1st Doctor 2nd Doctor 3rd Doctor 4th Doctor
5th Doctor 6th Doctor 7th Doctor 8th Doctor
Short Trips: Steel Skies
edited by John Binns

Cover Blurb
Short Trips: Steel Skies

There are many places that most of us can never see: places that are sheltered, locked away, cordoned off from the outside world. But to the Doctor, and those who travel with him in his TARDIS, there is no such thing as a locked door. Anywhere in space and time is open to them to visit -- even if sometimes it might be better to leave such places well alone.

Steel Skies is a collection of stories based in enclosed and artificial environments: places constructed to keep the dangers of the universe outside, perhaps, or to keep their inhabitants locked in. It is divided into four sections, each exploring a different kind of confinement:

Section One, Flight, comprises four tales of travellers who left their homes for far-away destinations -- to explore, to start a new life, or to fight for the survival of their species.

Section Two, Frontiers, explores the corridors, living quarters and ventilation shafts of four futuristic environments -- designed to shelter men, women and children from harsh natural forces, or from the threat of nuclear war.

Section Three, Incarceration, tells four stories of punishment and imprisonment, from San Francisco’s infamous Alcatraz, to the cage of a flightless angel in the dilapidated ruins of Heaven.

Section Four, Isolation, deals with the loneliness and despair of being cut off from the world outside, by physical or mental incapacity, by the ravages of war, or caught between destinations aboard the TARDIS itself.

A recurring theme in all four sections is the effect of the Doctor’s arrival in these enclosed environments -- sometimes positive, sometimes less so.

  • This is the fifth volume of short stories published by Big Finish in the Short Trips series.
  • Released: December 2003
    ISBN: 1 84435 045 2

Corridors of Power by Matthew Griffiths 1st Doctor, Steven, Vicki

The TARDIS materialises in an enclosed environment which seems to be under construction. Vicki and Steven are separated from the Doctor and find themselves outside the construct, which Steven realises is a plasma cannon capable of eradicating an entire space fleet. The alien builders seem friendly, however, and the nearby controls register a spaceship approaching their position -- which is itself an enclosed spaceship, presumably the builders’ home. Assuming that the builders’ enemies are on their way, and concerned that the Doctor will be killed and the TARDIS destroyed if they are still inside when the builders fire their weapon, Steven helps the aliens to finish work on the plasma cannon in exchange for their help locating the Doctor. At the last moment, however, the Doctor emerges of his own accord and ushers Steven and Vicki back into the TARDIS. The approaching spaceship docks with the construction bay, and Steven and Vicki realise what the Doctor had already deduced; the builders were contracted by another species to construct the cannon for them. As the TARDIS departs, the builders’ paymasters enter the dock, and are revealed to be human beings.

Time-Placement: arbitrarily assigned, as there are no definite references to other adventures.

A Good Life by Simon Guerrier 8th Doctor, Charley

Following a particularly traumatic adventure, the Doctor and Charley arrive in a bucolic village which the Doctor judges to be located in the 16th century -- until the villagers speak casually of space travellers. There are no stars in the sky, and when the Doctor asks around he learns that some of the village’s children have left to “see the world” and have never been seen again. He is convinced that the villagers are hiding something, but Bryn, the village’s unofficial headman, shows the Doctor and Charley the truth. The “village” and its surroundings are in fact built inside the cargo hold of a gigantic spaceship where topsoil was laid down and allowed to grow; rather than complete their journey to an alien world, some of the colonists chose to remain here, deliberately isolated from the rest of the galaxy. The children who have “disappeared” have in fact chosen to leave and join another colony on Basla 19. The Doctor realises that Charley is upset with him for trying to poke holes in this idyllic lifestyle, and, realising just how hurt she was during their previous adventure, he stops looking for trouble and agrees to settle down for a holiday.

Time-Placement: arbitrarily assigned, although it must take place before Neverland. We have chosen to place it “between seasons”.

Reversal of Fortune by Graeme Burk 8th Doctor

The Doctor arrives on a generational spaceship to find only one occupant, a dying old man named Mikhail, who knows the Doctor already and dies forgiving him for what he’s done. The Doctor travels back in time to find out what happened, and each time he travels back he meets a younger Mikhail who knows and hates him. Finally, he arrives in an era in which the ship is full of life; however, it’s just collided with an asteroid, and Mikhail is struggling to fix a coolant leak in the reactor. The Doctor suggests shunting energy out of the reactor to buy time to fix it, but Mikhail warns him that there’s a risk this will create a destructive energy pulse which will kill everyone on board -- and asks the Doctor for his opinion. The Doctor has no choice but to give it. Trapped by circumstance, the Doctor must then continue to travel back in time, each time meeting a younger and enthusiastic Mikhail who seems to have a bright future ahead of him, until he finally meets Mikhail as a young child for the first time -- and is unable to admit to him what his future really holds.

