Over the years the BBC tried to keep the Who franchise alive through a number of audio dramas, which have been released in a box set from AudioGo. I should note that a tragic thing happened midway through my listening to these. That thing was, of course, the death of Elzabeth Sladen. The sadness was compounded when I was listening to the first two adventures in the set and realised all three stars were no longer with us... now that I’ve lifted the mood, let’s get on with the reviews, shall we?
I was looking forward to listening to this set, especially since the last box set released by AudioGo was the magnificent Lost TV Episodes Volume 2.
First out up was The Paradise of Death, which got the dream team of Pertwee, Courtney and Sladen together for Who fans in the dark days of the 1980s.
Of course they work brilliantly together, but this adventure is a mixed bag. The plot is too short for the length of the story, with a lot of obvious padding going on and scenes that do not forward the plot in any way. This would have been much better if they had dropped two episodes.
For most of the story Pertwee sounds bored, which is all the more surprising when I read that this was his idea. Oh, and the decision to give Sarah Jane a comedy sidekick is not a good one. The character of Jeremy Fitzoliver is just plain irritating and adds nothing to the proceedings other than a layer of pointlessness.
There are good things about it though!
The plot, slight as it is, is a good one. It is anchored nicely in continuity with a couple of delightful in jokes and has a strong sci-fi idea at its heart, as well as a powerful message to go with the adventuring. One of the great things about audios is that they can have widescreen action scenes that defy television budgets, and this story is no different.
The best thing about this though, and something that is almost worth the price in itself, is the performance from Sladen. She is (was...) a hell of an actor, and the range she shows here is impressive.
Next up: The Ghosts of N-Space.
I remember this on Radio 4, where I must have heard it, but the cynical part of me suggests that I have blocked the memory. There’s a lot in here that is ‘wrong’. The balance of the story seems way off.
For example, there are comedy foreign accents and stereotypes alongside real life swearing and torture. There is also the return of the annoying sidekick from Paradise of Death as well as a running gag with a character who talks in a ‘funny’ Elvis voice which sits uncomfortably alongside some real tragedy. Oh, and one character behaves inconsistently when plot requires it.
Like I say- unbalanced.
There is also the concept of N-Space and how it deals with life after death, which flies in the face of one of the central tenets of the Who Universe: there is no such thing as ghosts.
But the cast are great- Pertwee sounds like he’s having the time of his life, and this was made all the more poignant when I read on the liner notes that this was his last performance as the Doctor- I’m glad he went out on a good one.
Then we have Colin Baker in Slipback.
It contains some good ideas which never gel into one whole story. Some stranger ideas- like the captain excreting exotic diseases through his skin to threaten his crew- don’t make much sense.
The ending seems to be there because it is a cool idea, and it flatly contradicts something that happened in an earlier story. As always though, Baker is great; giving his all to the poorest material.
The final disc has two oddities. Expedition Earth is a BBC schools radio programme starring Tom Baker and Sladen, which involves them flitting through time from the birth of the solar system. While doing this, they encounter an alien who does nothing but shout about things. The story is just a hook to hang descriptions of the various states of the Earth upon as Baker explains them to Sladen (and the listening child). It’s surprisingly fun- mainly because of the nostalgia of listening to a school broadcast for the first time in decades!
Finally, Whatever Happened to Susan Foreman, has an impressive cast lead by Jane Asher, and features a cameo from the mighty Claire Rainer. It has problems for the… ‘dedicated’ Who fan, some of which are pretty big howlers. There are factual errors- the play states that Ian and Barbara were left back seconds after they left with the Doctor, when in actual fact he left them back two years later. The comedy is hit and miss, but some jokes are corkers. Again, as with Expedition Earth, this is worth it for the curiosity factor.
All in all, this is not as strong a set as the lost TV episodes, but worth it for the dedicated Whovian.