Situation Vacant

Posted in Audio by - October 03, 2017
Situation Vacant

Released July 2010

With the fourth series of The Eighth Doctor Adventures technically beginning with December’s melancholy but incredibly impactful ‘Death in Blackpool’ that saw Lucie Miller depart the TARDIS, the new direction and its process of beginning to explore the ramifications of that action begins with Eddie Robson’s ‘Situation Vacant.’ With a new companion introduced through wholly unconventional means and hints at story arcs yet to come, this unique and more light-hearted affair fills the role of de facto season premiere perfectly.

The apparent notion of the Doctor holding interviews and setting tasks for a pool of diverse people applying to be his assistant is a great one, and though the truth of the situation is far from as simple as that, the story has great fun running with this premise as the distinctly unqualified individuals try to solve a case of disappearances before confronting a collection of robots endangering the world. It’s clear that the Doctor is just as in the dark as his eager protégés, but having him slowly whittle down the competition as individuals fail to act by and live up to his ideals is a strong component that directly but unobtrusively pays homage to many current reality television contests.

Paul McGann is effortlessly able to add dramatic weight to what ends up being a rather comedic affair, but it’s by necessity the strong casting of the four applicants that really makes this story so successful. James Bachman as Hugh, Shelley Conn as Asha, Joe Thomas as Theo, and Niky Wardley as Juliet all deliver engrossing performances, and it’s a testament to both the script and the actors that all four could realistically be seen as companion material beneath their obvious shortcomings. Of course, as Asher and Theo cause more panic and put themselves in the wrong position and as Theo and Juliet knock an alien unconscious who they wrongfully assume has been following them, those shortcomings do become rather glaring in the Doctor’s eyes.

Yet ‘Situation Vacant’ is also very much a story of what lies beneath the surface, and this particular pool of applicants certainly holds plenty of surprises. The fact that Asher is in fact named Lantice and has been stranded on Earth for fifteen years, needing to kill the Doctor to secure her safe passage offworld, is an intriguing enough start that the Doctor quickly sidesteps through his innate kindness. However, Theo’s true nature quickly steps forth as he tries to turn the situation to his advantage and take control of all of the world’s computers to put himself in charge and eradicate his past misdoings in the process, a scheme his overzealousness makes short-lived. Juliet then turns out to be an actress named Tamsin Drew who is down on her luck, and she begs the Doctor for a second opportunity after revealing her true self following the Doctor’s selection of Hugh. When Tamsin gets firsthand experience of traveling with the Doctor as Hugh reveals himself to be a vampire intent on taking the Doctor’s genetic signature in order to control the TARDIS and decides that that is better than the endless process of applying for jobs she doesn’t want, though, she quietly earns her place alongside the TARDIS with plenty of room for further character exploration and development given the rather abrupt transition from Juliet to Tamsin shown here.

‘Situation Vacant’ makes it perfectly clear by its end that the Doctor is not responsible for any of these events, setting up an arc that is sure to be followed through as this run of stories continues. Though the sound design and music here are sometimes just a bit too superfluous, the direction and performances are superb, creating a quirky but nonetheless important story due to the introduction of the enigma that is Tamsin Drew.

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