Short Trips is an interesting Big Finish range. Sometimes the stories in the range are used to give us ‘Tuesday Adventures,’ happenings in the life of our favourite Time Lord or his companions that would never have made a full TV story. But the format also allows for little jewels that deepen our understanding of what life on board the Tardis can really be like, or moments that turn our appreciation of people absolutely on its head.
This story, by Angus Dunican…
You might need some tissues to hand for this one. It’s a bit of a tear-jerker on several levels at once.
Set in Paris in 1908, it mostly tells the story of an early filmmaker named Céline Tessier, and how the arrival of the Second Doctor, but more importantly, the arrival of Jamie McCrimmon in her life changes her path forever.
Engaged to an illusionist when they meet (the Doctor materialises the Tardis on his stage, which, to be fair, is one hell of an illusion for the first decade of the 20th century), Céline finds herself more and more taken with the hairy-legged highlander as she strives over the course of a year to make her magnum opus, Le Serpent Dans Le Jardin – The Snake In The Garden, for any non-French-speakers, a title that represents temptation, forbidden fruit and the fall of humanity away from grace in the Biblical tradition. Her engagement is broken, and James Robert McCrimmon becomes a star of the silent screen in a small handful of films leading up to the big one. More importantly, he gets closer and closer to the director, while the Doctor allows them to stay, not forcing the decision of Céline or the Tardis on his young friend because he knows Jamie was taken with Victoria, and has been missing her badly.
There’s no untoward alien influence in Deleted Scenes – unless you count the Doctor himself, and it becomes increasingly tempting to do so, because ultimately the story is about choices, and especially about the choice between doing the easy thing and the right thing. Perhaps, in some cases, between doing the compassionate thing and the right thing. And the Doctor, for all he’s in his second incarnation, seems still to be working out where the borderlines of those choices are, both for humans and for himself in regard to his human friends. For analogies in New Who, think of the Ninth Doctor taking Rose back to see the day her dad died in Father’s Day, or the Twelfth ‘going to Hell’ in response to Clara’s demand that he find Danny Pink after he’s died. The Doctor wants to be kind, wants to give a special gift to his friends, even if such a gift is neither wise nor ultimately safe.
So with the Second Doctor, he wants to give Jamie some time with Céline, to heal the young man’s heart after Victoria’s leaving. But the longer they stay, not only does it become harder to eventually have to make the choice between the director and the Doctor, but also, the more embedded the Doctor becomes in other human dilemmas. When Céline’s film is finally ready to be made, her life savings poured into the Serpent, only for disaster to strike, the Doctor is faced with another big question: what’s the point in having a time machine if you don’t use it to help the people about whom you claim to care? What’s the point of caring if you won’t act to help them? The dilemma comes through Jamie, it’s Jamie’s Father’s Day moment, when the principle that he’s stood by the Doctor’s side through thick and thin, defeated tyrants, monsters and beasties with very few questions asked is evoked – is that just what I’m good for, or is this a real friendship? Will you do what I’m asking you to do, you brilliant mad man with your fancy box, or will you not?
The Doctor’s decision haunts him, racks him, pushes him into one of his week-long comas to think things through. To separate the right thing from the easy thing, the emotional from the purely clinical decision. And while his decision has an impact on Jamie’s life – who knows, if things had gone differently, Jamie might have stayed in Paris, made his career in silent films, rather than eventually having his memories wiped by the Time Lords – the Doctor’s decision is what he feels at the time it has to be.
The wonder of Angus Dunican’s script though is that it twists the knife in us sweetly, so we bleed for the decisions made, the reality imposed on the web of time, and yet ultimately, he rescues us, and in some ways the Doctor himself, when everything’s too late to make a difference to the world and the web, but when it still might make a difference to a couple of individuals. Even then, the Doctor has more or less forgotten about the choice he made until he’s prompted to put things as right as the web of time will stand by another, later companion. Guarantee that’ll get you sniffing too, because it’s so very like that later companion to do the thing they do. To help the lonely, wonderful, melodramatic alien be a touch more human when they can. It’s a thing of perfection.
As, come to that, is Dunican’s writing – you can tell when someone’s really thought about how they evoke an emotion in their audience, and Dunican gives good simile here – when things are ‘like’ other things in this story, the things they’re like will stick with you for their quality of phrasing. Yes, you’ll think – that’s exactly what that feels like. Looks like. Is like. Dunican gives you way more than your money’s worth here in terms of similes that stick, dilemmas that crush, decisions that’ll make you sniff, and a resolution that, if it doesn’t have you bawling probably means you’re a Cyberman. He delivers a Jamie story that deepens our understanding of the character, a crucial turning point between Jamie and the Second Doctor, and a sublime example of the Doctor’s friends looking out for his soul, making him that bit more human and heroic than the long view of the Time Lord might otherwise allow. Tony Fyler