Short Trips: The Solar System

Short Trips: The Solar System is the fourteenth Short Trips collection published by Big Finish Productions. Each story is set on or based around a different planet of Earth's solar system, and bears its name as a title.

The collection was published before Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet, and also includes another dwarf planet (Sedna) which, at the time of publication, was thought to be the tenth planet of the Solar System.

Mercury

Mercury
Author(s): Eddie Robson
Doctor(s): Second Doctor
Companion(s): Jamie McCrimmon, Zoe Heriot
Season(s): Season 6
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Roots: Alien, Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Continuity: The Mercurials are humanoids, taller than most humans, with smooth silver bodies, arms that end in points, legs that taper down but end in flat discs, and wedge-shaped heads squared off at the top. They are intelligent, indigenous to Mercury, and live in caverns on the light side, emerging into the sun to absorb energy. Their bodies seize up and become immobile in the cold of the dark side, but are restored to normal if they are moved back into the light. When they stand in direct sunlight, they can become liquid and merge together. Their tissue has similar properties to metal and can act as a conductor. They can communicate with humans by transmitting a small amount of their silver body matter into them by touch.

Jamie eats generic white meat substitute whilst in the Sunwatcher.

Zoe wears a black and white plastic mini-dress.

Location: Mercury, the future [possibly only a few years after The Wheel in Space, as Alison wonders if Zoe's clothes are back in fashion].

Future History: The Sunwatcher dome on Mercury runs on a rail that circumnavigates the planet, and moves slowly along it so that it effectively stays in the same position relative to the sun as the planet rotates, at the optimal position between the light and dark hemispheres.

The Bottom Line: A good start to the anthology, starting out as a thriller with a seemingly hostile alien running amok in a base, but with a rather satisfying happy ending.

Venus

Venus
Author(s): Stuart Manning
Doctor(s): Eighth Doctor
Companion(s): Charley Pollard
Season(s): Unknown
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Roots: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ("I've got a golden ticket").

Continuity: Aristede's "ship" is actually a vast living creature piloted by brain control.

The Doctor is given a glass of champagne, but doesn't appear to touch it.

Location: A living spaceship approaching Venus, the future [c2062. Lance Parkin's AHistory dates 'The Wheel in Space' to c2068, in which it is revealed that flowers are cultivated on the surface of Venus, so this probably takes place before that time. Aristede's explosions might disrupt the Venusian atmosphere enough to allow some kind of partial terraforming].

Future History: Aristede is a renowned artist, whose last work is to lead a living spacecraft full of dying volunteers into a spectacular and fatal crash on Venus, accompanied by bombs that will cause engineered storms on the planet that will last for a thousand years. His exhibition of '62 was disbanded for the war effort. His guests are all afflicted by the "Plague", which the Doctor describes as an "evolutionary dead end" [a genetic disorder].

The Bottom Line: Thought provoking and well written, with an unexpected upbeat ending. The characterisation of the regulars is spot on though, which unfortunately means that Charley is quite irritating.

Earth

Earth
Author(s): Jim Mortimore
Doctor(s): Fourth Doctor
Companion(s): None
Season(s): Season 14
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Roots: Amazing Stories shapes the future. The Doctor mentions Charles Darwin. There are references to Weird Tales, the Bible, and Old Holborn.

Dialogue Triumphs: "There are times when the capacity of the human species for understatement can border on genius."

Dialogue Disasters: Jake's endless string of horribly clichéd prohibition-era colloquialisms.

Continuity: Fifty million years in the future, two warring species of robot ants (one red, one black) are the dominant intelligent lifeform on Earth, and build giant metal Ant-machines for transport and combat. They can detect pheromones. They tend herds of grazers, huge fleshy quadropeds with mottled, semi-transparent skin, which the ants "milk" for their oil, which they use as lubricant for the Ant-machines. The grazers are descended from humans. The Meadow in which the animals live has fleshy, flat topped trees with long spindly stalks and black and iridescent leaves. The Doctor persuades both species of ants to stop fighting over the Earth's dwindling resources by giving them grain seeds stuck in the sole of Jake's shoe. The ants later survive the destruction of Earth and fly off into space.

