If you don’t have loads of free time to lounge around listening to Big Finish audios, the Short Trips range are a great place to get your Doctor Who fix; likewise if you’re on a tight budget, at just £2.99 it’s hard to go wrong. This months Short Trip, Damascus features the Third Doctor.
As the decade in English history which attracts the greatest quantity of alien invasions per annum, the 1970s are not the easiest time in which to steer the great British ship of state. The Prime Minister, nonetheless, is doing the very best job he can. Still, at least he has UNIT to rely on – their eccentric, bouffant-haired scientific adviser in particular. Or does he?
This is my first Short Trips review and what a great start by reviewing one of the greatest Doctors Jon Pertwee! Before beginning the audio, I rather anticipated the short time length. With only experience longer audios that are one-hour long episodes in boxsets or a four-part main range; I anticipated the short burst of adventure. It kind of reminds me of a classic episode with a one-part episode with a short run time.
The story begins with a strange recording from the Prime Minister, Jeremy, explaining a morning in July of his encounter of Jason St Clare in Downing Street. Clare wakes the Prime Minister about a space craft that entered the Earth’s atmosphere two-hours ago and is hovering in the Norfolk coast. The Prime Minister shows any lack of urgency at this crisis. Is it perhaps we’ve come to a stage that the Earth is not a stranger to alien kind by this point in the Third Doctors tenure? Clare addresses that the craft isn’t of any design they are familiar with and the ship is alone without a fleet. It seems the alien craft has no intention to invade or have made attempt to communicate. Clare presents the Prime Minister with photos of the unusual spaceship above the small village. Unfortunately, the public have found out about this alien encounter and has even been reported on the radio! A cover up story has been made to deceive the public. The Prime Minister questions were UNIT are in these circumstances. Surely it is their duty to be involved with this matter? Clare looks irritated at UNIT’s mention. He reveals that it was UNITS doing for the cover story and the reason for their delay is the cuts in their budget. Clare mentions that UNIT are reluctant to act as it seems the craft is no threat to take any action. The Doctor has refused to help and has quoted to have said “Tell them to look after themselves from now on”. The Prime Minster is shocked by this. How can the world expert not help; not even advise! Without a moment’s thought, the Prime Ministers demands they go to visit Unit Head Quarters. This is a great start to the story: an alien threat and the Doctor refusing to help!
Whilst driving out of London into the countryside, they arrive outside the country house of UNIT. The Prime Minister and Clare enter the infamous laboratory of the Third Doctor. The Doctor is working on a machine with a blonde woman by his side who greets the two men. The Prime Minister says he would like to speak to the Doctor. Jo hesitates and explains he’s not in a very good mood. The Prime Minister later approaches the Doctor; passing the strange Police Box in the corner. He coughs three times to be acknowledged yet still no word from the Doctor. At last, the Doctor finally looked up. After the PM explains about the alien threat, the Doctor is still not interested in the slightest. The Prime Minister then begs the Doctor and says “Please”. The Doctor suddenly perks up and looks up smiling “At last, manners maketh man” and begins to look at the photograph. This seems so in character for the Third Doctor with his stubborn personality you can’t help but love. He begins to look at the photographs. He identifies the ship as Milia ship which are intergalactic traders. The Doctor tells us not to worry as they will go away soon so they might as well ignore them. The Prime Minister doesn’t find the Doctor’s advice wise yet the Doctor believe the aliens are only interested in making money which there is little on Earth. The Doctor stops the subject and begins to concentrate more on the object he is handling. He believes he may have crossed his own time line They’re conversation is suddenly disturbed as a large thump pierces the air as a man of tall height and large weight slumps against the glass. Jo was sitting on the floor gazing at the ceiling and Clare had fallen asleep. The Doctor studies them and comes to the conclusion they are victims of a Listlessness Field and have been rendered in a state of extreme passivity. The Prime Minister stays put while the Doctor goes to investigate. At this moment I’m not sure if this has something to do with the aliens or has something to do with this strange object that appeared in the Doctor’s TARDIS. Perhaps both! The story is starting to get a lot more intriguing. Just what has happened to everyone besides Jeremy and the Doctor?
