Urgent Calls by Eddie Robson

Of all the strange moves down the years, dividing the regular four-part monthly releases (a format which Doctor Who has kept for the majority of its stories for the last forty four years) into a three part and a one-part tale has to be one of the most baffling. Not that it's entirely repellent - there's always been the suspicion that despite their scarcity, three-parters really do the same job as their four-part fellows except without the padding - it's just a bit mystifying. It surely must be more effort for them, unless (to come over a bit cynical for a moment) the end is nigh and they're just trying to get as many scripts out as possible.

So, essentially, "Urgent Calls" is a bonus story - an extra play, bolted on to the main release like a bonus interview or trailer. What use is it? It's hard to see anyone making an event out of re-listening to something that's over in the same time as an episode of "Neighbours", and yet plenty of people still tune in to that each day. Which leaves just a single question - is it any good?

One has to say, yes. Despite the above reservations, there's always been something delightful about Doctor Who short stories, which is essentially what this is, except in the form of a play. It undoubtedly exists because "Circular Time" was such a success, with that plays four-mini-adventures structure revealing that the audios could actually be inspiring and hold the attention again, for the same amount of work as a two hour trudge you may decide you didn't like by the end of Part 1. "Circular Time" reminded us of how great Doctor Who short stories are - because the wonderful thing about life really is not the huge achievements, but the little stories. Likewise the wonder of Doctor Who when you were small was always imagining the trips the TARDIS made between epic adventures, and the possibility that it could materialise, light spinning, on your front lawn. The Doctor sits far more cosily as a beaming moonlighter of our suburban lives, having an encounter while stopping to collect a supply of jelly babies or visiting an old companion one lost autumn day, than as a God or superhero.

"Urgent Calls" is unusual in that the Doctor only appears on the other end of a telephone line - the story is told via a series of chats with the scatty Lauren (pleasingly played by Kate Brown), in which she investigates a series of coincidences with the help of the strange man she keeps getting connected to whenever she dials a wrong number - those conversations themselves being a symptom of the problem. As with all short stories or plays, there isn't actually much to discuss or debate, it just is. And that's why it's so enjoyable - these aren't stories which can lose you or fall prey to hideous performances by cheap actors, they are just moments. Little bits of life which it's a delight to be privy to. As I listened to "Urgent Calls", despite the fact that it was the product of probably a few hours in a sound booth with three actors, I was pulled in, wanting to know more, revelling in the inconsequence of it all and wondering just when this was happening for the Doctor and what else he was up to...

Such tales, told from call boxes or front rooms (as here) preserve a mystery and a delight missing from bigger, more ambitious tales. This may currently be a bonus, something to remember and enjoy at the end of the main act, but if the one-parters continue to be this good, how long before they are skipped to before the tedium of their headlining stories? A strange move then, but an unexpectedly successful one.