I’ve just finished reading my second collection of Big Finish stories, Monsters. There were some quite enjoyable stories this time around, quite a few very inventive. Both “Best Seller” by Ian Mond and Danny Oz and “Not So Much a Program, More a Way of Life” by Anthony Ketch tackled mass media (books and TV, respectively) in an interesting and highly entertaining way. I think I prefer “Best Seller” simply because its jab at Harry Potter-esque mania seems a bit more sophisticated, and kudos for the slight jab at the program itself—And all the agents appear to have inquisitive assistants, thus negating the need for a narrator to explain what is happening to the audience. This story features the Eighth Doctor and Charley in Melbourne (!) and had several memorable lines: For a brief moment, she thought she caught sight of him, standing completely still in the middle of the carnage—the sad, calm eye at the centre of the storm AND Making up stories was quite easy; the Doctor really was a bad influence. I have to chide the Doctor for putting milk and sugar in Rooibos tea (bleh!) but I think, judging from all the cookies and cakes he eats, he and I would get on very well:
ME: Doctor, why don’t you have the last scone? There’s plenty of clotted cream and jam left.
THE DOCTOR: No, no, no! You have it! You’re my guest.
ME: Doctor, I’m trying to lose weight.
THE DOCTOR: Don’t worry about it, you’ll get plenty of exercise running down corridors. You’re a growing girl! You need scone fat!
ME: I couldn’t possibly . . . please, you have it.
THE DOCTOR: Oh, all right. (he eats it, then puts on an apron) I’ll just bake some more.
To be fair, “Not So Much …” is riotously funny through almost every page, and the Fifth Doctor getting sucked into TV show adulation is almost as rich as Nyssa getting so annoyed she wants to punch someone. However, the beginning really suffered from overblown phrasing—what kind of an editor let that get through?!
There were several stories of the middling range, including Steve Lyons’ marginally clever “The Colour of Monsters” (which featured, I think, a Sontaran and, I think, the Sixth Doctor); Jacqueline Rayner’s “Screamager” (Victoria, with a tiny bit of Jamie and the Second Doctor; Rayner seemed to be alleging the medieval Irish were the monsters!). “Last Rites” by Marc Platt perfectly captured Seven and Ace (as well it should do!)—‘Nothing of anything,’ he declared with an abruptness that could only mean plenty and mind your own business.’ AND Ace nudged the Doctor. ‘How to Complain. Chapter Three. It’s in the TARDIS library.’ ‘One of Tegan’s, I expect,’ he said, dusting down his jacket. (And from now on, like Ace, I will refer to “daisy ex machine wash!”) The story, however, was a bit cursory. I liked the angst and bonding of Joseph Lidster’s “Trapped!”—the Sixth Doctor full of guilt and Peri trying to comfort him—but it was quite a bloodbath. I thought the setting was a bit muddled, too. I think John Mortimer’s “From Eternity” failed utterly.
“The Touch of the Nurazh” by Stephen Hatcher was another good, old-fashioned Third Doctor and Jo story (it even featured the Master) but was forgettable. (I defy someone to write a gripping, non-formulaic Third Doctor story! [Since then, Simon Guerrier’s “The Switching” has proved me wrong]) “These Things Take Time” by Samantha Baker, with Seven, Ace, and Hex was accomplished and engaging. Perhaps the “best” story was Simon Guerrier’s “Categorical Imperative,” which managed to feature ALL the Doctors (up to Eight, of course) as well as quite a few of the companions. I’m glad Guerrier resisted the temptation to make the child Hitler. He displayed an impressive mastery of the mindsets of the Doctor as well as his moral integrity encapsulated in an almost fairy tale-like setting.
My favorite story, though, was Matt Grady’s “Flashpoint.” Set in Italy and featuring the unlikely pairing of Liz Shaw and the Fifth Doctor, this was a fun yarn with a knowing wink, as Dr Shaw never connected the blonde-haired youth with UNIT’s scientific adviser par excellence. And the cheeky Fifth Doctor never told her. I could really feel both characters come through in the writing. I do so enjoy an interesting pairing!