03 January 2012

Dr Who and the Ghosts of Christmas

Every now and then, I encounter a Short Trip on my reading list, but it feels right to read Christmas-themed ones at Christmastime, so I let this one jump the queue a bit:

Doctor Who: Short Trips #22: The Ghosts of Christmas
edited by Cavan Scott & Mark Wright

Hardcover, 278 pages. Published 2007. Acquired May 2009. Read December 2011.

Paul Cornell's A Christmas Treasury, Big Finish's first Christmas anthology, remains a high watermark for me-- not just in terms of the Christmas books, but Short Trips in general. On the other hand, their second one, The History of Christmas was kinda disappointing. Still, Doctor Who and Christmas just go together in a way that's right, something I think Paul Cornell realized before even Russell T Davies did, and so I was happily looking forward to this book.

It didn't disappoint. Even at its weakest, it still has a sense of joy about it. It's divided into three section, for Christmases Past, Present, and Future, which correspond to when the stories are set. The title and the blurb implies an element of spookiness or horror, and thankfully that's minimal, because in the few cases where it's tried, it doesn't really work. "24 Crawford Street" by Ian Farrington feels more arbitrary than spooky, while Xanna Eve Chown's "Do You Believe in the Krampus?" takes a great premise (the Alpine legend of a demon that eats naughty children) but is completely boring. "The Stars Our Contamination" by Steven Savile is a zombie story that doesn't really click. Most disappointing is Peter Angelhides's "The Somerton Fetch," a saccharine muddle of a story about a character I don't really care about.

But on the whole, the stories really work. This collection includes such joys as:
  • "For the Man Who Has Everything" by Dan Abnett: A private secretary to a Cabinet minister spends Christmas with the eighth Doctor after the two of them save the world together.
  • "Tell Me You Love Me" by Scott Matthewman: The best TARDIS crew ever (the first Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan) experience Christmas in the London Blitz. Ian and Barbara are both sharply captured in this ominous tale.
  • "Do You Dream in Colour?" by Gary Russell: No Doctor, but Ben and Polly after their time in the TARDIS. The story avoids the obvious route of having them romantically involved, and is all the better for it. It's nice to see some post-TARDIS companions who aren't depressed or traumatized, but the Doctor has clearly made his mark.
  • "The Nobility of Faith" by Jonathan Clements: A Christmas pantomime where the Doctor meets "Ala Urd-Din."
  • "Dear Great Uncle Peter" by Neil Corry: A little boy discovers that he's forgotten his Christmas day! How terrible! Thankfully the Doctor and Leela can set it right. Maybe trying too hard to get the voice of a small child, but fun and worthy of its position in Re:Collections.
  • "They Fell" by Scott Handcock: Charley Pollard! What else do you need?
  • "The Christmas Presence" by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris: The writers of The Scarifyers tackling Doctor Who? I hadn't even suspected that the world could be this kind.
  • "Snowman in Manhattan" by John Binns: Worth it just for the image of the first Doctor as a department store Santa, but it turns out to be a good story beyond that, too.
  • "The Crackers" by Richard Salter: Evelyn Smythe discovers that her Christmas memories live within the TARDIS itself.
  • "Dr Cadabra" by Trevor Baxendale: The sixth Doctor is mistaken for a clown at an office Christmas party. Naturally.
  • "Keeping it Real" by Joseph Lidster: As in The Gathering, Lidster demonstrates that he knows why Tegan is one of the best companions.
  • "Christmas Everyday" by Mark Magrs: It's Christmas once a week in a future where the United Kingdom is one giant shopping center.
I also enjoyed "Faithful Friends" by the editors, a three-part story about the Doctor and the Brigadier at Christmas. Something about the Brigadier and Charley being reunited at Christmas just makes me smile.

My favorite was definitely "Far Away in a Manger" by Iain McLaughlin, a quiet tale with no monsters or villains. The Doctor, Peri, and Erimem land on an Earth colony during a snowstorm and help the colonists through their various problems. It's a charming story, clearly meant to be read on a long night during a snowstorm, helping hold back the cold just like a fire in the hearth.

I love Doctor Who, and I love Christmas. Any book with one of those things is good, but this one has both. How can it not be great? Every book should be a Doctor Who Christmas book. Except that that much Christmas would be saccharine, and that's something this book avoids nicely. Not as good as A Christmas Treasury, but that's no black mark; it's still one of the best books the Short Trips series has done.

This collection is also noteworthy for featuring three sequential stories using the term "bobble hat," which I had not previously been aware of.

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