Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Unbound 06. Exile by Nicholas Briggs (October 2003)

Nick Briggs’ Exile, ending this “season” of Unbound audios, seems to open immediately post-The War Games, as the Doctor flees the Time Lords’ retribution as they punish the War Lord instead. Arabella Weir plays a very different sort of Third Doctor to David Warner, let’s just say. She works at Sainsbury’s, goes out drinking every week (complete with massive hangover), learns what vodka is, and generally lives a squalid lifestyle with the odd bit of introspection. Here’s the thing: it *could* be a good idea, like the Valeyard in He Jests at Scars…, but it’s not explored at all really and feels more as though the idea “wouldn’t it be cool to see…?” popped into Briggs’ mind with no attempt to actually string a plot or much characterisation together: the Doctor isn’t very Doctorish, which is unfortunate for Big Finish’s first attempt at a female Doctor – she just come across as a bit of a sub-par, “stupid and humiliated”, played-for-laughs pale imitation of the “proper” male Doctors, in the way that none of the male Unbound Doctors have done. And that’s a crying shame, and probably the biggest flaw with this play (it’s also a bit of an ugly suggestion that Time Lords commit suicide to change sex, which is simultaneously a bit of an off treatment of suicide and of transgenderism). Briggs makes a few appearances himself as the Previous Doctor (usually on a TV screen, but once, surreally, in a vodka bottle) and although his lines are never that funny I did like his ability to mimic Troughton’s way of talking.


A lot of this feels a *little* bit like a Moffat comedy sketch to take the piss out of Doctor Who, and I’m not just referring to the obvious female-Doctor “gag” from The Curse of Fatal Death. It’s also the fact that there’s quite a bit of flirty relationship comedy a la Moffat’s Coupling. The scene in the bar, in which the Doctor and ‘the Master’ eye each up over the bar, and the scene balances on a knife edge of flirtiness and Mexican standoff, feels like something Moffat could have written (“so you make the first move. How predictable”). It is also actually quite funny. Other parts of the humour do work – the two comic Time Lords, Longworth and Tennant, traipsing around Hammersmith in their stupid costumes and trying to fit into Crystal Palace made me laugh (I did like the bit where Tennant’s Time Lord gets a tongue stuck to his mouth and the other advises, “Quick! Get some more cooking oil down you!”). It’s the culture clash that works best – once they’re back on Gallifrey, they start lounging around again like irritatingly entitled Bullingdon Club members.

When it comes to his sense of humour, unfortunately, Briggs’ scripting of scenes like a Friday night out – all burps and quips and giggles – falls rather flat. It’s all the soapiness of The Runaway Bride and other parts of the Davies era turned up to the max. Just listening to people vomit and burp and so on is … just a bit unpleasant, really. It probably wouldn’t matter if it didn’t go on and on. And that’s probably a good way of describing Exile – as a sequence of scenes which are reasonably OK in small doses, but which get increasingly tedious when taken as a whole, particularly in a somewhat plotless drama that doesn’t really hold the listener’s attention. There’s nothing wrong with comedy, either – but it does need to be funny. However, it is rather impressive that Big Finish have gone as far as to make such a play, and I’m glad of the experimentations that the Unbound range has yielded. Sure, this one could have been done a lot better, but I guess Doctor Who has always had as part of its DNA sticking one’s neck out and giving a drastic new approach a half-decent shot. Even if it’s naff and not very funny.

And I know it’s a tiny, tiny point, but did the first BF experiment with a female Doctor have to have *quite* so garishly pink a cover?

Other things:
Appropriately, this has the weakest rendition of the theme tune I’ve heard yet. No bite or mystery to it at all.
Before the story begins, we hear, “Big Finish Productions would like to point out that it is completely impossible for Sainsbury’s car parks to explode. On a personal note, the writer of this story does all his shopping at Sainsbury’s, and very good it is too, especially the shortcake biscuits, which are excellent for dunking.”
“One should keep one’s composure in front of the lesser races…”
The Doctor is a “wretched little anarchist”.
“I’m – not – the Doctor. I’m a guard.”
“Proud of myself for removing a pound coin from a supermarket trolley lock. Is that what it’s come to?”
“He’s not bad-looking, in a satanic sort of way.”
“I hate trolleys. They’re just Daleks without the interesting bits.”
“The Quarks were rubbish!”
“I think I should remind you that both of us are wearing the stupid trousers!”
“[the hamster] is in this wheel thing, and the faster he runs, the faster the wheel goes, but no matter how fast he runs, the wheel doesn’t go anywhere. That’s what my mind’s like at the moment.”
Lard, yoghurt and chocolate sauce – even beating fish fingers & custard in the “wacky food” stakes.
“What’s the matter with these Earthlings? Don’t they know there’s a queue of alien species lining up to invade this miserable planet?”
“What you did is high treason, probably. And Sainsbury’s does not employ traitors.”/“Is that an official statement of policy?
“Drink me, you know you want to.” (Nice Alice in Wonderland reference)
“Things won’t be the same without you… Well, I suppose they will be, actually.”
“Some of us smell cheese in our beer, some of us see alien conspiracies… it’s a funny thing, alcohol.”
“Like a bear’s done a big poo in my mouth.” WHAT IN GOD’S NAME IS THIS

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