I’m going to try to get back to doing these once a week, on Saturdays (because Saturday is the proper day for Doctor Who as everyone knows) .
Jonathan Morris’ Max Warp is one of the range of ‘Eighth Doctor And Lucie’ hour-long audios that Big Finish have been doing, initially for Radio 7 but more recently just for their own CD/download range. These were explicitly aimed at being a half-way house between the old and new series, so the format is that of the new series (single-episode stories that are self-contained for the most part but hint at ‘arcs’ that are resolved in ‘season finales’), there are few of the continuity-wank bits that sometimes infect the main Big Finish range, but it’s still recognisably ‘classic’ Who (as we are apparently obliged to call it) rather than nuWho.
This actually works rather well for the most part – while the Doctor is scripted more blokeishly than I would like, in what I presume is a nod to the new series (he speaks in one story of a Time Ring being ‘a bit bling for me’ and has an obsession with Liverpool Football Club), McGann invests the role with enough Doctorishness that it’s still recognisably the same character that was in the original series, and I *like* self-contained shortish stories that don’t require you to have a burning desire to know where the second-in-command at Global Chemicals disappeared to half-way through The Green Death (or whatever other continuity trivia some people bring themselves to care about).
The real downside of these shows is Lucie Miller, the Doctor’s companion, played by Sheridan Smith. She is the most irritating companion the Doctor has ever had – worse than Jo Grant and Melanie Knownasmel combined, if you can believe that.
Now, this is not for the reason that some have complained about online – the character’s working-class Merseyside accent. Complaints about the character for that reason have rather nasty classist and regionalist bases that I think should be done away with – I certainly don’t think the Doctor would have those biases. (If nothing else, the Doctor’s clearly a Northerner himself – while they are all speaking more-or-less RP, the fourth and eighth Doctors have Scouse accents, the sixth has a hint of Manchester, the seventh is Scottish (and you can’t get much further North than that) and you can place the Ninth Doctor – should you wish to count him – almost to the street in Salford). It’s the way the character is written that is unpleasant.
She’s portrayed as the kind of person who thinks they’re clever and funny but knows nothing and seems not especially willing to learn. The kind who’ll turn anything into a rather dismissive joke rather than try to understand it. It’s actually a very strong characterisation – Lucie is clearly a real person – she’s just the kind of person I want nothing to do with, so having her along on the adventure isn’t a good thing from my point of view.
Specifically, she seems like the kind of person whose presence on QI makes you know the show is going to be a rubbish one – like Jimmy Carr, Jo Brand or Jeremy Clarkson. And Clarkson is very much on topic for this story, as it’s in great part a parody of Top Gear, featuring Graeme Garden as ‘Geoffrey Vantage’, a ‘politically incorrect’ tight-jeans-and-bald-patch presenter of a show about spaceships, Max Warp, that becomes the centre of a murder investigation when one of the co-presenters, ‘the Ferret’ dies in a crash in suspicious circumstances.
On my first listen to this I found it very enjoyable indeed (and Jennie, if you’ve not heard this one, you must) , although a couple of things irritated me, notably the totally unnecessary Hitch-Hikers quote/references (I think there should be at least a fifty year ban on anyone writing science fiction and referencing a Douglas Adams line in the belief that this makes their writing as good as Adams’ – all it does is drag Adams’ work down by association and humourless repetition, devaluing the work they claim to enjoy). The plot also doesn’t actually play fair (or, indeed, make much sense at all) as a whodunnit – but that’s OK, because it’s still fun to listen along to.
But on a repeated listen, I noticed a curious thing – this story is a parody of a British TV institution, with a whodunnit plotline, where the TV show exists in-story and is being used as part of a peace initiative, but is being disrupted by the murders. It involves one of the presenters of the show being a disguised secret agent, has an irritating assistant and stars Graeme Garden. It’s a remake of Bang Bang A Boom!
As a story in itself it’s probably better than the earlier one – more tightly-focussed, less broadly farcical, but still light-hearted and fun. But it’s so similar to the earlier story that one can hardly believe no-one noticed and said ‘hang on, we’ve done this before’, so it has to be docked points just for not even being original within the Big Finish audios. It’s still an enjoyable listen, and one of the better McGann audios, but not a patch on the earlier story.
ETA I’ve just realised that this is written by the same person who wrote Flip-Flop , yet while that one was (as Alex put it) “written as if Jonny had just been consoling himself after a bad break-up with a diet of nothing but the Daily Mail. ” and an anti-immigration rant worthy of the BNP or racist UKIP themselves, this one, from a few years later, is internationalist in outlook and makes fun of Vantage for justifying his obnoxious views as being ‘politically incorrect’ (when the earlier story was a Clarksonesque attack on ‘political correctness’). Very odd…
Tomorrow I’ll be doing two comics posts – one on Seaguy and one on Batman and Robin. See you then.