“Who is the girl at the top of the stairs?” Sometimes a line or a moment in an audio story can really send shivers down your spine. I found that in a few instances here, but this was possibly the first story that I felt was strictly filler. Along with the mystery of a little girl and a lot of birds, we’re given a locked room mystery but the solution is so strange that it didn’t feel like it followed the rules of a mystery; it followed those of science fiction. The problem with that is science fiction tends to define the rules as it goes. That should be fine since we are listening to a science fiction story, after all, but the fun of a locked room mystery is seeing how it’s solved. There’s physics and logic and to find the solution, it needs to be clever, but possible. When the solution comes in a totally fantastical way, it takes away some of the fun. Sort of like eating tapioca. What is tapioca? “It’s something children are forced to eat at school!”
Yes, that’s prime evidence that this cast is still outrageously fun to listen to and Leela does compliment the duo nicely, but the story didn’t feel like it was part of a bigger arc. Leela’s presence looking for a crack in time is the connecting thread, but this story is about a book and a gnome. It’s eerie and I really love eerie, but it’s never more. It was fun flipping between the book and reality and it became twisted the more the story went on but it truly felt like they were searching for an idea. That said, high praise for Clara, the little girl; she is an incredible little actress. Played by Eden Monteath, she was one of the little girls in Doctor Who’s The Eleventh Hour. She delivers her lines like a pro and I was bummed that I could not find out her age, but if she was somewhere around 10 during the making of the Doctor Who episode (2010), then she’d only be about 11 by the time she did this story and she was by far the strongest member of the cast in the story. (Well, barring our regulars, I mean!) She actually played her part so well, she was one of the biggest lures for me. Meanwhile Hitch, her nanny, reminded me too much of a character from The Chimes of Midnight. I felt like some of this was recycled.
I know Jago refers to critics as jackals and ticks in this story, and I feel like a heel for being critical. Maybe I deserve it, but the thing is, it’s not that it’s boring. In fact, there being a man at the end of the garden is a creepy one; somehow the moment I saw the cover art (again impressive), I was creeped out. I just envisioned this shadowy character always on the outskirts of a lovely British garden and that was unsettling. The birds that become such an integral part of the story, as any Hitchcock fan will tell you, are incredibly disconcerting too. But this is a small time threat and the vague idea that we are dealing with a gnome or a leprechaun just did not lure me in like all of the others have. To some extent that’s fair because out of 10 stories, finding one slow one is really not bad odds at all. And really, when compared to vampires and werewolves and beastly abominations, gnomes just don’t seem to be that scary!
I admit it too; not driving to and from work means I’m listening during weird times and the interruptions make for a disjointed listening experience and maybe that’s playing a part. I’m going to chalk this one up to a mix of slightly less meat to the story coupled with too many interruptions to really enjoy. The next one, where Leela has found the signal on her time tracker “bright and clear”, will get the right treatment. I intend to go for a walk in the woods with no distractions. Unless the birds target me, I should have a chance to just relax and listen. I guess I’ll find out soon enough because, as we poetically learned, “the future is a closed book!” See? Even with less substance, there are so many great lines in these stories that you will always get something out of them! But maybe a bit more than just a few good lines, next time, eh? ML