‘Downward Spiral’ is the latest Short Trip release and it provides a welcome return for the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa.
Related by Nyssa, the tale centres on the Reverence, the first manned exploration vessel bound for Venus. The ship has just one crewmember, Siobhan Mayhew, a spirited Irishwoman who has given up much in her passion for the mission.
Before the TARDIS materialises onboard, her only companion is the ship’s Artificial Intelligence system. Capable of simulating various personalities, COMPANY is supposed to be keeping Siobhan sane, but does it have other priorities?
Recorded last year, the themes of isolation are remarkably fitting for the times; Alan Flanagan’s story digs into the loneliness of the long-distance space pilot. We enjoyed the descriptions of zero gravity and Siobhan’s hand-drawn signage onboard. While the threat outside the ship remains rather undefined, it is sufficient to be a motivator for the plot.
The story digs into Nyssa’s psychology as well as Siobhan’s. It was interesting to hear the frustrations of travel with the Doctor from her perspective, beginning with the pair amid an uncharacteristic argument over their choice of destination. Rather than her high-minded interests, the Time Lord was seeking more trivial, thrill seeking pursuits. For us, this felt a little off and it continued throughout – characterising him as puppyish, like one of the newer, youthful incarnations.
The tale resolves with a pleasingly simple solution, as well as providing a clever explanation to the unusual storytelling device employed. To that end, it is one that demands a second listen with a new perspective.
Told exclusively from Nyssa’s point of view, Sarah Sutton remains in character throughout. As Nyssa, she voices Company’s multiple personalities, from Siobhan’s stuttering Hugh Grant-like husband, to her Irish Da and her six-year-old daughter too. The fact that all of these are so distinct are a credit to Sarah Sutton’s vocal dexterity.