Time-Placement: arbitrarily assigned to a period in which the Eighth Doctor is travelling alone. The author claims that it takes place between The Dying Days and Storm Warning.

Monitor by Huw Wilkins 7th Doctor

During the Draconian war, the Earth ship Monitor becomes caught in a stand-off with a Draconian ship, the Empire Covenant. Neither ship can break off the engagement for fear of being detected and attacked as they retreat. The crew of the Monitor have already been on duty for 18 months straight, and many wish to offer disengagement to the enemy and return home; however, Captain Carey refuses to do so, as this would mean letting Admiral Shian-Kotek go free after launching an attack that killed 47,000 human civilians. Commander Tate has been arguing the crew’s case, but when she makes a tragic mistake and shoots down an Earth medical ship, the Uluru, Carey takes full responsibility for the accident and Tate stops arguing with him. Some of the Uluru’s crew are rescued, including the Doctor, but he soon realises that Carey will not break off the hunt. The Doctor admits that his ship is neutral, and that they arrived in response to a distress call from the Empire Covenant; however, he refuses to tell Carey where the Draconian ship is located unless Carey agrees to offer mutual disengagement. Instead, Carey has his navigator plot the forward course of the Uluru, has the Doctor arrested for treason and launches an attack on the Empire Covenant. The Doctor is crushed into the hull by the ship’s acceleration, but despite his injuries he still tries to reach the bridge to argue his case; Shian-Kotek is the nephew of the Draconian Emperor, and if he is killed, the Draconians will never agree to negotiate peace. Tate, seeing the Doctor’s determination, gives him her comm link so he can speak to Carey, and he manages to convey to the captain that the death of Shian-Kotek will mean the extinction of the human race. Carey gives in, calls off the attack and offers the Empire Covenant a chance to disengage. He will still face court-martial for the destruction of the Uluru, but the Doctor assures him that he’s made the right decision.

Time-Placement: arbitrarily assigned to a period in which the Seventh Doctor is travelling alone. We have chosen to assume that he is serving on a medical ship, saving lives, in order to atone for his actions in Master.

Dust by Paul Leonard 2nd Doctor

The Doctor arrives on one of the first Martian colonies, and finds that its inhabitants have lost hope for the future, as endless budget cutbacks and the sheer toil of trying to make something from the dust have eaten away at their spirits. Now, two colonists have died outside the dome, apparently by accident. However, the Doctor deduces that their air tanks had been tampered with, and confronts Jovian Pallis, one of the two people who tend to the air tanks. The middle-aged Pallis had fallen in love with the bright young Marissa, but was convinced that she could never love him back, even though he’d never even approached her; he thus poisoned her air supply so he wouldn’t have to keep seeing her for the two years remaining until the supply rocket came to take him home. The other death was more of an accident; Pallis was trying to kill someone else whom he feared suspected him, but the air tanks were accidentally switched. The Doctor knows that there must be no more death on this fledgling colony, and thus transports Pallis to another world, uninhabited by people, to live alone for the rest of his life.

Time-Placement: the Second Doctor is travelling alone and is able to control the flight of the TARDIS, so we’ve placed this in Season 6b.

Light at the End of the Tunnel by Mark Wright 5th Doctor, Peri

The Doctor and Peri inadvertently foment a rebellion on the planet N’Tia, and are forced to retreat from the ruling party through a ventilation shaft in the central building. They are attacked by a service robot, and the Doctor asks Peri to act as a decoy while he deals with the creature. The stress of the adventure is too much for Peri, who asks the Doctor to take her back home, as this isn’t what she expected when she began to travel with him. The ventilation system is then flooded with sterilisation gas, but the spiders which live in the shaft flood towards an exit, and, despite his fear of spiders, the Doctor follows them, taking Peri to safety. Outside, night has fallen, and when Peri sees the beautiful nightscape -- complete with glowing flowers and a shooting star, actually a fuel flare from a space shuttle -- she realises for the first time what sort of wonders she will experience if she continues to travel with the Doctor. She thus decides to keep doing so.

Time-Placement: “just a few days” after Planet of Fire.

Continuity: the Doctor claims to have a fear of spiders, presumably due to the events of Planet of the Spiders.

