Monday, 28 September 2015
Main Range 027. The One Doctor by Gareth Roberts & Clayton Hickman (December 2001)
I already had a good feeling about this one as I pressed play. Gareth Roberts’ comic take on Doctor Who is second only to Douglas Adams (to whom Roberts and Hickman appear to be the natural successors, anyway) and the thought of him penning a Big Finish play with a comic slant was irresistible. If only I had known quite how good a mood I would be in when it ended.
O Sir Colin of Baker. You most theatrical of Doctors. Right from your opening scenery-chewing dictatorial monologue, this was your greatest performance yet. He waltzes through this sick and Technicolor parade of alluring imagery, crazy sounds and larger-than-life characters as if he’s always been there, bouncing off everybody with cracking chemistry and a rich fruitiness in his voice. His three 900th birthday wishes are perfect: galactic peace, better control of the TARDIS, and more manageable hair. Which other Doctor could make the phrase “interpersonal peccadilloes” work, or pull off the disguise of Banto Zame he does at the end of this story, both saving the day and delivering a massive putdown against his impersonator as he does so? Conclusive proof, if proof be needed, of why Colin is so fantastic in this role.
O Sir Christopher of Biggins. The man, the legend. He delivers a terrific performance as Banto Zame the impostor. Yet another Great Doctor We Never Had, with many lines so good you can imagine other actors who played the Doctor relishing the chance to be let loose on them (such as “Please, any passing genius would have done the same”, his description of defeating the Skelloids: “Result: Skedaddle, Skelloids!”, “Time’s winged charity marches on!”, “There’s one born every nanosecond.”, “What a plank!”) His first scene with the equally wonderful Claire Buckfield as Sally-Anne Stubbins, once the pretence drops, is hilarious – right down to the beers and the cutesy kiss and the “turtle dove” nicknames. Her rapport with Colin throughout is utterly spot-on and her last scene entering the balcony to the whooping crowd of Generios had me beaming from ear to ear. Doctor Who doesn’t often achieve that. As Gareth Roberts said in his piece on City of Death for DWM, dark is easy but going big and bold and mad and funny and doing it well like Douglas Adams did and like these two writers do here – that’s a special kind of genius.
The Sixth Doctor and Mel’s attitude in this one is great because for once it just seems like they’re out for fun and adventure. Not bickering, just throwing themselves into the sheer joy of travelling through time and space. Bonnie Langford is terrific as ever, particularly her faint feint: “It must have been the excitement of being that close to the Doctor!” she gasps. She gets some wonderful scenes with Banto and a nicely underplayed rivalry with Sally-Anne. Her story of the Bush family pantomime back in Pease Pottage, determinedly making their way to the church hall to perform for all the old folks of the town, is a deft yet hilarious bit of characterisation (beautifully accompanied by Lock’s score, too). In its own way, there is a strong case to be made that in its beauty, its daftness, its melancholy, this tiny little scene is one of the single greatest Doctor Who moments of all time. Yes, I’m in that kind of mood today.
Gary Russell’s direction is once again reliably fantastic; the majestic moment where everyone applauds the TARDIS’ arrival to a surge of choral music is a hoot. The scenes of revelry here on Generios are really very different for Doctor Who, but great fun. It’s a terrific vision of the future, too, the concept of a Vulgar End of Time: so Adamsian, as rampant capitalism ends in foolish shallowness and partying right as the universe is about to end. The disembodied voice informing Generios of its imminent destruction is also tremendously Adamsian, evoking as it does the Vogons. In fact, the whole audio play is full of great ideas – the robotic Assemblers with their flat-pack furniture being another terrific invention, not to mention the Weakest Link parody right down to “you are the feeblest contestant. Goodbye!” and its cheekily almost-thieved musical cue (my God, Russell T. got the idea from here!) In fact, the entire millennia-long futility of the Mentos/Questioner stuff is sublime. There’s a real absurdist streak to all this that boasts a mordant, morbid wit one finds in all the best Adams stuff (I really ought to stop mentioning his name, but that really is the main source of all this, alongside a healthy dash of The Keys of Marinus’ plot structure and a tiny bit of Shakespearean mistaken identity).
How tremendously meta, too, and deliberately cheeky that it is the Sixth Doctor and Mel (being charitable, not one of the Doctor/companion times one is likely to find a vast crowd of people cheering for, at least not at the time) who land in a story full of what are basically Doctor Who fans, chanting “We want the Doctor!” In fact I think this is the most gloriously daft and meta Big Finish has gone yet, whether it’s daft names (of which there is a vast number) like Generios, Skelloids, the STARDIS, the Pluvon Power Crystals, etc., or any of the broader piss-takes. “It’s just a big empty quarry!” is another of my favourites. It’s perfect, too, that the Sixth Doctor is the one to face a ludicrously over-the-top impostor, because if any incarnation has the requisite theatricality necessary to confuse the two, it’s him – see “I have assumed several guises over the centuries, but have always maintained an essential air of Olympic dignity. Look at this buffoon. Florid complexion, nose like a mulberry, his figure is positively rotund” (to which Mel retorts “You’re not exactly sylph-like yourself”!) And yet of course ultimately all this loving buffoonery and sending up all the Doctor Who tropes is done because the writers assert that in the end there is only one Doctor. The one, the only and the best, as a much weaker story put it. The inimitable, however laughable he may be sometimes.
In fact, the more laughable the better.
Other thoughts: (Oh my, every line is good enough to quote. Seriously.)
