Doctor Who – Short Trips: Decline of the Ancient Mariner Review

By Will Barber Taylor

When NASA has a problem they can’t quite understand, they quickly turn to the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith to investigate. Their Mariner 10 probe disappeared for 30 minutes, with no apparent explanation. What starts out as a quick investigation ends up having catastrophic consequences for the time travellers.

But the reason for the probe’s disappearance sounds a little too familiar for the Doctor…

Short Trips are often a difficult format for a Doctor Who writer. As Doctor Who is a programme that can so easily and effortlessly encompass all of time and space, anywhere and any when, it may seem difficult for a writer to box themselves into  telling a Doctor Who story, particularly on audio, in a relatively short amount of time.

However, Rob Nisbet smoothly and sophisticatedly encapsulates the essence of Doctor Who during the Pertwee era and brings it to audio in a refreshing and clever story that could easily be expanded into a longer adventure. Doctor Who is at its best when it can blend and reincorporate different genres and Nisbet’s utilisation of the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner as the basis for this tale is not only appropriate but appropriate for the Third Doctor’s era.

The Third Doctor was a man of culture, refinement and action and Nisbet understands how to utilise these traits to their full advantage. His characterisation of both The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith is impeccable and adds to the story’s overall impact. Nisbet ensures that this feels like a story that could only happen to this Doctor and this companion and this makes the story seem not only like it could had been broadcast in the early 70s but cleverly inverting it.

Whilst Mariner 10 and the Host feel overtly Pertweesque and have echoes of classic stories like The Ambassadors of Death and The Claws of Axos, Nisbet’s echoing of Coleridge’s poem allows the tale to feel modern and refreshing. Similarly, Nisbet’s reincorporation of aspects introduced at the beginning of the story and at the end guarantee that the listener knows they are listening not just to an excellent Doctor Who story but also a clever piece of writing.

Narrator Mark Reynolds truly brings Nisbet’s drama to life with gusto and keeps the listener entertained throughout. He does a good job of representing each character and his emotionless and alarmingly steely voice for The Host gives the character an even more frightening presence in the story that if it had been read by a less talented narrator. He never detracts from Nisbet’s tale and allows it to communicate it through himself perfectly.

Decline of the Ancient Mariner Review is an intoxicatingly clever story that keep a riveting pace throughout and sucks you back into the world of The Third Doctor. It should serve as a blueprint for aspiring writers for how to write an engrossing Doctor Who audio story that not only captures the era it represents but also allows the listener to feel like they are sitting down to enjoy a truly original piece of work.

 

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