Monday, 28 September 2015
Main Range 027b. The Ratings War by Steve Lyons (January 2002)
Steve Lyons’ The Ratings War, much like The Holy Terror and The Maltese Penguin, takes a side-step into the world of Doctor Who comics, not a world I’m familiar with, although once he’s stepped out of the TV show as we know it, Lyons peers back into the world of TV with some satire of reality shows, taking the piss out of the TV landscape to which Doctor Who would shortly return – it’s very funny stuff and in much the same vein as The One Doctor. The show itself (as personified in Colin Baker’s Doctor) is positioned outside of the “mainstream TV landscape” – seems strange now, but fair enough for 2002! – that is to say, he’s looking in from the outside and commenting on what he sees. Everyone’s in on Steve Lyons’ joke, particularly Alistair Lock as the crazed TV host Robbie McHale and the vacuous blandness of the two interviewees. All told it’s rather cleverly managed and plotted (the Doctor’s efforts to foil Beep are pretty neat) and I must say I was pleasantly surprised.
In another twist on the “non-TV” nature of Doctor Who in this period, the villain himself is drawn from one of the show’s comic strips – the war criminal Beep the Meep (not a character with whom I’ve ever been familiar, but his relative obscurity is part of the joke – and Toby Longworth is surreally good; I don’t know how he does it.). He actually made me think of the Slithergees from Flip-Flop, but the gag here is that Beep exploits humans’ propensity for cuteness and glitzy feel-good things, rather than their compassion towards asylum seekers, and Lyons’ artistic decision fits better with the overall tone of the piece – Beep even threatens the Doctor by playing off the cuteness of the animals he has as hostages. It builds most effectively to the final five minutes or so, as Beep gets dragged off by guards mid-hilarious rant and the Doctor gets to deliver one of the show’s most meta-fictional speeches yet. “To be honest I find television rather limiting, especially in its present state. I don’t suppose it could do me justice anymore. I need to be free to express myself, unfettered, undiluted. I need a medium that allows me to be-”/“louder?” It’s a nice championing of the audio medium in which the show then found itself, and even more apt to listen to on a day like today, 10 years into a successful reboot through which Doctor Who has pretty much changed the TV landscape in Britain.
In other words, the show posits cutesy TV, the banalities and inanities of celebrity culture, as an insidious form of subliminal “mind control”, with which only the beloved Doctor Who can truly grapple and from which only the Doctor can liberate the passive sheep-like audience. It’s a bit of a daft conclusion but emotionally true in its own way. Bravo Lyons for entertaining me far more than I expected.
“Are you from the Campaign against Television Violence?” I see what you did there.
“I am simply a concerned viewer.” Oh, Doctor.
“Television is important when it’s used to inform, to educate, to entertain. It’s painfully clear to me over the past few months that you have made very little effort to achieve any of those goals… Instead you have produced a diet of so-called ‘reality TV shows’, documentary dramas, quiz shows for the intellectually challenged, soap operas!... And by the way that bean bag of yours just moved.”
“I have compiled a list of some of my particular grievances. Your newsreader, for example. I hardly think that a blue hippopotamus possesses the required gravitas for the job, do you?”
“Viewing figures. What do they tell you?” Damn straight, 1989.
“Harmless? You’re about as harmless as a spielsnape! I’d trust you about as far as I could roll you!”
My oh my the theme of Beep and Friends is wonderfully dire. The full version is a special kind of joy.
“The wonders of technology, Doctor! See how my animatronic Meeps dance!”
Science-fiction “might have stimulated their imaginations”, shock horror.
Beep and Friends is put on hiatus for 18 months: deliciously gleeful, Lyons.
“You’ll be hearing more from me, I assure you.”
The extras you get after Episode 1 of Invaders from Mars are good fun, too. “Your guinea pigs won’t look so good when they’ve been mashed into tiny pies!” and “Your eyes will make wonderful egg-nog!” were my two favourites.