On the first day of winter, three children would enter the forest. On the first day of spring, two adults would return.
After poor Nut’s name stopped distracting my inner nitpicker,* I fell in love with this dreamlike tale.
The Shrine of Sorrows is a Doctor Who story told in the style of a myth. There’s gods and seasons and rituals that happen over a set span of days, there’s the entry into the forest (the underworld, the dream world, the spirit world) and a return. And, of course, monsters to fight along the way.
Three enter the wood, and two return. This has happened every winter as long as the village can remember. Except this time, they meet a trickster and a warrior who decide to accompany them on their pilgrimage. The strangers disrupt the established order of things, as the Doctor and Ace are wont to do.
Nut nodded as if she understood. Ace had told her this was the best way to deal with the Doctor explaining things, and that she would explain it all to Nut in a way that made sense later.
The hero’s quest always changes the hero. Nut is lucky that some unorthodox spirit helpers from a blue box showed up to assist her.
Stephen Critchlow is, as always, an excellent narrator, playing around with voices and mimicking Who regulars without descending into parody. The language is beautiful, and some of the imagery is downright terrifying. There’s horrors for Ace to fight and Elder Gods for the Doctor to outwit. It’s a magical little half-hour story.
I tend not to rate short stories quite as highly as full-cast, full-length audio dramas, since they lack the immersive experience of an “as live” performance. However, I have an MA in mythology, so I can’t help loving this. Even if I would’ve chosen names from some mythos more associated with forests and snow (say, the Kalevala) instead. I know it’s one I’ll listen to again from time to time.
Subscriber Short Trips are bonus audios thrown in with a Main Range Subscription. This one was released with Main Range #216, Maker of Demons.
*Not really a spoiler, just too trivial to matter to anybody but an ancient Egypt buff. The guest characters’ names are all Egyptian gods (Shu, Geb, Bast, Nut). However, scholars believe the u-sound in ancient Egyptian is a long vowel. Her name is sometimes rendered Nwt or Nuit to get a better sense of it in English. So Nut should probably rhyme with fruit or boot.