Builders, Seavey creates a fascinating alien race and examines the consequences of a failure of cultures to communicate to great effect.

The Northern Heights

The Northern Heights
Author(s): Mark Stevens
Doctor(s): Fourth Doctor
Companion(s): None
Season(s): Season 14
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Roots: The X-Files. There are references to the Barclays, Tritton, and Bevan banks.

Dialogue Disasters: The Doctor calls Clement 'My good man.'

Continuity: Life form Kappa 12 is an other-dimensional entity capable of warping space-time. It has no physical presence in our universe. It is telepathic and can influence or directly control ninety-three percent of adult men, and ninety-seven percent of adult women. It uses its ability to warp space-time to extend the King and Empire Railway Company's rail network to Prince George in Canada, Durban (South Africa), Calcutta (India), and Fremantle (Australia). The Doctor is able to counteract the influence of Kappa 12. Nicholas Clement is apparently a product of an alternate reality accidentally brought into this universe by Kappa 12; the Doctor warns him that he may cease to exist once Kappa 12 is expelled.

A field report was conducted into the life form Kappa 12 affair on 20th March 1931.

Location: Highgate, Cranwell Gardens, Muswell Hill and Alexandra Palace railway stations, all near London, England, 24th October 1930.

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor facetiously claims to have met headaches the size of a planet, noting that they are difficult to converse with.

Following the events of this story the Doctor invites Clement into the TARDIS, promising to take him home.

The Bottom Line: Well written, and the use of excerpts from fictional reports to move the story along, whilst unoriginal, is quite effective. The characterisation of the Doctor doesn't quite ring true however.

Observation

Observation
Author(s): Ian Farrington
Doctor(s): Fifth Doctor
Companion(s): Vislor Turlough
Season(s): Season 21
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Continuity: The Doctor carries a cricket bag containing, amongst other things, a pair of binoculars. He spends six months attempting to observe the first between Cro-Magnon man and the Neanderthals. He records his observations in a notebook.

Turlough can operate the TARDIS accurately enough to move it forward in time six months and collect the Doctor.

Location: Africa, c40,000BC.

The Bottom Line: Obscure, trivial, and fairly inconsequential. Observation is pleasant enough, but pretty forgettable.

Mortal Thoughts

Mortal Thoughts
Author(s): Trevor Baxendale
Doctor(s): Sixth Doctor
Companion(s): Melanie Bush
Season(s): Season 23b
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Roots: Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and its movie adaptation, Blade Runner. There are references to Pinocchio and Doctor Finlay's Casebook.

Goofs: Why does Simon let the Doctor examine him? He must have deduced that the Doctor would discover the human head.

Location: The unnamed city on Andron, c2235AD.

Future History: The city on Andron contains a hundred million humans and robots living side-by-side. By this point, there is a Galactic Hypernet.

The word psychologico-human is coined by Professor Dorkus Merriman during the later twenty-first century, but isn't included in the Oxford English Dictionary until 2107AD. Simon is a model 1711 Robohuman manufactured by Strelda Androids in 2185AD. There is a Penal Base on Titan by 2227AD.

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor has met Professor Dorkus Merriman.

The Bottom Line: Baxendale's fondness for horror is transferred rather effectively to the short story format. The final twist is highly effective.

Lant Land

Lant Land
Author(s): Jonathan Morris
Doctor(s): Fifth Doctor
Companion(s): Tegan Jovanka, Vislor Turlough
Season(s): Unknown
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Roots: There is a reference to Alan Turing.

Continuity: Simon and Joanne insist on changing Tegan and Turlough's names to Yvonne and Derrick. Tegan's bedroom at home contains photographs of her family, holidays, and Aboriginal stuff.

Location: Lant Land, on an unnamed planet, date unknown.

Future History: The names of the Lants imply that the planet is an Earth colony. The inhabitants created Lant Land, an interactive virtual reality inhabited by simulated people. They were able to become part of the simulation by entering the bodies of the Lants, erasing the Lants' personalities in the process; the Lants, unwilling to die, found a way to reverse the process, taking over the minds of their creators.

The Bottom Line: 'This is the real world'. Short and creepy. Lant Land isn't as impressive as Morris's Mauritz, but it too boasts an effective twist and has an ominous ending. It isn't quite as impressive, but it's well worth a read.

