1987 was regarded by many as a low point in Doctor Who, but there is a contingent who consider the characters and concepts of the seventh Doctor’s first season a return to form for the series, marred only by issues of execution. When writer John Dorney disclosed the title of his latest play several months ago, we should perhaps have realised he was working on something Season 24-related. And just as Paradise Towers and Delta and the Bannermen are brilliant stories in search of a guiding hand, so The High Price of Parking is just a stone’s throw from being glorious.
The conceit itself is inspired. The Doctor, Ace and Mel – enjoying a run of stories together thanks to Big Finish’s revised continuity – arrive on the artificial world Parking, a satellite that orbits their intended destination Dashrah to save filling the Galactic Heritage’s premier tourist trap with myriad spaceships and their pollution. But all is not well. The Wardens who run Parking are jittery after a number of craft have inexplicably exploded when trying to leave the planetoid, while the mysterious Free Parkers appear to be growing in presence and the Tribe of the Lost are, well, at a loss as to what is behind the situation.
To explain any further would be to spoil the effect of the narrative unravelling; suffice it to say Dorney has taken a pair of very Doctor Who-ish ideas that not only complement one another perfectly, but are each in their own way reminiscent of Stephen Wyatt’s debut television script, and has married them together beautifully. Neither the what that has happened nor the why are immediately obvious, but both make impeccable sense – in a 1987 kind of a way – once you start to work out what’s going on.
The regulars are generally excellent – with McCoy very controlled and Aldred recognisably the Ace of Season 24 with perhaps a hint of Tree Fu Tom – but Bonnie Langford is the revelation, almost unrecognisable as Melanie Bush and all the better for it. She even gets to spend a couple of episodes playing with computers, finally.
Yet what this really wants for, perhaps surprisingly, is a Richard Briers or a Don Henderson, or even a Stubby Kaye or Elizabeth Spriggs. A larger than life presence, or presences, to promote the inherent humour into actual dark comedy; this might have been a camp but blackly comic classic – Dorney even manages to reference a recent acting run-out as Salvador Dali in his script – but instead it feels a little like Season 24 “played right”. For some listeners that will be the attraction of it, but for others it will mean it doesn’t quite achieve giddiness in its highs.
DOCTOR WHO: THE HIGH PRICE OF PARKING / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / DIRECTOR: KEN BENTLEY / WRITTEN BY: JOHN DORNEY / STARRING: SYLVESTER McCOY, SOPHIE ALDRED, BONNIE LANGFORD, GABRIELLE GLAISTER, HYWEL MORGAN, KATE DUCHENE / RELEASE DATE: AVAILABLE NOW FROM BIG FINISH, ON GENERAL SALE FROM 1ST SEPTEMBER