Slipback

Posted in Audio by - November 08, 2017
Slipback

Aired 25 July – 22 August 1985

During Doctor Who’s forced eighteen-month hiatus from television between ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ and the The Trial of a Time Lord arc, several attempts spanning various mediums were made to keep the franchise in the public consciousness and to prove the viability it still held. One such project was ‘Slipback,’ an audio drama composed of six ten-minute episodes that perfectly encapsulates the highs and the lows of the series at that tumultuous time.

Despite quite a few elements occurring within ‘Slipback,’ Doctor Who script editor and ‘Slipback’ writer Eric Saward unfortunately never manages to fully imbue any meaningful depth to his script. Indeed, ideas such as doddering policemen and a ship’s computer developing a split personality with moments featuring a more light-hearted tone seem to indicate that he is trying to channel Douglas Adams to the best of his abilities, but it’s also clear that he has still not found a consistent means by which to incorporate a brasher and more unlikeable Doctor into the overall grittier and darker universe he is trying to create, meaning that the tonal shifts are somewhat jarring and that any intended humour doesn’t land quite as resoundingly as when anchored by an intrinsically likable lead.

This, of course, is no fault of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, both of whom are immensely energetic and invested throughout the entire production. Unfortunately, while this story could have been used to temper the sometimes strained relationship between the two leads and to serve as a sort of reinvention for the troubled franchise, it instead only reemphasizes the uneasy tension that rests beneath the burgeoning friendship and trust. Yet although the brief running time of each episode dictates a quick pace with little time for exploration of any individual scene, both leads are incredibly dynamic and easily stand out as the highlights of an otherwise unremarkable outing, Baker in particular dominating both the comedic and dramatic moments with aplomb.

It’s actually quite fascinating to think about just how much Saward- overtly or not- detests the Sixth Doctor in this script. Aside from having him inadvertently get drunk and hung over, the Doctor astonishingly agrees with the ship’s computer when it proclaims that he is a disappointment to most people. More damning yet is the fact that the Time Lords must interfere to stop the Doctor’s own actions while trying to uncover the truth behind the mysterious killings that would have inexplicably resulted in the end of the universe. Though misguided actions and their consequences on any scale can work dramatically to add depth to a character, there is no such attempt at developing this incarnation any further and the story is content to instead castigate who the Doctor has become on several occasions, another reason that the moments with stylings reminiscent of Douglas Adams don’t work as well as they may have in other hands.

In the end, ‘Slipback’ is very much a product of its time that captures its era perfectly, for better or for worse. Though the performances are uniformly strong and there are undoubtedly some truly interesting core ideas, the script itself lacks and sort of depth and can’t quite manage to navigate the quicker format cohesively, in the process bringing to the forefront all of the most frequent criticisms of the franchise at that time.

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