No Exit by Kate Orman 5th Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan

The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan answer a distress call from Earth colony F-four, which has been cut off from the rest of the galaxy for ten years. No children have been born in that time. Within a day, Tegan has come down with a terrible chill and fever, and when the Doctor runs tests he discovers that every colonist is carrying a lethal virus -- and that the last crop shipment sent to the colony was genetically engineered to render the colonists sterile. It seems that the planet was seeded with the virus by an alien species which feared that humanity would expand into its territory; the colonists are carriers, and if any of them get off-world, billions will die. The colonists refuse to accept this and try to force the Doctor to take their representatives off-world, but the Doctor takes Tegan aboard and dematerialise, tricking the colonists into believing that he has self-destructed the TARDIS rather than risk taking them away. The colonists realise that he would never have taken Tegan aboard if he intended to do so, but when they run their own tests they confirm the Doctor’s findings, and release Nyssa, realising that they have no hope. The Doctor is able to cure Tegan, but the virus has embedded itself in the colonists’ DNA; they will remain infected and unable to bear children, and the colony will slowly die out in isolation.

Time-Placement: arbitrarily assigned within the period in which the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan were travelling together.

House by Jeremy Daw 6th Doctor, Peri

The TARDIS materialises in a house decorated in primary colours and cartoon wallpaper, but with no windows. The house’s occupants are old men and women who all seem to believe that they are still children -- but one of the house’s elderly inhabitants has vanished and another has been violently torn apart. After examining the house more closely, the Doctor finds a hidden door which opens up onto a vast, empty cavern, and realises the truth. This is a safe house on the colony of Eldair; two factions destroyed the planet with a nuclear exchange, and the inhabitants of the House are the children of powerful government officials. The House was programmed to disintegrate and re-engineer the molecules of the surrounding earth into food and clothing and to care for the children. However, the world has been destroyed, the adults never returned, and the children have aged without ever growing up mentally. Now the House’s A.I. has become corrupted and senile, and it has turned its disintegration beam on the occupants of the House in order to amuse itself. The Doctor and Peri try to usher the two survivors to the TARDIS, but Carl is too frightened to leave the House, and Roger chooses to remain rather than abandon his friend to the homicidal House. The Doctor and Peri reluctantly abandon Roger and Carl to the only home they’ve ever known as House begins to take itself apart around them.

Time-Placement: Peri is still shaken by the Doctor’s recent regeneration, but he seems more on the ball than in his early television stories; thus we’ve placed this early in his era, but not too early.

Deep Stretch by Richard Salter 3rd Doctor, Jo

The TARDIS materialises in an underwater prison where ten women have been sharing cramped quarters for the past two years, with eight more years of their term remaining. Food and water is provided from filtered seawater and fish lured to the prison by automatic harvesters; power for the lights is supplied by the prisoners themselves pedalling exercise bikes; and fresh clothing and letters from home and fresh clothing are lowered to the prison twice a year. At least one prisoner has gone mad, and when one of the prisoners was injured and the others requested medical help, they received no reply. The Doctor, though unwilling to free condemned prisoners, agrees that their conditions are barbaric, and decides to transmit an electromagnetic pulse which will trip the clamps that hold the prison to the sea bed. The prisoners generate power for the transmitter by pedalling the exercise bikes, but the insane Clark holds a knife to Jo’s throat, insisting that they stop for fear of reprisals. Before she can follow through on her threat, the Doctor’s plan succeeds and the prison floats to the surface. When the prisoners emerge into the fresh air, they find their capsule surrounded by thousands of others which have also floated to the surface, and the Doctor and Jo are satisfied that they’ve done the right thing.

Time-Placement: the Doctor has recently been released from his exile.

Inmate 280 by Cavan Scott 7th Doctor

Brad Travers, a former guard from Alcatraz, meets a young man in old-fashioned clothing looking at the prison, and tells him the story of the first time he ever killed a man, to save the life of his superior, Leech, during an escape attempt organised by the violent Wai-Chun. For several days, tensions had been rising in the prison, but Leech seemed to welcome the violence, as it gave him an excuse to punish the prisoners further. Travers was more unnerved by inmate 280, a soft-spoken Scottish prisoner under the name of Richard A Fells, who always seemed to be observing events. Before Travers could stop him, Fells provoked Wai-Chun into an outburst in the mess hall, triggering the most violent riot of all -- and Leech gave the order to seal off the mess hall and release toxic gas, killing everyone within. Travers, standing close to Wai-Chun and “Fells” as the gas descended, found himself protected by an atmospheric bubble, which Fells claimed was generated by the alien Threckon living inside Wai-Chun’s body -- a creature which feeds on hatred and fear, and which “Fells” had imprisoned a couple of incarnations ago. It had since been released by a seismic tremor, and had been feeding on the emotions in Alcatraz ever since. Unfortunately, Fells had guessed incorrectly; the creature was hiding inside Leech, not Wai-Chun, and the Threckon burst out of Leech’s body, killed Wai-Chun and attacked Fells. To save Fells’ life, Travers attacked Leech, kicking him out of the atmospheric bubble and into the gas. The bubble burst when the Threckon died, but Travers survived his exposure to the gas (although now, fifty years later, he is dying of cancer). Afterwards, he quit his job as a prison guard and became a regular policeman; however, his experience in the prison had taught him to shoot first and ask questions later, and he’s lost track of how many people he’s killed since then.

