Doctor Who at the BBC
The Plays

Starring: Tom Baker and Sophie Aldred
BBC Audio
RRP: 13.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 846 07044 0
ISBN-10: 1 846 07044 9
Available 04 September 2006

A group of friends reunite for an annual Doctor Who convention in Belfast. But Northern Ireland's ongoing troubles, together with relationship tensions between the pals and their partners, make life difficult for the group and their guests of honour...

This double CD departs from the usual "clip show" format of previous volumes of Doctor Who at the BBC to present three full-cast radio dramas based around the real-life worlds of Doctor Who. These are not Who stories per se, but rather stories about the programme itself: the impact it has had upon the lives of the people who have enjoyed watching it and those who have worked on it.

The first play, Regenerations, certainly isn't kids' stuff. Adult themes such as the Belfast troubles, sexuality and love are dealt with in Daragh Carville's script, as well as heated debates - with strong language - about the efficacy of indulging one's fantasies in science fiction when there are real-world problems happening right now. Is fantasy merely a means of burying one's head in the sand, or does it provide hope for the future? Brian (Michael Colgan) points out how a mutual love of Doctor Who broke down barriers and made fans of Catholics and Protestants alike.

It is a testament to the impact of Russell T Davies that his television work has shaped the world in which this audio drama takes place. With its frank discussions of homosexuality, it is clearly post-Queer As Folk. With its depiction of fandom during those defensive years when no new Who was being produced and fans were derided for their devotion to a "dead" show (Regenerations was broadcast in December 2001), it is hard to imagine the play working in quite the same way had it taken place after the debut of Davies' new version of Doctor Who in 2005.

As you might expect, all three plays make use of Who music, including versions of the famous theme tune. Regenerations is particularly inventive in this respect, using the cliffhanger sting to provide witty punctuation to a dramatic moment.

The play also includes character-defining quotations from the First, Second, Fourth and Seventh Doctors. In the context of the plot, these are part of the episodes being screened at the convention, but they also happen to be of relevance to the main characters and their situations.

The production also features guest appearances by Sophie Aldred (alias Ace) and Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor), who play themselves as special guests at the convention. Some of Baker's lines seem a little unlikely, but otherwise this story is well worth listening to.

Delia Derbyshire was the delightful and unusual woman who created the unique sound of the original Doctor Who theme tune. Years later, she looks back upon her early days at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and her quest for artistic fulfilment...

Blue Veils and Golden Sands is, in my opinion, the strongest play on these CDs. Long-term visitors to this site may recall my disappointment that only a single clip from it was included on the original Doctor Who at the BBC release. I wanted to hear the whole thing! Now that I have, I can assure you that the rest of this 2002 production is as good as that clip led me to believe.

Martyn Wade's script drives home how talented and innovative Delia Derbyshire was to create the renowned theme tune with remarkably low-tech resources. Meanwhile, Sophie Thompson's performance captures the composer's eccentricity, as her sometimes quavering, sometimes shrill voice describes her peculiar relationship with her parents, her attitude towards her accommodation ("Excuse the slight mess") and possessions (years of poverty led her to acquire a habit of reselling unopened gifts), her loneliness and her tragic descent into alcoholism.

Like Regenerations, this play also deals with the relationship between Who's creators and its fans, this time from the artiste's point of view. Some of these enthusiasts come across as rather creepy from the perspective of the timid Derbyshire.

My only criticism is that Sophie Thompson is not credited on the CD sleeve. Credit is most certainly due.

Nigel English's obsession with Doctor Who is a source of some concern to his mother. When he meets the girl of his dreams at a convention, a girl whose flights of fantasy seem even more fanciful than his own, life at home seems set to change forever...

The final play, Dalek, I Love You, unfortunately isn't in the same league as its two predecessors. This 2006 production does have its moments, especially when Nigel (David Raynor) and the alluring yet scary Isabella, AKA Romana (Fiona Clarke), depart upon their various flights of fancy, but Colin Sharpe's script is not as balanced or as subtle as Daragh Carville's earlier depiction of fandom in Regenerations.

It is evident that Nigel is suffering from some sort of mental illness: Isabella persuades him to stop taking his medication, and his agitated recitation of story titles suggests autism. So what are we supposed to make of the rather rushed ending (which I won't spoil for you)? That Nigel's mother (Charlie Hardwick) really is an alien aggressor? That it's OK to live in a fantasy world? That Who fans are mentally unstable?

The writer does nothing to overturn the latter stereotype, which is hardly likely to endear his work to fans. He doesn't even get his facts straight when his characters spout Who statistics such as The Faceless Ones and The Evil of the Daleks being third season stories (they weren't, they were transmitted during the fourth season) and referring to entire serials as episodes. Am I starting to sound a bit autistic myself? Maybe that's the reaction Sharpe was after.

Whatever your opinion of Dalek, I Love You, this double CD is undoubtedly worth playing, if only for the first two stories.

Richard McGinlay

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