The Ratings War

Posted in Audio by - January 08, 2019
The Ratings War

Released January 2002

Originally included with Doctor Who Magazine issue 313 and still available as a free download from the Big Finish website, Steve Lyons’s ‘The Ratings War’ delves into the expanded continuity of the comic strip adventures as the Sixth Doctor confronts the galactic criminal Beep the Meep who has escaped his entrapment in a film and has now turned to television to build up his army and let loose his aggression.

First introduced in the comic Doctor Who and the Star Beast, Beep made an instant impact when his unassumingly cute appearance belied the sadistic and hostile tendencies he held as he attempted galactic conquest while heading the Meep armada. Fortunately, that dichotomy transfers exceedingly well to the audio medium, and Toby Longworth’s softer and more saccharine intonations typify that endearing appearance while also proving wholly menacing and perfectly befitting of the unique danger this foe presents as he embarks on several threatening tirades against the Doctor who once more looks to undermine his long-gestating plans for population mind control.

As proven with ‘Last of the Titans,’ these free samplers are surprisingly deep and rewarding, and the biting insight into what television has become and the effect it has on the population in whole creates a solid foundation that is as much sadly prophetic as it is enjoyable. This is a civilisation in which reality television is king and a maximum age of twenty-four has been put in place for the soap operas, and among the plethora of superficial programming about domestic accidents and cute animals it’s the crowning of either Todd or Lucie at the finale of a weeks-long reality competition that dominates the cultural landscape. The Doctor is insistent that there is only so much of this soulless television that humans can endure, but Beep’s plan to expose this tremendous audience to subliminal imagery in his new show Beep and Friends following this conclusion to turn them into his own weapons perfectly exploits the base entertainment value that so much of the population pursues. In quite brilliant fashion, however, he goes to kill off the finalists at the climactic moment when his grasp on power seems to be loosening, and the tale of how he liquefied the brain tissue of the girl whose emotions he played upon to secure release from his prison after she called him snuggly wuggly encapsulates this character perfectly.

This is another perfect outing for the Sixth Doctor who all too openly acknowledges that the televised medium was perhaps not the best for him as he condescends the current state of television. He’s immensely clever and has outsmarted Beep even before this story begins, simply stalling for time after leading Beep to believe he has been beaten, and the bravado and incredible range of emotions Colin Baker pours into this performance in such a short span of time is incredibly impressive. By 2002, Big Finish had already done wonders with rehabilitating this oft-scorned incarnation, but ‘The Ratings War’ even in its brevity stands amongst Baker’s most memorable early outings. Indeed, with a great score headlined by a bizarre Beep song as well as spectacular direction that keeps the pacing and tone pitch perfect, the only shortcoming of ‘The Ratings War’ is that it’s seemingly over before it begins, a quirky but wonderful gift to fans of Doctor Who in any capacity.

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