The Prime Minister takes the opportunity to make some calls. Downing Street, Scotland Yard and the Palace. Surprisingly not a single one of his calls are answered. The Prime Minister is incredibly concerned by this and makes one more call which is answered but not by anyone he expected especially someone who was not human. The conversation isn’t revealed in the audience and only the PM knows. We only hear an alien voice talking about the consequences of the PM taking something that doesn’t belong to him. The Doctor then enters the room. The Doctor suggests to drive were the spaceship is. The PM then begins to question why he couldn’t get an answer on the phone. The explanation was simply that everyone is asleep just like Clare by a Listlessness Field. The PM is confused yet the Doctor says he will soon find out when they encounter the aliens. But who was the Prime Minister speaking to?..
As they walked through the headquarters, they found that what happened to Jo and Clare had happened to everyone but him and the Doctor. Perhaps everyone in Britain. The Doctor and the PM ride in Bessie to the sea. When they encounter the ship, The Prime Minister describes it as something organic with monster like features. This is the Milia ship. The Doctor address the ship saying they would like to talk; additional quoting the Shadow Proclamation which is very interesting hear in an episode based around Classic Who.
The Doctor and the Prime Minister are teleported elsewhere. They realise they are stood on an alien spaceship with furry armoured aliens in front of them with high tech alien technology surrounding them. The Doctor angrily speaks to them about their intentions with this planet and why they had placed the field around it. The aliens deny this and say they were not responsible. The Doctor apologises and goes onto say why they are on this planet in the first place. They reply they have business on this planet to look for a young female from the planet Augustine’s Mercy. She owns a Listlessness device invented by her late father and they wish to offer a price for it. The Doctor is not pleased with this as he knows these aliens tactics to get what they desire and advises they leave the girl in peace. It is confirmed that this girl acted the devices today knowing the aliens’ presence was here. The Doctor asks the PM of what the media had reported about the spaceship and learned that the arrival of this spaceship has been greatly broadcast. The aliens realise who they were looking for must have fled after the news of their presence meaning all of what has happen is because of the consequence of the aliens’ actions. The Doctor demands the aliens leave immediately. The aliens refuse causing the Doctor to pull out the device he was handling this morning. The Doctor believes the device is to boost the Listlessness Field. A button on the device will affect all life on this planet (not just humans) except does in a small radius meaning the Doctor and the Prime Minister. I love this scene as we see a ruthless quality to the Doctor and you really aren’t sure if the Doctor would go that far. The Prime Minister describes the Doctor as menacing, completely alien and ancient which I just love (or even hear) this side of the Doctor. He demands the aliens to leave one last time. Suddenly the Doctor and the PM are teleported back on the beach and the ship recoils its tentacles and speeds into the horizon and flies away. It isn’t explained how the Doctor got this device and its use seemed too convenient to the plot. It would have been great to see a twist here of how the Doctor got the device or maybe he got it from himself from the future?
As the Doctor walks satisfied away, the PM confesses about the mysterious phone call he made today and how he spoke to the girl with the device. The Doctor urges the PM to explain further. The PM then confirms he phoned the Damascus project and explain how girl said this was to teach about taking what doesn’t belong to him. The Doctor seems shocked that the Damascus project is still running after the Doctor’s strict instructions last year that it was to be closed down immediately. The Prime Minister it was he who decides what happens to the project and the Doctor has no power of the government. The Doctor is menacing in this scene and without the voice of the Doctor to emphasises this you really feel the fury of the Time Lord. The Doctor sighs and says the PM should walk back to London himself as he hops into Bessie and drives away without hesitation. As the PM sits waiting on the beach, he begins to realise how dangerous the Doctor is. How his morality isn’t the same to us humans. Through all the good he has done he is undoubtedly the biggest threat to us all. This is why the Prime Minister has made the recording to prove that the Doctor is not at all as he seems and is the gravest threat who must be stopped. I adore this scene! It is a truly chilling end to this story and highlights how mysterious and threatening our much loved hero can be.
Overall I loved this story. Damascus never fails to be engaging to the audience and to make the listener entertained throughout. Although somethings seem too plot convenient such as the Doctor’s device he found in his TARDIS; it is still a great listen despite the limited duration time. The Damascus project wasn’t fully explained and left me wanting to know more about this ambiguous project the Doctor tried to eliminate. I think I would have preferred a longer audio for this story to explore more elements and to learn more about this unknown girl and her Listlessness field. However, for a story alone it is an incredibly enjoyable with a fantastic ending leaving you questioning this strange yet also powerful scientific advisor who we have no idea how far he can truly go…
Should you want to purchase Damascus, it’s currently available from Big Finish online for £2.99 here!