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Doctor Who: Short Trips and Side Steps Mass Market Paperback – 6 Mar 2000
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The second story is the clichéd and contrived "A Town Called Eternity." "The Not-So-Sinister-Sponge" seems the work of an infant with a planet made of butterscotch mountains, liquorice trees and rivers of jam which brought back the nightmare embarrassment of the Kandyman. Again I double checked the title of the series. "Countdown To TV Action" is assumedly intending to be in the style of a child's comic strip but it lacks the wit to carry it off as a true spoof and really just comes across as rather silly. By this time I considered digging out my old Doctor Who annuals for a more thought provoking read. But I ploughed on and found that many of the stories that followed were very mediocre. Perhaps I've been spoiled by the excellent 8th Doctor series, but there is a definite lack of originality in many of the offerings in this 3rd trips outing. You don't care about the characters and 'alternative reality' themes have substituted imagination.
There are exceptions, notably many of the short gems such as "The Android Maker of Calderon IV" and "Do You Love Anyone Enough?" which put some of the lengthier offerings to shame. "Nothing At The End Of The Lane" is the sort of intelligent 'alternative' style that works. "The Queen of Eros" was a simple yet effective tale of love making the world a better place and effectively captured the essence of the 8th Doctor series. "Gone Too Soon", "Monsters", "Playing With Toys" and, surprisingly, "Planet Of The Bunnoids" were to my mind the type of original shorts that the Trips series should be all about. With "Revenants" I'm not sure I like the idea of authors writing about the Doctor's future incarnations, this one I'm sure making a comeback from More Short Trips. I don't really like this Doctor's insubstantial character and hope he also turns out to be from an alternative reality. But the tale was decent enough the twist at the end explains why this story required a future Doctor.
There is more to criticise than to praise in this collection. I enjoyed the first two Short Trips books but this time it seems the Editors have instructed the authors to outweird each other resulting in a lack of respect for a much cared for series. Don't get me wrong - I like originality when presented in the style of the previous two Trips collections but this book has failed to distinguish between interesting themes and downright daftness.
Please, BBC Books, for the next instalment let's avoid the side steps and make the short trip back home.
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Short Trips And Side Steps is made up of twenty-one very different stories with two of them being multiple parts. The two multi-part stories are amongst the best highlights of the book. A Town Called Eternity is a two-part tale with the fifth Doctor and Peri visiting Wild West where they soon encounter her ancestors, anachronistic dinosaurs and an old enemy in a tale that would have made for an excellent two-part TV story from the Davison era. The other multi-part story is the three part First Doctor tale Nothing At The End Of The Lane by Daniel O'Mahony which presents a fascinating, odd and excellent tale with school teacher and later companion Barbara Wright at its heart. Nothing At The End Of The Lane alone makes this book worth a read.
Beyond those, the book is a solid with some excellent stories including Trevor Baxendale's Eighth Doctor story the Queen Of Eros (which I can just imagine being adapted as a New Series episode), the post-Trial sixth Doctor story Gone Too Soon as well as the four excellent Special Occasions stories with the Fourth Doctor and second Romana in a variety of circumstances. Yet like many anthologies it has its fair share of disappointments including Justin Richards' story for the Peter Cushing's Dr. Who and Revenants by Peter Anghelides which both started promising but ultimately left me underwhelmed with Revenants featuring an unknown future Doctor. There's also some odd tales including a flash fiction piece by Lawerence Miles which is quite humerus in an odd kind of way.
Overall though, a solid volume of Who short stories. If the point of the Short Trips range was to give fans the biggest bang for their buck, then this book succeeded wonderfully. Taking in Doctor's from across different media, it celebrates the wonderful diversity of Doctor Who at a time when it was sorely missing for our screens. More than fifteen years later, it shines on even now.