Saturday, December 04, 2010
Doctor Who Live!
Interesting idea ... hire some stadium-sized venues and then put on a Doctor Who extravaganza with Monsters and everything ... Hmmm. When they announced Doctor Who Live, I, probably like everyone else, was quite excited. Sounded like fun and something different. I'd seen the play The Ultimate Adventure which was OK - a fun little diversion - but this promised to be bigger and better. So we got tickets to the Manchester News Arena, and the day arrived. When we got there, the place was packed with people all buying merchandise from the stalls around the outside corridor. It's always a little sad that these events seem to thrive more on how much money they can extract from your wallets than on word of mouth. So lots of stuff was being bought. Aside from the items produced specifically for the event (a glossy brochure, T Shirts, Mugs and the like) they were also hawking old Top Trumps card sets and other things which presumably had been sitting in boxes somewhere unsold and unloved. We had good seats - in Section C right down the front. So we settled down to see what might happen. The first slight surprise was that the place was not full. There were lots of empty seats around, but there was enough of a crowd for it to feel full of anticipation. There were lots of kids in Fezs and in David Tennant-like suits. I love seeing that :) When Doctor Who transcends fandom and everyone is dressing up. And so the show started. Live music from the band was excellent, and Nigel Planer comes on stage as Vorgenson, a showman who has a captured selection of monsters in his Mini-scope-like device. Yes, it's a riff on the old Pertwee story 'Carnival of Monsters'. Nice idea, but it got tired very quickly. Planer would talk a bit, then announce a monster, they appeared at the back of the auditorium and stomped around a bit, before going on stage and back into the machine. We saw some Silurians, Ood, Judoon, Scarecrows, Clockwork Robots, Vampire girls, Cybermen ... and all did pretty much the same thing. There was a faintly amusing bit of business where a stooge in the crowd is taking pictures and the Cybermen take him on stage and 'convert' him ... but anyone not in the immediate area would have had trouble seeing what was going on. All this monster stomping activity was interspersed with some clips from the show set to music ... hmmm ... if I'd wanted to watch some clips on video, then I could do that at home without spending £45 to sit in an Arena. The first half came to a close, and we stretched our legs and watched people buying ice creams for inflated prices. Then it was part two ... More of the same. A lengthy video thing about Amy Pond, the Doctor on a video screen ... I thought this was Doctor Who Live! But the Doctor wasn't there! What a disappointment. I held out hope to the end that Matt Smith might bound from the TARDIS in the flesh, but no. He remained a distant video image throughout. The only live aspect was the music, and the two actors who spoke - Nigel Planer and Nick Briggs as Churchill. Briggs was wonderful. A brilliant performance. He was obviously having a great time. But Planer seemed out of sorts - going through the motions. In the second half, some of the audience cottoned on that this should be a little like a Panto and so booed and hissed Planer when he appeared. But this was too little too late. The script was pretty dire, and where it should have been obvious that this was a Panto with audience participation required, the script did not allow for that interaction to happen. Even a somewhat forced element of the Doctor wanting the audience to shout something out when he called ... it was all practiced, but then never happened ... disappointing. There was a sequence with the Weeping Angels which was pretty neat - soldiers coming in from the back to investigate and then all being whisked away by the Angels. Nicely done on stage with lighting effects hiding the transformations and vanishings. The climax of course featured the Daleks - the large, chunky wheely-bin-like Tellytubby Daleks, and they looked pretty good on stage, trundling about barking orders. The Doctor saves the day from his video hideout, and a White Dalek floated around on a pretty well hidden crane arm. Then it was all over. Ultimately, Doctor Who Live did not live up to the hype. It had a basic script, pared down to the minimum to make it as cheap as possible to stage. Two speaking cast members, and a crew of maybe 8 or 10 others who played all the monsters. There was too much video footage and music - this was not billed as a Proms event, so why try and highlight that? - and not enough innovation and variance in the script in terms of how the Monsters were used. Nigel Planer seemed to walk through the whole thing and lacked any real conviction as a villain, and overall the fact that the Doctor was not live and in person at an event billed as 'Doctor Who Live' was really inexcusable. We enjoyed it, don't get me wrong, but at £45 a ticket, we expected perhaps a little more than just an extended, animated exhibition of monsters, accompanied by music and big-screen videos.