Memory Lane by Eddie Robson

What an odd adventure "Memory Lane" turned out to be. It's success is tied into the role that mystery plays in a Doctor Who adventure, so it's worth re-examining that here. Like "The Chimes of Midnight", that great eternal benchmark, it begins by depositing our heroes, without any prior knowledge, in an agreeable and familiar setting which is clearly not quite right. The mystery from then-on subsides as the "true" nature of the story is slowly revealed.

The trouble with this is that the not-all-it-appears-to-be is actually more interesting than the eventually revealed truth of things. After a number of Eighth Doctor adventures on alien worlds ("Something Inside", "Time Works", "Scaredy Cat"), it was somewhat refreshing to encounter a story involving a suburban street, an Iconic African housewife and an ice cream van. Like "The Android Invasion", it's a great pity when these things all turn out to be illusions and we're in a dull alien simulation after all.

However, on subsequent viewings "Memory Lane" nevertheless reveals itself to be a charming, if unambitious tale at the higher end of the Eighth Doctor quality spectrum. There's nothing new here of course - the whole thing is, in truth, ripped off from "Carnival of Monsters", and the two comedic henchmen at the root of the trouble is a similar idea to that used in "Something Inside" (even C'Rizz remarks on how the TARDIS keeps landing in prisons lately). But it's done with such panache, from the nagging haunting melody of the incidental music to the top draw cast, that it just about gets away with it. India Fisher again reprises her "little girl" act, and is a joy to listen to, although C'Rizz is again a decidedly unlikeable fellow companion - spending the adventure being impolite and untrusting towards Kim. But only Neil Reidman (who sounds, and acts, like Reggie Yates) really lets the side down, not convincing as a stranded astronaut, even after he's been freed from the alien's possession.

If things are, indeed, disappointing when they are revealed (and if the Doctor is somewhat lenient with the aliens, as C'Rizz suggests) then it's only because of the very nature of the nostalgia-like setting of the opening. The suburban living room, fish fingers, lego and ice cream van evokes a warm, wistful feeling in this listener, even if the memory lane of the title is very possibly in a different place and time to that my memories might conjure up if I were imprisoned there. The alien peepshow of the resolution is disappointing in so much as this cosy world of someone's memories probably never was real anyway. But at least we get to spend a bit of time there. So perhaps the story is all about not seeking refuge in your past - because it's ultimately a place with no future.

A clever tale, then, and one which seeds its resolution as the story unfolds, making for an effective if unoriginal mystery and (in the TARDIS disappearing into the horizon) a sure-fire iconic image, whose non-appearance on the cover of the play has to be a monumental missed opportunity.