Exile by Nicholas Briggs

The BBC have to give approval for each new Big Finish play. That presumably means they can hold their hand up and forbid any new script from being made or, possibly, prevent any new play from being released. Happily, or not depending on if you think about it too hard, this has never happened because, if you're feeling optimistic, the plays have all been up to standard or because, if you aren't, BBC reps like Steve Cole or Jaq Rayner actually work for Big Finish. I'm not suggesting any improper activity here, it's just hard to see either of them wielding an iron fist and issuing a big fat Terry Nation-eque veto on anything.

If there's one play you could imagine that having happened on though, it's "Exile". The premise is to turn Doctor Who - quite literally - into a joke. The Doctor is played by Arabella Weir, as if they had picked THE single person in Britain you might LEAST expect or hope to be cast in a "proper" story. It's a generally poor script whose author wound up wanting to drop the whole idea close to recording and whose producer went from searching for an ideal woman Doctor Who to literally trying to find anyone that would do it. It almost got hidden away in fifth position in the Unbound series, but for delays brought on by that desperate search for someone suitable. And is it any wonder? This is foolish, brave stuff, a Nick Briggs comedy set at Sainsbury's. There's no way Joanna Lumley would have come within a million miles of it.

But what's it actually LIKE? As a new fan approaching "Time Flight" for the first time would, I inevitably came to listen to this believing it would be awful. I'd been told. There's very little way a Doctor Who comedy involving burping COULD be good, even before you remember that this whole thing is the brain child of Nick Briggs, dear, lovely, reliable Nick Briggs. Being lovely doesn't make him a classic Doctor Who writer though, and he isn't. So let's be fair and look at what we can get out of this car crash idea.

It's not dull for a start, which sets it above a few others. The vomiting we could do without. In fact, there's nothing wrong with this light-hearted brand of Doctor Who per se - the bumbling Time Lord characters are fun, and I didn't mind characters saying "shit". The problem is that this is a comedy without jokes. Bodily functions aren't just unfunny, they are the byword for crap comedy, and there's very little witty or amusing dialogue here either. It's like "The Peter Principle" - mildly interesting, just not capable of ever, ever raising a smile. But there IS potential here.

If only it hadn't been a comedy, and if only Briggs hadn't lost his nerve and given up, this could have been a great maudlin introspective piece. There's almost a sadness about the Weir Doctor being reduced to parking trolleys and being trapped in our dull, monotonous world, and the actress herself isn't that bad - she has a distinctive voice and even seems in the mood to take it seriously. That this was never expanded upon is both the stories biggest lost opportunity and its utter downfall. We go to Doctor Who to get away from having to go to the pub every Friday night, and having to visit Sainsbury, and encounter stupid people who rank themselves according to how many pints they can down. Doctor Who is an escape from all that, so how grim to find him/her abandoned in exactly this brand of real world.

And that just about sums it up - what's purporting to be a comedy is trying to be so by taking our beloved hero and robbing him of everything we love about him - his curiosity, his hope, his willingness to rise above dim-witted morons who get drunk and vomit. In short, his detachment from this rubbish real world of ours. Even the politically incorrect staple of old-fashioned Doctor Who, a male hero who is blighted by silly girls, is subverted and lost. So the biggest mystery turns out to be how Doctor Who's first bid for laughs can end up so absolutely, resolutely depressing.

What if... Doctor Who had always been this bad? Doesn't bear thinking about.