The Doctor gives Jake a sticking plaster containing an adapter molecule that lets him breathe the air on Earth of the far future. He carries a couple of party hooters and a football rattle. The Doctor eats some grazer milk. He carries a bicycle lamp. He also carries Myron Space Rations, a tube of blue paste consisting of vitamins, minerals and glucose in concentrate form.

Location: Earth, c50,000,000AD.

Future History: In the twenty-second century, education for the proletariat is compulsorily under funded and some students sell their organs on the black market to fund their studies.

The ants are based on the Army-ant scenario envisaged by A. Frederick Gordon and John Stanley Thornton III in the early part of the twenty-first century; Thornton is one of Jake's great-grandchildren.

Circa fifty-million years in the future, Earth's surface is a vast expanse of glassy material created by vulcanism, nuclear holocaust and solar flares, beneath which New York is preserved. The Meadow is a geological accident, the last place on Earth where the grazers can feed. The sun is a red giant at this point [presumably, this all takes place before the Earth and its sun are restored to their "classic" configuration - see The End of the World. The final scene apparently sees the ants flying into space as the sun explodes, so either that takes place after The End of the World or they are actually displaced by solar flares]. A "time capsule" containing the October 1939 edition of Amazing Stories survives until this time, where the rival ant species both learn from it and come to worship it as a relic of their creators.

Unrecorded Adventures: Although briefly described in flashback, the Doctor's meeting with Jake in New York in October 1939 is largely unseen.

The Emperor Poros taught the Doctor the correct way to ride an elephant, around the time that he was repelling Alexander the Great's army from the banks of the Bosporus. A Menoptra taught the Doctor how to control his pheromone emissions.

The Bottom Line: Jake's dialogue aside, Earth is another impressive effort from Mortimore, who apparently getting the easiest planet in the anthology to write about, makes it something special.

Mars

Mars
Author(s): Trevor Baxendale
Doctor(s): First Doctor
Companion(s): Vicki Pallister, Steven Taylor
Season(s): Season 3
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Continuity: Jarnians are reptilian humanoids with murky orange glossy skin stretched over a bony skull with knobbly protuberances all over the cheek-bones and forehead, and red eyes. They have black, bifurcated tongues and eyelids that nictitate sideways. They have gill-like slits on either side of their heads.

The Doctor claims to be able to pilot a two-man ship similar to that flown by Steven.

Vicki knows Morse code.

Steven flies a two-man vessel, and crashes it on Mars.

Location: Phobos and Mars, "early on" in mankind's exploration of space.

Future History: Humans have only just discovered the Jarnian Settlers, who have made their home inside one of Saturn's moons, and have established diplomatic contact. There is a human base on Phobos.

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor has visited Mars "many times".

The Bottom Line: Another surprisingly good effort from Baxendale, who appears to be well suited to the short story format. As in Making History(Short Trips: A Day in the Life), his characterisation of Steven, and in particular the First Doctor, is flawless.

Jupiter

Jupiter
Author(s): Andy Russell
Doctor(s): Sixth Doctor
Companion(s): Evelyn Smythe
Season(s): Season 23b
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Roots: Cities in Flight (the complexity of carrying out operations in Jupiter's atmosphere).

Continuity: The telepathic gestalt entity lives in the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Its influence is expanding, riding on the planet's storms. It has been on Jupiter for centuries; the Great Red Spot's electrical activity is similar to the electrical activity in the human brain, allowing the entity to absorb any humans who enter the storm into itself. It wasn't truly sentient until it started absorbing the dredger crews. The Doctor dubs it Jove, and hopes that the dredger crews that have joined with it will allow it to coexist peacefully with the human race.

The psychic forces on Jupiter are strong enough to penetrate the TARDIS whilst it is travelling in the Vortex, affect the telepathic circuits, and give headaches to both the Doctor and Evelyn. The Doctor is taking Evelyn to meet Charles Lindburgh on Earth in 1927 when the TARDIS is diverted to Jupiter. The Doctor has never been inside Jupiter's atmosphere before. The Doctor remodulates the dredger's protective shield and then oscillates its magnetic field.

Evelyn is sensitive to telepathic impulses. She has a ninety-six year old Aunt Gladys.

