Seeing how Big Finish are pretty much dominating the market with original Doctor Who content, it’s hard to miss if anyone else is attempting the same thing. After all, I don’t see much chatter on X (nee Twitter) about BBC Audio Doctor Who releases apart from audiobooks of Target novelisations.
Thus, it was quite a surprise, when in Bluewater’s Waterstones’ audiobook section (when I say ‘section’, I mean ‘shelf’), a couple of years ago, I found a few BBC Audio/ Penguin short story releases for Classic Who Doctors dotted among the Target novelisation CDs.
It was here that I discovered the first Eighth Doctor original short story, The Scent of Blood (2019). Yeah, maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention to social media or merchandise websites, but sometimes surprise discoveries like this are a joy in themselves.
What surprised me the most was that it had been a long time since BBC Audio had used the Eighth Doctor. 2013’s Destiny of the Doctors’ Enemy Aliens aside (which was a Big Finish collaboration anyway) the character hadn’t been used since 1998 with the cassette tape releases of Doctor Who: The TV Movie and Earth and Beyond (both featuring readings by Paul McGann).
Since The Scent of Blood, and happily for this Eighth Doctor fan, BBC Audio has revisited the Eighth Doctor a few times with the unabridged audiobook of Doctor Who: The Movie (2021), plus two further short stories: The Code of Flesh (2022), and the latest release, The Teeth of Ice (2023).
Anyway, after that ramble, what of The Teeth of Ice itself?
I’ll get a personal grumble out of the way first… In most of these short story releases they are read by someone connected to the era of the featured Doctor: The Elysian Blade, a Second Doctor adventure, read by Frazer Hines; The Flight of the Sun God, Sixth Doctor, read by Nicola Bryant; and in The Winged Coven, Susan Jameson reprises her role of Mrs Wibbsey who debuted in the Fourth Doctor Hornet’s Nest audios from Paul Magrs.
With the recent Eighth Doctor BBC audios, the readings are all by Dan Starkey who plays the Sontaran, Strax; part of the Paternoster Gang from Moffat-era Who.
It is a bit of a shame, but not to say that Dan is bad at audiobook readings – far from it – it’s just it would have been nice to get McGann himself to read his own adventures, as he has done before. In all fairness to BBC Audio, they don’t really have anyone else to call on for the Eighth Doctor era (in the UK, at least) as the associated companions are all from Big Finish.
The Teeth of Ice has been written by Andrew Lane, who has written the previous two Eighth Doctor short stories and once you’ve heard all three, you will see a patten emerging, but always with a little twist to the expected narrative. The hint of this tale is in the cover art…
The story starts with the journalist, James McFarlane, arriving at an artic base with an intent to write a piece on the team’s explorations. McFarlane, at this point, has become a semi-companion having appeared in the two previous Eighth Doctor short stories. Indeed, this is a sequel as both previous tales are referenced during The Teeth of Ice. However, if this is the first of the trio that you’re listening to, worry not. This is a stand-alone adventure that requires no knowledge of the previous stories, but be aware that the references could be ever so slightly spoilery.
Lane paints a very foreboding atmosphere of the artic region and pulls no punches as to the effect the sub-zero temperatures will have on exposed or damp parts of the human body. Shadrack, the leader of the camp, gives a detailed and chilling (no pun intended) description of what could happen should McFarlane not heed the warnings; Shadrack himself having lost a finger to frost-bite.
Within the base, we are also introduced to a separate group, headed by Rochdale, who is here on a separate exploration. Starkey has a wealth of different voices that he can call on to illustrate the different characters, but it takes one a tad out of the moment when the voice he intones Rochdale with is Strax’s! On the plus side, I’m quite warming to Starkey’s interpretation of the Eighth Doctor. He’s given the Doctor an inflection that makes him sound a little like one of The Beatles — clearly a nod to McGann’s Liverpudlian roots.
Presently, McFarlane is reunited with the Doctor, who has installed himself as the base’s medic. A grizzly death soon occurs and we have a sequence that is reminiscent of the first two episodes of The Seeds of Doom where a monster is potentially loose within the claustrophobic atmosphere of the base.
After a second body is found, the narrative takes a very different direction…
I adore these short stories as they can while away an idle hour, whereas some other audiobooks can last a ridiculous amount of time (the stack of ten CDs that make up The Harvest of Time, I’m looking at you!).
What the short story medium loses is the space for grand descriptive passages and character development, but handled correctly, it can still deliver enough character, atmosphere, and engaging storytelling in a quick, punchy, and flab-free way; and Lane achieves this with The Teeth of Ice. Sometimes, less is more and exactly why Big Finish’s Short Trips can be so engaging.
Unfortunately, I found the conclusion very unsatisfactory. Not the actual events themselves as Lane provides a spectacular finale, but it would be difficult to describe the situation without a huge spoiler. I’ll go as far to say that the Doctor manages to tie-up the strands of the adventure but gets to side-step the self-awareness and responsibility. When you have heard the audio, you’ll understand what I mean.
Having said that, a further sequel is teased and the issue I allude to could be something which is addressed in the next instalment. I’m rather looking forward to that.