|Doctor Who and the Pirates by Jacqueline Rayner|
There are, I think, two kinds of writer in the world. Those that have written Gilbert and Sullivan pastiches and those that haven’t. This isn’t one of those wishy washy theories – this is fact. You study any writer from past, present or future and you will find that they have either written Gilbert and Sullivan pastiches or they haven’t written Gilbert and Sullivan pastiches. You don’t get much closer to a fact than that.
The lovely Jac is one of those that have written Gilbert and Sullivan pastiches and I’m another. These two facts are not entirely unconnected however as it is unlikely mine would’ve been written had the lovely Jac not done it first. Her musical episode of "Doctor Who and the Pirates" was the inspiration for the musical number in the fourth Brenty Four serial. Indeed, her set up to the "Modern Major General" song was shamelessly borrowed as my lead-in cliffhanger too. I didn’t pinch it quite word for word (as I would do right at the end of the serial – read it if you want to know what I mean) but the homage was there for those who want it.
Many people cringed at the idea of a Doctor Who musical, even though all the fashionable shows were doing it. Buffy did it, Xena did it (first!), Scrubs did it and even Panorama did it (though this was later revealed to have been a hideous script mix-up). The idea of mixing musical theatre with Doctor Who reminded people a little too much of the glittery side of the JNT era and, although Bonnie Langford has largely found favour with her recent performances, photocalls with Kirby wires and principle boy outfits don’t get quickly forgotten.
What those aforementioned shows did with their musical episodes (and I’m speaking of Buffy and the first Xena one) was use the songs to convey emotion rather than as fluffy pieces of entertainment. The Xena musical – "The Bitter Suite" – came at the absolute nadir of Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship. Once friends (or more than friends) they were now bitter enemies. It sounds naff but the power of music brought them back together. Ditto the Scooby gang in Buffy’s "Once More With Feeling".
Rather than force a contrived wedge between The Doctor and Evelyn, the lovely Jac imbued the play with emotion through the plight of Sally, a student whose secret gradually unfolds as the story goes on. Wisely, the songs are contained in just one episode and so don’t outstay their welcome. The balancing act which keeps Red Jasper amusing and menacing at the crucial period of the story wouldn’t have worked if they had also been breaking into song every few minutes.
Doctor Who and the Pirates works extremely well. There is a question mark over why Evelyn decided to tell Sally a story with such a tragic ending – being told about the death of a young boy while contemplating suicide for causing the death of a child doesn’t appear to make sense. But I can overlook this because the point wasn’t to tell her a life affirming tale, it was to take her mind off her troubles and get her through the night alive.
I adore "…and the Pirates" and would probably adore it even if it hadn’t been written by someone cute. It is well constructed, entertaining, it uses its gimmick more effectively than the naysayers thought it would and it dealt ultimately with one person and one person’s emotions. Not everything has to be about monsters and the death of worlds – sometimes it is worth breaking the laws of time to save one life.
When the time comes for the inevitable RTD musical episode, I hope the lovely Jac is the first person they ask to write it.