Sport, sport, masculine sport, equips a young man for society…
There are a number of cliches about Doctor Who fans that happen to be true. They’re not *as* true now as they used to be (a lot of people now who define themselves as Doctor Who fans are ‘cult TV’ fans generally, the kind of people who refer to themselves as ‘geeks’, and there’s a large overlap between the fandom of the new show and of programs like Buffy The Vampire Slayer), but even so if you look at Doctor Who fans between the ages of (roughly) 30 and 60 you’ll find that an astonishingly high proportion of them are gay (or in some way of an alternative sexuality), members of the Liberal Democrats, middle class, very interested in computers, readers of 2000AD, or all of the above.
And one thing that unites almost all Doctor Who fans is a healthy distaste for sport. This is partly because the kind of kids who liked Doctor Who were also the kind of kids who got picked last for every team (The Odd Boy sums up many Who fans very well, though truth to tell most of us were more likely to be reading Terrance Dicks than Mallarme) but also because the whole ethos of Doctor Who was one of individualism, eccentricity and a healthy disrespect for authority. While the Doctor occasionally enjoyed a gentle game of cricket, and I could imagine him playing tennis, the very idea of him ever even considering watching a football match seems absurd (the audios have the McGann Doctor supporting Liverpool, which also happens to be the team I claim to support if ever asked by the kind of person who can’t accept that someone can have male genitals and *not* like football, but it doesn’t ring true to me. On the other hand, I *could* see the Doctors in the new series being footballists quite easily). Football, and most other team sports, seems to be about unifying people into a mob, and the Doctor always hated mobs. So with very few exceptions, someone *either* has a favourite Patrick Troughton story, or a favourite football team, but rarely both.
Under those circumstances, it seems surprising that no-one had thought to do a parody of football in Doctor Who before The Game. But listening to it, one can see why.
The problem is, firstly, that the plot is cliched beyond belief. A war being waged in the form of a lethal spectator sport? Aliens betting on it and rigging the results? It’s just obvious stuff. So it has to rely on the execution to a greater extent than most other stories, but instead this one coasts on the assumption that all Who fans hate football, and doesn’t really do anything especially interesting. Some of the plotting is absolutely appaling – at one point the Doctor is in a one on one match with someone, and essentially just says “No! Killing is wrong!” before a cliffhanger where the other player announces he’s going to kill him. Immediately at the start of the next episode, the other player, who has killed a hundred people before this and just announced his intention to kill the Doctor, suddenly realises that in fact killing *is* wrong, as if no-one had ever mentioned this before. No reason for his change of heart is given, and there’s no build up for this, just “I’m going to kill you” “But killing is bad!” “Oh, is it? Oh, all right then…”
Particularly galling are the sections where the sportspeople are talking. Once again, Big Finish do their thing of assuming that a working class accent is innately humorous, this time having all the sportspeople speak in a RADA attempt at estuary English. This of course means that the actors are so busy trying to keep their accents straight they don’t spend any time actually giving a decent performance. But given that *all* the people who speak with a working-class or foreign accent are thugs and killers, whereas the Doctor, his companion, and the chief peacemaker all speak in RP, there’s definitely an undercurrent of classism here. Most Who fans are middle class (I’m not , or at least don’t think of myself as being, coming from a relatively poor family) and there does seem to be a definite undertone here of “watch out, the chavs are coming to get you!”
I also feel sorry for poor Sarah Sutton – despite the companion’s role being larger in this one than in most of the other Big Finish audios (and *far* larger than almost all the TV episodes) she’s not given anything like an actual character, just going around being exposited to and picking up bits of evidence – a walking plot point. She does her best with the material she’s given, but she’s not given very much.
The saving graces here are Peter Davison and William Russel. Russel (who played Ian Chesterton, one of the companions in the very first series of Doctor Who, and who was actually in the show even before the Doctor himself) here plays an old man who has known the Doctor in his own past – but who the Doctor is meeting for the first time in his timeline. Russel is simply superb as the rather doddering but well-intentioned Lord Carlisle, and Davison also turns in his usual excellent performance.
It’s odd in fact that the audios haven’t caused as much of a reappraisal of Davison as they have of Colin Baker – possibly this is because Davison was more respected to start with, or possibly it’s just because Baker’s performance is bigger and more exuberant than Davison’s, but either way it’s a shame. While Baker is my favourite audio Doctor, his performances on the audios aren’t that much better than his performances on the TV – it’s just that he finally has scripts that match the quality of his performances. Davison, on the other hand, improved immeasurably in the role between his TV appearances and the audios, making me wish for a series with the Doctor played by Davison in his fifties rather than his thirties…
The Game isn’t terrible, but it feels calculated, like someone deliberately wrote it aimed at a specific demographic, and that gives it a rather disquieting feeling – and it’s not good enough in any other respect to get over that. It’s worth a listen if you like Davison, but it’s in the lower ranks of Big Finish’s output.