The two stories in Doctor Who: Silver and Ice provide both loving homage and quiet subversion of the classic Season 24
The Seventh Doctor becomes the latest incarnation to transfer over to the boxset format with Doctor Who: Silver and Ice. And as with recent releases, it takes canny advantage of the format to let stories settle at their natural length. So here we get six episodes, split between a two part adventure and a four part one. Both of them, Bad Day in Tinseltown and The Ribos Inheritance, feature returning elements. Each one, too, slots into this very specific Season 24 era of the Seventh Doctor and Mel. But each does so in its own unique way, and with different levels of success.
The Cybermen menace the last frontier in Bad Day in Tinseltown, a pitch perfect recreation of Doctor Who’s most ambitiously wild season
We begin with Cybermen tale Bad Day in Tinseltown. And it’s about as Season 24 a story as you could hope for. Its transfer of the tropes and conventions of the gold rush frontier to a far flung planet at the very edge of known space is a world that would have sit snugly among the likes of Paradise Towers or Iceworld. It’s a familiar truism that the audio format allows your imagination all the budget in the world. But many fans will picture Tinseltown in full TV Centre glory, complete with Happiness Patrol style indoors-for-outdoors sets. Even the script specifying that this is a planet in perpetual dusk, the street lights and softly glowing metal almost everything is made of the only illuminations, cues your mind’s eye’s set moving union to bring out the black infinity drapes to surround the set.
It’s a vibe that extends to the characters themselves. Mayor Mungo, for instance, is both written and performed by Starkey as a homage to Barry Humphries’ grotesque creation Les Patterson. It’s part of the production’s brilliant philosophy of imagining 80s producer John Nathan Turner stunt-casting the story. The central background, before everything goes a bit metallic and murderous, of trying to put on a variety stage show to save the town, also feels peak McCoy. It’s tremendous fun, with a gift of a script from erstwhile Strax actor Dan Starkey. Starkey knows exactly where the line exists between indulging Doctor Who’s inherent silliness, while constructing a tight, logical, story. Though your enjoyment of Tinseltown might depend on how much you adore the unhinged genius of Season 24. (Don’t even @ Blogtor, you know in your hearts it’s true.)
The Ribos Inheritance bring the Doctor back to the snowbound feudal world… and he’s just in time for a Game of Thrones inspired civil war
Second story The Ribos Inheritance doesn’t try so much to squeeze snugly into the Season 24 milieu. Instead it seeks to establish a bridge between it and later McCoy stories. It opens with the Doctor moping about the cloister room, pondering if its about time for a change in direction. This positions itself as the Seventh Doctor’s equivalent to the Fourth’s reflections in Pyramids of Mars. There he decided he had better things to do after all than hang around with UNIT all the time. Here it’s the Doctor wondering if it’s time to stop aimless thrillseeking and begin actively putting the universe to rights. For her part, Mel clearly doesn’t like the sound of that at all. So she convinces him to throw himself into another sprightly adventure to take his mind off his brooding.
The result is a return visit to Ribos, location of 1978’s The Ribos Operation. It’s a world where three decades of ‘Suntime’ and three decades of ‘Suntime’ alternate. The Doctor decides to see what Suntime is like, having previously visited in the middle of Icetime. Inexplicably, however, he and Mel arrive forty years into the current Icetime. What’s gone wrong with the climate? And what can our heroes do to put it right? They soon have a likely suspect for the trouble when the encounter Garron, the same interstellar conman the Doctor met on Ribos last time. But why is he lurking in a cave pretending to be a wizard?
The schemes and plots underpinning the story unfortunately don’t make a lot of sense. But its compensated for by some fun characters and epic scope
Admittedly, the story’s mix of these classic elements with its new narrative never really quite come together. Ribos and Garron are both creations of the late, great Robert Holmes. They also both demonstrate his gift for building entire worlds and backstories with just a few choice phrases. Conversely, the more detail The Ribos Inheritance put into explaining this world and what’s going on there, the less sense it seems to make. Garron’s original scheme (which has, naturally, gone terribly wrong) seems rather over-complicated and pointless. Meanwhile, the Doctor’s condemnation of terraforming as immoral and illegal throughout the galaxy feels just weird, given that he’s not just talking about using it where life already exists. Another side of the plot about goings on in the court of King Kari of Ribos has similar issues. There the story progression and eventual reveals rest on an extraordinarily tenuous chain of incidents.
There are compensations, however, for spending your time inside this slightly ramshackle plot. David Rintoul takes over from the late Iain Cuthbertson as Garron. He doesn’t leap with the same relish as Cuthertson did on every innocent line of dialogue to stray into his path. But he’s still a charming and amiable presence as the cowardly conman.
Meanwhile, if Bad Day in Tinseltown deliberately stayed within the bounds of an 1987 budget allocation, The Ribos Inheritance is equally successful in letting its imagination run riot. It brings the vast snowy plains of Ribos in full Icetime to life for the listener with evocative skill. In the current heatwave it might be the next best thing to sticking your head in the fridge. Elsewhere the ambition, stated in the accompanying interviews, of doing ‘Game of Thrones on Ribos’ is achieved in style. Vast armies do bloody battle while armoured ‘battle Shrivenzales’ are unleashed to do their bloody worst. It also takes its cue from the HBO epic by weaving a battle that’s not really between goodies and baddies. Instead, almost everyone’s actions morally compromise them to one extent or another (even, arguably, the Doctor) but nobody is wholly evil, either.
Silver and Ice provides a rare and welcome chance to dive into one of Doctor Who’s most unique television eras
Overall, Silver and Ice succeeds in both recreating and subverting exactly what you’d expect from more adventures for the Seventh Doctor and Mel. Bad Day in Tinseltown is the funnier, wilder, more immediately accessible instalment, but both stories have their share of highlights. For anyone who appreciates the fierce imagination and bold extremes of the early Sylvester McCoy era, the set is a chance to revisit an aspect of Doctor Who rarely explored these days.
Doctor Who – The Seventh Doctor Adventures: Silver and Ice