Monday, 1 October 2012
Audio: Doctor Who - Invaders From Mars
The Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard (Paul McGann and India Fisher) return for a second run of adventures starting with this comedic tale of gangsters, gumshoes, aliens and Orson Welles set around the infamous radio broadcast of War of the Worlds in 1938 which had many Americans believing that aliens had landed. Scripted by Mark Gatiss and with a great cast including Spaced stars Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson the play tries hard to entertain but is a little too smug to be wholly satisfying.
The time travellers end up in New York in 1938. The Doctor is soon mistaken for a private eye and hired by the mysterious Glory Bee (Jessica Stevenson). This suits the Doctor who realises that the local gangsters are using alien weapons. Tracking down Glory's supposed relative, a Russian scientist, the Doctor finds himself in a dangerous game of deceit and betrayal between rival criminals Don 'The Phantom' Chaney (Simon Pegg) and Cosmo Devine (John Arthur). Just as things can't seem to get any more complicated, aliens land to reclaim their missing merchandise...
Many elements of Invaders From Mars are excellent. Gatiss has great fun writing a sprawling pastiche that has gangsters, femme fatales and the Doctor as Sam Spade. Both Chaney and Devine are well written, the arch Devine being especially bitchy and evil. The trouble is these disparate elements never quite hang together and the link to Welles broadcast feels forced. As Welles, David Benson gives a brilliant vocal impersonation that captures the genius in his early days but it's a largely wasted performance as Orson never really does much, spending his whole time in the radio studio and not even getting involved in the story until mid way through the last episode.
The main problem is that Gatiss is allowed to have too much fun, with the constant jokiness robbing the play of any tension. It doesn't help that, great as McGann is as the Doctor, his version is not one that is that well suited to comedy. Things would have been much better had this had Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor instead. By the third part things have descended too far into farce, with a pair of comedy aliens acting like an extraterrestrial Odd Couple with daft voices. It's a shame because, with Gatiss directing too, the play is indulgent when it should have been more tightly edited and focused. In the end, Invaders From Mars is less fun than it should have been but it is still a solid start to the Eighth Doctor's new run of adventures.
GK Rating: ***