TV Whatever Happened To Susan Foreman? was an episode of a Radio 4 series authored by playwright Adrian Mourby which satirically suggested the further adventures of various fictional children’s characters and is also one of the most released audio adventures appearing on both AudioGo’s “… at the BBC” compilation and as an extra on The Dalek Masterplan dvd.
The synopsis of the play is in the title, as Susan, or a metafictional version of the character, addresses her time travelling in the time travelling TARDIS and the fates of a few of the Doctor’s companions including herself.
If you haven’t yet, do go and seek it out. It’s one of the most unsettling hours of Who related material ever broadcast, especially if you’re a fan, because throughout you’ll be hooting at the continuity errors.
The whole play is built on continuity errors.
Both the TARDIS Datacore and the online DiscContinuity guide gleefully list these so there’s little point in me repeating them here. They seem to be the result of either Mourby misremembering details from his own viewing of the programme and not carrying out research from available materials due to time or deliberately getting details wrong for satirical reasons.
Despite that, it is still an interesting relic because of what it says about Doctor Who in general and 1994 especially.
For a start, Mourby casts new actors to play the already well-established characters. Jane Asher appears as Susan. James Grout as Ian. Various other members of the cast as the likes of Jo Grant.
This is a good thing.
If Carole-Ann Ford and the rest had reprised their roles, despite the variations on a theme, it could have become wound up as some kind of “official continuation” rather than the curates egg it is now.
Did Mourby care about such things? Is Asher somehow playing a regenerated Susan?
It’s certainly in contrast with Paradise of Death broadcast the year before, which would arguably become the model for Big Finish’s entire business, adding new stories in between the old, featuring the original actors and where Carole-Ann Ford herself has later reprised her role offering a different take on whatever happened to Susan.
But what’s more interesting is the company she keeps in this series. All of the rest are characters who, with the exception of Postman Pat, exist primarily on the page. Mourby puts Doctor Who in the same bracket as these literary greats almost instinctively at a time when the franchise was effectively being kept in existence by its shift to that page.
Except she’s arguably the only character who didn’t still have some currency with children, the readership of TARGET novelisations (I assume) now very much the preserve of adult fans as the only way to experience many of these stories with plenty of them still unavailable on VHS or at least officially released VHS.
Yet there she is. Creating misinformation perhaps, but included poignantly in the same bracket at Mowgli and Little Lord Fauntleroy.
Now, of course, with so much of early Doctor Who as accessible as those books, and indeed the character appearing in an ebook designed especially for children, Eoin Colfer’s A Big Hand For The Doctor (though arguably with about as much veracity in canonicity terms as Whatever Happened To…), perhaps the character’s currency with children has increased. From what I hear they’re fascinated with the history of the series.
So perhaps we shouldn’t be that harsh on Whatever Happened To Susan Foreman? It’s a curiosity, which like Paradise of Death and like Dimensions in Time, kept the series within the public conscience, however briefly and however small an audience it must have had on Radio 4.
But like Dimensions in Time, let’s just be thankful it wasn’t the last word on the character or the franchise.