Original Webcast 2 August – 6 September 2002
Audio CD Released December 2002
Before the BBC relaunch of Doctor Who in 2005, it was primarily on the shoulders of Big Finish to keep up any sort of official adventures while the BBC tried to figure out just what exactly it wanted to do with the franchise following the failed backdoor pilot featuring Paul McGann. Following the first official BBCi webcast ‘Death Comes to Time’ featuring Sylvester McCoy, the BBC teamed with Big Finish to offer the much-maligned Sixth Doctor a more official chance at redemption by bringing Colin Baker back into the public consciousness.
Fortunately, ‘Real Time’ succeeds admirably in that regard, removing Colin Baker from the behind-the-scenes turmoil that plagued his tenure on television and portraying the arrogance and sense of grandeur that so defined his character in an overall softer and more amenable light. The script wisely does not eliminate the more contentious aspects of this Doctor here, but it admirably explains why such divisive mannerisms and actions that would seem out of place for any other incarnation are perfectly logical and perhaps for the greater good in their own right. This is perhaps best explored when the returning Cybermen threaten to murder his companion, Evelyn Smythe, and other innocent bystanders. Whereas any other incarnation would likely craft some sort of scheme to gain the Cybermen’s trust in order to undo their plans, the Sixth Doctor matter-of-factly states that the lives of the many throughout the universe far outweigh the lives of the few individuals before them. Of course, the Cybermen see through his bluster, in the process proving just how human this character is beneath his sometimes abrasive and boisterous exterior.
‘Real Time’ takes place following a great Cyber war, and while this gives great extra meaning to the lengths that the Cybermen are taking to survive, it does call into question the character of Administrator Isherwood in particular. The script does purposefully treat him as a cliché, but it’s nonetheless tiresome to see a man who is so blinded by avarice that he still believes he can reason with the Cybermen to turn a tidy profit. He is clearly supposed to represent the worst aspects of humanity, even asking the Doctor to give up the TARDIS so that the Cybermen will go away, but he frustratingly fills an unwanted role without progressing the plot in any meaningful fashion. Fortunately, the character of Goddard more than makes up for these shortcomings, the gradual revelations of his origin offering something unique to Cybermen lore. The temporal aspect itself is certainly one that has been done before, but there’s more than enough supporting material as the mystery of Goddard is developed to mitigate any lingering sense of familiarity, and Yee Jee Tso adds the requisite lifetime of anger and emotion to develop an understated sense of realism for the role.
The production does sometimes suffer from clunky dialogue, but its portrayal of a weakened Cyber race on the verge of extinction is sublime, and the horror of what goes into making a Cyberman is certainly not glossed over in the least as their willingness to use time as a weapon comes into focus. ‘Real Time’ is also unafraid to present the Doctor with the notion of genocide as the circular and co-dependent nature of war is discussed, and this unquestionably adds an added dimension to the character and story in general. At the same time, Maggie Stables as Evelyn shines just as brightly as anyone else, her fierce intellect and kindness making an instant impact on events and proving straight away for any audio newcomers that she has all of the makings of a truly classic companion. With so many positive aspects to counter the use of clichés and unresolved ending begging for a sequel, ‘Real Time’ is unquestionably a success and, whether with the visual accompaniment or through audio alone, proves that the Sixth Doctor has plenty of well-meaning life in him yet.