Big Finish Folly, Part 133 – Bang-Bang-A-Boom! by Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman
Lights! Camera! Accordion! It’s time once more for the Intergalactic Song Contest, live from Darkspace Eight, and here’s your friendly station commander, John Bradley, fresh from his near brush with death in a shuttle explosion! Not sure the hat and umbrella combo suits a military man, mind, but there’s no time for quibbly meanderings like that when there’s a whole bucket of shenanigans going on backstage…. Song contests – if the songs don’t kill you, the singers will…
From the same writing team that brought you The One Doctor, here comes another warped out comedy routine that any jury would give 12 points to. Well, perhaps not the full 12, maybe more like 8.
The One Doctor couldn’t fail – it had Biggins! Bang-Bang-a-Boom conspicuously lacks a Biggins. I should try to judge this play on its own merits however. In its own way it succeeds marvellously in what it sets out to do, which is to parody not only Eurovision, but also Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine at the same time. These are broad and well-loved targets, easy to hit, but difficult to parody well. Galaxy Quest is the best example of a Trek parody that works; Bang-Bang-a-Boom has a long way to go to match those dizzy heights.
The story takes a little while to really get going: Roberts and Hickman have to set up the Doctor as the temporary commander of Dark Space Eight, as well as introduce the guest characters. It’s a diverse cast. Humans, humanoid aliens, clouds of gas, and space hamsters – and all of them have back-stories and secrets to be unwrapped. See, the song contest is the backdrop to a murder mystery, and a very Christie-esque one at that. At the end of each episode, somebody dies, each death replete with dun-dun-DERRRR music and exaggerated reactions from the witnesses.
Fortunately there are only four episodes, otherwise Hickman and Roberts would very quickly be running out of suspects. To make matters less straight-forward, the Doctor is unwillingly roped into an abortive romance(!) with one of the alien singers, while Mel finds herself babysitting another petulant contestant who has a rather poorly stomach… And up in the commentators’ box, there’s a spot-on pastiche of Wogan, settling in with a bottle of wine and a Galactic Translator…
All these things, taken together, could have been a greater story, an absolute classic – or at least, as good as The One Doctor. But the pacing is just that touch off, the story just a little too long, the humour just a bit too self-aware. If you’ve got a Wogan pastiche, then Eurovision is already covered. Galaxy Quest played a straight bat to brilliant effect, but Bang-Bang-A-Boom laughs at its own jokes once too often.
Nonetheless, it’s a good story, and Sylvester McCoy hams it up wonderfully. This is glorious early Seventh Doctor material. If you’re looking for some light relief from some of the darker arcs – and there’ll be plenty of that coming up in short order – then this is as good a place as any to start.