A Star is Reborn

A Star is Reborn
Author(s): Richard Salter
Doctor(s): Sixth Doctor
Companion(s): Peri Brown
Season(s): Season 22
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Roots: There are references to Tom Cruise in Risky Business, Frankenstein, George Michael, Michael Jackson, and Hot Chocolate.

Continuity: Bryce's asteroid orbits the planet Bryce. Bryce has a University of Genetics and Horticulture.

The Doctor has taken to singing Verdi in the TARDIS. He claims that he needs a Wave Fluctuation Detector to isolate a problem with the TARDIS lights.

Peri has owned a teddy bear for as long as she can remember; her teddy bear back home was called Rhodes. She found another bear in a storage closet in the TARDIS, named it Taylor, and adopted it. She listens to music by Wild Boys.

Location: Bryce's Asteroid, [c2957].

Future History: The Lifemarket on Bryce's asteroid replaced the old market, which sold clothes, trinkets and antiques. The Lifemarket sells everything needed to create life, including body parts, as well as resources for genetic experimentation, body beppling, transplantation, cross-breeding, mutation, artificial fertilization and plastic surgery. Celebrities of the era include Gary Clark, Germaine Loughbridge, and Barry Hounslow.

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor claims that Cole Porter was a close personal friend.

The Bottom Line: A bit daft really. It's nowhere near as amusing at it wants to be and the title is an atrocious pun.

The Southwell Park Mermaid

The Southwell Park Mermaid
Author(s): Kate Orman
Doctor(s): Seventh Doctor
Companion(s): Chris Cwej
Season(s): New Adventures Season 5 (Godengine to Lungbarrow)
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Roots: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (a seemingly unintelligent animal actually being one of the most sophisticated species on Earth).

Continuity: Horseshoe Crabs are actually an advanced species that refer to themselves as the Creators, the Armourers, and the guardians of the great oceans between the stars. Their genetic engineering technology is far in advance of that of humanity; they have, in the past, inserted genes into the human genome for their own purposes. They have spread throughout space.

The Doctor carries a pocket knife.

Location: Southwell Park, Australia, the twenty-first century.

Future History: The Australian government uses tailored bacteria to attack illegal drug crops. Circa 2200, human colonists catch glimpses of horseshoe crabs at the fringes of human space and call them the X.

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor has seen horseshoe crabs in Yamaguchi Bay and Chesapeake Bay, on a moon near Tau Ceti, in an ocean trench on Hitchemus in the ruins of a human city, on planetoids in the Oort Cloud, and in the asteroid belt of Vega.

The Bottom Line: A cracking story from the ever-reliable Orman. The idea that the Horseshoe Crabs are actually a highly advanced civilization is great, and is handled in such a way that it doesn't seem silly.

The Destroyers

The Destroyers
Author(s): Steve Lyons
Doctor(s): Fourth Doctor
Companion(s): Leela
Season(s): Unknown
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Continuity: The people of the unnamed planet built the Protector, a vast computer, to maintain their city and to ensure the welfare of its creators; as a result, the population became enslaved to it. Realising that its directives were incompatible, it summoned the Doctor to destroy it. The Doctor passed into the planet's legends as the Boggle-Eyed Demon, with himself and Leela known collectively as The Destroyers.

Location: An unnamed planet, date unknown.

The Bottom Line: Worthy, but dull. Lyons' increasing tendency towards morality plays with twists means that the ending is rather predictable.

The Reproductive Cycle

The Reproductive Cycle
Author(s): Matthew Griffiths
Doctor(s): Sixth Doctor
Companion(s): Peri Brown
Season(s): Season 22
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Roots: There are references to Sesame Street, The Pied Piper of Hamlin, and Madonna.

Continuity: Whilst on board the TARDIS, Kamelion fathered an offspring; the TARDIS itself was the mother. The android child adopts Peri's form and personality and is left in Peri's place with her college roommate Janine.

Souvenirs kept in the TARDIS by the Doctor include a baseball cap embroidered with the letters NYSU, a champagne cork from his nine-hundredth birthday, an entry visa for heaven (The Ruins of Heaven (Short Trips: Steel Skies)), an envelope of pressed flowers, and a postcard from Seville (The Two Doctors).

