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Short Trips: Time Signature by Simon…

Short Trips: Time Signature

by Simon Guerrier

Other authors: Ben Aaronovitch (Contributor), Joff Brown (Contributor), Andrew Cartmel (Contributor), Jonathan Clements (Contributor), Marc Platt (Contributor)4 more, Philip Purser-Hallard (Contributor), Eddie Robson (Contributor), Matthew Sweet (Contributor), Ben Woodhams (Contributor)

Series: Doctor Who, Doctor Who: Short Trips (18)

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When Time Signature was announced, I almost decided not to get it. Its back cover doesn't raise a whole lot of interest, sounding like a really generic retread of Repercussions. But eventually I learned it was nothing like Repercussions at all, and in fact it begins with the story "An Overture Too Early," which originally appeared in The Muses, being one of the better stories in that book. "An Overture Too Early" sees the third Doctor encounter a companion from his future, a companion who has a snatch of music that can pierce into the time vortex itself. But the Doctor can't do anything to help poor Isaac, and the Time Lords prevent him from investigating further.

Simon Guerrier wrote that story, and he takes on editing duties here, orchestrating (you see what I did there?) something that's more than an anthology. Back when I read The Centenarian, I praised it for being (in theory) the best sort of tie-in fiction, the sort that tells a story that could only be told as a tie-in because of the way that it uses the history of the series. Time Signature is the same, except that it delivers on its promise. All the stories here stand on their own just fine, but as we move from story to story, we jump backward and forward in the Doctor's history, seeing different pieces of the puzzle slot into place.

It's astonishingly well done. We move backward to the first Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara discovering a planet literally out of time in Philip Purser-Hallard's "The Ruins of Time," then forward to the sixth Doctor taking a new companion fishing in "Gone Fishing" by Ben Aaronovitch, then back again to the second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe hanging out at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in Eddie Robson's "The Avant Guardian." Each story adds a new piece to the unfolding puzzle, until we finally can see the entire story. Time Signature is more like a novel than a collection in that regard, telling one tale, but out-of-sequence. Though that's appropriate, as the Doctor encounters it that way too.

Maybe none of the stories here are amazing ("The Avant Guardian" is really, really good, though, but maybe I'm just a sucker for the early BBC), but almost all of them hit very well. "The Ruins of Time" is atmospheric, and characterizes the first TARDIS crew spot on. I also really enjoyed Ben Woodhams's "Resonance," where the fifth Doctor meets Isaac not long before he dies; it's kinda depressing in that way so many Season 21 stories were.

The only really weak entry here is Andrew Cartmel's "Certificate of Destruction," which has all the problems any listener of his Lost Stories would expect (i.e., comedy aliens, ineffective Doctor, stupidity), but even it, like all the stories here, is raised by its presence here, acquiring a bit of poignancy. Time Signature has a clever conceit, but more importantly, it's a collection of strong stories that make an interesting mystery as they unfold. Or rather, a single story written by ten different authors.
  Stevil2001 | Jan 30, 2012 |
The Jadepagoda mailing list had a long and agonised debate a few years back, before new Who came along and changed everything. The debate went something along the lines of "Who fans will buy any old tat with the logo on, therefore BBC books publish any old tat. If we, as Who fans, only bought the books by the authors we actually like then possibly the quality might improve and even if it didn't we wouldn't have wasted money on books we knew in advance that we wouldn't like." While I recognised the validity of this argument I couldn't quite bear the idea of not being able to say "I have every Doctor Who novel and novelisation on my bookshelf". However, I eventually, with much indecision, decided I didn't need every officially published Doctor Who Short Story on my bookshelves, especially since the "Short Trips" collections by which these were primarily published were generally rather dull and inispiring. So, with much pride, I heroically cancelled my subscription. But then I began to hear rumblings, also on Jadepagoda, that "Short Trips: Time Signature" was actually rather good. And, mostly, it is.

The key idea is that time has a musical signature by which it can be manipulated and a particular tune which causes severe damage when played. Interwoven with this is the story of one of the Doctor's companions (created specifically for this run of short stories) who gets caught up in the events surrounding this tune.

It is clear that given this sort of imagery to play with the authors are prompted to create something a little bit more ambitious that "a Who adventure compressed into 10 pages" and stories which, for the most part, genuinely benefit from being short. It has to be said that the first story, Philip Purser-Hallard's "The Ruins of Time" is a compressed Who adventure, complete with sections that pretty much start with someone saying "Phew, I'm glad that whole rescue attempt there wasn't room to describe, went well!" but one of Purser-Hallard's strengths is world-building and he wisely chooses to focus his story on exploration of this world rather than on the capture-escape runaround taking place within it. Marc Platt's "The Hunting of the Slook" was a much better offering than the disappointing Benny Novella he turned in for Old Friends but neither this nor "Gone Fishing" (a nice story about a fishing trip from Ben Aaronovitch) really reach the heights of the work Platt and Aaronovitch were producing for Virgin. They are both solid enough tales and, I suspect, written more maturely than the stuff they wrote in the 1990s but they lack that sense of experimentation and excitement that I had previously associated with their work.

If I have a criticism of the collection it is that there is no real explanation given for how the new companion comes to hear the "Time Signature" tune nor how he metamorphoses from a fishing enthusiast into a composer and conductor. I was sort of expecting this explanation to be the pay-off in the final story of the collection, Andrew Cartmel's "Certificate of Destruction" but that proved to be a rather bland cats vs dogs tale with little relevance to the rest of the collection. So much so, that I was rather bemused by its placement as the final story when the rest of the collection had done such a fine job of dropping the pieces into place one at a time, while zipping backwards and forwards through the Doctor's incarnations.

This criticism aside, its still a solid Doctor Who short story collection. There are no real duds, and most of the stories are distinctly above average and, most importantly, treat the fact that they are short stories as a strength rather than a weakness. ( )
1 vote louisedennis | Nov 7, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Simon Guerrierprimary authorall editionscalculated
Aaronovitch, BenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brown, JoffContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cartmel, AndrewContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Clements, JonathanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Platt, MarcContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Purser-Hallard, PhilipContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Robson, EddieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sweet, MatthewContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Woodhams, BenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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