What if…? The alternative universe has been a mainstay of science fiction since before science fiction was even a thing, its first example dating back possibly as far as the Great Fire of London. The Silent Planet posits an alternative world of fiction inside the construct of an alternative world of non-fiction, asking what Doctor Who might have been like had William Hartnell been playing the character of Doctor Omega in a series inspired by the character created by Arnould Galopin back in 1906 – potentially an influence on the 1963 series’ creator Sydney Newman – rather than the entirely new character we’ve been watching these past fifty-odd years. It’s a devilishly layered conceit, the character of Omega sharing as much in common with Peter Cushing’s eccentric human inventor in Dr Who & the Daleks as he does with the alien Doctor who had earlier fetched up on The Dead Planet. Yes, we’re a long way down the rabbit-hole here.
Which is not to say that The Silent Planet is in any way a difficult listen; quite the opposite in fact. John Peel has written an entirely new, twenty-odd minute adventure for this Doctor, inspired by Galopin’s novel Le Docteur Oméga rather than based upon it, in which Omega and his assistant Borel arrive on an apparently dead world only to discover deadly danger and a mystery to be solved. The plot is modest and unfolds at a gentle pace, complete with a “surprise” resolution to the mystery; Peel’s achievement is in writing the audio equivalent of the simple sci-fi of early 1960s Doctor Who, yet which still manages to evoke the ambience of the turn of the century fantasy fiction of Verne and Wells. It’s a lovely combination to listen to, simultaneously soothing and involving. And a huge amount of fun.
A huge part of that fun is in hearing John Guilor’s note perfect “William Hartnell” going through the paces as this alternative Doctor. Complete with the hums and haws, the slight grumpiness and superior attitude of the first Doctor we actually got to meet in 1963, Guilor’s Omega is Cushing’s Doctor if Cushing had based his performance on the original, or Hartnell’s Doctor had he been given Cushing’s scripts. Guilor had already honed this performance giving a reading of the Galopin novel, and it’s an absolute hoot and delight. The great news is that this looks to be just a taster for a more involved set of stories to come; perhaps an “alternative” Season One’s worth. Meanwhile it’s well worth seeking out this initial release, not just because it benefits a worthy charity but also because of the dinky little comic that comes with it – that’s just as well-judged and enjoyable as this.
DOCTOR OMEGA’S PARALLEL ADVENTURES: THE SILENT PLANET / PUBLISHER: WHO DARES PUBLISHING (IN THE UK), CHRIS PEDERSON / DIRECTOR: JOHN GUILOR / WRITER: JOHN PEEL / STARRING: JOHN GUILOR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW