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The Ratings War

Doctor Who: The Big Finish Audio Adventures
Special CD Audio Release (DWM) #2
Richard Radcliffe

Doctor Who fans, it seems, have an long running obsession with the demise of their favourite show. How back in 1989 the BBC, in a plot, axed one of its greatest assets. And over the last 13 years have never really replaced it with anything very good. This attitude actually extends itself to other channels, TV nowadays just isn't what it used to be. Go to Conventions, read Newsletters - the attitude is uniform - TV is terrible. Convention guests come along and join the throngs in denouncing current TV - and the BBC, those which discarded Doctor Who, receives the full frontal attack.

In 1989 the BBC axed the show after an incredible 26 years on the air. That 26 years produced an amazing 713 episodes (splitting them into 25 minute sections). A quick calculation has that at just over 297 hours worth of Doctor Who. Compare this to the following shows, arguably the top TV Cult Dramas:-

Star Trek - Original: 59 hours
Star Trek - TNG: 133 hours

Blakes Seven: 39 hours
X-Files: 150 hours (after 200 episodes)

Babylon Five: 90 hours
Buffy: 91 hours
Prisoner: 14 hours

There is none that even comes close to the almost 300 hours worth of programming that the BBC gave to Doctor Who. Maybe I am a fellow who sees the cup half-full, but my point is that the BBC deserves Credit for that. I know it isn't the organization that it was, the actors and actresses who were in it tell us that a lot. Doctor Who, meanwhile, has thrived since its TV demise. The books have been as good as the TV generally, the Audios have been even better than the TV version. And yet, time and time again we have DW merchandise, having a go at TV. I have lost count of how many books submerge themselves in the direness of TV, with clever sideswipes that us Doctor Who fans are supposed to give a knowing nod to.

The Ratings War is the ultimate expression of that anti-TV sentiment. It is written by the man who gave us Time of Your Life, another that "had a go" at TV. I didn't like that book, I like the Ratings War even less. It takes the popular programmes of the day, and pulls them apart. There are plenty of people who like "Reality" programmes. There are plenty of people who like Big Brother. To condemn these programmes just because you don't like them is very narrow minded.

I am like most Doctor Who fans - I like Doctor Who, I like other Telefantasy like the ones I listed above. I don't really like Reality and Big Brother type programmes. Thankfully there is a lot of Sci-Fi and Fantasy out there, 40 years of it now, and there is enough to watch without having to watch the stuff like the above on general TV nowadays. I could moan about it, but I choose just not to watch it. Maybe The Ratings War is a comment on how addictive such programmes are. Unfortunately it comes across as a swipe at the millions who watch such programmes. It portrays the programmes as shallow rubbish, a dig at the watchers characters if ever I heard one. To condemn so many seems a bit much, in my opinion. To focus on these shows, even in a negative light, acknowledges their popularity - a touch of jealousy maybe creeping in? But enough, I have been on my soapbox long enough. The Ratings War was free after all, it probably doesn't deserve the level of comment I have given it - but it seems I got talking about something , that the Ratings War promoted in my mind. I should lighten up and try to see the funny side of this audio.

Trouble is for something that clearly is mean't to be funny, there are very few laughs. The Ratings War brings back Beep the Meep, the cuddly assassin from DWW. I didn't get the joke back then, I don't get it now - and why Big Finish sought to inflict it on us many years later, I am not entirely sure. The comics gave us some brilliant stories - End of the Line, Tides of Time, Voyager, Endgame - to name a few. But instead of returning to those worlds, we return to The Star Beast - Meep the Beep - an obscure Comic Strip, if ever there was one.

Colin Baker is a big fan of the comics - he did write one after all. He must have loved The Holy Terror for the way it brought a comic creation - Frobisher - to life in an amusing and interesting way. Maybe he thought it was going to be the same again with The Ratings War, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. The problem of this audio does not lie with the Doctor though: Colin Baker (as always) is excellent - manipulating the villain like a puppet, and getting to shout a lot, which Colin does better than most. The problem lies squarely at the door of the writer, director and producers.

The writer, Steve Lyons has done some great stories, but this is thrown together badly. It contains some sick jokes that made me shake my head in bewilderment. Who on earth finds this kind of thing funny? It also takes its inspiration from Batman Forever - hardly original either. The producers should know better, but they chose to record it, and therefore must take the blame. I was quite looking forward to an additional Big Finish production, it seems ages till the end of January 2002 when the 5th McGann audio comes out. But I shouldn't have built my hopes up. Let's hope the next freebie The Maltese Penguin, comedy again, is better. Can't be any worse really.

