13 April 2015

BF: The Ghost Trap

The Ghost Trap is the latest instalment in Big Finish's new-format Short Trips range and I'm sad to say it's a little underwhelming. The basic premise of this is that shortly after her stowing away aboard the TARDIS, the Fourth Doctor and Leela land on a ship that's manufactured by nature rather than any architect.

Writer Nick Wallace has clearly considered his setup very carefully and draws from a number of influences to shape an interesting narrative. We steadily learn more about the inhabitants of the ship - the Hihmakk - are discover that they are advanced beings who can travel just as easily through hyperspace as humans can through ordinary space. Hihmakk ships travel so fast that they are often thought to be ghosts. Eager to learn their secrets, humans have devised a trap to capture one of the vessels - to both species' detriment.

The Doctor and Leela are of course split up relatively early in this short story, and much of it is told from her perspective as she tries to get back to him. It's in these sections that Wallace scores most points with this reviewer. Without literally taking us into her thoughts, Wallace takes the well-considered tact of using her as the focus for much of the story. It does of course make sense, given Jameson's narrating, but his exploration with that wonderful child-like wonder, twinned with her huntress' instincts is a highlight of this release. Lisa Bowerman steers the good ship Ghost Trap with her usual skilled aplomb too.

Unfortunately, I just found the whole thing a little unengaging. It feels like the writer is going for a really atmospheric piece, in a ship filled with with gruesome cadavers, shadowy monsters and danger at every touch. However, for whatever reason, this doesn't come across in the execution. I know this may be a somewhat controversial remark, but I personally found Jameson quite a flat narrator. Although her voice is of course recognisable from the seventies, it's naturally changed over the years. I'm sure the intentions are there, but I'm afraid Jameson really didn't capture my attention for The Ghost Trap's duration.

Toby Hrycek-Robinson once again adds welcome layers to the audio's production, but a couple of the sound cues used (such as Leela falling into water) sound like they're straight from a stock soundboard archive. I had the same problem with Mistfall a couple of months ago and given how inventive and original Big Finish's sound designers usually are, it worries me to see them beginning to start down this path. This aside, both the music and incidental sounds are perfectly serviceable.

All in all, Nick Wallace has crafted a creative story that almost seems inspired by Native American spirit catchers, with a decidedly sci-fi take on it. There's a few standout moments, and overall Wallace writes well for both the Fourth Doctor and Leela. It reminded me a little of The Invisible Enemy, though I suspect those sections were partly intentional. This isn't really 'about' anything in the way some stories are, but it's still an enjoyable little tale as written. Sadly some of the atmosphere is lost in the execution, causing it to fall down the Short Trips rankings. Still worth a look, but it may be best just seeking out the script if possible. 

In a Nutshell: A nice addition, but thanks to the production, not one that would inspire me to subscribe to the whole series.

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