The 24th series of Doctor Who – Sylvester McCoy’s first – is almost universally regarded with cringing embarrassment by Doctor Who fans, and largely with good reason. McCoy was never one of the great Doctors, but he was better as the darker Doctor of the 26th series than he was as the buffoonish character in series 24 and parts of 25. And Melanie Bush was even worse – played by former child star Bonnie Langford, and introduced in Colin Baker’s last story, her character had so little thought put into it that her origin was actually a temporal paradox – and not in the good, interesting story, way, but in the ‘the writers forgot what they wrote in the previous episode, and also the laws of causality’ way.
That series also had garish visuals, terrible scripts, appaling music, and guest-appearances from the likes of Ken Dodd. But while these things are brought up by the detractors of that series, I’ve often thought that they in fact disliked it for a simpler reason (after all, many of them liked Revelation Of The Daleks which had nearly all the same flaws) – it was trying to be funny.
Many Doctor Who fans – like many comic fans – have a very adolescent view of things, and a desperate desire to see their hobby given mainstream validation (less so for Who now nuWho manages to be culturally ubiquitous even though fewer people watch it than they did during the old series). And like comic fans, they see the way forward as darkness and dealing with ‘serious themes’ – which generally means racking up the body count (in a recent issue of Teen Titans Wonder Dog killed and ate the Wonder Twins. Seriously.), swearing (see the recent two-day wonder that my friend Tilt described as “All-Star Derek and Clive the Boy Wonder”) or mentioning something that was slightly daring many years earlier (Remembrance Of The Daleks is adored by this strain of Who-fan, not so much for its story, but for ‘bravely tackling racism’ by having Ace look disapprovingly at a ‘no coloureds’ sign in a 1960s hotel window).
So even were the series to have been at its best, with the clever wit of the Adams/Williams era, the tight dialogue and suspense of Hinchcliffe/Holmes and the sense of newness and invention of the early Hartnells, the mere fact that it was trying primarily to be *funny* would have made these people (the same ones who say the strength of Doctor Who is that the format allows it to do anything) complain because it’s not grown-up enough.
So it gives me no end of pleasure to read the reviews of Bang Bang A Boom at Outpost Gallifrey and realise that I was absolutely right. What a load of joyless duffers these people are.
Bang Bang A Boom is far and away the silliest of the Big Finish audios I’ve reviewed for this, and is set squarely during Series 24. It parodies Deep Space Nine mercilessly, features Graeme Garden (making it the second Big Finish I’ve reviewed to feature a Goodie – when does poor Tim Brooke-Taylor get to do one?) and is based around a Galactic Song Contest that sounds more than a little like Eurovision, including an Irish commentator called ‘Logan’ (prompting this extraordinary review of this year’s contest by Andrew RIlstone (incidentally, is anyone else having real problems accessing Blogger sites at the moment?)).
It lacks even the figleaf of narratorial unreliability that covered Doctor Who And The Pirates‘ more unbelievable moments – from the very beginning (the Medical Officer on ‘Dark Space Eight’ making her log and talking about how calm everything is, then setting off an alarm) to the climax (the Doctor playing the spoons in front of a live TV audience in order to save the galaxy) this is pure farce. The plot is a huge web of coincidences (the medical officer being an impostor *and* the science officer making everything up because he’s too drunk to remember any science, and neither getting found out) and implausibilities (‘Logan’ inventing a universal translator machine in his spare time), and makes not even the slightest effort at letting us suspend our disbelief.
And that’s fine – because it’s *funny*. The constant musical stings, repetitions of ‘he’s dead’, the summaries of previous Dark Space Eight adventures (which all seem to involve aliens who claim to be god, or silicon-based lifeforms who want to exterminate carbon-based lifeforms, but who have been beaten by the previous Captain’s strength of will), the equally dead-on mockery of Space: 1999 (“I just don’t know… I feel so… helpless…”) make this one of the few genuinely laugh-out-loud Doctor Who stories.
Once again, Big Finish have succeeded in their half-stated mission of redeeming some of the less-loved eras of Doctor Who. It’s not the kind of thing I’d want too much of, but if series 24 had had scripts of this quality, the series would probably have lasted a lot longer than it did.
There’s not a lot to say about this really – one could make a big deal out of ‘revelations’ like the Doctor’s centuries-long celibacy (unless that’s just what he told Mel of course…) but either you find this kind of thing funny or you don’t. I do, and while I’m glad the Big Finish stories are mostly more serious, I’m glad they’re not as po-faced as many of their fans.