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Doctor Who audio dramas: four of Four

I've been doing some more painting: this time, the gloss in the back bedroom. It seems to take forever - at least if you don't want to splurge unwanted gloss all over the walls that you have only just finished painting the week before. So I have been working my way through the pick of the last week's worth of Radio 4 comedies, and also the following Who audios:

Radio Play: Regenerations (2001)
Thanks to nwhyte for pointing me towards this one. More details about it are available in his post on the subject.

This isn't a Who story, but rather a drama first broadcast on Radio 3 about the role the show plays in the life of its fans. It's set at a fan convention in Belfast (so has got me nicely in the mood for Mecon in a month's time!), and is basically about people coming to terms with their own and other's identities: gay, Whovian, Protestant and Catholic. It touches on some of the same ground as Toby Hadoke's Moths... show, in that it explores Who's potential to bring people together, offer them something to believe in and help them get through the hurdles in their own lives. But since it's not a comedy, the overall feel is rather bleaker than Moths..., despite happy endings and character growth for all concerned.

I agree with this reviewer that Tom Baker's role as the deus ex machina is decidedly unlikely: he seems to me far more likely to suggest going down the pub than to help people face up to and resolve their personal conflicts. But it was great to hear him, Sophie Aldred, and some of the most inspiring lines from the programme's history, all the same.

Fourth Doctor: Genesis of the Daleks (1979)
This was released as an LP in 1979, I suppose as the closest equivalent that could be offered to re-experiencing the TV story itself in the days before home videos. It features first-person narration by Tom Baker, linking short extracts from the original soundtrack. At less than an hour long, I'm not sure how easy it would be to follow if you hadn't seen the original 6-episode story - but then again, I suppose it was marketed at people who had, and it is a decent potted version on the whole.

As the new element here, Tom Baker's narration is well worth listening to - as, of course, you would expect anything read out in that rich, crisp and sonorous voice to be. It did really remind me of Richard Burton's narration for Jeff Wayne's musical version of War of the Worlds, though - which had been released on LP itself in the previous year (1978). Maybe any resonant male voice narrating simple, first-person sentences about a world ravaged by warfare in a deadpan style using Received Pronunciation would sound much the same... but still, you can't help thinking that old Tom might have had a bit of a listen to Burton's recording, there.

Fourth Doctor: Exploration Earth: The Time Machine (1976)
This one is a 20-minute episode in a BBC series about geography, which uses the Doctor Who format for Edumacational Purposes. It sees the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane witnessing the creation of the Earth (though obviously looking the wrong way as the Racnoss spaceship arrives), and then travelling forwards in jumps of several billion years at at time to watch the planet solidifying, the crusts forming and finally life emerging (again, apparently missing the explosion of Scaroth's spaceship).

Along the way, they encounter a being who calls himself 'Lord Megron, High Lord of Chaos, Chief of the Carions, Lords of Chaos' (any relation to the Carrionites, I wonder?). He's a bit like a Titan, in that he thrives on chaos and grows weaker as the planet settles into order and stability. Eventually, he is defeated by the Doctor in mental battle: which is of course not the first time that the Fourth Doctor has been cast in the role of the Greek gods.

Obviously it's hardly comparable to normal Doctor Who stories, but it's rather lovely all the same. If I got to travel with the Doctor, I would totally ask him to show me the creation of the Earth, so it's rather nice to hear it in audio form as the next best thing. The entire script may be read here.

Fourth Doctor: Doctor Who and the Pescatons (1976)
And finally, rather an oddity. Though written by an experienced Who scriptwriter and released with the official series logo on the LP cover, this story wasn't produced by the BBC, but simply licensed by it as an independent production. It uses the regular theme tune (though not the usual TARDIS sound-effect), and stars Tom Baker and Elizabeth Sladen. However, it departs from the standard rules of Who adventures as generally applied at the time in a number of rather unsatisfactory directions:

1. Who really needs more than just the Doctor versus an alien menace to build a plot around. Its listeners expect complex inter-character tensions - and even with only three actors, you should be able to pull this off (cf. Edge of Destruction - well, all right, they had four. But the point holds).
2a. Even if your entire plot does consist of the Doctor versus an alien menace, the Doctor should think of some clever plan to defeat it (though the plot needn't always work). Having the Doctor discover accidentally that the Pescatons can be destroyed by high-pitched sound through playing the piccolo, with the casual explanation that he always does so when he is nervous, is not good enough - especially when said piccolo-playing is not already an established characteristic of the Doctor.
2b. Also, the Doctor should not merrily defeat any alien menace simply by killing it. We demand moral complexity!
3. The assistant should be in the story. If she is not with the Doctor, some explanation should be offered for this (e.g. she has been captured or gone off to conduct some investigations of her own). She should not just be dropped from the action when convenient, and she should certainly not be left at one point literally holding the baby!
4. When the Doctor is attacked by hostile underwater vegetation, it is OK to have that vegetation suddenly let go of him again. After all, he does have to survive the story. However, when, upon escaping, he finds that the entire crew of a previous underwater expedition have been killed by the same weed, and asks out loud why it didn't happen to him - your audience are going to expect some kind of explanation (e.g. the evil mastermind wanted him alive). Dropping the issue without explanation is not acceptable.
5. The Doctor is an alien. Therefore, he should not say things like 'We were on the brink of colonisation!' when an alien menace is attacking the Earth.

In short, I could write a better Who script than this. In my sleep. In fact, I quite often have. Even as an ardent Tom Baker fan, I can only just about bring myself to concede that this story is worth it for the sake of an extra Fourth Doctor adventure. That said, the CD set does also feature a very lovely 45-minute interview with Elizabeth Sladen, in which she tactfully pleads forgetfulness of anything to do with Pescatons, and passes quickly on to very interesting reminiscences about life on the Who team and her relationships with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. That bit is worth listening to - but The Pescatons is not.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 30th, 2008 11:03 pm (UTC)
Oops! Thank you. :-)
Jul. 31st, 2008 07:29 am (UTC)
I've got Genesis and the Pescatons on LP; you're right about the latter- its not very good.

IN pre-domestic video days, the Genesis LP (plus the target book) were the only versions available of the story, and I can still recite some of the lines from the LP as it got played to death.

I'm sure we heard the Exploration Earth story at school. Summat else I remember from a schools programme was a story called "Dr Where" (or was it Dr When?) where some bloke looking like Tom Baker travelled with his assistant in a red telephone box and solved puzzles. In the one that springs to mind, there was some invisible barrier, and Dr Where managed to destroy it by pushing paper plates under it (demonstrating symmetry, or summat). I've done a bit of googling on this, but I can't find any mention of it.

Oh, and there was Dr Emu and the Deadly Dustbins, but that was just silly..

Edited at 2008-07-31 07:29 am (UTC)
Jul. 31st, 2008 07:55 am (UTC)
Yeah, you've got to wonder why Tom Baker agreed to be in Pescatons, really. Still, I expect it bought him a few pints. ;-)

You mentioned that schools programme when we were watching bits of my Key to Time set, too. I've never come across any further info about it though. If I ever do, I will let you know!
Jul. 31st, 2008 05:39 pm (UTC)
You are not mistaken. I think in weak moments in school holidays or episodes of illness I saw the same one of those about five times and it's haunted the back of my memory ever since. I recall the Baker-a-like as being extraordinarily camp (which is saying something compared to the real thing). I wonder who it was?
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