Big Finish Folly, Part 70a – Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories, by LM Myles, Mark Ravenhill, Una McCormack, and Nev Fountain
It’s that time again – the now traditional annual anthology release. Four standalone episodes loosely linked by a common theme. An opportunity to let new writers loose in the main range paddock; a chance to experiment and try new things. This time, it’s the turn of ol’ Sixey and Peri to get the anthology treatment – and so simply for ease, I’m sticking this one hard on the heels of Recorded Time and Other Stories. Let’s go see if it’s any good, eh?
LM Myles kicks things off with the titular tale – which sees the Tardis materialising in a garden of veritable delights, in which lives a deposed warmongering Empress. Of course the garden is not all that it seems, and nor are the guards sent to escort her to her new prison. Come to that The Doctor and Peri are hardly straightforward rescuers either. On the surface it’s quite a slight story, especially given that it has to stand alone in just twenty-five minutes, but the whole point of this anthology is that appearances can be deceiving. Breaking Bubbles actually went off in a direction I wasn’t expecting, meaning that though there are losers in this particular game of thrones (sorry…), still everybody wins. In a fashion. And that, for once, is a good, positive outcome for the Doctor.
Of Chaos Time The bears a warning in its very title. This is not a play to which you can happily apply the word linear. On the contrary, since the Doctor has been thrown out of chronological whack by a newly-developed (literal) timebomb, the play flits from past to future and back again, only sometimes passing through the present, steered only by the Doctor’s own – needfully linear – voiceover as he struggles to pull the pieces into some sort of order. It’s the kind of thing that these anthologies were made for – over four episodes, it would drive any sane person mad, so Mark Ravenhill sensibly keeps an underlying structure to his chaos. Again, the story is a little rushed, and by the end of it I wasn’t totally certain who had lived and who had died (although that might also have been because I was listening to it while trying to find one particular house in a small market town I’d never visited before) but let’s emphasise again the difference between novels/full-length plays and short stories – each is a distinct and separate talent. Horses for courses, naturally, which is why some of these short stories work amazingly for me, and some… just work.
Una McCormack has a cool twist on proceedings: what if the Doctor was sidelined as Peri’s assistant? Set in a women’s college on the eve of the outbreak of WW2, An Eye For Murder is part historical document, part sleuthing adventure – precisely the sort of thing that should be done more often, in my ever so humble opinion. With Peri masquerading as a visiting author and past alumni, and the Doctor apoplectically chained to a typewriter, the usual roles are neatly reversed and Peri gets more than just scream time. Although it’s as conventional in its format as Breaking Bubbles, the overall idea is very neatly dealt with and once again not everything is exactly as it appears. I like it, and I’d like to have seen it given a full-stretch release. The Doctor isn’t omnipotent – he ought to have to rely on his assistants more.
Last but not least, there is The Curious Incident of the Doctor in the Night-Time. Every anthology release that I’ve heard so far has contained one proper standout story. Autumn in Circular Time, Special Features in Demons…, My Own Private Wolfgang in 100. Even the titular Recorded Time. Now Nev Fountain gets to raise the bar with an excellently-observed and darkly comic play in the same ballpark as Mark Haddon’s brilliant book. Darkly comic, and yet deadly serious. Difficult yet simple. There’s as much communicated unsaid as is actually spoken. To say anything other than that you need to listen to this story is absolutely unnecessary.
In conclusion, then: a more than decent addition to the anthology range, with both standard and experimental storytelling represented. The overall feel is one of playfulness, despite darker elements and backdrops, a feel that suits the Sixey/Peri pairing. To trot out the hoary old line, there’s something for everyone.