Well, we’re between cases so I’m using my pre-afternoon break to blog. If I don’t do it now, I never will and there’s no point starting on a whole article just yet. So here we go: Horror of Glam Rock, the second of the Big Finish plays for BBC7.
In contrast to the first story, the grim Blood of the Daleks, HoGR is a relatively jolly piece filled with guest stars previous Big Finish plays could only dream of. While not as good as its predecessor, it’s certainly not the epic disaster it could have been and is actually pretty entertaining.
Plot (as seen through a haze of smog)
The Doctor and Lucie go glam when the TARDIS makes an unexpected landing in 1974. Slade, The Sweet and Suzi Quatro are Top of the Pops – and brother-and-sister duo The Tomorrow Twins will soon be joining them, if starmaking Svengali Arnold Korns has his way. But will their dreams turn to dust at a service station somewhere on the M62, besieged by a pack of alien monsters?
Is it any good?
Genres are curious things, aren’t they? One of things that Doctor Who fans have claimed about the show is that it transcends genres. That is, you can more or less put on anything under the banner of ‘Doctor Who’ and it’ll still be Doctor Who. Just about any fan worth the title can name at least one story from each of the following genres, for example: serious drama, gothic horror, action adventure, romance, historical novel, hard SF. You can even lose the Doctor and his companion (cf Mission to the Unknown and Love and Monsters) and it’s still Doctor Who.
Sitcom, however, is one genre that doesn’t necessarily fit this rule. Could you do hardcore silliness, et al and the story still be Doctor Who? Discussions about Sylvester McCoy’s first season and Graham Williams’ era as producer to one side for the moment, Horror of Glam Rock is perhaps the closest the show has yet come to out-and-out sitcom.
Now, it’s not the script that necessarily makes a sitcom what it is. There’s an acting style, too. So what happens if you take a script with comedic elements and add in some of Britain’s most accomplished comedy actors. You get a sitcom, it turns out.
It’s almost as though someone’s flipped a great big switch marked ‘Two Pints’ in her head
For starters, we have Sheridan Smith. Think what you like about Two Pints of Lager…, she is a very good comedy actress. But, here, it’s almost as though someone’s flipped a great big switch marked ‘Two Pints’ in her head, because she appears to have gone into sitcom autopilot.
Paul McGann, who I’ve always suspected regards Doctor Who as not quite proper acting and a bit of laugh, although not to Ecclestonian levels, slips back into comedy with ease, as well. He’s obviously far more comfortable with his Tigger routine than the dark, moody Doctor of Blood of the Daleks, and he gives a far better and more impressive performance as a result.
Then there’s Una Stubbs and Bernard Cribbins. Both turn in noticeably ‘comedic’ performances. Even the aliens are having fun. It’s only Stephen Gately in his first acting gig who’s trying to be serious. He’s good, but he doesn’t seem to have realised that if he’s playing a slightly catatonic glam rocker from 1974 called Tommy, there’s probably a comedic undertone in there somewhere.
So through a combination of comedic lines and comedy actors, we have a Doctor Who sitcom. It’s fun and silly, but not very funny, bar a couple of lines.
Taken as a regular Doctor Who story, it’s still enjoyable, too. The aliens are ultimately not very distinctive, but no worse than the Gelf, say. The new companion gets to discover for herself the perils of travelling into your own past and slowly learns the Doctor can be quite fun to be with. And there’s some excellent stylophone work (although I’ve seen Rick Wakeman do better). It’s not going to set the world on fire, but it’s on a par with some of the TV show’s most recent efforts, albeit more of a Tooth and Claw rather than an Impossible Planet.
The Doctor (Paul McGann)
Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith)
Headhunter/The Only Ones (Katarina Olsson)
Arnold Korns (Bernard Cribbins)
Flo (Una Stubbs)
Tommy Tomorrow (Stephen Gately)
Trisha Tomorrow (Clare Buckfield)
Pat (Lynsey Hardwick)