What’s it about: A lost world. A prehistoric civilization. A dark secret. The Doctor and Nyssa find themselves transported from Victorian London back to the dawn of time, accompanied by debonair adventurer Rupert Von Thal and no-nonsense novelist Beatrice Mapp. Together these unlikely heroes must brave primitive jungles and battle ravening insects as they make their way to the city of the giant scorpions, ruled over by... The Boy That Time Forgot.
An English Gentleman: Considering his exile on Earth during his third incarnation it is odd that I have come to rely on the TARDIS so much to recognise the show as Doctor Who and to the point where having a story that bypasses the ship completely feels very fresh and original. To see the Doctor having to rely on his wits with no chance of escape and to find new ways to travel about is very refreshing. I wouldn’t ever extract the TARDIS from Doctor Who permanently - it is the most wonderful plot expediency that has allowed to visit all manner of places and times - but as a diversion from the norm The Boy That Time Forgot offers an intriguing alternative.
When the Doctor says that some of his best friends have been human beings Nyssa comments that she has never understood that (but then I guess her only example of long term exposure to humans is Tegan and that would be enough to put anybody off the species). The Doctor considered Adric headstrong, argumentative and loyal (hmm I’ll go with the first two but I’m not so sure about the last…perhaps the Doctor chooses to remember him that way after their painful parting). Telling Adric to grow up must have been extremely satisfying for both the Doctor and Peter Davison! There’s a lovely moment when the Doctor bowls out one of the scorpions. He wonders how he makes such a mess of things sometimes and Nyssa sympathises, saying she knows how hard it must be just being him. Listen to Davison as the TARDIS appears – he sounds absolutely overjoyed like a kid who has been told he can go into a sweet shop!
Alien Orphan: Nyssa objects to being called a maid or an assistant. She has spent a little while in the Victorian period and she is glad to be out of it because they pretend to be civilised and yet they enslave and exploit the rest of the world. Filling it with foul smoking fumes, creating wars, revelling in inequality. Poor Nyssa has to put with the thought of this decrepit Adric lusting and longing for her after all these years. He always thought that they had so much in common, both so young, orphans and dependant on the Doctor. Nyssa did love the awkward, frustrated, pig headed boy. Nyssa’s ‘stop touching me!’ is unbelievably creepy.
Boy Genius: A lot has been said about the madness of continuing Adric’s tale after his shocking and dramatic departure from the series. The idea has split the audience into two camps, those who find the whole thing tasteless and a waste of time and those who welcome a chance to find some redemption in the character. I’m somewhere on the fence (look, just there…I’m waving) because whilst nothing pleases me more to see fan boys getting in a tizzy when continuity is well and truly trounced for the sake of a good story (something that the master craftsman Robert Holmes was never afraid to do and something that I whole heartedly approve of but then I have never had to have everything fit into one conforming universe – adhering to a set of plot details limits the imagination and that will never do!), Adric’s death was such a gob smacking moment to leave the character on it kind of blunts the impact to think that he survived after all and that Tegan was right to want to go after him! Big Finish and Paul Magrs must have known that they were opening a big slimy can of worms when they fronted this idea and I respect them for going with it even when it would cause such a uproar from the anally retentive malfeasance quarter. However despite my reservations as to whether this story needed telling the very idea of poor Adric (and I never thought I would put those two words together) being abandoned in such a harsh wilderness is a pretty dramatic idea to explore and considering he always was pretty emotionally challenged (‘Why isn’t he here! Why is he never around when you waaaant him!’ etc) the resentment this abandonment has bred makes for some pretty juicy scenes. All this discussion and I haven’t even mentioned Andrew Sachs who gives a wonderfully convincing, snivelling and aggrieved performance as our favourite Alzarian and pretty much wipes out any memory of Matthew Waterhouse playing the role by actually bringing him to life with a degree of skill. Sorry Matthew, but this is how its done. What I really love about this insanity is that Magrs has taken all of the characteristics about Adric that were just bubbling under during his time on the show – his affection for Nyssa, his resentment of the Doctor’s likeability and intelligence, his inability to connect with people and his penchant for working for the enemy and lets those qualities run wild with a delicious dark edge to them. It’s a controversial take on his character for sure but one that is well observed and thoughtful. A barmy idea then but one that is pull off with some style.
Has an affinity with spiders and all creatures with an ability to weave timelines through mathematics. Adric has been languishing here in this prehistoric wilderness for many years and his indignity at being abandoned by the Doctor has changed his perspective on their meeting. He no longer considers that he chose to leave with the Doctor but that he was kidnapped. All this time in a place like this can turn your thoughts bitter and they can turn to revenge. Adric throws the Doctor into his pets lair to ‘give him a little scare’ – have no doubt about it, the nasty little git is capable of exactly this sort of menace. Adric needs Nyssa to love him and she wants to stay here and be his Queen. He might be an old man but he is still a child at heart. When he escapes his world he feels a terrible guilt that he has abandoned his friends but the desire to be amongst people again after 500 years it was just too strong to resist escape. He’s completely deranged by his experiences after so long and starts talking to every day Earth insects and trying to get them to talk in binary. Adric tells Brewster that if you don’t belong anywhere, in any time then the best thing is to stay with the Doctor.
