Deadline

Posted in Audio by - October 27, 2018
Deadline

Released September 2003

While the Unbound range has already explored the nuances of the Doctor’s character and his lasting legacy to remarkable effect through the casting of different actors in the lead role and occasionally treading into far darker territory than is typical, Robert Shearman’s ‘Deadline’ does something far more profound by showing just why Doctor Who as a whole is so important to the public consciousness and individuals alike.

It’s far too easy to simply dismiss this story as one about a curmudgeonly and unrelatable man slowly losing his grip on reality, but looking deeper into Martin Bannister and his one source of happiness presents one of the most moving character studies that Big Finish has ever produced. He’s unflinchingly rude and conceited despite failing as a writer after so much early promise and praise so long ago, and he left his family simply because he found them all boring, hardly painting this man who never understood characterisation for his own writing in the most flattering light and understandably causing an overt resentment and hatred from his son. Yet it’s the fact that he finds it necessary and is able to take the mundanities of everyday life and craft them into elements of a continuing adventure through time and space that hints at both the fierce intelligence and imagination that his mind still possesses, and his inability to get Doctor Who that held a nearly infinite storytelling potential on television decades ago has haunted him ever since, causing the boundaries between reality and fiction to blur more and more to the point that he can no longer be sure if he is or is not the Doctor himself.

Fittingly, it’s not suggested that the absence of Doctor Who makes people miserable but instead that it just presents a missing source of happiness through which everyone can relate. This is mirrored quite effectively by the fan of Juliet Bravo who derives such happiness from the programme that Bannister once wrote for, one that Bannister dismisses as a formulaic contrivance but with a fandom that he learns regards his output as some of the programme’s worst episodes. With so much negative emotion pervading the main characters, Shearman does an immense job in bringing the complicated relationships on display to life, and Philip fuming at his father while proclaiming that he will never allow himself to become like him is both exceedingly powerful in the moment and all the more fitting when Philip’s true relationship with his own son is revealed. Neither father nor son are intrinsically likable characters by design, but Sir Derek Jacobi and Peter Forbes are immense when together to underscore this family affair with the requisite passion and emotion.

Jacobi accordingly doesn’t truly play the Doctor, but his moments in the role within his fantasies brim with excitement and potential, highlighted by Ian and Barbara walking into the TARDIS for the first time within this scenario. With notes about the educational intention of the programme and of the inevitability of bug-eyed monsters to Sydney Newman’s chagrin, the story is a wonderfully poignant if unassuming look at Doctor Who as a whole. With Jacobi able to somehow effortlessly blend a combination of unsympathetic with sympathetic in the same sentence, Bannister becomes a truly complex and fascinating character to behold, and the supporting performances from all involved go beyond the usual high calibre that Big Finish has set to make this most unexpected storyline wholly engrossing from beginning to end. ‘Deadline’ will understandably not be to everyone’s liking and will in all likelihood remain a polarising tale, but its sincerity of good and bad paired with an underlying optimism that culminates with the brilliantly ambiguous act of Bannister accepting that he has destroyed everything outside of his wardrobe but that he can still achieve anything within is always relatable and sure to evoke an emotional response in any listener.

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