Rant Of The Day THIS RANT 18/06/98

Rant Of The Day is where I get to mouth off about whatever I feel like for however long I like. Theoretically, I'll update my whinge/opinion piece every weekday; in practice, maybe not so often.

Can Doctor Who short stories cut it?

My being obsessed with things started at a very young age, and one of my key pre-adolescent obsessions was Doctor Who. At one stage, I had an extensive collection of Who novelisations, magazines and books, and as many episodes on video as I could afford to tape at the time. In due course, however, this obsession was overtaken by my ongoing love affair with pop music, and most of my Who collection passed on to my brother Alex, who has kept it immaculately and extended it considerably.

Nonetheless, I maintain a solid affection for Who; I avidly taped and watched all the 4:30AM repeats of the show on the ABC a few years ago, and in a recent fit of nostalgia I purchased a whole pile of old Who novelisations that were being sold off for $2 a piece. More recently, upon venturing into that safe harbour of book shopping that is Dymocks, I decided to try my hand at Short Trips, a collection of new short stories featuring all eight doctors (#8, if you missed him, featured in the 1996 Who telemovie).

I approached this volume with some suspicion: I've heard mixed reports about some of the post-TV Who novelisations, and I was concerned there might be a stack of cross-references I didn't get. In fact, this was a largely pleasing volume, with some very impressive pieces of fiction in place.

The best piece is the first, 'Model Train Set', in which a TARDIS-bound Doctor (presumably but not definitively the Tom Baker model) builds a semi-intelligent model train set and then watches as chaos sets in. However, it's remarkable how quickly the characters of the various Doctors and companions come back to life, even though a high percentage of the authors choose to tell their stories from the perspective of one of the companions or an outside observer, rather than the third-person view more common to the Who fiction I remember.

There are a couple of stories which are so self-referential as to be impenetrable: neither 'Glass' nor 'Ace Of Hearts' made much sense to me, and both are closely linked to existring Who stories. 'The Parliament Of Rats', on the other hand, is just plain baffling. Still, if you've a yearning to plug into some Who nostalgia, this is a good place to do it.

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