Paul Spragg was, by every available account, one of the loveliest and most helpful men in Doctor Who fandom, often using his position within the wider industry to give help and advice to those who might have needed it. It was entirely appropriate that last year his employers at Big Finish inaugurated the Paul Spragg Short Trips Memorial Opportunity, an annual competition with the aim of giving an author hitherto unpublished by the company the chance to write a short third person Doctor Who story, to be narrated by Big Finish boss Nicholas Briggs and made available on the company’s website for free near Christmas.
Spragg, for those who aren’t aware, sadly died in May 2014 – and to be honest, no short story was ever going to live up to the task of honouring Paul’s life. Conversely, New Jersey resident Joshua Wanisko’s forty-minute take Forever Fallen (such an unfortunately apt title, alas) probably comes as close as anyone might.
It is, ostensibly, the story of man who thinks he knows better and who, thanks to an encounter with the seventh Doctor, discovers that life will throw up problems for which there are no simple solutions, no matter how grand – and ultimately that there is no escaping your past regardless of how much distance you can put behind it. In many ways, Wanisko’s story is a close fit for Steven Moffat’s first foray into Doctor Who prose, the 1996 Decalog 3 short story Continuity Errors, also involving Sylvester McCoy’s manipulative seventh incarnation of the Time Lord. The seventh is the perfect fit for prose fiction, being the most authored incarnation the classic series offered up, and just as in Moffat’s story Wanisko writes him as a distant character whose invisible puppeteering and temporal jitterbugging affects the lives of those he chooses to touch in substantial but undetermined ways. If there’s an issue, it is perhaps in the conspicuousness of the conclusions Wanisko draws, but alternatively it would have been an error to have begun the Memorial Opportunity with something less clear-cut.
Briggs’ reading is suitably lacking in lachrymosity (nothing would have been worse than to have treated the material with too much reverence for the premise of the competition), if occasionally a little laboured; his McCoy and Sophie Aldred voices understandably leave a little to be desired. But overall the production is a gratifyingly simple and understated one, allowing the story to take centre stage and giving Wanisko’s themes every opportunity to make their presence felt. Forever Fallen is about as appropriate a story as Big Finish might have chosen, and deserves to be heard by everyone, whether they had ever had cause to experience the kindness of Paul Spragg or not.
DOCTOR WHO SHORT TRIPS – FOREVER FALLEN / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / DIRECTOR: NEIL GARDNER / WRITTEN BY: JOSHUA WANISKO / READ BY: NICHOLAS BRIGGS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (FREE DOWNLOAD FROM BIGFINISH.COM)