Time-Placement: all we can tell for certain is that the Seventh Doctor seems to be travelling alone. He is reading War of the Worlds, and as he was reading The Time Machine at the beginning of the TV-movie, we choose to place this in the same general era.

Continuity: the young man whom Brad Travers tells his story to is probably the Eighth Doctor, but it’s unclear at what point in his life.

Doing Time by Lance Parkin 4th Doctor, Romana (?)

Three petty criminals lure a Time Lord to an isolated colony, break into his TARDIS and steal the time rotor’s impeller, and then make their way to gateway Nine Zero Zero One. There, Shepherd runs into the Doctor, who warns him that he’ll end up “doing time” unless he returns what he stole. Shepherd refuses to admit to what he’s done, and the Doctor allows him to go on his way. Shepherd and his associates then sell the stolen impeller to their Sontaran contact, and go their separate ways with enough money to retire on. But then the criminals are back on the colony, stealing the time rotor’s impeller. Shepherd begins to experience déjà vu as he goes through the same events over and over again. By the time he realises what’s happening, it’s too late; he and his associates are trapped in an ever-shrinking time loop, and soon the time is down to seconds, and then less -- an infinitesimal moment of time which the criminals will repeat forever.

Time-Placement: the Doctor’s companion is never named, but her haughty demeanour and unfamiliarity with human expressions suggests that this is Romana. Since Shepherd thinks of her as “a pretty girl,” we’ve chosen to believe this is her second incarnation, but beyond that, this story’s location has been arbitrarily assigned.

The Ruins of Heaven by Marc Platt 6th Doctor, Peri

The TARDIS materialises in the suburbs of Heaven, and Peri is almost as irritated as the tour guide when the Doctor points out the historical inaccuracies in the guide’s pre-written speech. Peri leaves the Doctor to lecture his fellow tourists and sets off to explore, but soon realises that the community is just as tacky and pre-packaged as any other human theme park. She is then attacked by a flock of baby cherubs, putti, and chased through an alley, where she falls to her death through a rotting door. Dead, she meets an angel named Yy, who was sent to tell the people of this community that the Ministers of Grace had chosen to move Heaven elsewhere so it would not be corrupted; however, in his innocence, he sold his wings for a bite of a cheeseburger, and he has lived in a crate in this forgotten warehouse ever since his fall from grace. Peri convinces Yy that he can still complete his task and redeem himself, and when Yy agrees to leave his crate, the putti restore Peri’s soul to her body. Peri helps Yy to the gates of Old Heaven, which he closes and locks behind the tourists. The putti then transport Yy away to the new Heaven, wherever it may be, and when Peri is reunited with the Doctor she finds that his watch, which she broke on Necros and wanted to get fixed, has been repaired.

Time-Placement: immediately after Revelation of the Daleks, which took place “a week ago”.

Continuity: Yy refers to those who govern Heaven as the Ministers of Grace, presumably the same ones mentioned in The Duke of Dominoes; if this is the case, the gates of Heaven are presumably located in the far distant future, towards the end of the Universe. This is coincidentally similar to the City of the Saved from the Faction Paradox spin-off series.

Cold War by Rebecca Levene 7th Doctor, Ace, Benny

The TARDIS materialises on the moonbase of an isolated human colony which recently fought a devastating war with Earth Reptiles. It seems that the only survivor is Jen Yates, a former entertainer who is guarding a weapon intended to destroy all life on the planet should humanity lose the war. Jen is delighted to see new people for the first time after losing contact with the planet five years ago, but she becomes confused by their behaviour and the way in which they avoid discussing certain subjects when she’s around. She eventually concludes that they are enemy agents here to sabotage the weapon, but when she tries to hunt them down, the Doctor threatens to smash the frozen embryo she’s been safekeeping, killing her child. Jen, held back by Ace, attacks the Doctor with her third eye -- and then flees in shock as the memories she’s been repressing return to her. She is in fact an Earth Reptile named Qurra, who infiltrated this base five years ago and killed its crew; however, she didn’t realise that there was an entertainer on the base, who was on tour and thus was not listed in the station logs. The real Jen panicked and activated the weapon of last resort before Qurra could kill her, wiping out all life on the planet. Blaming herself, Qurra went into shock and took on Jen’s personality; now, realising the truth, Qurra walks out of the base without a spacesuit. The Doctor takes Jen’s frozen embryo to a distant colony world to start a new life with a new family.

