The intention behind the Big Finish ‘Lost Stories’ range is to dramatise scripts that were intended to be made as Doctor Who stories back in the day, but never quite made it. Compared to many in the range, Ingrid Pitt and Tony Rudlin’s The Macros does at least have ‘namecheck’ quality – at least some people had heard of it before Big Finish decided to make it.
But it also had another namecheck quality – it was the brainchild of Hammer Horror/The Time Monster/Warriors of the Deep actress Ingrid Pitt and her husband Tony Rudlin, who had heard about ‘The Philadelphia Experiment‘, a conspiracy theory (and naff movie) that suggested that during the second world war, experiments in invisibility performed by the US Navy on the USS Eldridge led to the ship becoming detached from space and time.
The story – originally The Macro Men – has ended up rewritten a lot, both while it was being targeted at the TV show and while it was being lined up for Big Finish. Not a problem you might think. But for those of you who don’t bother with computer backups, this is a salutary warning: Pitt and Rudlin’s computer hard drive broke and they lost the second episode. Then it broke again and they lost the first episode. So yes, genuinely lost and they’ve had to rewrite it from memory. So how exactly is this the script that was going to be on Doctor Who that so desperately needed to be made?
Oh well, it’s here anyway, quibbles aside, and after all that wait, I can honestly say, “Meh.”
The TARDIS materializes on the USS Eldridge, after the Philadelphia Experiment has gone disastrously wrong. Most of the crew are dead, the ship is disintegrating, and the Doctor soon realizes that the problem comes from another dimension…
As they attempt to find a way to get the ship home, the Doctor and Peri visit the distant planet Capron and meet its tyrannical ruler Osloo. But the search for a possible solution only creates increasingly dire problems. Osloo’s horizons have been widened – and space and time are hers for the taking…
Is it any good?
It’s not dreadful, but it’s not very good. It really doesn’t even feel like Doctor Who, more like someone’s slightly distant idea of Doctor Who that they read about in a book and decided to emulate that.
We start with the Doctor and Peri landing on the Eldridge and generally having an implausible time of things, talking to people with mostly unconvincing American accents. It’s almost contagious because Peri’s accent seems to get worse by association.
It’s not long before the Doctor discovers that the reason for the weird green fog and sailors trapped inside the infrastructure of the Eldridge is a mini-universe is draining off energy from the Earth. So equipped with 17 continuity references and a paradoxical simultaneous disregard for continuity, he jumps over into the other universe in an effort to ask them nicely not to. There he and Peri, after a bit of singing, meet up with the opera-loving tyrant Osloo who – surprise, surprise – discovers she’d really quite like to rule the other universe as well. Oopsy. Didn’t see that one coming.
Much of the story involves hopping back and forth between dimensions to talk to further unconvincing Americans (and one actual American), plenty of jargon, science infants could laugh at, and paper-thin, desperately implausible characters. The Doctor and Peri are insanely passive and stupid throughout much of this, neither of them acting in-character or having typical dialogue. Any attempts to extract pathos from the lot of the Eldridge’s crew is pretty much wasted, partly through the acting, partly through the direction but mostly because the Doctor’s explanation for why he can’t help the crew is cobblers. The denouement you should see coming a mile off, it’s so heavily telegraphed, and I caught myself drifting off and thinking about my tea during several chunks, forcing me to have to go back to find out what had happened – typically, not much.
As a piece of “what if Doctor Who was a children’s pop-up book?” literature, it’s okay. There at least some interesting ideas in there and Linda Marlowe gives a suitable performance as the evil tyrant. But for discerning adults, it’s a tad painful.
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Nicola Bryant (Peri)
Linda Marlowe (Osloo)
Jack Galagher (Ezz)
Rachael Elizabeth (Yka)
Vincent Pirillo (Professor Tessler)
Stewart Alexander (Bosun/Guard)
Paul David-Gough (Mers/1st Rigger/Calloway)
Matt Addis (Bundth/2nd Rigger/Captain/Guard/Captain/Tannoy)
Writers: Ingrid Pitt and Tony Rudlin
Director: John Ainsworth