Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Prison in Space written by Dick Sharples (adapted by Simon Guerrier) and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: A relaxing break for the Doctor and his companions Jamie and Zoe becomes something decidedly more sinister when they are arrested for trespass. But what has happened to the planet Earth? And how has the malevolent Chairman Babs gained control? As the Doctor and Jamie are incarcerated in a prison that they can never escape from, Zoe is forced to change sides…

Oh My Giddy Aunt: The second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are without a doubt one of my favourite TARDIS line ups – the mixture of boyish enthusiasm, sexist charm and brainy arrogance is just about perfect and they roam around space like an excitable trio of kids. To have a funky Doctor with a companion from the past and from the future is genius and they are highly engaging to be around even when the stories let them down. In his battered coat and bow tie he didn’t look much like a traveller in time and space and yet beneath his mop of thick black hair was an expressive lined face that spoke of great age and experience. Dark eyes glimmered with intelligence and mischief. I love how he wakes and almost flirtatiously purrs ‘hello my dear’ – I could really hear Troughton saying that line! The Doctor is rendered unconscious by a food pill at the end of episode two which almost feels as though it is included to give Patrick Troughton a one week holiday but he’s back before you know it. It’s a bit disconcerting waking up at your own funeral and the Doctor is all wide eyed innocence at being told he enjoyed scaring the shite out of the guard who was watching the coffin. His baggy old overcoat isn’t just a jacket its more like a travelling junkyard with enough odds and ends to make almost anything. He’s so excited to have the scruffy thing back because it contains the key to the TARDIS and ‘the odd peppermint…yummy!’ Turns out when the Doctor and Jamie were prisoners of the Dominators he was busy pilfering whilst their backs were turned! Prisoner 4926 (otherwise known as the Doctor) is clearly the most desirable and resourceful man that Chairman Babs has ever met and this has to be the first time he has left a planet because he is being chased by a voracious female who wants his body!

Sexy Scot: Seen one star and you’ve seen them all, Jamie has been travelling with the Doctor for long enough for this lark to seem blasé. Naturally ensconced in a female dominated society Jamie feels extremely uncomfortable and determines the whole place unnatural! He shows a moment of gallows humour when he draws a line across his throat and suggests that that is the place of no return! He wont do the dance of the seven kilts for anyone. Jamie is appalled at the Doctor’s death and in a gentle moment says he was kind and clever, a genius and says quietly ‘rest in peace, Doctor.’ The best friend a man never had. I would have loved to have seen Jamie’s double take when the ‘dead’ Doctor walks into the room. The Doctor’s plan depends upon having somebody around who is used to wearing a skirt…oh how d’you do Jamie! The poor sod is forced into the tight leather uniform of the ladies to aid in their escape but he lacks their grace, plodding through the corridors like a masculine drag artist. Jamie’s lilting female voice is brilliant!

Brains’n’Beauty: Jamie is so sexist (he’s from a coarser period of history, you know) and Zoe takes real umbrage to his suggestion that she belongs in the kitchen! Once captured Zoe is to be rehabilitated back into the words and wisdom of the glorious Chairman Babs and her virtues of truth and justice! She stands up to her brainwashing education and declares Babs a fraud and proves quite adept in the Emma Peel art of karate chops! The hypnotised Zoe does not like being addressed by an inferior and dresses herself up in kinky leather and calls herself Madame Zoe! Oo-er!

Standout Performance: Frazer Hines’ Troughton is so scarily spot on you would swear the great man had returned from the grave to take part! The idea of recasting parts might seem disrespectful to some but in reality that is far from the truth as you can get – by getting his co-stars of the time who simply adored him to re-enact the part imbues the story with a warm glow of affection for Troughton that should be treasured. Susan Brown certainly gives everything she has as the throaty sexist dictator Chairman Babs but the character is written so insanely over the top its hard to even once take her seriously(FUUUUULLLLL POWER!’)! She makes Lady Adastra look as meek as Teka from Horns of Nimon! ’ I feel really sorry for Wendy Padbury because whilst Frazer Hines is left to have all the fun with the delicious Doctor/Jamie interaction Zoe is pushed to the sidelines and treated as nothing more than a robotised mouthpiece for Chairman Babs for half the story.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘She might be glorious to you but to me she is an ugly old bat!’ – after being described as having a fat neck like a toad I wouldn’t wonder this woman doesn’t have a complex!
‘Don’t tell me madam! Tell your medicos…they can’t tell a cadaver from a cucumber!’
‘Typical! He’s just like all the others…’

Great Ideas: A vast futuristic city with elegant skyscrapers, streams of traffic and stylish flying cars – you can’t get more sixties futuristic than that. Oh wait…yes you can because this story also has a life drug that can extend your life for an extra 200 years. And a mind probe! President Babs is President of the World Federation of Womanhood! Shooting people up out of chimneys off to the Outer Space Corrective Establishment! In another lesson of how Hitleresque dictators can so easily corrupt the population the men and women on this planet used to live in harmony until Chairman Babs came along and turned the women into a fighting force. She banned wars and with machines providing heat, light and food nobody need man ‘the provider’ and she happily made them obsolete.

Audio Landscape: The TARDIS landing causing birds to stir and fly off, swaying trees and beautiful birdsong, bullets whizzing by, the Doctor munching on an apple, scrambling in the bracken, spraying showers, hissing steam, alarm, fizzing electrics.

