Reviewed: Short Trips – The Hesitation Deviation

What would life be like without the Doctor? Professor Bernice Summerfield could be about to find out…

Interestingly, I’ve been reading The Pirate Planet, James Goss’ novelisation of Douglas Adams’ Fourth Doctor serial. In the back, you’ll find Adams’ original treatment for Doctor Who and the Perfect Planet, in which the Doctor is annoyed to find a world where everything’s running very smoothly. It’s rather appropriate as this Short Trips release, The Hesitation Deviation, also by Goss, finds the Seventh Doctor on a similarly-ideal planet, one which, the Time Lord assures Benny, absolutely nails Christmas.

But as with anything that’s perfect, it’s too good to last, and something is always wrong. The Hesitation Deviation starts as a sweet festive treat and spirals into a creepy horror story that’ll continue to haunt you long after its 35-minute duration draws to a close – making it a tense but thoroughly enjoyable listen!

The planet the TARDIS lands on celebrates Christmas for just two weeks each year, and the Doctor and Benny arrive in time to start the festivities. Things start off well, if a little strange, when they encounter a couple of kids playing in the snow, but it all goes downhill when the Doctor seems to upset the locals by repairing their Christmas lights.

Soon after that, the inhabitants are hunting them both down, intent on murder.

It’s an especially unsettling idea, particularly if you’re listening to the tale while out in public. Should you download it onto the Big Finish app, you might start keeping an eye on strangers from the corner of your eye. You might reminisce about The Android Invasion, although the answer to these mysteries isn’t necessarily robots.

Nope, it’s not as simple as that. This is James Goss, so of course it’s complicated and clever. Sadly, the Short Trips medium means we get a scene laden with exposition, but it doesn’t really detract from the overall narrative.

Goss’ astute characterisations more than make up for it, as does the sharp notion at the heart of the audio. This Seventh Doctor is more carefree than the scheming figure he turns out to be; his Season 24 persona suits The Hesitation Deviation to a tee, but you can hear how circumstances are troubling him – changing him, even. Mind you, Benny doesn’t change much, thankfully.

I’ve not actually heard many audios with Bernice Summerfield – at least, I’ve not heard enough of her. Lisa Bowerman is utterly wonderful here. The Survival star also directs the story, which I’d normally argue is a bad idea (why not get more input to make sure it’s as strong as it possibly can be?); fortunately, Bowerman clearly has a great vision and grasp of the story, so it works in its favour.

And while this Short Trips is fantastically clever, the real reason you need to listen to it is Lisa. The character is a joy – you can see why she effectively kick-started Big Finish and has remained relevant for some 25 years – and The Hesitation Deviation shows her off at her best: sharp, sarcastic, and somewhat sad too. What would life be like without the Doctor? It’s a horrible prospect, but I reckon Bernice would make a great go of it anyway.

Short Trips: The Hesitation Deviation is out now, priced £2.99 as a download.