The thing about the Doctor Who stageplays is of course the same as the missing episodes. We want to experience them, but can't, and can only get audio recordings of a palpably visual experience. Oh, how I dined out on the photos and the like in DWM when I was a child - the Third Doctor, the Sixth Doctor, Zog, Daleks, the Cybermen, the Bar Galactica, Crystal being kidnapped by winged demons... the fact it all seemed set in that hanger from Silver Nemesis just made it look cooler. Yet for many years I hadn't the faintest idea what the whole bloody thing was about! What the fuck was Margaret Thatcher doing in it? Why was everyone singing? Why was the David Banks Doctor dressed like Frank N Further with leather and mesh and eyeliner? Who was the little furry dude that was obviously evil? Why was the TARDIS rubbish? And Cybermen being the bitches of the Emperor Dalek - who the hell thought that idea up?! From a starting point, at least Doomsday has the brains to realize that the Cybermen and Daleks would be natural enemies - one wants to recruit every living thing, the other wants to blow them up.
But Big Finish have finally grabbed the script, Colin Baker and David Banks and put it all together.
Of course it was going to be disappointing - apart from anything else, it's by Terrance Dicks. Actually, that's a bit unfair. He doesn't completely screw up everything or hammer in War Games fanwank this time, and the only real trouble is him seemingly unable to go for ten minutes without dropping in quotes like "Earth being a burnt cinder hanging in space" or "they were once men" speech or the "it MEANS it's bigger on the inside" scenes. There's also a rather dodgy running gag of the Doctor speaking alien languages the audience doesn't understand. OK, the screeching like a buzzard in pain might work... but the scene where the Doctor and the Mercenary talks is clearly their conversation played backwards! How dumb do you think I am, Big Finish?!
Speaking of dumb, check out that cover:
Rubbish or what? The original poster was better!
Still, at least for once Nick Briggs has been persuaded to do 80s Cyber-voices instead of New Series ones. It's a shame Banksy refused to play the Cyberleader, though, instead preferring to play the surprisingly-old sounding mercenary Karl, whose main role seems to be 'calm brains of the outfit' as the Daleks and Cybermen have punch-ups. Presumably on stage this allowed the audience 100% certainty of following the plot. On audio, it just makes both alien races look like idiots. If you're going to have 1980s 'emotional' Cybermen, have them show a bit of welly rather come across as Upgraded Arnold Rimmers constantly passing the buck. For some reason Briggsy is doing the Dalek Emperor different as well - a more menacing, growling voice rather than "That's MR God of All Daleks to You, Bitch" voice he normally uses.
The story begins with the Sixth Doctor and his companion Nigel Verkoff... sorry, Jason. Well, he's an oversexed teenager with a ridiculous French accent, I got confused. They have been summoned to Earth via psionic beam text message to visit Number 10. However, proving how unhip and ungroovy they are, the Doctor and Jason arrive at the Prime Minister's house and not the funkadelic nightclub they were supposed to. Margaret Thatcher in Doctor Who might have been cutting edge in 1988, but now it feels like some confused attempt to date the UNIT era. She's certainly not the repressed decrepit psychopath of British Alternative Comedy, so when the Sixth Doctor (the SIXTH Doctor) explains he's scared of her, it just feels stupid. Why? Because she's THATCHER, Vyvyan, that's why!
It transpires that the US Envoy Nicholas Briggs - the one man that all nations trust enough to end the Cold War (cue unsubtle Pertweeesque moralizing from the SIXTH Doctor) - is going to a strip club what with all his funky diplomatic immunity. However, Thatcher has extremely vague and unreliable word that someone intends to kill the Envoy and that someone may not be human. Thus, the world has turned to the Doctor to help. Somehow. Rather than, say, putting the Envoy under house arrest or something. The Doctor and Jason decide to head to the Other Number 10 via TARDIS.
This of course means that by the time they get there, Karl and his mercenaries and Cybermen have been and gone. No doubt, seeing Cybermen storming the stage and nuking people might balance out the fact that they're quite superfluous to the plot, but you have to wonder WHY this evil scheme needs Cybermen AND evil galactic "scum of the galaxyTM" mercenaries? Inexplicably, the one person in the firing line at all times is Crystal. She starts off as an endearingly nervous nightclub singer before going all Starship Trooper on everyone and then turning into Tegan/Peri/Lucie/Donna/annoying unwilling "I don't believe this is a time machine" bint.
Seriously, did we need her whole song? The song where she goes on about how she loves travelling in time and space? Was it an ironic counterpoint to the underlying metaphor that she's actually an annoying cow who doesn't actually like leaving Earth?
Arriving just too late, the Doctor and Jason decide to use the TARDIS "space radar" to seek and locate Karl and his handful of Cyber extras, not realizing that the Dalek Emperor had made them leave a false trail so the Doctor will follow it straight into an ambush - cunning bastard. Alas, Crystal falls on the dematerialization lever in the middle of her skeptical rant, and so the trio turn up on Altair 3 as the Doctor screams at Jason for getting his cheap whores into a time machine. Emerging from the TARDIS, Crystal is immediately mugged by the flying goblin people... for some reason. The Doctor explains the goblin people are actually rather nice and after a few squawked arguments, realize their prey has been and gone.