There is a Louis XV chair in the TARDIS console room. The telepathic circuits play a vital part in the TARDIS' navigation.

Location: Jupiter

Future History: By 2553, the Lorannan-Ycole Corporation gas dredgers mine gasses in the atmosphere of Jupiter and transport their cargoes to a storage facility on Europa. The Nice as Ice Bar is located on Europa. There are slums on Ganymede and a university on Io. The Earth Empire is currently at war with the Daleks (Frontier in Space), and is frantically mining the solar system for resources to fuel the war effort. All dredger captains are telepathic, to allow the dredgers to maintain contact with Europa Base, since standard communications systems can't penetrate the Jovian atmosphere. To avoid distraction, the captain is the only telepath permitted on board.

The Bottom Line: Not terribly original (see Burning Heart), although the setting - firmly in the midst of Virgin's future history/Earth Empire timeline - works well and is a welcome nod back to the New Adventures.

Saturn

Saturn
Author(s): Alison Lawson
Doctor(s): Fifth Doctor
Companion(s): Nyssa
Season(s): Season 19
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Roots: Wine of India. Brave New World.

Goofs: There's a colony on Saturn. A gas giant. The Doctor wondering how they stabilise the atmosphere and surface isn't a sufficient get-out clause, and no mention is made of how the gravity is regulated.

Continuity: The Doctor and Nyssa drink tea on Saturn. The Doctor has heard of a Utopian society on Saturn in the forty-seventh century, but has never got round to visiting it before.

Nyssa drinks a bright orange drink and eats a sandwich on Saturn.

Location: Saturn and Titan, the forty-seventh century.

Future History: By the forty-seventh century, there is a Utopian society on Saturn. When citizens reach the age of one hundred years, they are forced to retire to Titan, where they end up doing menial jobs and remotely operating all the public services and amenities on Saturn. Every automated system on Saturn, right down to the doors, is operated by thumbprint: these thumbprints automatically cut out when the owner reaches one hundred. Robot servants are used on Saturn for jobs such as waiting on tables. Babies are created in vitro and delivered to their parents on Saturn when they reach the age of twenty years. Only people with satisfactory genetic stock are allowed to reproduce.

The Bottom Line: Hugely derivative, although the insistence by the citizens that the benefits of their chosen way of life outweighs the drawbacks makes for a refreshing change. The lack of explanation for how anyone could build a city on a Saturn is very annoying.

Uranus

Uranus
Author(s): Craig Hinton
Doctor(s): Seventh Doctor
Companion(s): Melanie Bush
Season(s): Season 24
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Roots: There are references to Pathé, Nietzsche, and Macbeth. Dalek Killers first appeared in the Doctor Who Weekly back-up strip [DWM}Abslom Daak... Dalek Killer[/DWM].

Continuity: Maleficent is an asteroid knocked out of the Kuiper Belt c3910AD by a mysterious explosion (actually the TARDIS, which the Doctor uses as a cricket bat), which finally crashes into Uranus in 4010, resulting in a dazzling display as the metals in its core react with the methane layer in the upper atmosphere of Uranus. Guests who are on board Cressida to watch the display include Martians, Alpha Centaurans (The Curse of Peladon, The Monster of Peladon, Legacy), Pakhars (Legacy), and Guermantians.

Merculite is a time traveller and has a time ring, and is probably a Time Lord. The Doctor knows who she is and knew her cousin.

Technix (The Daleks' Master Plan) are bred specifically for use as human calculators and have no free will of their own.

Branko Chen is Mavic Chen's grandson. He tries to use Cressida to destroy the Hub and plans to orchestrate a military coup during the chaos. He's arrested after the plan fails, although the Doctor notes that the Chen dynasty will survive.

The Doctor was once told that Jupiter is populated by huge creatures like electrified manta-rays that prey on shoals of magnetised krill, whilst wind-borne plants feed on hydrocarbon mist and neutrino rain: he's always meant to find out if this is true, but hasn't got around to it. He carries a bag of barley sugars. He floods Cressida with a mix of strange tachyons and charmed anti-quarks, which are harmless to most people but react with Merculite's time ring and cause her to dematerialise. He materialises on Io when he and Mel first arrive in 4010, but sends it on to Cressida to meet them there.