The Ratings War is free, thank goodness I didn't have to pay for it. Give me Last of the Titans anyday over this. Even Slipback is better. 3/10

Lawrence Conquest

It’s appropriate enough that for a DWM freebie The Ratings War should feature an old comic strip adversary. But while I loved Beep’s initial appearance in the old Doctor Who comic his appearance in this min-adventure is only semi-successful.

Beep himself is excellently portrayed by Toby Longworth, and in both ‘cute’ and angry’ modes sounds exactly as you would expect. Unfortunately the story itself is fairly weak. It’s another TV satire (like we haven’t had a few of those in the novels) and as with The One Doctors Weakest Link skit, the Big Brother parody is far too contemporary and obvious. It’s highly appropriate to have the axed Colin Baker as the Doctor in a story about TV ratings but, as with Robert Shearman’s Deadline, some of the dialogue sounds uncomfortably close to the show blowing it’s own trumpet, with the result that rather than feeling perceptive it just feels smug.

It’s still reasonably enjoyable though, and the Doctor’s super-fast way of defeating Meep is expertly handled. Surprisingly though all the best material is outtakes hidden elsewhere on the CD. As with Last of the Titans, an excellent freebie but not good enough to be worth a huge amount of money to track down if you missed it.

Jonathan Dreyfus

Normally, I wouldn't expect much from a promotional story taped to the front of a magazine. But given that it's Big Finish, stars Colin Baker and is veteran Doctor Who author Steve Lyons, I made an exception.

The Ratings War is a rather quirky yet affectionate send-up of 1980's Who, the audio format and reality TV. The somewhat overzealous Audience Shares host Robbie McHale, wonderfully hammed up by Alistair Lock, is a good example - he is a send-up of game show hosts.

The obvious and very-well-advertised main selling point of the story is the audio debut of Beep the Meep. Toby Longsworth brings a wonderfully likable psychosis to the character, and if we didn't know him to be villainous, we wouldn't immediately guess that he was. His charming song, set to a tune not unlike the Teletubbies theme, adds to the satirical nature of the story.

Colin Baker's portrayal of the Doctor was, as mentioned before, one of the things I was looking forward to in this story. By now, any Sixth Doctor audio is an almost guaranteed success, and he doesn't disappoint here, giving a sterling performance.

It's rather odd to Robert Jezek alongside Baker not portraying the comic book penguin Frobisher, particularly in such a comic book style audio. He gives a mediocre performance as manipulated Controller of Programs Roger Lowell, and Jane Goddard's five lines are also as well delivered as they can be.

Steve Lyons's script fits very well into the half-hour format, delivering a full and conclusive plot that doesn't need any more time than it gets. Gary Russell directs well, although the theme remix at the end goes on a bit too long for my liking.

David Darlington delivers a modest sound design and score, a small-scale post-production for a small-scale play. It's a little hard to believe that a show with theme music as awful as Audience Shares could become as popular as it apparently has, but I suspect this is a further send-up.

The Ratings War is not a story to be liked or disliked. I love the satire genre, so The Ratings War was a winner for me, but not because I liked it. It was more the fact that I simply enjoyed listening to it. As a bit of fun, The Ratings War is a success, but taken seriously it would lose its meaning. It is a fond spoof of the show Lyons clearly loves, and that's how it should be received.

Ken Holtzhouser

The giveaway of the first DWM CD, LAST OF THE TITANS, was enough of a success that they repeated it the following year with a special cd in DWM #313. Once again, the first episode of the new McGann season is included as well as a new adventure, THE RATINGS WAR, starring Colin Baker's Doctor.

In THE RATINGS WAR, the Doctor has seen the state of television and it's lousy. Others have seen the TV landscape and found it a golden opportunity. The villain of the story is the classic comic-book baddie Beep the Meep. Beep is a cute fuzzy-wuzzy ball of fluff who also happens to be the most sadistic and evil warlord in the universe. I worried that such a visual character wouldn't translate well in audio, but I shouldn't have. Beep's evil dialogue is funny and his voice is just right. And Baker's Doctor is just the right character to shout the "most-high" down a few notches. This time, there's more of a full story feeling to the giveaway. I really enjoyed the none-too-subtle digs at the state of television today (rather like Colin Baker's THE ONE DOCTOR).

You might be able to get your hands on the back issues of DWM for these giveaways. If you can get just one, try to get # 313, with THE RATINGS WAR/INVADERS FROM MARS cd. I realize that it might be crass to critique a freebie, but it just goes to show, even the free giveaways are up to the high standards that Big Finish are known for.

p. s. Keep THE RATINGS WAR playing... the disc includes the full version of Beep's hilarious theme song. I laughed out loud. I wonder what that says about me?