...Ish by Philip Pascoe

I told a friend that I was listening to "...Ish" in the car on my way to work. He replied, "...Ish is crap."

"crap n., (vulg) nonsense, rubbish."

I didn't fall backwards off my chair. "...Ish" is a challenge to the repeat-listener, from its wordy, monsterless script to the unpleasantly long running time. I'd be lying if I said I pulled it off the shelf with any great enthusiasm. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't left until I considered myself to only have duff stories left to listen to, when I'd starting browsing the BBV catalogue and wondering whether it was time to order that Wirrn one with Sarah Sutton in. When I'd already used my "Minuet In Hell" card (didn't make it through episode 1, but that's another column).

Yet it isn't crap. It isn't sloppy, nonsensical or slow-paced. It isn't even dreary; on the contrary, it requires simply too much concentration. It's strengths, in the absence of almost all the ones we are looking for (beauty, shock factor, anything conventionally unearthly... or even unconventionally earthly) are the kind of mind-bending, intellectual prizes handed out by (better) Rob Shearman plays. It has concepts, not pleasures. It is a concept, not a Doctor Who story, although unsettlingly the Doctor Who (...ish) adventure it most reminds me is "Downtime", with its University Campus setting and cast of poorly portrayed human academics and trendy young intellectuals. A shame, that. The first scene without the Doctor and Peri features what sounds exactly like two very bad actors doing silly voices. That has nothing to do with anything else, I just thought I'd mention it.

If you have the time, the script is a dirt track of incredibly clever wordplay jokes. This sort of attention to detail would greatly enliven a more action-orientated story. Unfortunately, wordplay winds round "...Ish" so tightly that it can't move outside it. The only fun to be had is in envisaging the various staggering concepts that whole episodes worth of extrapolation tell us about. A word that stretches into infinity, the linguistic equivalent of pi, and as meaning and use decrease with length, thus the omni-whatever-it-is bends meaning out of all proportion. It's almost enough to start making you see things another way, indeed on several occasions I wondered if they were out to extrapolate the listening experience to infinity, such is the will-sapping length of episode 3.

There is a vast intelligence at work here, and like the presence that Book brings to Earth in "...Ish", it's agenda is ruthlessly contrary to our own. There is no interest in telling exciting Doctor Who, just in putting across nurtured, innovatively clever theories about language. The play revels, almost happily, in what it has to say and if only it were a trifle more fulfilling, we would too. Somewhere out there is someone who does the Times crossword every day and who loves Colin Baker the best because of the poetic and mightily linguistic dialogue afforded to the most theatrical incarnation. He loves "...Ish". He might even have written it.

He certainly had the means to help us out. Hiding in the shadows of "...Ish" is a story not unlike John Wyndham's "Chocky". It’s the tale of an advanced near-future Earth society that sends a holographic probe into space to search for words to add to its almighty Lexicon. But, whilst carrying out its research, something finds the probe first. Someone probably gets murdered too, and it's all very sinister. Like the first two episodes of "The Seeds of Doom", but set on a lonely planetoid somewhere. The yawning, tumbling acres of dialogue that is "...Ish" delegates this story to an unseen prologue. Somebody write the prequel to "...Ish". No, really.

Actually, don't. I'm only dreaming of an "instead of", not an "as well as". One "...Ish" is more than enough to scramble, intrigue, but ultimately dull the senses into submission.
 


CD Facts

Part 1 - Tracks 1-5

Part 2 - Tracks 6-11

Part 3 - Tracks 1-5

Part 4 - Tracks 6-11