Welcome to DoWntime’s not-too-regular column, Assessing Stress. That’s where we assess … stress. Or more accurately, talk and debate about the newest episodes to hit the television screen, the new releases from Big Finish, and all these good things.
And today, Tibère, on his own this time, opens a book, for a change, and chats about The Missy Chronicles, the recent anthology about everyone’s favourite evil Time Lady. Spoilers after the “read more” tag.
Additionally, a bit of an advertisement – if you want to hear a bit more about the book, you’ll be able to catch DoWntime guest contributor (and Clara expert) Ruth Long on the Trap One podcast that way !
Well, if one is to talk about the Missy Chronicles, one first needs to talk about what these recent anthologies published by BBC Books have been all about. They tend to be a bit light on character, in a way – their primary purpose seeming more to be a collection of short, fun little stories about a cool character we want to see more of. The River book they made a couple years ago is a perfect example of that, with only Jenny Colgan’s story hitting any sort of key character notes and the rest consisting of pleasant and well-written Who runarounds (yes, I’ve been taking notes for a future Follow the River, why d’you ask).
The Missy Chronicles mostly follows that pattern. If you’re looking for an in-depth examination of the character and her complexities, you’re probably going to be disappointed by most of the things past the first and best story – but really, Missy is just fun to be around, and while I wouldn’t go proclaiming that this specific volume is a literary masterpiece, it’s an infectiously entertaining, if a tiny bit uneven, read, with a diverse panel of writers that allow for some very different and creative takes on the character. There are much worse ways to spend ten bucks.
TIBERE: So this is something a bit different, isn’t it? Not an audio drama, but an audiobook. There of course has been a long, long tradition of Bernice Summerfield books in Big Finish, sometimes criss-crossing with the Main Range – and they have gone back to it this year, as a sort of fun aside, going beyond the main plot of sets III and IV.
SCRIBBLES: The main thing, really, is that this book exists for people like me who are griping that Benny hasn’t gotten quite enough to do in the Unbound universe arc, which, in the most recent set in particular, has favored the Doctor’s perspective. It’s something, really, you’ll know from that whether you want to get. It’s not the most world-changing set of stories ever, though there is one piece in here I’d go to bat for and say is one of the finest explorations of the Unbound universe setting ever and is worth digging into for that alone, but really, it exists to satiate a very specific appetite. There’s limitations in how far it can go with that: I rather wish the Benny relating past stories format was taken beyond just the Unbound time period so we could see more of her with her old gang, which I dearly miss. The New Adventures reboot, good as it has been, has felt like a bit of a distraction from that world. But in the meantime, this will do, and that seems to be exactly what it was made for. It scratches one particular itch not everybody will have, but I personally am very glad to have it scratched.
TIBERE: It basically exists only as comfort food for hardcore Benny fans. Which, thankfully, we both are. It’s not something you’re necessarily going to want to check out if you’ve discovered her through the New Adventures range and aren’t interested in something else – but if you’re nostalgic for the original Benny range, this is a good way to recapture the feel of it all. Regardless of the quality – consistent, but not especially high – of the stories, this really exists to have a set of Benny stories that are pure, classic, unadulterated Benny stories. Down to bringing back Kate Orman to pen the opening tale – her last contribution to the range being the original text of “Walking to Babylon”, adapted as an audio by Jac Rayner in 1999. That’s … That’s some Rona Munro shit right there. But eh! It’s nice fanservice. I felt appropriately catered to. Not going to say it’s the best thing under the sun, but it’s an excellent way to spend a few hours (and, at around five hours for ten pounds, it’s a nice deal, too).
by Will Shaw
It’s a fair question why this book exists. With Doctor Who off the air until Christmas and Jodie Whittaker on the horizon, the decision to release a poetry collection, of all things, is inscrutable. Its author, James Goss, has been writing Doctor Who spinoff material for more than a decade, and its illustrator is Russell T Davies, who famously revived the series in 2005. The result is a book that feels stuck in the past, and its overall tone is wildly confused. It’s hard not to be disappointed, as a fan of both Doctor Who and poetry in general. Now We Are Six Hundred is a wasted opportunity, a funny little footnote on the way to better things.