“At last, I control everything. You are my pawns, to do with as I please. You have no choice but to bend to my will. Oh yes. I own you. I am your creator. And I can be your destroyer… I control Park Lane, Mayfair, the Waterworks! I want to imagine what it feels like to be a power-crazed dictator. See into the enemy’s mind… Boring. And I hate hotels.” – This is actually a very solid strategy and if only all Doctors had a scene like this.
“The Vulgar End of Time… I prefer never to go this far. Everything’s been discovered. Everybody knows everybody else and everybody knows everybody else’s business. All the wars are over –the interesting ones, anyway. Technology’s made every pleasure affordable. Nobody strives, not that there’s anything worth striving for. It’s all hedonism, hedonism, hedonism.” (Almost as good is Mel’s response “What’s wrong with that?!”)
Generios – I shake my head in wonder at the cheek. I submit this is the best name for a planet in Doctor Who thus far.
“1989’s long gone. Although I suppose that’s one reason to look on the bright side.”
Doctor the Sixth rarely drinks? Surprising, somehow. I suppose he is so loud and brash in all other departments he has to be a vegetarian and a teetotal, really.
Nicholas Pegg’s brief performance as Citizen Sokkery is an absolute gem, casually delivering a stream of exposition and explaining who the Doctor is. His turn as Mentos is also perfectly pitched. Everyone involved in this production is so completely and utterly on the ball, it seems.
“Steady on. There’s a voucher for the great commemorative tea-towel in there!”
There’s a fantastically well-timed comic beat after “Mel, how’s your Wilting Willow impersonation?”
“This must be the place.”/ “How can you be so sure?” / “That sign on the door, saying “Great Council Chamber of Generios.”/ “Well, you were standing in front of it.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m the Doctor, you’re the Doctor, we’re all the flipping Doctor!”
The Daleks are “the deadly dustbins”. Beautiful.
“Give them an autographed picture.”
Probably my favourite line of the entire script, a beautiful dissection of fandom: “Please be gentle with them. It’s really very sad.”
“This is the Vulgar End of Time, remember, Mel? Everything’s been said, done, bought and sold. Cheapened. Oh, I’ve become a legend, a laughable footnote in the history of the universe. People doubt I ever existed, like Father Christmas.”/ “Perhaps people here leave out mince pies for you.”
“You don’t get the same effect with audio. People want to actually see the monsters.”
Bashing down the door using the voice dispenser! Perfect.
“That voice sounded fishy to me.” / “Oh, of aquatic origin you mean?” / “No, Doctor!”
“Why do you always have the answer to everything?”/ “One of the advantages of being very old.”
Mel’s brilliant line upon seeing a Portaloo used instead of a police box – “I suppose some details always get garbled in legends.” The justification for it is even funnier: “Policemen are always hanging around these things.”
Alistair Lock’s score is quirky and eccentric, I love it.
“…and this time, it’s PERSONAL.”
“I would rather pluck out my own eyes with a pair of rusty forceps than ever see you again.” Biggins is best.
Banto’s “I once met a bloke from Earth” moment is fantastic. This is so, so Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
“Another thing you have to learn about me: I never have all the answers.”
The Sixth Doctor’s response to Sally-Anne’s flirting is great. “The comforts or otherwise of my figure are neither here nor there!”
The Assemblers get a great catchphrase (“Disassemble them!”) and all the scenes with them resemble the crazed world of the Matrix in The Ultimate Foe, the instructions getting longer, the vanishing shelves, etc. Doctor Who as imagined by Salvador Dali. The flawlessness of their logic is extremely funny, not to mention completely batshit crazy.
“Let’s not get bogged down in that again.”/ “There are no bogs on this planet.”
“Enough talk of this foolish Earth pan!” shout the Assemblers to Mel discussing the phrase ‘out of the frying pan…’
Colin’s Doctor nearly says the word ‘sexy’. A lot of love for this moment :D And then he gets to kiss Sally-Anne! I mean, I’m not into tumblr, but if I were I’d be going nuts right now.
The Mentos computer system “makes the Matrix of Gallifrey look like a ladybird book!” – a rare moment of humility for the Sixth Doctor, although I suppose in truth he’s belittling the fusty custodians of his home, rather than himself.
As if they got Matt Lucas in for this! And not just as the Cylinder, but his performance as the Jelloid is astonishingly good. I howled with laughter at his fifty-million-year non-negotiable contract and the prospect of a song about it. That he gets to insult the Cylinder as a “cheeky bugger” is the icing on the cake.
“Perhaps in another dimension we got together and had tons of odd-looking children.”
“It’s something we made earlier!” jokes Mel of the TARDIS.
“I intend to rise above your barbs… but before I do, I’d like to say that this coat can only be appreciated by someone with a sharpened aesthetic sense, not a dunderhead like you!”
“Talking to you is like arguing with a thesaurus!”/ “Another voyage round the English language!” Aaaaand Banto has just summed up the Sixth Doctor.
“Slithering off… back to its lair for a post-prandial kip!”
“My wife’s gonna kill me…” is Banto’s last lament.
The One Doctor: The Extra Bits
Charmingly done bits of fluff. Extra minutes of Baker’s Doctor tucking into nut roast is always welcome for this listener. In fact listening to this little segment, it really hits home how much Big Finish has re-established these characters, both Mel and the Sixth Doctor. It’s a massive success in my view, and I’m saying that as someone who’s fond of his era even from the start. And tuning into Queen Elizabeth I is the icing on the cake.