Time-Placement: arbitrarily assigned in release order with the other Big Finish “New Adventures”.

Continuity: Earth Reptiles, the “politically correct” term for the Silurians, first appeared in Love and War.

O, Darkness by John Binns 4th Doctor, Romana, Adric

The TARDIS materialises in an enclosed building called the Structure, where the Doctor, Romana and Adric find a systems administrator named J trapped inside by alien monsters he knows only as the Encroachment. The Doctor, Romana and Adric help him to pilot the Structure’s guard robot and fight off the Encroachment, but more of the giant insects appear outside each day. While searching for the Structure’s heating controls, the Doctor finds remote control software for the robot, which J had “forgotten” was there, and discovers that most of the walls in the Structure are prefabricated. As the Doctor and his companions tear down the walls, they find that the Structure is bigger and far more well-lit than it had appeared at first. The Doctor decides to take a look outside for himself, and discovers that, due to a confusion of scale, the Encroachment is actually an infestation of greenfly in the Structure’s well-tended gardens; outside is an ordinary settlement outside full of people living perfectly ordinary lives. J admits that he was simply afraid to leave, and even now he feels acclimatised to life inside the Structure. The Doctor and Romana convince him to go outside, and as J slowly overcomes his fear of life outside the Structure, the Doctor, Romana and Adric depart to continue searching for a way out of E-Space.

Time-Placement: between State of Decay and Warriors’ Gate.

Greenaway by Peter Anghelides 2nd, 5th, 8th, and Future Doctors

A man named Greenaway lives in a single room overlooking the sea, and does not want to leave. From time to time, the Doctor visits him, each time with a different appearance, and each time tries to convince him to leave the room. Each time, Greenaway politely declines. The various Doctors try reasoning with him, cajoling him, and even bustling him out of the room to meet his daughter before she goes away. The Eighth Doctor even tells him the truth, that this is a telepathic conversation and that Greenaway is stuck inside his own head. Greenaway’s village was attacked by an alien monster, and he helped the First Doctor and Steven to fight it off, but at great cost. Greenaway still does not want to remember or to leave the room. Finally, a red-haired Doctor in an afghan coat sadly informs Greenaway that he’s been in the room too long; his life-support machines can no longer keep his damaged body alive and his mind doesn’t want to make the effort. The Doctor leaves, and the room begins to fade away, but as Greenaway slips away, he finally finds it within himself to struggle to consciousness out of the coma he’s been trapped in for so many years. As he begins the slow process of recovery, however, he wonders whether this is really what the Doctor intended to happen when he switched off Greenaway’s life-support systems.

Time-Placement: rather than try to identify the proper placement for each of the Doctors, we’ve chosen to assign this to the last Doctor to visit Greenaway -- the same future Doctor who appeared in Peter Anghelides’ other short stories.

Eternity by Jonathan Blum 4th Doctor, Sarah

Sarah learns just how difficult piloting a course through the ever-changing Time Vortex can be when the Doctor admits to her that their trip to the beaches of Geshtinanna will take nine weeks. At first she thinks she’ll be able to cope, but as time wears on, even the infinite interior of the TARDIS becomes boring and she runs out of things to talk about with the Doctor. Over a month into the journey all of the clocks stop, even her watch -- and the Doctor notes movement on the scanner, a ghost-TARDIS whose crew miscalculated and set it on an infinite path through the Vortex. The crew are long since dead, and the TARDIS’ physical structure has decayed to nothing, leaving only the bare fact of its existence, endlessly travelling. The Doctor and Sarah appear to be on a parallel course, but they won’t know for sure until they materialise. This threat hangs over their heads for another two weeks, and Sarah finally snaps when she finds a tea kettle and an ordinary bag of tea but realises there’s nowhere to plug it in. The Doctor fetches her a handkerchief as she cries, a small gesture which shows that he does understand what she’s going through, in a way. Finally, the TARDIS reaches its destination, and, thankfully, materialises. They are in a jungle, nowhere near where they intended to be -- but it’s a marvellous place to visit nonetheless.

Time-Placement: the Doctor is using the wooden console room, placing this at some point between The Masque of Mandragora and The Hand of Fear.

Source: Cameron Dixon

[Back to Main Page]