Has it really been nearly a year since The Condemned? Time, once again, has flown. Oh dear.
Yet already, we have a sequel to that story which first gave us the pairing of the Sixth Doctor with Charley. Also written by Eddie Robson, The Condemned was a modern day tale set in Manchester that tried to be gritty and urban and was really very good.
Which is what makes The Raincloud Man something of a disappointment. While The Condemned was quite tense and managed to throw aside some of the usual conventions of Doctor Who stories, this is a semi-comedic affair that although by no means bad, really isn’t as big or as clever – or even as funny – as it thinks it is.
Having just defeated the Krotons, the Doctor is treating Charley to a hearty English breakfast, when an intriguing mystery suddenly presents itself. And to solve it, they must plunge back into the criminal underbelly of Manchester, where an old friend is up to her neck in alien trouble.
But what seemed like a mere mystery ends up being a life or death struggle at the centre of an interplanetary war in which the stakes are so high, the Doctor or Charley must gamble and lose their identity. And throughout, the lone figure of the Raincloud Man may hold the key to success or failure.
Is it any good?
It’s one of those stories where clearly the author has stared directly into the horror of squaring all the various parts of Doctor Who and his brain has rebelled. After trying to have the Doctor deal with modern police procedures in The Condemned, Robson’s given up the ghost of trying to make this story realistic and has gone in favour of all-out daftness.
So while DI Menzies (Anna Hope) was an interesting character in The Condemned, here she’s become a focal point for alien weirdness and has come to accept it all with a compulsory world-weary bit of attempted humour in every line, delivered in a desperately over the top way by Anna Hope – who was quite restrained last time.
Since it’s mostly her story, with the Doctor following her around, it’s quite a problem to have her acting like she should be in Coronation Street – simply because it’s Manchester, that’s no excuse.
Nevertheless, while the tone of the play is off and its attempts at humour – right down to a really silly game at the end which I won’t spoil for you – annoy rather than amuse most (but not all) of the time, it has a reasonably strong plot, albeit one that consists of people getting split up, running around all over the place, getting captured, attacked, etc. The central mystery is intriguing, although the explanation at the end isn’t really worth the time invested. And there are a couple of interesting points in the play where it seems like Charley might kill to safeguard her secret or might even have it taken away from her.
Indeed, there’s just about enough advancement of the central Sixth Doctor-Charley plot – assuming we don’t, yet again, have a magic carpet to brush it all under – for the listener not to get totally hacked off that nothing’s been resolved yet. The ending suggests there might be a resolution soon, but so did the ending of Return of the Krotons.
The supporting cast, with the exception of the always reliable Michael Fenton Stevens, are pretty woeful, unfortunately. But somehow, the pairing of Colin Baker and India Fisher is as indestructible as ever – you can pretty much guarantee they’re going to be interesting and so are their characters, even if the rest of the play isn’t up to scratch.
Unfortunately, now we’re condemned (ho ho) to months of Key to Time 2 and Sylvester McCoy releases, so who knows how long the wait will be for the next Sixth Doctor-Charley play – probably as long as for the next Fifth Doctor-Peri play. Sigh. Peri. But I still wouldn’t advise buying this to tide you over until June or later.
Did it keep my brain occupied for an hour down the gym or did I, at various points in the play, want to trap myself under something heavy in preference to listening to any more of it?
No. I would have preferred to have been trapped under: a vending machine.
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
India Fisher (Charlotte Pollard)
Anna Hope (D. I. Menzies)
Michael Fenton Stevens (Brooks)
Aidan J David (Lish)
Octavia Walters (Carmen)
Simon Sherlock (Kelsa)
Jeremy James (Tabbalac Leader)
Steven Hansell (The Bouncers)
Andrew Dickens (The Cyrox)
Writer: Eddie Robson
Director: Nicholas Briggs