Doctor Who Live
Daleks a go-go, Neil the Hippie cast as the anti-hero and a 16-piece band - 'the very definition of crowd-pleasing'
What sort of person goes to see a live arena show of Doctor Who, subtitled The Monsters Are Coming? Well, there are plenty of children and their parents, of course. There are also some hardcore older fans, kitted out in bow ties, cricket jumpers and multi-coloured scarves in tribute to various incarnations of the good Doctor. A few seem to have taken their obsession with the BBC’s long-running sci-fi series (the longest running in the world, no less) too far, such as the mad-eyed woman in the Doctor Who Live tour t-shirt seated near me, rocking back and forth in anticipation of the performance…
When this Odyssey Arena show does kick off, it is more fantastical and infinitely more enjoyable than Belfast’s Who devotees (let alone a casual viewer such as myself) could have hoped for.
The plot – yes, there is a plot – follows on from a 1973 Jon Pertwee-starring episode, 'Carnival of Monsters', in which an entertainer named Vorg keeps miniaturised beasts in a replicated environment. Here, Vorg’s son, er, Vorgenson – played by The Young Ones’ Nigel Planer – has invented "the Minimiser", a tool that can capture and store any creature that reappear onstage in his travelling freak show. Think King Kong meets a Universal Monster Rally, times ten, in space.
Planer’s self-dubbed 'Greatest Showman in the Galaxy' is a classic anti-hero. He means no harm, but is gradually seduced by the power of his invention, using it to snare the Doctor himself to put on display. The alternative comic actor has left Neil the Hippie far behind, here camping it up wildly, prancing about the stage and delivering exposition in enunciated tones. Current Time Lord Matt Smith appears only in pre-filmed footage, interacting with Planer and the audience. It all works surprisingly well, with the sci-fi format allowing for the meaningful use of video screens.
But it’s the monsters people have paid to see, and they get what they came for. From the simple-minded Ood, here cast as Vorgenson’s servants, to the ever-popular Cybermen and Daleks, it’s a romp through 47 years of British sci-fi.
The Judoon – interplanetary policemen that resemble rhinoceroses – march through the crowd, searching for aliens, the Vampires of Venice hiss and snarl at fans and the Silurians creep down the aisles wielding ray guns. The Weeping Angels – statue-like beings that can only attack when you’re not looking – are the most chilling, showcased in a well-staged segment. Only the Clockwork Robots and the Smilers miss the mark. By the time these minor-league monsters come out, it’s a case of overkill.
During the interval a group of Scarecrows appear on the floor, each picking up a trail of young followers, Pied Piper-style, as they shamble about the arena. The kids love it, and their wide-eyed wonder at the visual spectacle unfolding before them is infectious.
Sure, it’s all a bit panto (Planer milks the boos, there’s some ‘He’s behind you!’ nonsense), but with a 16-piece band performing Murray Gold’s stirring score and a laser-fuelled finale featuring a flying Dalek, Doctor Who Live is the very definition of crowd-pleasing.