Doctor Who: Short Trips Monthly – Release # 1
Written by: Dale Smith
Directed by: Lisa Bowerman
Performed by: Peter Purves
Duration: 32 mins approx
Chronology Placement: Set after “The Reign of Terror”
Synopsis: On a planet in the far future, Frankie and his fellow robots have been consigned to the Scrapheap, doomed to explore no further than the limits of the artificial Wall. Life goes on, day after day — until a monster appears in their midst. It lives alone in a small hut on the edge of Scrapyard, and scours at night for the remains of dead robots. Frankie sets out to confront the monster in its lair. Its name? The Doctor!
Kicking off Big Finish’s monthly range of Short Trip stories, “Flywheel Revolution” is a Doctor Who adventure told from a fresh perspective, with the Doctor presented as the villain of the piece. Set early in the First Doctor’s era as he travels with Susan, Ian and Barbara, this is a version of the Doctor that is still rough around the edges morality-speaking, inhabiting that same grey area that was seen in some of those early adventures. It’s very telling that the Doctor doesn’t realise that he is considered a monster to the various robots that live in the Scrapyard, as this is an oblivious and self-centred version of the First Doctor who is more concerned with his own fate than that of others. Obviously, once he realises his mistake, he does revert to the kindly grandfather role often seen in the series, but it is interesting to see this more negative interpretation of the Doctor showcased.
Peter Purves does a great job at narrating this short story, putting on distinctive voices for the various robots of the Scrapyard and the First Doctor himself. Purves’ take on the First Doctor is extremely effective when used, but it is his narration as the lead robot Frankie which really drives the story. Told from Frankie’s perspective, “Flywheel Revolution” is a surprisingly personal story about artificial intelligence and the thin line between robots and sentient life. The Doctor is shown using pieces of junk to produce a mechanism to escape the Scrapyard, but to Frankie, this is as horrendous as using human body parts to construct some Frankenstein monster. It is a curious dilemma, and certainly challenges the Doctor’s viewpoint once he realises what he has done.
While writer Dale Smith does a great job with the character moments, there were a few instances where I found it difficult to visualise the surroundings and the designs of some of the robots. This is always a pitfall with the audio format, and while it was easy to get a sense of the environment through the impeccable soundscaping and audio direction, I would have appreciated a better description of the key machines, especially since I couldn’t seem to Google what a Futter (or Thutter?) was. Other than that, I enjoyed the fact that this was just a snippet of a larger adventure and we didn’t need to see the beginning or the end of this particular storyline, as the sequence in the junkyard had the most character development. Considering Frankie was the protagonist of this adventure, it made sense to end the tale with him rather than the Doctor.
Short, poignant and wonderfully well-written, “Flywheel Revolution” was quite the subversion of the traditional Doctor Who story format and an interesting examination of the First Doctor, demonstrating his evolution from cantankerous and selfish to benevolent and heroic. Whilst light on plot, it does offer some fantastic character moments, and the concept of a prison for faulty robots is a good one – bit like that old cartoon Raggy Dolls, but with planet colonising robots that don’t operate correctly instead. Bite-size, yet immensely rewarding to listen to, this is one Short Trips adventure that was definitely worth the journey.
Score – ★★★ ½
Doctor Who: Flywheel Revolution is available direct from Big Finish as a digital download