30 January 2016

Audio Review: Doctor Who - Gardens of the Dead

Kicking off 2016's run of monthly Short Trips is Jenny T Colgan's Gardens of the Dead. This range of 30-minute (ish) stories performed by a single actor became monthly last year, and proved very successful, particularly in terms of value for money. It was with great delight that I read the range was to continue at least until December 2017, and Gardens of the Dead reassures me that my trust was well-placed.

This is 1980s companion Turlough's story like no other. Mark Strickson narrates this story in the first person, which gives it an almost Companion Chronicles-like feel. More than that, though, Gardens really gets inside Turlough's head and shows us a side to him that we don't often see. This story is set between his d├ębut outing - Mawdryn Undead - and fellow TARDIS traveller Nyssa's departure, Terminus, and makes the most of everything going on around it.

The basic story is that the team - the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough - arrive in a place where people can spend time with their deceased loved ones. It's an intriguing idea, and is used well in the short time we spend there. Although this collect of companions is a relatively familiar one to Big Finish's audience, having enjoyed several years of adventures together (albeit with an older Nyssa from a point after she left the TARDIS) I haven't actually listened to many of them, so this feels like a fresh dynamic in Colgan's hands.

If there was to be a character given the second-greatest prominence here, it would be Nyssa, which is a shrewd move. These are two aliens who have come to travel with the Doctor after trying to escape the situation they were in, for whatever reason, and they're at opposite ends of their adventures. Turlough has just come into this new life, and is still learning to adjust to it, whereas Nyssa is about ready to leave. The way these two characters interact and see each other is another point touched on more than once through this story, and it's really refreshing for such a compact instalment to contain so much substance and food for thought.

In the spirit of Turlough adjusting to TARDIS life, Gardens of the Dead is about him making mistakes, trying to fix them, and learning from them. He is the one who brings them to the gardens in the first place, and he is the one who stimulates much of what follows. By the end of the story, he seems to have decided upon his new place in life. But his decision is not without resistance; the Black Guardian is still plaguing him. Through Mawdryn Undead, Terminus and Enlightenment, he was recruited - unwillingly - to kill the Doctor, and had several goes at it. Set at this point in his life, it's only appropriate that the bird-hatted one show his face, though it only adds to the story being told, rather than intruding on or detracting from it. If you're missing Turlough in this month's main range (the excellent The Waters of Amsterdam, featuring Davison's Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa) then look no further.

In short, this is a quality release. It's a great story for Turlough that examines his place in this new team and does something with it. Production values are typically high thanks to Lisa Bowerman and Steve Foxon and Mark Strickson is faultless throughout. Original, entertaining and thought-provoking, Gardens of the Dead is one of the very best Short Trips yet.

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