Doctor Who: Short Trips: Landbound – Written by Selim Ulug, Performed by Nicholas Briggs & Directed by Neil Gardner – Download (Big Finish)
The Paul Spragg Short Trips Memorial Opportunity exists to honour great new storytelling voices in Who audio.
2017’s winner, Landbound by Selim Ulug, gives us what is essentially quite a contained Third Doctor story. In between his adventures with UNIT, the Earthbound Doctor bumps into, and eventually seeks out, an ex-sailing captain who’s come ashore after a Mysterious Experience At Sea. It’s a story which runs through the heart of the Pertwee era, studding meetings between the Third Doctor and the captain, Ronald Henderson, at particular pivot-points in the Time Lord’s life on Earth. We meet him in a funk after his advice wasn’t taken on Wenley Moor, after he regains control of his Tardis, and in the immediate aftermath of Jo Grant swanning off up the Amazon in a tea chest.
At each of these points, talking to Ronald Henderson helps the Doctor feel better about his own life, because Henderson has a similar story to his own, and the Doctor, in being kind to a fellow ship captain who’s stranded on land, learns an important lesson that allows him to move on to a new phase of his life.
As stories go then, in itself Landbound is neat, contained, logical, and charming.
And then you get Nicholas Briggs to narrate it in a northern accent. Just like the one he used to narrate the Ninth Doctor adventures earlier in 2017.
And then you give Ronald Henderson an antique pocketwatch and two friends who help run his landside pub – one male, named Jack, one female, named…ach, you should really probably just listen to it.
This handful of elements will get you wondering early whether there’s not something bigger and more complicated going on than the simple tale that Landbound claims to be. It would be folly for us to tell you if there is or not, since the story’s available as a free download from the Big Finish website, so your only way to lose is for us to break the mystery for you ahead of time.
What is true though is that if you start thinking big and complicated and northern, it’s highly likely to water down and muddy the surface story you’re being told, which would be a shame because the surface story Ulug delivers includes an emotional arc that’s full of frustrations and acceptance, of sadness and kinship and kindness and the joy of freedom after being trapped, either at land or on one planet and in one time, that allows an insight into the softer side of the Third Doctor’s personality and his ability to learn from anyone, wherever he is or wherever he goes.
Landbound is a good story, well told. It shows a love for the Third Doctor’s time and adds substantively, if a little nervously, to our understanding of why the Third Doctor did the things he did, when he did them. For that alone, it’s worthy of a download (and would be, even if you were being charged for it). The northern narration and the handful of elements that seem to hint mischievously at something more going on behind the scenes will, if you let them, spin off into a four box-set, Eighth Doctor-style arc of retroactive temporal tinkering in your brain, which is exactly where they should stay, and might be considered to be an Easter Egg of this release. But don’t let such thoughts distract you from the core of this story, because that core is the heartbeat of a man, and a Time Lord, who help each other out by recognising, and addressing, each other’s very similar pain. In essence, Landbound is a story of sudden but meaningful friendship, and how reaching out to someone in that kind of friendship can change your life enormously for the better. Tony Fyler