Big Finish Folly, Part 151 – Live 34, by James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown
“LIVE 34 | News on the hour every hour | LIVE 34 | Broadcasting to Colony 34 all day every day | LIVE 34 | Constantly updated every minute of every hour | LIVE 34| Sport, weather, business, local news, interplanetary affairs | LIVE 34 | Live, independent, accurate, comprehensive | LIVE 34 all news, all day, every day | LIVE 34…”
“Reports are coming in of an explosion…”
“On the line now is the leader of the FDP…”
“The President is about to begin his address…”
“We can see bodies in the wreckage…”
Warning: if you’re one of those people who believe that Doctor Who should never intersect with real-world issues, with any form of social justice or politics, with anything other than monster-of-the-week shenanigans and unrequited companion-based lust, then LIVE 34 will disappoint you. And my review of it will anger you. But it’s OK, you don’t have to do this. Everything will be fine if you ignore this review. Nothing contrary to your rose-tinted opinions exists in the world. Hug your Donald, love your Boris, cuddle your Nigel. Look the other way. Blame the victims. It’s their fault, they must have asked for it. Join the mob, do as you are told. Fox News is never wrong. Stare into the Sun. Be the Daily Mail. Look after yourself.
Still here? Good. Hello. You’ll find I’m quite spiky this week, having listened to LIVE 34 in the run-up to the terminally ill-advised EU referendum, and now writing this review in a country that is tunnelling itself back into 1930s Germany with fuckwitted gusto. I can’t say much about our freshly unmandated Nasty Party, or the alleged personalities propping up the new wave of hate in Poundland, without getting seriously angry, so I’ll try to focus on the matter at hand. Which is, of course, a story about truth, dictatorship, media manipulation, fascism, and xenophobia. All the light stuff, eh?
I don’t see LIVE 34 talked about very often on the forums. Like several of the stories around it, it comes from a period when Big Finish played more regularly with different forms of storytelling, playing with the format, testing the boundaries of audio plays. In this case, LIVE 34 invites the listener to imagine they are actually listening to the broadcasts of a talk radio station as they happen. The radio station’s host has to react to the continuing evolution of the news, usually at least one step behind it, floundering in his attempts to catch up. Meanwhile the Doctor, Ace and Hex weave through the narrative, even more disembodied than usual, subjects of interviews, voices in the distance, acts of reportage on a colony that is going to hell in a handcart and hasn’t yet realised it.
This, like Scherzo ahead of it, is an immersive experience. Not a story you can lightly dip into. And not one for a rainy day either. You need sunshine and hope around you when you listen to this, to counter the inevitable rage. Because there’s only one side you’ll come down on, and it ain’t that of Premier Jaeger. This is very much like listening to a BBC news report, perhaps one with Frank Gardner or Kate Adie; it’s a running commentary on partisan journalism (which reminds me of the quote: “You’re a journalist for the Sun? Make your mind up – either you’re a journalist or you work for the Sun. You can’t be both”) as well as a tightrope walk across a void of clear and present human-inflicted danger. No aliens – that’s right, no aliens, other than the human immigrants to Colony 34, the immigrants who are ghettoised and subjugated under Jaeger’s rule.
I’m talking a lot about feelings, about emotions, about emotive subjects. Sorry, this isn’t escapism. This is, once again, Doctor Who doing what it can do best – getting into our heads and showing us the real inhumanity of mankind. This is how science fiction is supposed to work – Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, the stuff that you don’t get encouraged to read these days. Because it’s all so irrelevant, doncha know? Here, have another Kardashian, another Joey Essex. Never mind the bigots.
But what about the content? Does LIVE 34 live up to the politics? Is it enough merely to write something that takes 30 minutes off the lifespan of a frothing conservabigot by way of his indignant rage, or is LIVE 34 worthy of that coveted tag – “Essential Listen”?
The truth is that the script actually bottles it in the last five minutes for a forced ending to tie up the story inside a very tight running time. It could have been a lot messier than this, and the listener must make a couple of leaps of faith to follow the play’s internal logic. The denouement is stagey, and most revolutions have much more dubious conclusions. Most dictators go out with a whimper, not a bang. But once again this is the kind of story only the Seventh Doctor could effectively bring to life. It wouldn’t work with any of his other incarnations. For a change he’s forced to work in the public arena, as an alternative to Jaeger, to draw out his ire, and it’s not a position he’s comfortable with. Ace and Hex find roles more suited to their skill sets. The first three episodes each focus tightly on one member of the Tardis crew along with one of the LIVE 34 staffers, which is a smart way of keeping the story rolling without falling too far from the gonzo reportage format.
To understand how much prescience there is in this script, perhaps you should cast an eye over the water at the Republican National Congress that has just wound up. Trump? Jaeger. Facilitator of abuse, bigotry and mass murder. To understand how well constructed and scripted LIVE 34 is, you only have to hear what I’ve got to listen to next…