Review: Doctor Who Short Trips – Flywheel Revolution

monthlyshort-trips_cover_largeBlurb: On a planet in the far future, Frankie and his fellow robots have been consigned to the Scrapheap, doomed to explore no further than the limits of the artificial Wall. Life goes on, day after day – until a monster appears in their midst. It lives alone in a small hut on the edge of Scrapyard, and scours at night for the remains of dead robots. Frankie sets out to confront the monster in its lair. Its name? The Doctor!

Review: Short Trips was the name that the BBC books applied to Doctor Who short story anthologies. After producing three volumes, they decided that they didn’t want to do those anymore and Big Finish picked up the license. They would go on to produce 28 short story anthologies under the Short Trips banner before the BBC decided not to renew their license. At that point, Big Finish decided to keep the Short Trips line, but instead of making them printed short story anthologies, they had the anthologies read and put them on CD. Now, Big Finish has decided to create a monthly Short Trips line for download only. Each story is roughly 30 minutes long and it is read by an actor associated with the Doctor that the story features. For this freshmen outing, Peter Purves was selected to read this story about the first Doctor.

For fans of the first Doctor’s era, Flywheel Revolution may be a little disorienting. The story was written in the first person, and with Peter Purves reading the story it seems as if he is reading from the perspective of his character, Steven Taylor. This is not the case. The protagonist is actually an intelligent robot named Frankie. Purves does a nice job of reading the short story while also injecting Frankie’s lines with some emotion, giving him more of a character. Frankie has a youth and curiosity to him. One might also call it naivety, which is a bit different from how Purves portrays Steven. Purves also reads the Doctor’s lines in his own unique style, which he’s honed by performing in numerous Companion Chronicles and Early Adventures. His Doctor is also eagerly excited by learning new things, but is also not cosmopolitan enough to realize that intelligent robots may see someone looking for spare parts quite differently than an organic. Purves also performs as Frankie’s friend, Toby, but Toby is distinguished by an electronic effect distorting Purves’ voice. The technique is effective, making Purves’ voice much deeper and implying that Toby is much larger than Frankie. It works well for its limited use, since Toby doesn’t have many lines.

This story gives an opportunity to study the early Doctor through the eyes of another character and when he’s bereft of the humanizing influence of Ian and Barbara. There’s a lot of interesting character development here. On television, by the 70’s the Doctor had evolved into a character that had seemingly gone everywhere and done everything. He was a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge of most of what the universe had to offer. In these early days, the Doctor was anything but. Here he’s the explorer with a keen interest in things, but also with a limited, narrow viewpoint. In some way it’s ironic to explore the Doctor’s humanity with his interactions with a robotic life form, but it’s also well in-keeping with the era and gives the story some interesting tension as the Doctor unknowingly breaks some of the taboos of this mechanical society.

The story is a hard sci-fi tale, which is in-keeping with the first Doctor’s era. The first person narration helps to effectively build the world despite the limited run-time of the Short Trip adventure. As a world with intelligent machines, it’s very different from anything that the audience will be able to relate to. Yet, by providing Frankie’s viewpoint, writer Dale Smith also shows that fundamentally the societies are not too different. Names may change and certain preconceptions may exist in a robot society that don’t exist in an organic one, but mostly they have the same basic interests, needs, and desires as a human being. The section where Frankie tells about the multiple theories on the origin of their civilization and whether there was ever actually a creator who designed the first robots is a perfect example. The Doctor does what he always does and tries to help some disadvantaged members of this society. In that way it’s very much a typical Doctor Who story, but the resolution is a little atypical, which makes it all the more satisfying to listen to.

Recommendation: Despite the short run-time and the limited cast available, the Short Trips start off well with freshman outing, Flywheel Revolution. It’s an interesting, hard sci-fi tale that effectively builds an alien civilization, gives us new insight on the first Doctor, and resolves a conflict entertainingly within 30 minutes. Peter Purves’ does a fantastic job of narrating and the sound design effectively enhances the reading, so it doesn’t feel as if someone is just reading a short story. The story, while not the most original in Doctor Who, is interesting and will leave you wanting more. I definitely recommend giving it a listen.

8/10

2015

Audio Drama

Big Finish Productions

Directed by Lisa Bowerman

Produced by Michael Stevens

Written by Dale Smith

Runtime Approx 30 min.

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