Good lord, what a silly title. They should have gone with Dark Space 8, a clear and humorous take on Star Trek‘s Deep Space Nine. (A Little research revealed this title was actually a twist on a real song, Boom-Boom-A-Bang, from 1969, which adds… well, not much because I had no idea and only learned about it by chance!)
But as a life long Star Trek fan, the first thing you notice when listening to this story is that it’s a humorous take on that classic from this side of the pond. The chief medical officer reports just like a member of the Federation complete with “medical officers log” standing in for the more common “captain’s log”. And it has to be said that this story works far better as a spoof on Trek than it does as a story in the Doctor’s universe. That’s largely because the Doctor is totally silly in this one and even falls in love in the most ignominious way. And Mel is too quick to accuse people of a crime for which she has no proof. In all, the whole cast is just too silly to be a real story. And by real story, let me explain: like fans of Sherlock Holmes, we like to play “the Great Game” with Doctor Who and trying to see this as a believable story within his life just defies credulity. It works far better as a spoof and, if taken from that point of view, it’s hilarious.
To begin with, the audio logs of Dr. Eleanor Harcourt are marvelously funny as she never seems to have any idea of how to actually be a medic. The science officer’s entire role is to spout technobabble with the intent to help, but clearly never making any sense at all. He might as well be a member of Voyager, Trek’s biggest foray into utter rubbish solutions based solely on coming up with clever sounding words to save the day. Also, the one character I really wanted more from was Logan, the Irish commentator. My goodness! Basically if he was speaking, I was laughing. Some of his comments are outstanding but really, he should have had a bigger role. I admit a certain fondness for the Irish and their subtle way of putting things, but he utterly nailed the depressingly limited role he had in the story! On the other hand, Geri’s voice was irksome and I could not get a Meep out of my mind. I don’t know why, as I don’t think I’ve ever heard one before, but that was what I imagined. The voice was close to Alpha Centauri, from the Peladon episodes, but … not close enough. While Centauri sent chills of joy down my spine when I heard him/her/it in Empress of Mars, I cringed when Geri spoke. And Angvia initially had a cute sexiness that rapidly gave way to becoming utterly loathsome.
Speaking of Mars, I was delighted that we heard our Ice Warrior pals even if they are only background players during an unlikely song contest! Even the Drahvins are referenced for those astute listeners. And if continuity ever matters in Doctor Who (which is a laughable idea especially since Chris Chibnall took over as lead writer of the current 2019/2020 series), I imagine this episode has to take place somewhere after Time and the Rani and Paradise Towers. Why? Because the Doctor is still spouting those “convoluted words of wisdom in an unending stream of malapropisms”. Mel calls him out on it and tells him to stop doing it, which may explain why he never did it again after his first couple of televised stories. But he does still manage to play the spoons, and even wins the Eurov… um, sorry, the Intergalactic Song Contest.
Actually, I should point out that I’ve only become familiar with the Eurovision Song Contest in the last few years, since being with my wife whose family hails from that side of the pond. Which means, when I first listened to this story, I would never have made the connection. While I may have missed the references there, I did not miss the Star Trek/Space: 1999/Babylon 5 references. (Yes, reality may escape me, but at least fiction doesn’t!) The name “Golos” for a cloud entity was right out of classic Trek. I envisioned a creature like the Companion from Metamorphosis. Kolos was the name of the killer in Conscience of the King so the name came off like a combination of the two. There’s reference to a silicon-based life form (Devil in the Dark or Skin of Evil perhaps?), a space vampire (possibly a bigger reminder of Buck Rogers) and an alien god (Who Mourns for Adonais). Then, in other SF classics, I was reminded of Space:1999 whenever Eleanor spoke, especially as she kept trying to get closer to “John”. Eleanor is similar in sound to “Helena”, the name of the lead female on Space: 1999 and she was very close to Martin Landau’s John Koenig. And her comment on being the “last, best hope for peace” was how Babylon 5 was described during the first season opener. (As visitors to the Junkyard know, B5 is one of my all time favorite series! To have missed that would have been sinful!)
Along with the humor that pervades this story, the ending comes up very suddenly, and I found myself actually a bit shocked by it. But as the closing theme began, Mel interrupts with a “not so fast” which cuts the music. This adds another 10 minutes to the story and we get a better ending out of it. Overall, I don’t love the story and it’s not as much fun as last years The One Doctor but it offers a lot of laughs. By far, the thing I will remember most is the multiple names the Doctor gives to the ready room, including the Rest Room. Now, I’m going to listen to that great song we heard about in this episode: My Love is as Limitless as a Black Hole, and I’m Pulling You Over the Event Horizon. Who knows, maybe it’ll inspire me. Or devour me. Guess we’ll have to find out. ML
For context, the Irish commentator is a spoof of Terry Wogan. You may or may not be familiar with that name (maybe from clips of interviews on his chat show on DVDs?) but you won’t be aware of his Eurovision connection if you’ve only been familiar with that for the last couple of years. He sadly died a few years ago but he used to provide the Eurovision commentary and was absolutely hilarious. The whole thing is actually pretty revolting once you get to the voting, a popularity contest in disguise as a singing contest, with countries voting for their neighbours year after year, and Wogan did the only sensible thing you can do when faced with that: make fun of it. His commentaries were magnificent. Show him a silly costume, and he could always find the perfect line to poke fun at it. A great man, sadly missed.
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It’s curious that you mention that this one might have worked better in Star Trek than in Dr. Who. Because I have often contemplated which Who stories might have worked better in Trek or even vice versa on several occasions. When we reflect on how Blake’s 7: Duel was clearly much like Star Trek: Arena, is it agreeable enough for similar stories to work very well in more than one SF show? As far as spoofs are concerned, given how there are always several SF examples for the powers that be to poke fun at with common humour, indeed so with The Curse Of Fatal Death or Lenny Henry’s 1985 Dr. Who sketch, we all have plenty of freedom for imagination. But as for a more seriously binding story, like with the classic Star Trek and classic Dr. Who’s UNIT phase, it may be worth addressing more often on the Junkyard. So thanks, ML, spark that many SF fans would appreciate. 🎄
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