The Blue Box Files podcast passes the point of no return; a meeting with The Sarah Jane Adventures’ Rani makes them the next target; and Redacted continues to be the Doctor Who we need in 2022
Doctor Who: Redacted continues on BBC Sounds with two new episodes, Hysteria and Lost. We’re now closing on being a third of the way through the story, and the narrative is unfolding in classic style. The premiere piqued the interests of podcasters Cleo, Abby, and Shawna in a story for their Blue Box Files podcast. A story about mysterious messages from a woman calling herself “The Doctor,” and wild claims involving recent disappearances. In Hysteria the clues and hints that something is very wrong with the world begin to land closer and closer to home. And in Lost, things begin to get a little bit too real. For the first time, the three women start to believe they’re in genuine danger.
Juno Dawson’s script catches the voice of the Tik Tok generation perfectly, ready to make another generation of fans feel old
In a way BBC Sounds billing Redacted as a scripted podcast is keenly appropriate (in my day t’were all fields and ‘radio dramas’ in these parts) given how effortlessly modern Redacted feels. There’s a truism that runs right through fiction ever since Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther. It’s that the realistic voices of young people are almost impossible for anyone over thirty to capture. But the scriptwriter here is Juno Dawson, whose The Good Doctor was also one of the best Thirteenth Doctor novels. And she makes the idioms, concerns, and attitudes of our three 2022 vintage LGBT women absolutely convincing.
Though a scene where Cleo and her brother Jordan encounter Rani Chandra from The Sarah Jane Adventures and Cleo clearly regards Rani as ancient and old fashioned may hit some fans hard enough to break a hip. Blogtor Who warmly welcomes everyone who ran home from school to watch mid 00s CBBC to the Old Whovians Home.
The atmosphere of Redacted being peak 2022 even extends to echoing some of the online discourse of younger fans about the sometimes muddied politics of the Chibnall era, Shawna almost sneering the word “cop” when discussing Yaz Khan.
The engaging, energetic performances of Redacted’s three leads is the key element to the serial’s success so far
Dawson’s aided in that by sparky and attractive performances from her three leads. Charlie Craggs, Lois Chimimba and Holly Quin-Ankrah achieve something like witchcraft in their scenes together, particularly those within the Blue Box Files podcast itself. It may be difficult to craft a script capturing this sort of spontaneous energy. But it’s even rarer to hear actors capture that banter of talking over each other. The trio also respond spontaneously to each other’s energy, as if they’ve known each other forever. But Craggs, Chimimba, and Quin-Ankrah manifest such a sense of easy friendship that’s it’s hard to believe they actually haven’t.
Redacted also makes the listener warm to our three distinctly imperfect heroes despite their flaws. It’s common in Doctor Who across all media to create characters with that special potential to be a companion for the Doctor, even if there’s no plan for them to get in the blue box and fly away on the final page. But Cleo, Shawna and Abby respond far more like real people would.
Here they realize that these sinister forces might actually exist and their first instinct is to back off. Even when Rani tries to give an inspirational pep talk straight from the Sarah Jane Smith playbook, she falters and scales it back to saying the Blue Box Files is “fine and you all need better mics.” The sense here isn’t one of future companions in waiting. Rather, it’s of the fate of the world falling, Ghostbusters style, into the hands of the faintly hapless.
The world forgetting there’s even a threat to fight hints at a familiar foe. But the mystery at the heart of the story is building nicely.
There are elements here that echo Big Finish Production’s UNIT: Silenced box set. The podcasters realize that they’re not immune to whatever is happening, and need to constantly remind themselves of the Doctor’s existence to avoid forgetting. Whether that suggests the the involvement of the Silence themselves is still unclear. The threat here of both forgetfulness spreading like a virus, and the abducting of companions’ friends and family, don’t match perfectly. But then, what’s a good Doctor Who villain without constant reinvention? (As a side note, Blogtor Who would dearly love some future release to pick up on the prospect of Rani having to explain to Haresh why she presumably now has hand tattoos.)
It must be said that the Silence would fit neatly with one of Redacted’s emerging themes. Conspiracy theories about aliens and Big Pharma aren’t the only myths being constructed and deconstructed. Cleo presents a very firm narrative of her own difficult past. Yet when her mother actually appears, she’s not quite the monster Cleo described. While, for the moment at least, we’re left unclear how much of Shawna’s belief that Abby is in a terrible relationship she needs rescuing from is just wishing thinking on the part of the smitten Shawna.
By the end of Lost, the redaction of elements of their reality has become too much to ignore. While whatever these mysterious forces are behind it, they’re now striking close to the Blue Box Files team’s nearest and dearest. There’s no backing out now, but can they rise to the challenge and become the heroes the Doctor hopes they can be?