This month’s Short Trips release is Downward Spiral, a new adventure for the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa written by Alan Flanagan. Narrated by Sarah Sutton, this story sees the travellers arrive on a small spaceship heading to Venus, which they soon realise is being targeted by a malevolent force. The plot itself is relatively simple, but the character work here is so strong that this isn’t an issue at all.
The main focus of the story is on the character of Siobhan Matthews, who is the only crewmember on the spaceship. Brought to life with a suitably recognisable Irish accent from Sutton, Siobhan is a character who we can all relate to right now: stuck in a confined space and only able to see her loved ones on a screen (in this case via the personality-shifting artificial intelligence COMPANY).
This, combined with the fact that the story is told as if the listener is Siobhan, with Nyssa referring to us in second-person, makes for a delightfully fleshed-out character, which is remarkable for such a short runtime. It’s also great to have such an interesting framing device, which sets this story apart from the usual third-person prose of the Short Trips range.
Flanagan also takes the time to give Nyssa a little development, briefly touching upon how her father’s death has affected her. It’s extraordinary how, in a scene lasting less than a minute, this story manages to explore this part of Nyssa’s character to a far greater degree than the TV series ever did, with the image of Siobhan’s father urging her to die reminding Nyssa of how her father’s body is now inhabited by the Master.
The highlight of this story, for me, was its ending, which sees Flanagan deftly tie up the themes of loneliness, isolation and family in a way that warms the heart and, again, ties back into the real world. It’s gloriously life-affirming, which is welcome during the uncertain times we’re currently living through.
All of this, in combination with a minimalistic-but-effective soundscape from Richard Fox, makes for a really powerful story, one that I can unreservedly say is the highlight of this year’s Short Trips so far. Highly recommended.
Downward Spiral is available now as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com
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