Short Trips: The Quality of Leadership
by Keith R.A. DeCandido
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This collection has a nice framing device: The Doctor arrives just in time to help the young prince of a kingdom on an alien planet fight back against those who deposed his father. When the young prince expresses his doubts about his readiness to lead, the Doctor proceeds to tell him a number of stories gleaned from his adventures, all illustrating different aspects of leadership. (Though the stories, as presented in the book, are not narrated by the Doctor - probably a good thing, on the whole.)
Many of the stories are historical, which I think is a very good thing for Doctor Who
short fiction. I've often complained that Whovian short fiction is hard pressed to construct a whole new world and tell a satisfying story in just a few thousand words. Historicals often seem to do a bit better, because they can partially draw on the reader's knowledge of history. Of the two stories in this volume set on alien planets, "Peaceable Kingdom" by Stephen Savile is marred by a lack of any really sympathetic characters. (The 7th Doctor is traveling companionless in this story - I found myself really wishing for Mel to scream or Ace to blow something up.) Robert T. Jeschonek's "Rock Star" is wonderfully inventive, but ends on a silly pun.
If I have a complaint about the historical stories, it's that they do feel a bit like a Western Civilization survey course. We get multiple stories from the Roman empire, but not one set in the Americas, Africa, the Near East or the Far East. I'm sure it was an accidental oversight, but it's a bit of a shame.
These quibbles aside, there are some terrific stories in the collection: Richard C. White's "The Price of Conviction" is a 1st Doctor and Susan story set before "An Unearthly Child". I don't think I've seen this period explored much in Doctor Who
fiction before, though it seems obvious in retrospect. Setting the story in a time period when the Doctor still nominally adhered to a "no-meddling" policy really forces Susan to take the lead, and I found her fascinating and annoying in almost precisely the same way she is in the TV series. I think maybe White makes his Martin Luther a little too "nice", and certainly a bit too ready to lay aside his time's prejudices about gender to recognize Susan's intelligence. But that was probably necessary to make the story work.
Linnea Dodson's "God Send Me Well To Keep" is, in the best possible way, just like what you would expect if the TARDIS materialized in the middle of an episode of The Tudors
. Dodson also writes Nyssa very well - it's all too easy for Nyssa to be written as just the bland sensible companion, but in this story she's got a definite spirit lurking underneath her polite exterior.
James Swallow's "Clean Up on Aisle Two" takes on leadership on a very small scale, telling a story from the point of view of a manager of a mini-mart. It presents the 7th Doctor at his tricksterish best, and probably comes closest of all the stories in this volume to really delivering a leadership lesson, without being overly didactic.
Allyn Gibson's "Spindle of Necessity" is written in the form of a rather lengthy Platonic dialogue, and really tries to present Doctor Who
in the worldview of an ancient Greek, with occasionally surreal results.
In summary, these are some Short Trips worth taking. View all my reviews >>