Audio Review: Doctor Who: The BBC Radio Episodes
A SMORGASBOARD of the Time Lord’s radio adventures (and one story originally released on LP) which ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, featuring three different Doctors and an amusing look at the post-TARDIS exploits of his granddaughter Susan.
The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space reunited the Season 11 team of Jon Pertwee (the Doctor), Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) and Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier) for new adventures written by series producer Barry Letts. But instead of trying to fit into the 1970s/80s setting of the Third Doctor’s reign, they were weirdly updated to the mid-1990s, and saw the unwelcome addition of one of the worst companions of all time, the incredibly annoying Jeremy Fitzoliver (Richard Pearce).
Neither story really works, and that’s not just because of the continuity errors highlighted by fans. Paradise is an already-dated story of a virtual reality theme park ride, while N-Space introduces the Brigadier’s hitherto unmentioned Italian uncle in an awful tale of ghosts and alchemists. Despite strong performances from the cast, the scripts are difficult to follow, full of obvious exposition, and ramble on for far too long. A disappointing experiment in recapturing an era of the show.
In contrast, Doctor Who and the Pescatons is a fun little romp written by one of the series’ sixties script writers, Victor Pemberton, which pits the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane (Elizabeth Sladen) against a hoard of amphibious monsters wreaking havoc on the streets of London.
Originally released on an LP, this is less of what we’ve come to expect from an audio drama, and more a narration by Tom Baker with the occasional comment from Sladen and guest star Bill Mitchell. It’s a decent enough tale despite Pemberton associating the Fourth Doctor with all the traits of his second incarnation, Patrick Troughton, who he wrote for on TV.
Unfortunately Exploration Earth is a camp and cheesy piece of hokum which was broadcast as part of a long-forgotten BBC schools programme, as the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane (again) investigate the beginnings of life on our planet, only to run into the horrendously cardboard villain, Megron Lord of Chaos. ‘Nuff said. One for completists only.
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There’s another curiosity in the form of the tongue-in-cheek Whatever Happened To…Susan? Jane Asher takes on the role of the Doctor’s granddaughter in an account of her life after leaving the TARDIS. There are some amusing details here, including her resentment of the Doctor’s “driving” of the Ship and how other companions lusted after the increasingly younger Time Lord, but this BBC Radio 4 programme completely contradicts established continuity and cannot be regarded as anything other than an interesting aside.
Wrapping up this collection is Slipback, starring the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant), the first Who story made exclusively for radio and broadcast during the show’s 1985 hiatus. More Hitchhiker’s than Who, it’s a fusion of grotesque black humour, slapstick comedy and somewhat contrived plotting. As long as you approach the story with an open mind, and don’t expect high concept drama, then you’ll probably find this less of a disappointment, but it’s far from the quality fiction we’ve come to expect of later Who audios such as the current range from Big Finish Productions.
Something of a mish-mash of stories then, with no stand-out classics and a few stinkers along the way, but probably worth picking up if you don’t own any of these tales in other formats…