Peri wears a St. Christopher's. When Howard married her mother, they dumped boxes of junk in the attic, intending to sort them out but eventually forgetting about them. Peri has owned her teddy bear Rhodes since she was six years old (A Star is Reborn).

The TARDIS is malfunctioning as a result of Kamelion's legacy. Roundels in the TARDIS control room conceal a control unit, the coordinates subroutines, and a mirror.

Location: The TARDIS, and Boston University.

The Bottom Line: A bit pointless, but entertaining. Big Finish's obsession with Kamelion continues to be evident.

Jonah

Jonah
Author(s): Todd Green
Doctor(s): Eighth Doctor
Companion(s): None
Season(s): Unknown
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Roots: Current debate surrounding the ethics of human cloning.

Continuity: The Doctor again uses the alias Doctor Smith. He carries skeleton keys and a safety pin.

Location: Southall, England [the early twenty-first century].

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor leaves Southall with Jonah in the TARDIS, presumably dropping him off somewhere safe.

The Bottom Line: Worthy, but dull. Jonah taps into the topical issue of human cloning without actually exploring any of the side issues, and essential offers the worst case scenario; i.e. cloning an entire human being for use as an organ donor.

Scribbles in Chalk

Scribbles in Chalk
Author(s): Gareth Wigmore
Doctor(s): First Doctor
Companion(s): Katarina
Season(s): Season 3
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Roots: The Doctor quotes Ovid.

Continuity: The Conduit is an artificial machine intelligence created by an unrevealed other species. It seeded the world of Lakhotha with an engineered bio-agent in the form of a cereal crop, designed to transform sentient animates into non-sentient animates. The Conduit does not kill, but transforms the intelligent inhabitants of planets whose resources it needs into non-sentient inhabitants that can't resist it.

The Lakhotha are humanoid, with hairless skin and goat-like toes and feet. Their knee joints bend backwards. They wear nothing but short kilts made of animal skin. The Conduit transforms them into non-sentient plants and animals.

The Doctor is planning to give Katarina Vicki's old room, which was originally Susan's. He is aware that his body is nearing the end of its life (see The Tenth Planet and The Man in the Velvet Mask). The Doctor carries a laser torch or similar device in his pocket. He pockets a handful of seeds from the tree that used to be Low Joker.

The Lakhotha successfully treat the wound that Steven sustained in The Myth Makers. Travel through the temporal fault however reverses this, as well as erasing both his and Katarina's (although not the Doctor's) memories of their time spent with the Lakhotha.

Cassandra chose Katarina to be her handmaiden because she had predicted that she would die; according to the auguries, her dove flew backwards and had no liver. Although Katarina likes Steven, she considers him to be arrogant.

Location: An unnamed planet, on either side of a temporal fault five hundred years apart.

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor, Steven and Katarina have spent a week or two with the Lakhotha at the start of this story.

The Bottom Line: Rather impressive. Despite fannishly inserting a story into a non-existent gap between stories so that he can make use of Katarina, Wigmore crafts a moving and interesting story that makes good use of the Doctor and his companions and provides an intriguing glimpse at a powerful new foe in the shape of the Conduit.

The End

The End
Author(s): Alexander Leithes
Doctor(s): First Doctor, Eighth Doctor
Companion(s): None
Season(s): Unknown
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Roots: The Hive asphyxiates itself using Marlboro cigarettes.

Dialogue Triumphs: 'There's a difference between being non-conformist and a reckless anarchist.'

Continuity: The Doctor has had the notion of creating the Institute of Time since before he first left Gallifrey, and had planned the intended location sufficiently to allow his first incarnation to make a trip from Gallifrey to meet his future self there whilst he was still a member of Time Lord society. The Doctor's colleagues include: Radregh the Alsheen, a vaguely humanoid being with limbs that are far thinner and more tubular than a human's, a large pumpkin-shaped head, and mottled purple skin; the Hive, a hive of one thousand red and black bee-like insects that live in a Perspex box; Hactrix, a transparent red tetrahedral crystal about nine inches high that can hover telekinetically, and speak by altering the speed and oscillations of atoms within its crystal lattice; the reptilian Kom; and Reesha, a rosebush-like plant who needs to keep herself pruned to prevent her consciousness becoming too diffuse and eventually fading and dying.

