Doctor Who: Short Trips #18: Time Signature
edited by Simon Guerrier
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.