Short Trips are Big Finish‘s answer to audiobooks. Unlike the “Chronicles” ranges (Doctor Who – Companion Chronicles, and Blakes 7 – The Liberator Chronicles), Short Trips feature just one voice who “reads” the story and does various attempts at other characters. The occasional sound effect/music helps things nip along but, otherwise, they’re just an audio narration.
This first Short Trips adventure from Big Finish‘s sixth series of thirty-something minute stories is narrated by Mark Strickson (Turlough). Set shortly after the TV adventure Mawdryn Undead but before Nyssa leaves in Terminus, Gardens of the Dead by Jenny T Colgan sees the crowded TARDIS land on a sandy world of nothingness, or so it seems.
The Doctor is busy trying to repair things in the TARDIS whilst Tegan and Turlough bicker and Nyssa tries to keep everyone calm. In a fit, Turlough hits the landing control. They see a sandy plain on the TARDIS screen, but Nyssa sees something else and runs outside.
Realising where they are, the Doctor explains about the Gardens of the Dead. A perfectly safe world in which the sand picks up on people’s memories and creates sand figure recreations of those memories. In Nyssa’s case, she sees her father but her memory of him is still intertwined with that of the Master (who stole Tremas’ body in The Keeper of Traken).
On the screen, they see a man and a boy together with sandy recreations of the man’s wife and the boy’s dog. They see another older man surrounded by sand recreations of his old friends.
Turlough is tortured by the voices of the Black Guardian in his head, continually ordering him to kill the Doctor (as was the case in the TV series around this time). He doesn’t really want to, but he feels that he has to.
When the sand starts coming to life and killing people (starting with the man who’d been with the recreation of his wife, and continuing with the boy’s dog trying to kill the boy), Turlough thinks he has a way that the Doctor may die without him having to do it himself.
As a 34-minute audiobook, Gardens of the Dead is a comfortable story, clearly positioned as it is smack bang in the middle of the TV series’ season 20. Mark Strickson reads the story well and makes some effort to do the voices of Turlough’s companions – or rather, as is also made clear, Turlough’s own interpretation of those voices rather than the actor’s.
Nothing major can really occur in one of these “Short Trips” and even something as major as Nyssa realising that Turlough wants to kill the Doctor has to be narratively erased before the end. For this reason, these stories are never going to be “must listen” material. They’re just additional short adventures in the company of characters we know and love and, in that, Gardens of the Dead succeeds.