We’ve fallen behind again, mostly due to being permanently tired, so it’s just as well that this time there’s two linked plays to offer up. Careful with that arch attitude, Eugene, let’s set the controls for the heart of Paul Magrs…
Big Finish Folly, Part 127 – The Wishing Beast and The Vanity Box, by Paul Magrs
When the Tardis recieves a strange message from an asteroid in the middle of nowhere, the very last thing The Doctor and Mel expect to find is a quaint old cottage inhabited by two elderly sisters who serve up tea and cake, hoover up ghosts, and offer Mel the chance to gain her heart’s dearest wish. Surely there’s something else going on here. And yes, deep in the woods, there’s a terrible beast that is waiting to feast upon the unwary – once it has eaten the Doctor whole, of course…
Paul Magrs does write a very particular sort of Doctor Who. You either like it, or you don’t. I’m awkward in that regard, in that I can see exactly how the high concepts work, and I admire them, especially the Nest Cottage series of plays featuring Tom Baker (perfectly suited to arch absurdities), but sometimes Magrs does walk a fine line between drama and irrelevance. The Boy That Time Forgot took Block Computational Theory and a resurrected alternate Adric and still managed to lose me; The Lady of Mercia on the other hand was an absolute blast.
The Wishing Beast (and to an even greater extent, The Vanity Box) takes Magrs’s love of contrasting far-out Who with English down-to-earth whimsy and runs with it. The sound design glories in pouring cups of tea, switching on vacuum cleaners, and punctuating dialogue with ominous music. In the one-parter The Vanity Box, the snug of a Salford pub in the 1960s provides the backdrop, and in both plays Northern accents are the norm – every planet has a North, after all.
The Wishing Beast is actually the lesser of the two, for me. The central mystery isn’t really a mystery, and the Doctor and Mel are all too happy to be led through to the danger by the plainly-not-nice pair of sisters. The Doctor even offers himself up as a sacrifice to the titular beast, which doesn’t quite sit right with the way that the Mel/Sixey pairing is functioning together.
The Vanity Box, for all that it is shorter, is the better play. At twenty-seven minutes in total, it doesn’t have time to get bogged down in mannered atmospherics and simply barrels into the plot instead. At this sort of pace, even the supporting characters get a chance to shine and show off their Corrie audition skillz. Hearing Colin Baker attempt a Salford accent (deliberately badly, one hopes) is a hoot, but the real gem is Toby Longworth’s Monsieur Coiffure – a hairdresser from gay Paris via Preston, no two consecutive words said with the same accent. Slight, but very fun.