The Cybermen turn up, so the Altair goblin people beat the shit out of them. The Cybermen return to base and blame everyone else for being crap. Karl, seemingly the only villain with a consistent level of intelligence, points out that the fact he is a galactic mercenary automatically means that the Doctor will head to Delilah's Bar Galactic where every single "scum of the galaxyTM" mercenary works to look for clues.
By jingo, by crikey, he's absolutely right.
We then meet Madam Delilah, who seems to run her soldier for hire business by advertising with showtunes, including Business is Business. There are such wonderful verses as:
They're highly trained, they're highly skilled
Those monster men of mine!
When they attack, your force will be unable to resist 'em!
The more you pay, the more they'll kill
That's the beauty of the system!
Business is business, we always maim to please
Business is business, throughout the galaxies
Come to Bar Galactica, for all-star mercenaries
No job is too large, no job is too small
We'll roll up our sleeves, and we'll tackle them all
From a quick assassination to universal domination
We'll cause constant consternation throughout your constellation...
...over three minutes of this stuff, people.
Yes. You hire out mercenaries. I get it. I dunno, maybe this works better if you can SEE the dancing Vervoids and Draconians?
The Doctor and his companions turn up in their cunning disguises (the Doctor wears a spiky German helmet, Jason wears a silly hat and Crystal a combat jacket), making naughty growling noises as they pretend to be hardened mercenaries themselves. Whatever. This then leads to the kind of exposition Phillip Martin gets regularly beaten up for:
CRYSTAL: A club's a club wherever you go. Long bar, little stage, chairs and tables - looks like a Wild West Saloon with a few extra trimmings.
JASON: What about the customers? I've never seen a more villanous gang of cutthroats in my life!
DOCTOR: They'd be flattered.
CRYSTAL: The opulent looking lady in the low-cut ballgown, queening it in that raised booth over there, I take it that's--
DOCTOR: That's Madam Delilah in person.
Sweet GOD! They've just put the set description in past tense and tried to pass it off as dialogue! Dialogue that points out that this alien Mos Eisley wannabe is exactly the same as Number 10! WHAT?!?! It just gets worse and worse, as the Doctor saves small, cute Bounty Hamster thing Zog from Evil Mercenary Nicholas Briggs. "Look out, Doctor! He's got a dagger!" No shit, Jason. "He's thrown him over the bar! That seems to have impressed Madam Delilah!" ... shut up, Crystal... SHUT UP!!! Have Big Finish forgotten every last damn thing they learned since, oh, I dunno, 1984?! That's FOUR YEARS before Terrance Dicks WROTE this!!! I know they're trying to keep to the script as much as possible, but come on!!
Let's just say that the exposition in this is worse than... actually, I've never known worse! Even Ron "LOG FASTER DOGS!" Mallet understood the audio medium than this. Oh, for the subtlety of Chip Jamison. They even do the "gun in my right hand" stuff.
After trying and failing to get Crystal drunk and attracted to him, Jason tries to look dead hard by picking a fight with a pirate... and Crystal needs to save him. Meanwhile, Delilah tries to get inside the Doctor's pants, a scene incredibly disturbing, especially as the Doctor seems quite up on the idea. "But I'm not free," the Time Lord says sadly, making me wonder if the Doctor has become a prostitute...
Karl stumbles in, more pissed than Jack Sparrow, and shouts that the Doctor is actually the same one on all the wanted posters, turning the entire clientelle psychotic. Oh no, it seems Karl's intelligence has fluctuated as well as all the other mercenaries start trying to fight. The Doctor, now hunted by everyone, decides that shouting "Back to the TARDIS!" is a good move. Zog runs in and tries to be sickeningly cute, what with the only one to understand his furry language is the Doctor. No wonder everyone thinks Zog is really an evil alien with his own agenda. I begin to wonder if Crystal is just as bad, I mean, she's almost psychotic to the level of Dara Hamilton.
But the whole point of Zog is for a cute teddy bear to join the TARDIS crew. Yet, we can't see him. And he can't talk. And everything he does needs to be narrated - very badly - by Crystal. Dear God. You seeing my problems with this? Since Terrance Dicks is on hand, couldn't they get him to fix this? Or... scary thought... maybe he DID. Maybe, yet again, no one has the balls to tell him he's gone insane and no longer has an iota of realistic prose inside his gargantuan body.
Anyway, after a completely stupid scene where Jason and Crystal insist that it is a race against time to get the Envoy back (um... time machine?), the Daleks somehow summon the TARDIS to their space ship and start shouting for the Doctor to come out and die like a man. When he doesn't, they just sit there, coming up with more and more extravagant threats. Yeah, sure, I believe you can use sonic waves to kill them all. Whatever. Oh, hang on. They CAN do that. My bad.
The play vaguely hits a good note as the Doctor gives a lengthy, obviously-cut-and-pasted-from-The-Making-of-Doctor-Who description of the evil Daleks, only for Nigel, sorry, Jason to roll his eyes and mutter, "Oh, don't hold back, Doctor, tell us what you really think."
Luckily, a convenient meteor storm strikes the ship, so the TARDIS crew shove the panicking Daleks out a door and leaves Crystal and Jason to pilot the craft through the storm. Good god it is awful. The Doctor is forced to whip out his sonic screwdriver - so... The Nightmare Fair IS canon? - but is too late. The Daleks storm back in, reminding everyone that they're actually armed bastards and threaten to exterminate the Doctor and company. So, what was the freaking point of the dogde-the-asteroids skit?
End of Part One. Intermission.
Part Two. Later that evening. But blogger ate that.