16.1.09

Deadline - DOCTOR WHO unbound, review by Nigel Parry

Deadline is my favourite script by Rob Shearman. It is also my favourite 'Unbound' entry. Whilst I am at it, it might even be my favourite Big Finish audio of all time. And there has been some strong competition.When the 'Unbound' series was announced, it was made clear that it wasn't supposed to be confused with 'real' Doctor Who (whatever that is). It was always designed to provide stories that could not be achieved under the normal Doctor Who banner. Of all the six stories, no other entry hits the nail so squarely on the head as this.This is a story of disappointment, of failure and escapism. As the original final entry into the series, it would also have provided a far better sense of closure than 'Exile', which eventually tied up the concept.It reveals Martin Bannister, a washed up writer - and a somewhat washed-up human - who occasionally believes he is his own creation, Doctor Who. Either that or he is Doctor Who, who believes he is a washed up writer called Martin Bannister. Bannister has a failed marriage behind him, a failed writing career, a son who hates him and a horrible Grandson with who he cannot relate, although he thinks he can. He lives in a Nursing Home, either because of age or because of some undisclosed nervous breakdown, and mistakenly believes his occasional Nurse holds a candle for him. He is bitter, bad-tempered and quite unlikeable. Yet he is such a crushed spirit, that it is difficult not to sympathise with him.The direction and sound design are perfect. Snippets of the original Delia Derbyshire version of the theme are segued faultlessly into the incidental score and from time to time this creates a quietly disorientating atmosphere to help further convince the listener that the world of dream and reality have blurred.The cast are all top notch too, with not one performance dipping below excellent. As Bannister himself, Sir Derek Jacobi is superb, capturing perfectly the character's sense of frustration and bewilderment and yet somehow makes his scenes often quite touching.As Sydney, the journalist from the Juliet Bravo fan club magazine, Ian Brooker is hilarious. In some scenes, he drifts from the feckless journo, to the Australian/Canadian tones of Sydney Newman, to the screaming Thalek with ease. His turn as the journalist is what stands out, though, causing me to laugh aloud every time I have heard this. And I have listened many times now.Jacqueline King is superb as the nurse, also disappointed, crushed and lonely, but still with a vicious sense of pride. Her shifting from bitter self-pity when reflecting on her lost love life, to snarling aggression when Bannister misreads her intent, is mighty.Peter Forbes excels as Philip, another broken character, whose initial declarations of being a successful family man are revealed to be lies to further aggravate the father he hates.There is much comedy here, but it is admittedly, very dark, and saturated in the sense of isolation and disappointment prevalent throughout the play. It is also strangely uplifting in its suggestion that the imagination is a good place in which to escape. However, it also seems that if that imagination gets the upper hand, then sanity will suffer as a result.Absolutely terrific, entertaining, thought-provoking stuff.