THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE DURING THE
THE TV STORY "THE
WAR GAMES," AND
THEREAFTER IN A
BIG FINISH 'UNBOUND'
CD #6 (ISBN 1-84435-
015-0) RELEASED IN
All the Doctor has
to do to avoid being
caught by the Time
Lords is work in a
go to the pub.
But when everything
seemed mundane and
safe, Exploding gas,
and wobbly trolleys
burst onto the scene
to ruin everything.
It's AN alien plot!
And the Doctor must
use all THE resources
at her disposal to
TRY AND defeat it.
She'll probably need
to have a STIFF DRINK
The sixth and final instalment of the original run of Doctor Who Unbound sadly sees the series meet a rather lacklustre end. The concept is sound: what if the Doctor had escaped the Time Lords at the end of The War Games? What if he had reached Earth on his own, and hid there from them? What if he had regenerated to hide from them, taking on the form of (gasp!) a woman?
The problem with Exile is that it doesn’t
really focus on any of these questions to
great effect. There’s no look at how the
Doctor’s arriving in 2000 rather than the 1970s (or 1980s?) has affected things,
as in Sympathy for the Devil. There’s
no indication as to how being female
might be different for the Doctor. Exile
is played strictly for laughs - the only
serious moments are the new Doctor’s
occasional bouts of soul-searching.
A purely comedic affair is not a bad idea at all, but to work it has to be funny. Unfortunately, Exile isn’t. Oh, there are funny bits; the opening recap of the Doctor’s trial, with its Geordie War Lord, made me chuckle; and the moment when the Doctor mistakes a bearded man in the pub for the Master was pretty good. The problem is, that’s about it. The play is saddled with unfunny writing and dull characters.
The Doctor, played here by comedienne Arabella Weir, isn’t particularly Doctorish – in these more prosaic surroundings, she’s drab and uninteresting. The fact that the male Doctor has regenerated into a woman should be a source of much humour, but (probably mercifully) it’s barely touched. The Doctor (or Susan Foreman, as she’s calling herself) spends most of the play in the pub with her two co-workers, two inane non-entities called Cherrie and Cheese. They’re both completely uninteresting, and the constant barrage of drinking, belching and even puking is amusing for about ten seconds. There’s only so much crap drunken acting that I can listen to. The Doctor is, at moments of extreme inebriety, assailed by her former self, played by writer / director Nick Briggs. These moments – with mentions of Quarks and suchlike – raise a few smiles, but not enough to keep things from becoming very dull.
The play improves a little as it
goes on. The Doctor gets to be
slightly more Doctorish, saving
Sainsbury’s from exploding, and
is eventually confronted by two
nameless Time Lords who are
tracking her down. These two,
played by Toby Longworth and
David Tennant (using their best
upper-class Englishman voices!)
are the best thing in the play, but even they get boring quickly. After a couple of silly plans, they eventually catch the Doctor by hiding in a pub and setting killer scarecrows after her (shades of late 1960s TV Comics there).
Exile isn’t terrible though; just mediocre. It isn’t something that I can’t listen to, just something that I can’t be bothered to. At the end of the day there’s nothing wrong with comedy Who, but it does have to be funny, or what’s the point?
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2008
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
The final release in the first series of Big Finish’s Unbound releases poses the question ‘What if the Doctor had escaped the justice of the Time Lords at the end of The War Games?’, or at least that’s the cover story. In reality, Exile asks the altogether more pointed question ‘What if the Doctor ever regenerated into woman?’, a possibility that the Unbound series couldn’t feasibly ignore.
In the late 1990s, Steven Moffat sent up the proposal in his charity spoof Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death, which saw Joanna Lumley play a decidedly dissolute thirteenth Doctor, and both fourth Doctor Tom Baker and series creator Sydney Newman have at one time or another courted controversy by positing the idea. Nevertheless, before Exile no-one had ever come up with a full-length tale telling of a female Doctor... most probably because no-one really wanted to.