The Time Lord rule that forbids travel beyond a certain future point is partly due to the psychological effect that the heat death of the universe has on living beings, and partly because of the frustration that would be caused by being close the next Big Bang, but unable to pass it to explore the next universe.

Location: An unnamed planet, the far future.

Future History: The Eighth Doctor and his colleagues found the Institute of Time on an unnamed planet at the furthest point into the future that Time Lords are permitted to travel. The unnamed planet orbits a black hole; geothermal energy created by the ensuing gravitational forces is used to power the buildings on the planet. Subterranean atmospheric generation plants provide the atmosphere.

As the heat death of the universe progresses, those species that survive the deaths of their stars gradually commit suicide, due to the psychological impact that the death of the entire universe has upon them.

Unrecorded Adventures: The Eighth Doctor is travelling alone and has clearly been working on the Institute for some time.

The Bottom Line: A bit of an oddity really. There are some great concepts on display, but there's a strange and slightly unpleasant style reminiscent of the old World Distributors Dr Who Annuals.

The Age of Ambition

The Age of Ambition
Author(s): Andrew Campbell
Doctor(s): Second Doctor
Companion(s): Jamie McCrimmon, Victoria Waterfield
Season(s): Season 5
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Roots: Frankenstein, Night of the Living Dead. There are references to Shakespeare's Othello and Hamlet, Darwin's Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Guy Fawkes, and Little Red Riding Hood.

Continuity: Prior to leaving Gallifrey, the Doctor successfully campaigned to have a disruption agent that converts vertebrate blood into acid banned. A fellow Time Lord invented the agent. The Doctor remembers the formula, albeit rather unwillingly. He also knows a recipe for another agent that causes complete thermal site erasure.

Victoria's favourite doll was named Miss Mary. Sir Charles Westbrook, author of Principles of Human Anatomy, is an old friend of her father's. Victoria's mother Edith died in autumn 1863 of pneumonia at the age of thirty-seven.

Location: England, 3rd September 1864 and 5th June 1866.

The Bottom Line: The prose style is superb, expertly evoking a period feel. Unfortunately, the plot, despite its promising premise, ends with a double deus ex machina ending, as the Doctor brews lethal chemicals for any occasion.

Echo

Echo
Author(s): Lance Parkin
Doctor(s): None
Companion(s): Ace
Season(s): Season 24
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Roots: There are references to Frankenstein, Road Runner, Dracula, Quasimodo, and the Batcave.

Continuity: The mysterious being that appeared to Susan in The Exiles (Short Trips: A Universe of Terrors) speaks English here and hints that he is the original owner of the TARDIS. He notes that he is not a life form.

In the TARDIS corridors, Ace finds a straw hat, a broken bit of machinery, and a picture of Van Gogh with the bandage over the wrong ear. Ace's bedroom in the TARDIS is en suite, although she has trouble getting the shower to work properly. The TARDIS contains a room full of jigsaw puzzles, a room containing a tree that grows out of the floor, a zoo, the arms of the Venus de Milo, and bits of the Apollo moon landers. The zoo consists of dimensionally transcendental cages containing various animals including a dodo. There is a laundry chute in the TARDIS that leads to the Wardrobe.

Location: The TARDIS

The Bottom Line: Lightweight sequel to a lightweight story that suggests that Parkin is planning to explain the shade in the TARDIS at some point. The first person narration by Ace is disappointingly unconvincing.

A Rose By Any Other Name

A Rose By Any Other Name
Author(s): Jim Mortimore
Doctor(s): Seventh Doctor
Companion(s): Ace
Season(s): Unknown
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Roots: There are references to Einstein and Burger King.

Location: Earth, the far future.

Future History: At some point in the future, when life spans become longer and wars are ended, humans create intelligent smart clothes to take over their day to day functions, including eating, booking appointments, were and when to take recreation and eventually even who to meet and marry. Humanity eventually becomes so dependent on the suits that they lose the capacity to think for themselves and gradually die out.

The Bottom Line: Good ending to the anthology. Mortimore's prose style, coupled with his knack for ideas, results in a memorable and oddly touching story.

Discontinuity Guide by Paul Clarke

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