Musical Cues: Probably the most evocative score yet from the lost stories, the bibbly bobbly sixties psychedelia of the music conjures up the intrusive, imaginative and bloody marvellous scores of Dudley Simpson in stories like The Ice Warriors, Fury From the Deep, The Seeds of Death and The Space Pirates. Then halfway through it melts into a moody espionage score reminiscent of Don Harper’s music from The Invasion. Great stuff.

Isn’t it Odd: Bless Simon Guerrier for making this story slot seamlessly into its chosen season but did we really have to be reminded about their the adventure when they landed ‘slap bang in the middle of a bunch of Quarks!’ Whilst this is a great deal of fun to listen to you can see pretty quickly why we should be grateful that this story wasn’t made at the time for whatever the reason (time, money, rewrites - I’ve heard it all!), it adheres to some pretty standard science fiction clichés (space cities, matriarchal society) of the time and errs on the wrong side of camp menace. This is why Doctor Who will always stamp all over Star Trek because they know well enough to shy away from such an outrageously sexist premise whereas there are countless examples (especially the diabolical TNG episode Angel One) where Trek happily flaunts such ridiculous concepts. The idea of scenes of men waving placards screaming ‘votes for men!’ and being labelled ‘inferiors’ is so obscenely unsubtle you have to wonder how Dick Sharples wondered that he would get away with it! Big Sister is watching you indeed! The names are hilariously awful – Chairman Babs, Captain Mavis, Sergeant Alice, Corporal Cynthia and Sister Minnie. Like some of the other bloated Troughton tales it doesn’t take long for this story to forget about its setting and get mired down in escape/capture antics (episode two to be precise with the Doctor and Jamie dashing about the prison). Lecreesha will not be reporting to Earth control about the Doctor’s death because it wasn’t as if anybody ever came to OSC to check up on the prisoners, least of all chairman Babs – ‘erm ma’am there’s a ship approaching from Earth to check up on the prisoners…its Chairman Babs!’ Yeah that’s the level of sophistication on display here. Babs literally salivates over the Doctor in some hysterically dreadful scenes, snogging the picture of her ‘sweet prince’ (think of Queen Angvia and her ‘lee-tle man!’ from Bang Bang a Boom). By the end of episode three the story has pulled out the scene where Zoe doesn’t recognise Jamie as a friend and threatens to shoot him. I was hoping it wouldn’t go down such a predictable path but thems the breaks (poor Wendy Padbury is left screaming ‘Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!’ like a right wazzock!). Commandant Doctor (yeah you heard me correctly) actually says ‘We still have defeat the political system on Earth that centres here! The system that denied man the vote! Deprived him of his rightful position as a useful member of society and took away his self respect!’ Of course there is an OTT revolt at the end of the story that sees the evil Chairman Babs deposed (‘Traaaaaaaaitorrrrrs! Traaaaaaaaitorrrrrs!’) but I saw that coming in episode one. The moral of the story seems to be that if you put girls over your knee and slap their bottoms they will know their place and stop thinking that they are superior. How odd. Chairman Babs might be able to settle down now if she meets the right man and as of to prove it the only happiness she can achieve at the end is to literally throw herself at the Doctor. Was this really going to be transmitted in season six? I guess anything would be better than the Dominators!

Standout Scene: The scenes of the Doctor and Jamie standing up to the council of women - one refusing to be emasculated and the other downright insulting the ladies (with their shocked gasps), is very funny and would have been played to the hilt by Hines and Troughton on screen! Oh. My. God. Having no knowledge of this story aside from the fact that I knew it wasn’t made imagine my surprise as I was chomping away on some scrambled egg on toast and Jamie shoved Zoe over his knee and started spanking her rear end! I think I have got most of the egg off the keyboard but that was a hell of an explosion of food! Its both hilarious and very wrong on every level. Similarly amusing and almost taking its cue from the Romans the closing scenes see the Doctor pursued relentlessly by a horny and breathless Sister Babs so she can have her wicked way with him!

Notes: The title music bleeds into the begin of episode three and keeps playing for a few seconds just like in some of the actual televised stories! Now that’s what I call attention to detail!

Result: Absolute camp nonsense that long outstays its welcome, The Prison in Space is an appallingly fun piece of old tat that thankfully was scrapped before it made it to the screen to save us from such sexist, unintelligent drivel. What a shame that having the sparkling team of Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury on board is scuppered by the fact that there wasn’t a more interesting story for them to bring to life but by their very inclusion there is something substantial to make this worth listening to. Its sporadically funny but more often naively offensive and can be enjoyed as b-movie Who in the same way as The Underwater Menace. As with Mission to Magnus I think it was very brave to record something that has so much material that can pointed and laughed at and whilst I preferred the sixth Doctor Ice Warrior epic for simply being so outrageously bonkers (and similarly sexist!) there is a certain adolescent charm to this piece that meant whilst I was shaking my head with despair at the material I was also intrigued to see if it could plummet to new depths which it often managed to do. With its overtly sexist messages, wealth of escape/capture moments and agonisingly linear storytelling I’m surprised Terrance Dicks didn’t fight to get this one made! It’s a whole lot of rubbish but kind of engaging because of it and the story is elevated by some priceless Doctor/Jamie interaction, gaining a whole extra point because of it and raising it just slightly above average: 6/10

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/202-Doctor-Who-The-Second-Doctor-Box-Set

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