(ISBN 1-84435-176-9)





 THE Doctor and Mel

 arrive in The Needle

 where they must EACH

 confront their anger

 and rage.


 They are definitely

 seeing red...


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august 2006







Stewart Sheargold’s first Doctor Who audio drama is quite a philosophical piece. It’s about passion, rage, violence, fear; even freedom. Above all else though, Red examines what it actually means to be alive.


Sheargold presents us with a world divided in two. Up in the sky is the Needle – a languid, hedonistic paradise controlled by Whitenoise (John Stahl) and custom-built for those who decide to simply give in and escape responsibility and fear. Down below is the real world -

a world full of those who “became depraved on account of being deprived.” The violence in their nature had been forcibly removed by Whitenoise, but now, free of their inhibitor chips, they are able to enjoy violence. Enjoy pain. Enjoy being able to feel. But violence will not be suppressed; it will return, and it will return incarnate. Violence will return to kill and kill again and it will be red.


“After so long under the machine, we were disgusted about our capacity for violence.

We couldn’t handle the reality of it. We suffered the consequences of our actions.”


On paper, Red is certainly most interesting. Movies like The Matrix explore what happens if you choose the red pills; if you follow the white rabbit and discover the reality hidden behind perception. Red, on the other hand, explores what happens if you take the blue pill and live happily ever after in ignorance. If you’re safe and secure and content forever and ever, are you free? Are you even human? Are you even truly alive? This month’s big guest star, Sandi Toksvig, plays Vi Yulquen, a citizen of the Needle, who more than any other character in the play embodies all of these burning questions. She’s too scared to give up her chip and live in the real world below, yet she strives to feel, ‘entertaining’ guests of both genders, watching blood sports on video, dealing in narcotics; you name it, Vi does it. Her opposite number, if you will, is Draun (Peter Rae). Living below the Needle, Draun is now able to commit violent acts and, like many in others who have lost their chips, has developed almost a sickening taste for violence. To him, it’s art.


When the TARDIS lands in the

Needle, it isn’t long before the

Doctor and Mel are split up.

Mel finds herself at the mercy

of those like Draun who are

excited by even the merest

possibility of violence, whilst

the Doctor is “chipped” and

inadvertently linked to a killer. Bonnie Langford couldn’t ask for a better script really; Red caters to Mel’s strengths wonderfully, right down to the colour of her hair. Sylvester McCoy, on the other hand, for the second (chronological) story in a row finds himself reduced to a gibbering wreck for great chunks of the narrative. For the rest of it, he has to convince all involved that violence is an integral part of human nature. He isn’t justifying it; he’s saying

that it exists, that it’s unpleasant and that we each have to deal with it as best we can. In the context of the story, this moody, grim and once-again schizophrenic seventh Doctor does work well, but McCoy’s portrayal here feels wrong somehow. Red is the first of his audios where I’ve actually thought to myself, that doesn’t sound like the seventh Doctor. Perhaps that’s the point.


In all, Red is quite a highbrow piece of science fiction that delivers on the concept front, but does seem to be a bit lacking in a pace and vigour. However, the performances of Bonnie Langford, Sandi Toksvig, John Stahl, Peter Rae, and Kelly Ryan (as the fascinating Celia Fortunaté) help to make this audio drama an intriguing and an engrossing experience, but I doubt it will be one that I’ll repeat too often.


Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

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