Standout Performance: There wasn’t a performance that really stood out as being more impressive than the others but there isn’t a weak link here. It’s a very strong cast that work very effectively together. Certainly Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton continue to do fantastic work together and you have to bow down to Davison’s idea that the fifth Doctor and Nyssa would have been strong enough to carry the series.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘My blade simply bounces off its chitinous hide!’
‘My what big eyes you’ve got!’
‘He’s a glitch in time. An abomination.’
‘I was a brat, wasn’t I?’
‘A sticky cobweb in time with me at the centre.’
‘Did you say Teegarna?’ ‘It was the name given to me by His Excellency. In his language it means ‘mouth on legs.’
‘Pike off!’ – the latest version of ‘Spack off!’ but it sounds much ruder!
Great Ideas: It might sounds like absolute madness but the Doctor gathering a crowd for a séance and having them each saying a different binary sequence not only achieves transference when the TARDIS is absent but also proves to be a highly atmospheric sequence of overlapping voices. Block transference is never that quick which is a huge clue as to is behind all of this. Naturally the assembled Victorians think it is some kind of meditative fakir chant. Take the references of St Paul’s Cathedral and a giant termite hill and mix the two together in your mind and fill it with oversized scorpions and you have one of the most intoxicating audio images since the city made up of Dalek casings in Renaissance of the Daleks. A bridge made out of spiders silk. Based on the Logopolitan method of block transfer computation, Adric has the scorpions whispering computations to keep this reality alive. The catacombs are the crashed and burnt remains of the freighter. Dinosaurs never evolved in this version of reality because they were eaten by the scorpions and as the Doctor walks into a charnel house he realises he is being led straight into a trap. When the scorpions devouring the brains of each other they absorb the sentience of their meal. The Star that controls this world is the untutored intelligence that was at the heart of the Cyberman computer on the freighter. It was the Doctor’s unconscious guilt that saved Adric from his death on the freighter – he reached out from the séance and gave him the computations he needed to survive and to create this reality.
Audio Landscape: Jungle wildlife, drawing a machete, moving through foliage, tapping a glass to make a speech, ticking clock, shaking tea tray, creatures scuttling about at the back of your mind, flies buzzing around the crackling flames, the mixture of a strong wind stirring up crackling flames and scorpion mandibles and clacking makes for a discomforting scene, there is a pleasing flashback to Adric’s last moment on the freighter, the humans talking from the scorpions POV is very nicely done (sounds like they are underwater), we actually get to hear Teegarna being eaten which is as uncomfortable as it sounds (especially with all her screaming), church bells, walking on gravel.
Musical Cues: The music in this story drives the pace forwards, there is a constant feeling of momentum to the tale thanks to Steve Foxon’s encouraging music.
Standout Scene: I really loved how Magrs made time to give his guest characters a moment to surprise and shine and Rupert’s admission that he is the great traveller of repute is a lovely moment (‘A day trip to Folkestone was my limit and even then I cam over a bit jippy.’) His sacrifice is a surprisingly poignant moment.
Notes: Was an Adric-centric tale included in this tale to highlight his differences to Brewster in the stories that precede and follow? Remember my discourse on unsatisfying audio cliff-hangers? If you two examples of how it should be done (ie not just moments of danger but actual clever plot twists that change the direction of the story) then episodes one and three end on great examples.
Result: Sometimes I think Paul Magrs has gone stark staring mad and I’m often extremely glad that he has because he adds a welcome touch of the fantastic to a series that can so often get bogged down in the formulaic. You certainly couldn’t say that The Boy That Time Forgot conforms to any of the rules; it has a unique setting, a disparate bunch of characters, it shits all over continuity and it writes the TARDIS out of the equation completely in a way that feels rather permanent. For the most part these innovations conjure up a feeling of originality that is very refreshing and I found my enjoyment fuelled by the thought of fan boys weeping into their Tom Baker underpants and stamping their feet at the thought of continuing Adric’s story. That alone makes the exercise worthwhile. This is easily the darkest of Magrs’ plays by some stretch and benefits because of it, all the evocative fantasy elements are as you would expect but skewed by a sense of the macabre which makes the experience pleasingly disquieting. On the strength of some heated viewpoints I didn’t expect to like this very much and to my delight it turned out to be far more agreeable than the button pushing failure some of repute. It just goes to show – don’t read to reviews before you have heard something. Not even this one. Make up your own mind and mine says this is a worthy coda for Adric with some real bite: 8/10
Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/110-Doctor-Who-The-Boy-That-Time-Forgot