Mel drinks white wine on Cressida. She eats some small deep-fried starfish-like canapés, which Mercy insists are vegetables.

Belier's Disease is a fatal and untreatable trans-species genetic condition that rewrites DNA.

Location: Mars; Ganymede; Io; and Cressida, in orbit around Uranus, 4010.

Future History: By the forty-first century, approximately fifty years before the events depicted here, the Federation Corps of Engineers mined out Cressida and turned it into a spaceship. The Hub is a trans-light energy beam from the Sun to the north pole of Uranus, which acts as a transmitter for all Federation communications across the galaxy. Federation News has a headquarters on Mars. Several counter-SSS groups were established during the last days of Mavic Chen's reign. Despite the peace treaty, Galaxy Five still poses a threat to the Federation (The Monster of Peladon). The Guild of Adjudicators is still based on Oberon (Original Sin).

Television programmes of the forty-first century include I'm a Chelonian... Get Me Out of Here! and As the Worlds Turn. Mercy was the biggest film star in the Federation. Her films include "Mercy is... Dalek Killer". She died in an accident 4009. By 4010, "Best Female Sentient" is a category at the Oscars.

A few billion years after 4010, a creature of "unimaginable wisdom and beauty without a name, without a purpose" emerges from Uranus; it is implied that Maleficent and Cressida's collision with the planet sparks off its creation, and it contains the mind and memories of Prentis, who piloted Cressida into the planet.

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor has recently twice materialised the TARDIS in Trafalgar Square just before New Year's Eve.

The Seventh Doctor met Prentis a decade earlier in Prentis' timeline, when Prentis was covering the election for the new Guardian of the Solar System [Mel doesn't recognise him, so the Doctor possibly met him whilst Mel was waiting for him on Earth at some point prior to his arrival at the Institute in Unregenerate!].

Mel has met several Arcturans whilst travelling with the Doctor and finds them creepy.

The Bottom Line: The tragic death of Craig Hinton means that Uranus is his last Doctor Who story, but it makes a fitting tribute. Packed with "fanwank" and with near-perfect characterisation of the Seventh Doctor and Mel, it's fun, witty and hugely entertaining.

Neptune

Neptune
Author(s): Richard Dinnick
Doctor(s): Third Doctor
Companion(s): Sarah Jane Smith
Season(s): Season 11
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Roots: There are references to Vogue, Sir William Herschel, and Johann Galle.

Goofs: Time ramming his own TARDIS seems like a rather risky way for the Doctor to persuade his earlier self to clear off.

Continuity: The Siccati are sculptors and artists and appreciate art and beauty above all other things. They have six multi-jointed arms and move on an ever-flowing mass of tendril-like filaments. They have six eyes and their features change to reflect their moods. They have seven senses. Their planetary arrangement vessel on Neptune is under attack from an enemy on Sedna, which they call Vermill. They call Neptune Cerulean. Siccati funerary vessels are collapsible, open coffins decorated with tapestries and bas-relief. They measure time in felleries.

The Doctor's blue velvet jacket is torn here. The Siccati call him Thedoct>Orism, and Sarah Sarahja>Nesmithism. The Doctor improves the defences of the Siccati planetary arrangement vessel by inverting the polarisation of the baryon particle effusion.

In social situations where she is faced with someone potential a bit boring, Sarah automatically switches to "interview mode" to put them at ease.

The Doctor uses power conduits from the TARDIS to recharge the Siccati planetary arrangement vessel. The Doctor's future self persuades his past self to vacate Neptune by nearly time-ramming his TARDIS.

Location: Neptune ["millions of years" before the birth of Paranesi - see Sedna later in the collection].

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor claims that he once told Shakespeare, "What a piece of work is man... the beauty of the world."

The Bottom Line: Bizarre, but well-written. The Siccati are an impressively well-realised alien race given the short time available.

Pluto

Pluto
Author(s): Dale Smith
Doctor(s): Second Doctor
Companion(s): Ben Jackson, Polly Wright
Season(s): Season 4
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Goofs: Pedantic I know, but the story is actually set on Charon, rather than Pluto, which would have been rather like setting Earth on the Moon.

