Horror of Glam Rock.

Radio Time for the weekly spoiler alert. I've given away the ending somewhere in here again. Sorry. But hey, man, you can listen to play first if you like. Like wow.

I was shopping in HMV just before Christmas, flicking through the Bob Dylan albums in the sale trying to remember the ones I hadn't heard yet and an old work colleague sauntered up beside me. He's an old fashioned muso, the kind that DJs in bars and plays bebop and northern soul and when I told him I couldn't remember whether I already had a copy of Live At Budokan he smiled ruefully and said: "So you've bought it rather than lived it then."

That's probably how I felt during the brilliantly titled Horror of Glam Rock the latest Eighth Doctor adventure on BBC7. This was the kind of story that could only have been written by someone clued up on music, but just sometimes I'm sure it's that crowd, looking out for all the lyrical references, who will more than likely have rung the most enjoyment from it, and especially from "Children of Tomorrow" the original song which appeared in the teaser. Since the first album I bought was Five Star's Silk and Steel and I've never recovered and I was a fetus at the time when this episode was set, I was left with what was in essence a fairly standard base under siege-type story with the usual, for this series, wicked sense of humour.

The Tardis, in attempting to land Lucie back in her own time and place finds itself as close as it can get, in the year of my birth, 1974 near a motorway café. Doctor Who Adventures recently ran a story in a similar locale with hungry aliens, but this began in much grimmer style with the Doctor plus one discovering the corpse of a horribly savaged glam rocker but as the story ensued it became apparent that some alien mammals were also becoming big fans of the dining out just off the M62.

Slowly a group barricaded themselves within the cafe, away from the monsters. Claire Buckfield and yes, that Stephen Gately as a group called 'The Tomorrow Twins' who along with their manager played by Bernard Cribbins are on their way to a miming session on Top of the Pops. Una Stubbs is in there too playing diner's waitress and Lindsay Hardwick as apparently random customer, Pat, whose significance is slowly revealed. No point grumbling about celebrity cameos in this radio series as pretty much ever part has been filled with famous names by director and casting director Barnaby Edwards.

Wombles Obviously the touchstone was The Horror of Fang Rock with the strangers slowly dying across the duration in a tiny location; for me though, there was more than a hint of the film Tremors as some deaths were treated less than seriously and the trapped weren't entirely horrified by their bestial enemy. I'm surprised they didn't try to name them, although given the presence of Cribbins and the reference from Una to all the bands that pass through the restaurant, all the greats, "Hendrix, Lulu, The Wombles" I'd say they were modeled after Uncle Bulgeria's lot.

Tons of atmosphere, what with the sound of the snow underfoot and the special rock opera incidental music by Tim Sutton. This all seemed rather more sympathetic than the last time Big Finish tried to evoke a sub-culture, in the awful Seventh Doctor story The Rapture, and unlike that story it had some fun with it, hardly taking it seriously at all. That the alien communication device was a stylophone would please Rick Wakeman and it's a shame that the budget couldn't stretch to some actual musicians from the period. This seemed like the perfect story to have someone playing themselves - wasn't Roy Wood or Noddy Holder available for once?

If I'm slightly disappointed it's because I've just finished reading writer Paul Magrs* novel The Scarlett Empress one of the most inventive things I've ever clapped eyes on, whereas this felt, particularly towards the conclusion much more like a soup of familiar elements (rather like the kind of soup that might be cooked up using the Proppian signifiers the Doctor suggests in that novel). So along with the base being under siege, and blood thirst mammals all tooth and paws, there was the relative of a companion, Gelthian elementals "The Only Ones" ala The Unquiet Dead who aren't what they initially appear to be who were trapped within some modern media in a similar way to The Idiot's Lantern (told you there'd be spoilers). I can understand though, why after the epic happenings of the previous story, producer Nick Briggs decided to reduce everything down to something much more intimate.

Like many aging rockers, it also sagged a bit in the middle as the characters sat around waiting for the next event or for the Doctor to figure something out. This kind of thing is customary in these types of stories as are the deaths that appear to be inserted almost to create some incident when there isn't anything due. This is the first story that features the completion of a whole story in fifty minutes without any kind of cliffhanger but unlike the last two episodes it doesn't feel like two episodes slapped together in the middle which might accounting for the lack of pace.

Which isn't to say that this sag didn't allow for some wonderful character moments as the Doctor and Lucie reconciled a little bit: "I'm glad I met you." She said. "I'm glad too." He agreed. Eighth also seems to be developing some of Ninth's ticks, commenting on the foibles of human beings and his alieness more than I've heard before. Lucie's wicked quips were there too though: "Tranny pile up on the M62?" Marvelous. Across the board everyone was given an inspiring moment and there wasn't anything wrong with Magrs' characterisation (it's pronounced Mars then? I've been calling him Paul Maggers for years). Watch for the moment towards the end when the Doctor realises his plan isn't exactly going exactly as, well, as planned.

Performances were good across the board, exceptional in the case of Stubbs and Cribbins who actually gets to be heroic. McGann continues to be a revelation and I loved hearing in the documentary afterwards that they simply didn't tell him who had been cast so who would be coming in each day and his excitement at being given such talent to play against is evident in his performance. Sheriden, although inevitably in more of a companion-like role is still bucking my expectations and was particularly lovely when she meets her Auntie Pat. Oh and I can't wait for Katarina Olssen's Headhunter to get some meatier scenes.

The close of this play revealed that she's gaining on Lucie, but little else was revealed. I do think that like the opening seasons of the McGann stories there is a building plot arc featuring elements that have been inserted that will only really resonate later - Lucie meeting her Auntie cannot have been a coincidence can it? Will she return?

Next week: The Mythmakers revisited.

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