Another day another Doctor Who spin-off. Not Bernice Summerfield this time but Iris Wildthyme. Iris, well Iris is both easy and difficult to describe. She's a disreputable woman of uncertain age with a penchant for gold lamé who drinks like a fish and smokes like a chimney. She travels through space and time in a double-decker bus which is smaller on the inside than on the outside and takes irresponsibility to a level that makes the Doctor look like a straight-laced puritan. More importantly she began her literary career entirely separate from Doctor Who in Paul Magrs' magic realist novel, Marked for Life (which I've not read so I'm taking this on trust), but was later integrated into his Who novels and was used to comment upon the Doctor as a kind of non-evil but entirely irresponsible anti-Doctor. These Who novels were nearly always commentaries upon or pastiches of story-telling forms of one sort or another.
The background is important because, in conceiving a series of Iris Wildthyme short stories, someone obviously had to decide what an Iris story was when there was no Doctor present for her to react against. Somewhere along the line it seems to have been decided that, where the Doctor has adventures in time and space, Iris Wildthyme has adventures in story-telling so the collection predominantly serves us up a selection of pastiches and "Iris meets an author" stories. While many of these are very good they all began to get a little samey after a bit which made Craig Hinton's Came to Believe one of the stand-out stories in the collection. It's one of the "Iris meets an author" stories but Hinton appears to have been drawing more heavily on the magic realist tradition than on the literary pastiche idea. Its an, in many ways mundane, tale of an alcoholic journalist in his first couple of days at a rehab clinic. This stay enlivened by the magical presence of this eccentric woman called Iris. It made me think that a collection of magic realist stories about Iris would have been better and more interesting that the set of story-telling stories that we get, however good some of them may have been. I was all ready to write this review about how Hinton's story was the highlight of the book when Jonathan Blum's The Evil Little Mother and the Tragic Old Bat snuck in right at the end and stole all the honours with an intelligent, gripping and heart-wrenching take on Medea which nevertheless managed to include all the compulsory Iris meddles irresponsibly and gets completely legless parts.
Honourable mention also goes to Philip Purser-Hallard's Minions of the Moon which is best described as Science Fiction as Shakespeare would have written it had he been writing short prose-form stories instead of long verse-form plays. Sadly Purser-Hallard sets up his story and then seems to lose interest in it, stopping it all rather abruptly.
Frankly these three stories alone make the collection worth the cover price. None of the other stories are bad, though some are a little heavy handed in their humour (Lance Parkin's The Mancunian Candidate Narnia pastiche (or more accurately critique) and Jacqueline Rayner's Iris and Irregularity) and others are simply rather slight (Justin Richard's Most Horrid Most Haunted pastiche, Jake Elliot's The Sleuth Slayers which appears to be a cross between an Agatha Christie/Sherlock Holmes pastiche and an Avengers Tribute and Kate Orman's Rough Magic - the only story in the collection whose link to story-telling of one sort or another wasn't clear to me. Either I've not read the works that inspired it or Orman is attempting something entirely different from the rest of the authors in the collection. Whichever, I didn't find much to sink my teeth into in this tale of magical goings on in a holiday resort in the space-time vortex).
Altogether though, this is a superior effort on the Big Finish Short Story Anthology front.