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Doctor Who: Short Trips 5.09 - Etheria



Blurb: Having escaped an ambush by pirates, the Doctor and Vicki are stranded on a strange world, in the shadow of vast rock formations and islands in the sky. The only way home is through the treacherous Etherlands, where the invisible Ether alters the perception of anyone who enters...

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

Setting: The alien world of The Ether in an unknown time.

Continuity: This story takes place between The Time Meddler and Galaxy Four. 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: Etheria is another short story read by Peter Purves for Big Finish. The Doctor and Vicki are on a search to find the TARDIS and Steven as they wander through the Etherlands. The Ether found in this area acts like a psychotropic drug, causing distortions in perception. It gets so bad that people have to tie themselves to the ground when they're ready to sleep for fear that they may sleepwalk away and get killed. Thankfully, they have a native guide, Thaylar, to guide them through this area, but the Doctor suspects that he may not be what he appears.

There are a lot of great ideas in this story, but it's a shame that they're killed by the glacial pacing. It shouldn't feel like a long slog to go through thirty minutes of story. Just like Wallace's ironically named The Age of Endurance this story really tests the stamina of the person listening to it. I had to re-listen to the story three times just to get what was going on, because I realized that I'd stopped paying attention and was already at the end. It seems almost like the writing tries to create the same sort of mindless apathy as the Ether. If it's by design then it's a clever piece of work, even if it doesn't say much for the enjoyment of the audience.

The thing is at the end, the story doesn't make sense. The listener is wondering the whole time how the Doctor and Vicki made their escape and how they're sure where the TARDIS or Steven are in this vast, psychedelic wilderness. It's explained at the end, with the most ridiculous idea of all. Their guide, Thaylar, is actually Steven, and they're going through a drug addled gauntlet meant to sap their will. While I can believe that with the presence of drugs that the Doctor and Vicki may not recognize Steven, the idea that Steven himself would somehow believe that he's someone else just doesn't make sense. They've altered his senses, not his memories. The resolution when it comes is also swift and unsatisfactory, making the pirates faceless thugs who are easily defeated and apparently left to die. The first Doctor wasn't above a little brutality, but this seems bad even for him.

The sad part is that the production itself is excellent. As usual, Purves delivers a wonderful first Doctor. His performance as Steven is brief, but excellent when it makes its appearance. His presentation as always is superb. This is a man who knows how to do a dramatic reading. It's just to bad that he was given so little to work with in this one. If there's any flaw to his performance it's Vicki. Perhaps Purves has been doing the voice for Dodo for to long, because his Vicki sounds indistinguishable from Dodo, and they are not supposed to have this same accent. It's not awful, but it is very distracting. The music and sounds are minimal, but used to good effect. There's a sequence when the Doctor starts to work out what's going on and the music starts getting a discordant quality that works really well.

Final Rating: 4/10

Recommendation: The cure for insomnia, Etheria will make you wonder how much of it is story and how much of it is really happening to you while you're listening to it. There are some wonderful ideas, but the pacing makes the whole thing incredibly boring and difficult to listen to. I don't recommend listening to it.

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