I wasn’t really looking forward to Jonathan Morris’s Max Warp. A Top Gear parody you say? Ugh. But you know what? It's ace.
The problem with television parodies is that unless they’re done particularly well they can fall very flat and also run the risk of missing the mark simply because the reader, viewer or in this case listener might not be too aware of the thing which is being lampooned. Desperately trying not to alienate anyone, parodies tend to be broad and clichéd, only really taking the piss out of the stuff that the general audience might be aware of, and the really bad ones are put together by people who are also only aware of the broad strokes too. As fans, we’ve seen a fair number of horrendous Doctor Who satires, most recently that version of the show during the chrimbo Extras in which it was fairly clear Ricky Gervais hadn’t watched the programme since the 1980s and still seemed to be under the impression that actors saw the show as a last resort which couldn’t be further from the truth. Even the cast lists of this audio series should disprove that.
Morris’s impression of Top Gear seemed fairly accurate. As we discovered in the post-match summary Beyond The Vortex, his original script included even more specific nods, and Briggs suggested he dash to the middle ground, but the shape of the show was all there, with that photo board thing, the shouting and the dynamic between the presenters. There’s no arguing about this – aided by the writing, Graeme Garden’s interpretation of at least Jeremy Clarkson’s screen persona was spot on, the sexism, the anti-environmentalism, the cruelty. Likewise James Fleet’s James May was suitably dull, though his presenting jobs outside of the car show demonstrate that there’s rather more to him than being a but smelly and trying to chat up young girls. In terms of accuracy, this was nu-old-Who’s equivalent of a John Lucarotti historical, just close enough to get a flavour of what it’s supposed to be about.
In case your wondering about the lack of car metaphors so-far in this review, I should admit that I can't actually drive, rarely see the inside of a car and that I tend to agree with Lucie and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, when she was still with theaudience in fact, "It's all to do with who you are, it's all to do with penis size and cars." I've watched Top Gear in both of its incarnations, but like most viewers it's for the personalities rather than the automobiles. But I can't really understand why certain presenters would risk their lives to prove a point on television. It's in Max Warp favour that it isn't so toothless as to not try and address these issues, even if, it has to be said, if certain presenters hadn't been quite so lucky, Morris's play couldn't have been made, at least not in this form. And there certainly wouldn't be the same rodent metaphore. I tend to assume that like Harry Hill, we’re never seeing the real Jeremy Clarkson, so I can’t find it in myself to hate him completely, but I do with the man would take public transport once in a while. Good god, I'm po-faced.
"It's all to do with who you are, it's all to do with penis size and cars."
It takes some skill to work out how to turn something like this into a Doctor Who adventure, and expectedly we’re handed a whodunit and unlike The Unicorn and the Wasp, didn’t see much need to justify itself. Instead, the Doctor simply and clearly ran through the tropes of the genre with Lucie, keeping us up to speed to; the gathering of evidence, interviewing the suspects, the final reveal. This is just the kind of Doctor Who I like, a stripped down genre piece, in which the Doctor plus one land somewhere in space and time, something bad happens and they throw themselves into deal with it, no half an hour spent with the timelord trying to convince himself as to why he should become involved, and no need for some contrived reason for him to be engaged such as the TARDIS being at stake. And this was a proper mystery too which kept me guessing through to the conclusion, falling completely for the multiple "murders", simply because of the franchises propensity for death. I didn’t even work out who the “killer” was, though on reflection it was fairly obvious and probably not the point given the overall paucity of the cast.
Perhaps the weakest element of the script was the hostilities between the Varlon Empire and the Kith Oligarchy, though to make that conflict more complex would probably have confused matters. The President was a fairly typical blustering leader, though Morris was able to inject a few good barbs about how leaders these days can’t seem to function without their advisors, who lets face it are basically robots even in the real world and Samantha Hughes’s portrayal seemed at have something of the Blair about her. This is exactly the kind of part which seems to be abbreviated in this shorter episode format, though in this case, any more would have been a distraction. Her enemy, the Kith, weren’t so sinister sponges and it was difficult to envisage them as the war mongers described by Geoffrey Vantage. Presumably they were quite good as water torture. Still, they can enter the pantheon of Big Finish aliens insanely difficult to realise convincingly in-vision, though I would like to see Neil Gorton have a go. There would be endless shots of bedraggled extras being hosed down, their every movement in shot closely followed by an intern with a mop.
After last week’s deeply unfocused runaround, Max Warp might not have been particularly brave or especially original, but it was entertaining, and as we’ve learned successive times over the years, some jokes, a bit of mystery and an the potential intergalactic civil war can go a long way. The sound design had depth; you genuinely got a feel for this spacy motor show, and that scale was continued into the expansive. True, now and then, the plot took a back seat for what amounted to sketch comedy – the lengthy scene in which Lucie Vauxhall Nova (!) failed to convince Geoffrey that she should be a tv presenter – but I’d much rather that than another disappointingly fake moment of jeopardy. True, the resolution of said potential war wouldn’t give J. Michael Straczynski sleepless nights, but at least it wasn’t the be all and end all; the virus didn’t end the problem and the Doctor still needed to use his wits and stay a step ahead in order to trap the culprit, and it was about something, even if its that war is stupid etc.
the resolution of said potential war wouldn’t give J. Michael Straczynski sleepless nights
And, unlike last week, with given more to do, Sheridan seemed to be genuinely enjoying herself, relishing the one liners and standing toe-to-toe with Fleet and Gardner, in a kind of comedy juxtaposition you’re only likely to see inside Doctor Who, and you can see why Russell T Davies was thinking of poaching her for television (cf, The Writer’s Tale). Lacking the plot arc which haunted in the first series, she’s become the kind of girly companion who’s just out to enjoy the adventure and the Doctor’s friendship; unlike Sam she’s not in love with her tour guide, unlike Izzy she’s neither a fish or a lesbian (as far as we can tell) and unlike Charlie she’s not a temporal anomaly. That’s quite refreshing in this day and age; even Anji had her “issues”. Lucie doesn’t seem to have any. Similarly, it’s great to hear Eighth enjoying himself again and not in that kind of guarded pretend, I’m laughing as the weight of the galaxy, I’m life’s champion dontchaknow kindaway and paradoxically since he’s reputed to relish the darkness, Paul’s responding with one of his most buoyant performances in years, proving once again that he has just as much right to be called the Doctor as anyone.
Next week: “Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today.”