Thursday, October 3, 2013

Life Can Be a Bumpy Ride. Let the Doctor Smooth it Out

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 10.2

Title: The Forever Trap
Written by: Dan Abnett
Team TARDIS: Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble
Adversary: Ilk, Nanovores
Originally Released: October 2008
Range and Number: New Series Adventure Audio Stories #2

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
The Doctor and Donna are imprisoned on the Edifice - and become neighbours to a terrifying assortment of aliens. When the TARDIS is invaded by a holographic marketing scam, the Doctor and Donna find themselves trapped on the Edifice, a purpose-built complex of luxury apartments in space. Their new environs leave much to be desired: millions of beings from across the Universe have been gathered to live side by side in similar apartments. Instead of creating neighbourly affection, it's led to terrible battles being waged in the corridors and on the stairwells. The Doctor and Donna must cross the paths of deadly alien mobs as they search for the Edifice's ultimate authority. Who - or what - lies at the heart of the incredible complex? What destructive scourge is eating away at the Edifice itself? And are the Doctor and Donna trapped forever in this living hell?

My Review:
Now that it's fall and a lot of TV shows are beginning their new seasons, I've picked up a few new interests.  And there are a lot of things that I've really enjoyed.  But at the same time, I can't help but think "How many different stories can you tell with just this group of characters and this very same premise?  You guys have gotta come up with some good stuff or it's just not going to work in the long-term."  And that's just a fact of television (and movies, to a lesser degree).  But Doctor Who doesn't have that problem.  As long as there are writers willing to write for the show (and in some cases, "willing" is more like "breaking down the door with a bulldozer"), it never runs the risk of getting old and tired.  Oh, you might have to change out actors, producers, writers, etc. - but there seems to be a never-ending supply of new people waiting in the wings to do something new with that same premise. Whether that's writing TV episodes or novels or comics or audio plays - it's so darn versatile.  And that's something that occurred to me while I was listening to "The Forever Trap" and that's primarily why I chose to review this story.

Let me back up a bit so you know why I say that: There was this little lull period between the time I finished New Who and when I started seeking out Classic Who. I loved Doctor Who and was sold on it now and forever. But I reached the point where most people mainlining a TV show go “Now what?” I wasn't quite sure that I even wanted to try out Classic Who - my faith in my ability to enjoy old-school TV wasn't as strong then as it is now. Oh, sure, I loved the original Star Wars trilogy and preferred it to the newer, flashier, CGI-ier prequels (there’s something about practical effects that grounds a sci-fi/fantasy story in reality) - but could I handle it on TV?

Instead of jumping right into Classic Who, I sought out the New Series novels. And their audiobooks. A great many of which were read by David Tennant, which I quite enjoyed (did you all know he’s actually Scottish?) (and before someone goes all indignant fanboy on me, that was a joke). Thing is, most of the audiobooks I found had a corresponding novel to go with them - hence the “book” part of “audiobook.” But those were the straightforward “someone is reading the book to you chapter-by-chapter.”  But "The Forever Trap" is slightly different than that. It’s by no means a full-cast audio, or even a two-person audio (eg - Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles range). This particular story is Catherine Tate reading this story, just as though it were an audiobook. But there is no actual published novel and the narrative makes use of music and sound effects throughout the story.  The best way I can think of to describe this is it's a melding of audiobook and audioplay.

The story itself starts with Donna and the Doctor in the TARDIS.  The Doctor is tinkering with something under the TARDIS console and Donna's just sort of watching him when this hologram-thing just appears inside the TARDIS console room.  Now, Donna knows this is supposed to be impossible because, well, she did it before and the Doctor said was supposed to be impossible.  The hologram is actually an offer for an intergalactic luxury apartment in The Edifice - it's basically a spambot sent to advertise random crap.  Donna and the Doctor vehemently express their disinterest when the TARDIS jolts and Donna accidentally brushes up against the pamphlet the spambot is offering. Touching the pamphlet constitutes a binding contract and the Doctor and Donna are immediately transported to the Edifice as though they agreed to move in.

Inside their new apartment, the TARDIS is shut down, there's a welcoming bowl of fruit, and the view outside is a magnificent melding of Gallifrey and Chiswick.  Some of the neighbors are friendly, some are outright hostile (who in their right mind would put Sontarans and Rutans on the same floor?), and some are dead (that's what happens when you transport alien jellyfish to a place with no water).  The Doctor and Donna make it their priority to find out what happened to a nice, respectable, legitimate business enterprise into a prison full of people who were tricked into coming here - and why.

I could spoil the ending for you - but the ending is actually what makes this story so enjoyable.  Maybe a veteran Whovian can see it coming a mile off, but when I listened to it for the first time I thought it was quite the little twist.  This was one of those stories that impressed me with the sheer scope and imagination that this franchise was capable of. It's one thing to talk about "Oh yeah - the characters can go anywhere in time and space" and to simply know that as a fact of the show's premise - but to actually see that in practice is a very remarkable thing.

Shifting gears a bit - I've got to talk about Donna Noble.  As much as I love Rose and Martha, Donna is probably my hands-down, favorite companion of New Who.  Maybe it's because her story mirrored mine the most when I was first watching the show - someone who wants to be independent and successful even though outside circumstances have blocked her path, yet she keeps on trying.  Not just trying, but trying in the most unconventional ways.  And when she finally gets her chance with the Doctor - she positively shines.  She has some fabulous moments in that one season she got, but my absolute favorite comes at the end of "The Fires of Pompeii" where she pleads with the Doctor to save just one person from the volcano.  To this point, Donna had proven herself to be smart, funny, and sassy - but in that moment, she showed what she meant when she told the Doctor that he needed someone to make him better.  And in so many ways, the Doctor made her a better person too - helped her with her confidence and self-worth (I make it a habit to ignore how her story ended - in my headcanon, the Time-Lord-energy-stuff is only a problem if she travels in the TARDIS, but she retained all her memories and (more importantly) the growth she experienced in her time with the Doctor. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it).  Probably the best thing about "The Forever Trap" is that it's more of Catherine Tate being brilliant as Donna.  Her reading of the whole story is very good, but anytime she gets to be Donna is just wonderful.  I don't know if Catherine Tate won any awards for her time on Doctor Who, but if she didn't, that is a crime against humanity (well, a crime against the acting industry, at least).

If you like the Tenth Doctor, if you like Donna Noble, if you like audiobooks and audio plays, or if you just like more Doctor Who, this story is certainly one you should seek out and give a shot.  It's different, but it's a good kind of different. Which, I guess sums up all of Doctor Who.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Bonus Review #2 - Christmas has come early, Whovians!

Previously -
Review 10.1 - Nope, I Like This One Too. Get Over It.

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