REVIEW: Doctor Who – Short Trips: A Song For Running

When a young schoolgirl comes across an old man, a monument and a disembodied voice, she’ll face one of the biggest tests of her life.

Writer and artist Sophie Iles delivers her debut Doctor Who story in A Song for Running featuring the Twelfth Doctor. This Short Trips story comes as a bonus release with a subscription to the Doctor Who monthly range. It is available now at the Big Finish website.

Full disclosure: I know writer Sophie Iles socially and she’s contributed artwork to this very blog in the past. Nevertheless I’ve been as objective and critical as it’s possible for a review to be.

Thunder called its warning…

From the first sentence you can see where Iles’ strengths as a writer lie. The whole story is packed rich descriptions that chime together nicely to build atmosphere and character. I’ve never heard the Doctor’s hair described that way before and I don’t think it’s likely to be topped any time soon.

maggie artwork
Maggie – Artwork by Sophie Iles

Like most Short Trips, the story is told entirely through the eyes of a new character. Eleven year old Maggie is a schoolgirl in post-war Britain, running away from something when she comes across a blue box. Maggie’s insecurities, expressed over the course of a protracted second act heart-to-heart with the Doctor, will resonate with the listener. Her dialogue is neatly crafted to get across her age and naivety while also making it clear that she’s perceptive. It’d be very easy to make a character as young as this either an immature caricature or an adult’s idea of how a “wise beyond their years” kid speaks. This is handled particularly well.

Iles has done a great job walking the line between exploring the Doctor’s history and how it relates to Maggie without overindulging in fanservice and references. The Doctor’s wit and the warmth is rendered perfectly and there are echoes of both the Twelfth Doctor’s early abrasiveness and the awkward affectionate side he grows later on. I know Sophie is a massive fan of the Twelfth Doctor and it shows.

If you listen to any amount of Big Finish you’ve almost certainly heard of Stephen Critchlow, who narrates this story. In A Song for Running he’s given a challenging script with three very different voices to perform. It’s clear that he understands these characters well, particularly as he gives Maggie just the right balance of childishness and shrewdness in every line.

But, for me, where Critchlow shines most is his rendition of the Doctor. Peter Capaldi’s voice has this distinctive nasal quality that many actors and impersonators try to imitate with mixed results. Critchlow captures Capaldi’s Scottish accent perfectly but hasn’t attempted a full-blown Capaldi impression, which often proves more distracting than authentic. If we didn’t already have the talents of Jacob Dudman, I’d recommend Critchlow to take on the Twelfth Doctor again in more Short Trips and Doctor Chronicles.

Doctor Who - Subscriber Short Trips (Big Finish)
Doctor Who – Subscriber Short Trips (Big Finish)

As the 36-minute length demands, A Song for Running is very tight in its plot and pace. The conceit of Gale Dear – the stranded ethereal alien – being only visible to the Doctor but audible only to Maggie could easily have become farce and kill the momentum. But the writer has already established Maggie as a resourceful girl so she quickly overcomes this limitation. So instead it becomes a chance to help Maggie and the Doctor bond before she confides in him properly. True to the spirit of Doctor Who, character-development advances the plot. But sometimes these felt like two separate elements as far as scene structure is concerned. I’ve already mentioned that Maggie and the Doctor bond over his past and her future during the second act. But the reduced role of Gale Dear during the middle of the story disconnects it from the main plot and stalls any urgency. Each scene is fantastic in how they’re written but there could have been more connective tissue across the piece as a whole.

She stared back at him, and she stood straighter

Getting hold of A Song for Running is a bit tricky but, if you can see yourself subscribing to the Monthly Range, then this is a lovely reward to get. The story is heartfelt, sincere and, above all, very human. An experienced performer behind the microphone ensures all the clever nuances in the script come across and show exactly why Sophie’s debut Doctor Who story should not be her last.

With thanks to Sophie Iles for the Maggie artwork.

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