Continuity: The unnamed alien race is humanoid but not human. They contrasted the prison device on Charon and designed it to be occupied by seven wardens, whose bodies are placed in cryogenic suspension and whose minds create a mental barrier to the trap the shadow inside the heart of the planet. The shadow is a pan-dimensional creature and can apparently be trapped by water and water ice. The Doctor traps it once more in the heart of Charon, and also removes some of its aggressive impulses whilst it is the cell, making it "little more than a bug pussy cat." The shadow is telepathic.

Professor Magellan's brain is housed in a robot body which has a barrel-shaped torso on tank tracks and a transparent dome for the head. His robot body is equipped with armaments.

The First Doctor's eyes were blue, the Second Doctor's are brown. The Doctor keeps the TARDIS key in his shoe (see Spearhead from Space, The TV Movie).

Ben still distrusts the new Doctor. Before meeting the Doctor, the only corpses he'd seen were of a rating who been swept to sea, and a stowaway who had died of flu before the crew had found him.

Polly is reminded of her grandfather when the Doctor smiles.

Location: Charon [the date isn't specified, but there are references to space wheels, suggesting that this story takes place in the same era as The Wheel in Space, which Lance Parkin's AHistory dates to 2068AD].

Future History: The expedition from Earth is on Charon in search of water ice. They are early pioneers, and use a dome-shaped force-field to create a temporary environment in which they can work without protective clothing. Mankind has colonised the Moon, Mars, and several of Jupiter's moons and water is in short supply. Comets are apparently mined for their ice.

The Bottom Line: Dark and moody, contrasting nicely with the impish nature of the Second Doctor. Points are deducted for the threat being an ill-defined other-dimensional shadow.

Sedna

Sedna
Author(s): Andrew Frankham
Doctor(s): Third Doctor
Companion(s): Jeremy Fitzoliver
Season(s): Season 11
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Roots: There are references to Picasso, Van Gogh, and Piranesi.

Goofs: Assuming Paranesi is meant to be Piranesi, his name is misspelt.

Dialogue Disasters: "Fishhooks!"

Continuity: The enemy that is attacking the Siccati on Neptune from Sedna is another group of Siccati. The Siccati move from system to system, turning each and every planet into a work of art. This often destroys the planet in question, as they mine a shaft to its centre and drop a Collographic (bomb) into its heart, where it explodes, casting matrices that transform every molecule of the planet in question. After they have been on a planet for a thousand felleries, they send a Grounding Sett to the next planet in line, to begin a settlement and build a city ready for the rest of the Siccati to join them. The Grounding Set on Neptune decides it wants to stay permanently, which would mean not transforming the planet, and would thus disrupt "the Great Tapestry", which is why the Siccati on Sedna are attacking those on Neptune. Jeremy adjudicates in the war, and persuades the Siccati on Sedna to let those on Neptune remain, persuading the others that an imperfection in the Great Tapestry might have artistic merit of its own. The Contest Between Harmony and Intention is a Siccati concerto.

The Doctor and Jeremy wear ADJs on Sedna (The Web Planet). The Doctor dons a smock and paints an oil painting of two women in Victorian dresses playing in a field. He also sculpts, using a hammer and chisel to carve a venduta. He promises to take Jeremy to a planet boasting the best potters that he's ever met. The Sicatti give him a big elegant coat. He has heard The Contest Between Harmony and Intention before, but didn't know that it was a Siccati composition.

Jeremy wears fluffy pink boots on Sedna. Jeremy claims that he was very good at art at school, and used to make etchings of Arthur Askey that always made his teacher smile. Jeremy makes a rather poor vase out of clay. The Siccati call him Jerem>Yism. Despite his enthusiasm, Jeremy knows that he isn't really cut out to be an investigative journalist.

Location: Sedna, "millions of years" before 1720 AD (the birth of Piranesi).

Future History: Humans discover the ruins of the Siccati city on Sedna when they arrive their during the twenty-first century.

The Bottom Line: A rather satisfying companion piece to Neptune[ and an enjoyable ending to a fine anthology. Jeremy is, as usual, irritating, but rather less so in the hands of Frankham, who seems determined to redeem the character!

Discontinuity Guide by Paul Clarke

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