Exile

Posted in Audio by - October 28, 2018
Exile

Released October 2003

As the concluding story of the original Unbound run, Nicholas Briggs’s ‘Exile’ finds itself in the uneviable position of following the masterful ‘Deadline,’ a benchmark that any more blithe comedy would struggle to meet. Working under the suggestion that the Doctor escaped the justice of the Time Lords, Arabella Weir takes up the leading role as the Doctor tries to lead an unassuming life working at a supermarket and going to the pub until a fiendish alien plot draws her back out into the open once more.

Casting the historically male Doctor as a female is arguably the boldest change that the nearly limitless potential of the Unbound series has yet presented, and the potential drama from doing so as she encounters social injustices and gender inequality is staggering to consider. Unfortunately, much of ‘Exile’ is played for laughs and never truly takes the opportunity to explore what this change means to the Doctor on any level, and while there is something to be said about the Doctor being the Doctor regardless of appearances in any regard, a one-off female-led story certainly is worthy of something more impactful than the excessive drunken barroom conversations that themselves are meant to be sources of humour. This is a character who often winds up drunken to the point of vomiting in some obscene attempt to blend in with the locals to avoid the watchful eye of her people, and listening to this play out is both trying and disappointing on just about every level.

In the brief moments that tread into more serious and straightforward territory, Weir shows an inherent humanity, resignation, and boldness that hint at what this incarnation could have been in different circumstances, but this is a story that very much sticks to more superficial and comedic territory with a character being called Cheese because he starts thinking that his beer tastes like cheese after five pints as a prime example of each. Even the sort of internal monologue that plays out as the Doctor’s previous self manifests and accuses her of killing him offers an intriguing avenue for the concept of regeneration and its exact relation with the future that is sadly never taken, and it’s only the more poignant moments in which the Doctor compares her current life to her more heroic past that offer any sort of development for this otherwise flat character from a society that apparently frowns upon gender swap regenerations.

Briggs as the director certainly knows how to pitch his own written ideas so that they come to life with different tones as needed, but it’s sadly telling that a pair of blundering Time Lords played by Toby Longworth and David Tennant end up stealing the show, not necessarily because of the overly complicated plans they put into motion to draw the Doctor out of hiding or even any strong character development but simply because of the inherent chemistry and timing the two have together that is lacking from the Doctor’s own cohorts. Whether just this story or as a generality, this farce that is so dependent on bodily humour for its punchlines simply fails to capitalise on its intent in the audio medium, and though there are some enjoyable moments when Weir is allowed to play an actual character, the story as a whole squanders its opportunity to make the most of its central casting.

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