Completely coincidentally, but I like to think in compensation for the fact that last year's randomly-chosen birthday gift from Andrew's wishlist was something horribly Monkees-related, his present this year included CDs of The Nest Cottage Chronicles
, the first of which, Hornet's Nest
, is a Doctor Who story that's loomed large in my mind for a few reasons.
First, it's a Fourth Doctor one, and there's a lot to love about those. I love listening to Tom Baker telling me stories (I've got a version of him reading "A Christmas Carol" that I listen to every year, even though it always makes me cry and I hate crying). He's joined here by the marvelous Susan Jameson, whose Mrs. Wibbsey is a perfect foil to the whimsical, adventurous Doctor.
Next, it was something Andrew bought as mp3s ages ago, but some of the mp3s got lost in the computer at some point, including the first story of Hornet's Nest
which left me less inclined to listen to the ones we did still have. Seeing the "Hornet's Nest" folder on my computer every time I look at the Doctor Who audios -- which is often! -- always left me with a little twinge of annoyed sadness, so it's lovely to have the complete set of something I've been missing s much.
And third, it's written by Paul Magrs. At the time I first heard it I don't think this meant anything to me, but it was probably one reason Andrew included him in a trio of Doctor Who writers I liked without knowing it. He's been subscribing to Big Finish for years, and I gradually got more keen on being in the room when he was listening to the stories, but my interest never went any further than that so I never knew who wrote what. But it seemed there were patterns in what I told him I liked, some writers kept turning up, so he was able to say, "You like Jac Rayner, Paul Magrs and Nev Fountain."
Only much later than that did I learn Paul Magrs lived in Manchester, and later than that that he lived in Levenshulme. Andrew said he saw him at Levy train station one day, but didn't want to go say hello in the fannish way.
But since Andrew's bizarre means of introducing himself when he was telling at what turned out to be their polling station -- Paul and his partner asked who Andrew was after he asked if he could see their polling cards and Andrew said "I'm a writer with Obverse Books," the publisher of his Doctor Who spinoff spinoff novel, also one that Paul's worked with and is friends with the people in charge. And then we met Paul for coffee
to get him to sign one of his books as a present for Alex and Richard's wedding, and we've been out with him and sometimes his partner to the pub a few times since. So now I have to remind myself that the smiley interesting person I know is the same one who's written books I've read since, which I find surprisingly difficult! I'm not used to this, I guess.
I do really like his writing style, even if it has to be in an entirely different part of my brain from the part that really likes him. He's got a knack for descriptions that seem very vivid and evocative, his characters are easy to empathize with even when they appear to be the baddies. I had bizarrely (for me) vivid memories of some of the moments in Hornet's Nest
-- the frenzied dancing on a dark stormy seaside pier, miniaturized in the dollhouse, and the eerie taxidermied animals -- long after the vagaries of computer storage meant I couldn't listen to them any more.
Best of all, though, was a line that actually made me laugh out loud and comment upon I when I first heard it. Dealing with one of the aforementioned creepy taxidermied animals, the Doctor says "I cut open the badger's brain with very tiny brain-scissors." Such a Doctor-y thing, scissors for all occasions and eventualities! And of course Tom Baker delivers the line in his matter-of-fact way that ensures any question of how silly or surreal it might be evaporates in the throat before it can be uttered. It's stuck with me as an epitome of what I expect from the Doctor.
I've listened to the first story again tonight -- the one with the brain-scissors, and it's as least as delightful as I remembered: it's a story that acknowledges that time has passed for its companion (no-longer-Captain Yates) but takes for granted that the Doctor is the same despite having been elsewhere for a long time -- Yates says he's heard that the Doctor "had changed, and then changed again" but here he is, without explanation, just as he was when Yates was a much younger man. My subject line here is something Yates says to the Doctor, almost accusingly, as he's trying to come to terms with this. I really like that; it's easy to understand why Doctor Who doesn't make as much as I wish it would of the implications of its time-travelling hero: only one actor is going to play the Doctor on the television at a time, but this is one of the constraints audio stories (and, even more so, books) need not have. But even then, most of the audios feature stories as if they were in continuous fashion, not with the long break here that sets this story off in a slightly disconcerting way that works really well for the eerie, grim story that we're about to be told.
The story's set near Christmas -- it actually starts on my birthday -- and there's something claustrophobic about these shortest days of the year, something unsettling about this time of year when life is outside its normal boundaries -- liminal
, my academic friends would say, where the usual rules don't apply and things that are usually not allowed may even be encouraged.
No spoilers, because I hope you all go listen to the story now.