blogger_who (blogger_who) wrote,

Doctor Who: Short Trips 5.01 - Flywheel Revolution

Blurb: On a planet in the far future, Frankie and his fellow robots have been consigned to the Scrapheap, doomed to explore no further than the limits of the artificial Wall. Life goes on, day after day - until a monster appears in their midst. It lives alone in a small hut on the edge of Scrapyard, and scours at night for the remains of dead robots. Frankie sets out to confront the monster in its lair. Its name? The Doctor!

Format: Short story audiobook narrated by Peter Purves. Published by Big Finish Productions and released January of 2015.

Setting: A junkyard on and unknown world on an unknown time. The blurb references that it's the far future, but there is nothing to indicate a more exact date.

Continuity: This story takes place between The Reign of Terror and Planet of Giants. There's no indication of when it takes place with regard to other stories set in the same gap.

Canonicity Quotient: There is nothing in this story that conflicts with established continuity. 1.00

Discussion: This was my first experience with the short trips at least on audio. I'm familiar with the short story anthologies that BBC books used to put out. Big Finish picked up doing those back in 2003, but eventually the BBC pulled the license to do printed Doctor Who stories from Big Finish. The Short Trips didn't end there, though. They began releasing Short Trips anthologies on CD as well as releasing them as download extras for subscribers to their main range. The Short Trips are simply short stories read by an actor associated with the "era" of the story being told. As I'll go into below, the definition of "era" gets a little vague here.

Flywheel Revolution is a fun little story that presents us with an alien point of view. Paul Leonard used to excel at that sort of thing back in the old Doctor Who novels. Here, the first person narration really helps to "sell" it though. Machines rule on this world. Thankfully those machines seem to have been created by beings with a similar intelligence to our own and they use terminology that we can understand. Yet, it's still a very alien point of view. To these machines, someone poking around in a junkyard and pulling out parts is like someone on our own world rooting around a graveyard and cutting into dead bodies. Frankie's shock and horror at what the Doctor was doing is presented really well. I also like how he describes the Doctor in such a way that it shows that to Frankie's senses this is some monstrous being beyond anything that he's ever imagined.

Yet, as with all great science-fiction, these robots are relatable as well. They know that there's a process and order to their existence and they speculate on whether there was some intelligence that started it all or if they developed by chance. The rulers of this world insist on perfection. Any robot with a malfunction is sent to the junkyard until they stop working. They're walled in by an impenetrable field, so that they don't get out and disrupt this world. When considered in those terms, it really isn't all that different from a lot of other worlds and regimes that the Doctor has run across during his many adventures. The rulers here don't even consider that they can repair the robots. Yet, even more interestingly, now that the robots have been shunned for so long and left to live in a junkyard they don't want to be repaired. The very individuality that the thinkerers who run this planet were afraid of has come about because of their own bias and their own desire to keep the imperfect from ruining their world. It's nothing to mind-blowing, but this is a short story and the concepts need to be small and easily digestable. Individuality is given a chance to flourish in the end and we're left to speculate on what happens to Frankie once his revolution starts in earnest.

All stories set during this early period in the Doctor's life are interesting, because he's such a different character from the one that he would become. This Doctor doesn't think twice about puttering around a junkyard and taking materials, even though he must already know that this is a world run by robots. A later Doctor might think about the etiquette of a robot civilization and how they might find this to be similar to grave robbing. Instead, when a robot catches him "in the act" he has nothing but extreme curiosity and excitement. He tries to find out more about the world, at first oblivious to Frankie's disgust at what the Doctor is doing. Yet, this man isn't so different from the one that we'll eventually know. Once he realizes what he's done, he apologizes to Frankie and offers to lay his friends' remains to rest. It's a touching scene that's presented with an air of sincerity that helps to convey that this is still a very young Doctor, new at exploring the universe and sometimes a little thoughtless.

The whole thing is performed by Peter Purves. This man could teach a master class at voice acting. The story is told in first person, and Purves does a great job of reading the lines, but also in conveying Frankie's emotions. Purves doesn't do a special voice for Frankie but uses his own voice to speak for Frankie, which gives him an authenticity that he wouldn't normally get in a production where one man does all of the voices. Purves reads the Doctor's lines in his regular "First Doctor" voice, something that he's more than used to now. Purves jumps into playing the Doctor with relish, also giving him a depth and range to express the Doctor's excitement, his sorrow, and his calmer, more thoughtful moments. The only other special voice that Purves does is for Toby, Frankie's friend. Purves' voice is obviously treated to make it incredibly deep for Toby. The role is small and there isn't much to convey with Toby's lines, but it does help to vary up the dialog between the two. There are also some sound effects interspersed throughout the story to keep it from getting to bogged down in narration.

My only gripe is that I feel like the first person format lead to a lot of confusion. I'm used to Peter Purves playing Steven Taylor. Having this story told in first person made me assume that it was Steven narrating. It took a few minutes to figure out that my assumptions were wrong. It would have helped if there'd been a more positive way of indicating that even though Purves was saying "I" that it wasn't in reference to Steven's character. The only other thing that niggled at me is that the Doctor indicates that he's traveling with Susan, Ian, and Barbara who are apparently held elsewhere throughout the length of this story. I feel like either William Russell or Carole Ann Ford should have read the story in keeping with the era in which it's set. Since Frankie is ostensibly "male", William Russell may have made the most sense. While I understand that the vague rule for who reads a short trip is that it's someone who was part of the "era", I think that they should go for a companion actually from the time period in which the story is set if available. For instance, I'd be fine if Purves narrated a story that was about the Doctor and Dodo traveling alone together because Jackie Lane has no interest in working for Big Finish and Purves is the closest actor associated with that Doctor and companion. Similarly, if either Katy Manning or Richard Franklin read a short trip set in seasons 7 or 11, I wouldn't mind that either as neither Caroline John, Elizabeth Sladen, or Nicholas Courtney are around to narrate those eras themselves. Here, it feels like a slap in the face not to include Russell and I'd be very curious to know how he would have performed this story differently.

Final Rating: 8/10

Recommendation: It's a fun little science-fiction tale that gives us a nice window into an alien civilization and how one member of that race interacts with the Doctor. It's a bite-size tale, so don't expect to much, but we do get is a nice amount of characterization and development for the Doctor and a story of individuality winning out over conformity. I definitely recommend it.
Tags: audio drama, dale smith, doctor who, first doctor, flywheel revolution, peter purves, planet of giants, reign of terror, season 1b, short trips

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