Doctor Who: Short Trips: A Small Semblance of Home – Narrated & Performed by Carole Ann Ford, Written by Paul Phipps & Directed by Lisa Bowerman -Download (Big Finish)
The Short Trips range of audio stories from Big Finish exists to show us angles on the Doctor and his companions that would not perhaps merit a full-length story, but which add to our understanding and appreciation of their lives and personalities.
A Small Semblance of Home, by Paul Phipps, takes us into the earliest of Tardis teams, in what feels like the early days of their travelling through time and space. There are notes here of the distinct mysteriousness and ‘my ship my rules’ cantankerousness of the First Doctor in those early days, as he tries to whizz around time and space in a more directed way than usual, his scientific obsession driving him on relentlessly, while Barbara Wright, the history teacher trying to make sense of days in the temporally relative environment of a time machine grows more and more hopeless of anything ever making familiar sense again, and Ian Chesterton, the science teacher, growing less and less tolerant of the Doctor’s high-handed manner.
What we have here is a tense atmosphere growing between our time travellers, told from Susan’s point of view principally, but giving good insights into the mindsets of both the Earthling teachers, while their tetchy pilot demands their help repeatedly on what seems increasingly like a mysterious wild goose chase. In short, Ian and Barbara are more and more in need of some touchstone, some proof that everything will be alright, and that there are reasons for going on with the uncommunicative, crotchety and demanding old man who, awkwardly enough, is the only one who can pilot the time machine on which they find themselves.
The Doctor, for his part, is very much that early Hartnell incarnation too, before he softened to a kind of trust of the teachers, before it became ‘a grand spirit of adventure’ to have them in his life and on his ship. He has a goal in mind, and they simply have to help him, and there’s an end to it.
What A Small Semblance of Home gives us is a very clear picture of the dissonance between the viewpoints of the gruff old time traveller and his still new, somewhat reluctant companions. It’s almost absurd to say it, but you can hear the fuzzy black and white of this audio, because Phipps’ writing, Lisa Bowerman’s direction and Carole Ann Ford’s performance are all pitched waaaay back to those very early days, giving you some quality 1963 nostalgia for the pittance of £2.99.
The thing about the Hartnell incarnation of course was that he started out gruff, suspicious and high-handed with the humans on his ship, and eventually grew more avuncular, more fun and friendly, as he learned how to still live his life on his own terms, but to include them as members of his surrogate family. A Small Semblance of Home is that story, condensed into a single incident. It’s the Doctor, while still not noticing his own obsessive drives and mostly ignoring the Earthlings and their seeming crankiness, working towards a thing he’s sure will ultimately improve their lives and the atmosphere on board the Tardis. While he finds it entirely superfluous to explain the reasons for his quest, there’s something of the surprise birthday party planner about his actions, and you make the journey of the story with the teachers – from affront and irritation, through worry and weariness, to almost-despair at the difference between themselves and their pilot…to an eventual reveal that makes you smile, that could almost, were you in an especially soppy mood, convince you that you have something in your eye. Phipps, Bowerman and Ford take us on a rattling ride of increasingly stretched nerves, only to end up serving us a treat, a resolution that makes us smile, and makes us see the First Doctor in a new and warmer light – the light with which, given so much hindsight, we’re familiar, but which is efficiently driven from our mind throughout the story by its effective drawing of the earlier, spikier Doctor.
A Small Semblance of Home is ultimately a thing of black and white First Doctor loveliness, though to deliver its ending, it will drive you right back to the unpredictable early days. Both of these are things that recommend it to the listener – go on, forgo the cost of one Chai Latte, and have yourself A Small Semblance of Home today. Tony Fyler