Like many devoted fans, even the thought of such a notion fills me with dread. I’m not sexist by any means – go Kathryn Janeway! – but I am fundamentally opposed to the idea of taking a treasured male character of almost fifty years standing and subjecting him to a sex change simply because the extraordinarily wide remit of Doctor Who could, conceivably, stretch to it. What would be the point, besides stealing a few tabloid headlines and boosting the ratings for about three weeks? If you’re looking for a female adventurer in time and space, just turn your attentions to Iris Wildthyme, or even Romana – don’t go chopping off tackle just for the sake of it. Star Trek fans wouldn’t do it to Spock, and we shouldn’t do it to the Doctor... even
if it would make dressing up at conventions a bit more interesting.
Yet when broached as a part of range that’s reason d’être is exploring infinite possibilities, the horrific idea suddenly loses its sting. With our Doctor safely ring-fenced in his particular universe, writer Nicholas Briggs was free to examine what having a female Doctor might be like, should the BBC ever take leave of its senses. But with the multi-talented Mr Briggs not only writing but conducting the proceedings, my fear wasn’t that Exile was going to be a flop; I was concerned that it might actually be good, and give people ideas...
“Some of us taste cheese in our beer, some see alien invasions...”
I needn’t have worried - Exile’s lampoonery puts even The Curse of Fatal Death to shame. Arabella Weir’s Doctor could have been plucked straight out of a Fast Show sketch; she’s
a belching, barfing down-in-the-dumps who stacks shelves in Sainsbury’s and downs vodka like there’s no tomorrow. Only the Doctor’s failure to question the size of her backside sets her apart from Weir’s comic creations. That, and the fact that she isn’t very funny.
Much to my surprise, Briggs
doesn’t address any of the,
um… logistical issues that
surely arise following such a
“sex change regeneration”,
though given the crassness
with which everything else is
handled here, this is probably
for the best. Every so often,
Exile’s Doctor does show a
little flash of soul, but even these relatively tender moments are trodden on by her cacophon-ous cohorts Cherrie and Cheese. If I were to explain to you that ‘Cheese’ is named as such because once he gets past his sixth or seventh pint of larger in an evening, his beer starts to taste of cheese, you could effectively extrapolate most of the play from there.
Furthermore, Exile doesn’t really address the question that it undertakes to; at least, not in any significant sense. The Doctor escapes from his trial, wilfully sacrifices his second life in order to become a woman, and then hides himself away on early 21st century Earth while two camp CIA agents try to track her down. No mention is made of how UNIT fared in the Doctor’s absence or the consequences that followed. Indeed, the Earth portrayed here is uncannily similarly to the one we all know, right down to its supermarkets and its royals. The conceit that if a Time Lord commits suicide his next incarnation will be a different gender is admittedly an amusing one though – I couldn’t help but picture hordes of pre-op Gallifreyans casting themselves off bridges all over the Capitol.
Indeed, if one is prepared to look hard enough, this play is punctuated with a few sparkling moments. For instance, Toby Longworth and David Tennant’s two hopeless Time Lords are genuinely humorous. From Tennant’s opening “shit” to Longworth’s last-minute declaration
of victory, this delicious double-act just manages to keep the production on the right side of listenable, aided and abetted by a good old-fashioned bit of Quark-bashing. Briggs himself, meanwhile, gives a remarkable performance as a second Doctor who was “murdered” by the incumbent incarnation (a delightful riff on the controversy surrounding the Doctor’s sixth regeneration). Briggs seems to be playing a hopping mad version of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, really nailing the cadences of the character’s voice, if not the actual sound. Perhaps most impressive of all though is Exile’s pejorative ending, which is probably best described as a fusion of TV Comic homage and Briggs venting his frustration at being “lumbered with the female Doctor”.
All in all, I couldn’t have been any happier with Exile. It has sufficient merit to make it worth shelling out a fiver on, but it is so embarrassingly preposterous that it should put paid to any serious future lobbies for a female Doctor. Whilst deep down I have no doubt that someone like Steven Moffat could do a great job with a ‘serious’ female Doctor, were he minded to, here’s hoping that Exile will be taken as evidence of why a woman could never work. In fact, it’s probably the ultimate deterrent in that regard.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
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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