While Dan Starkey is doubtless most familiar to Doctor Who fans for his role onscreen as most of the modern Sontarans, notably the nurse, Victorian butler and comic stooge Strax, he has also worked extensively for Big Finish in various roles.
Kicking off a new year of Short Trips, ‘The Authentic Experience’ is his first solo writing credit for the company, following an entertaining Sontaran tale co-authored with John Dorney in 2015.
After a terrific cold open, which caused us to do the audio equivalent of a double-take, the story began in earnest with temporal fluctuations bringing Peri and the Sixth Doctor to a drab world of commerce in humanity’s future.
After being encouraged into a slightly disreputable travel agency, Peri becomes an accidental time traveller sans-TARDIS thanks to the misuse of a dangerous alien machine. We follow her through a series of increasingly brutal and bizarre adventures as she becomes, amongst others, a soldier, a trapeze artist and even an early space pioneer.
Trapped in these various past times, we felt there was a delightful homage to Quantum Leap at play here with some authentic sounding, era-appropriate jargon used to explain it. We also enjoyed the notion that the machine was suggestion that the machine was all that remained of a species who fell foul of their own time travel experiments, accidentally wiping themselves from existence.
Narrator Nicola Bryant gifts the story with excited narration, hurtling through detailed descriptive passages with pace and she creates quite a cast of characters – principally Ms Ebow, the hilariously sales rep of the travel agency who tussles with the Doctor. Naturally, she recalls Peri with ease, but Nicola Bryant also has a good ear for the Sixth Doctor too.
Despite its forty-five minute runtime, slightly longer than the average Short Trip, director Lisa Bowerman kept the pace up and sound designer Steve Foxon did an excellent job of selling the multiple locations.
A charming high concept tale which is both smart and engrossing – on the strength of this tale, we hope to be hearing more from the pen of Mr Starkey soon!