Upstairs

Posted in Audio by - July 08, 2019
Upstairs

Released September 2013

The trio of the First Doctor, Steven, and Vicki is a fascinating one that never quite had time to fully develop on television before Vicki’s quick exit. An orphan fearing abandonment who found a grandfather figure and older brother figure to guide her as she once more found herself, Vicki in particular has always held an incredibly unique perspective and yet has remained one of the less-explored characters within The Companion Chronicles despite Maureen O’Brien reprising her role for the very first instalment, the famed First Doctor non-companion Sara Kingdom even receiving more starring roles than Vicki to this point. Returning to the range for the third time in Mat Coward’s ‘Upstairs,’ O’Brien joins Peter Purves to recount the mysterious occurrences that unfold when the TARDIS lands in the dilapidated attic of Number 10 Downing Street.

Vicki at this point is still in a vulnerable state despite her obvious shrewdness and intelligence, and she is afraid to ask some questions that she fears the Doctor might assume she should know the answers to as well as to voice any apprehension that might make her seem like just another fearful girl. However, landing within an unending maze of rooms with no discernible exit is certainly cause for concern, a concern that when voiced by Steven seems so logical, especially when they realise that the subtlest of changes within rooms that seem otherwise identical indicate that they are lost in time as well. This atmospheric sequence of exploration and gradual realisation of the truth is filled with tension, and both O’Brien and Purves capture the escalating dread magnificently to highlight the claustrophobia and maximise the mystery that stumps even the Doctor.

Doctor Who is, of course, able to find immense storytelling opportunities not just in the biggest events of history but in the odd footnotes that nonetheless helped shape the world. The passing of five British prime ministers within a span of twenty-two years certainly qualifies as the latter, and having the heroes unknowingly traversing the attic of Number 10 Downing Street which started falling apart even before it was built due to bad planning and execution provides an extra resonance to these events and the mysterious fungus that has taken hold. Fungi on Earth can spread their roots for vast distances underground, and so the Doctor finds it logical that there could be a species that extends throughout time and that takes its nutrition from people. Horrifically, the serving staff of Number 10 that has seen both the strengths and weaknesses of so many powerful people has taken to trying to craft the perfect leader so that the British Empire never fails, selectively channeling the fungus’s feeding to very specific people in power with the most desirable characteristics and lending a very human element to this chilling threat that could do untold damage should it gain access to the TARDIS.

As always, the sound design and direction help provide a truly engrossing experience, one that would fit perfectly into its intended era despite being strictly atypical as many of the most fondly-remembered Hartnell television serials are.  The resolution may be a bit convenient and anticlimactic, but it still makes a certain narrative sense given the importance that the TARDIS comes to represent, and this is only a small blip in a tense and unsettling tale that makes great use of Vicki and the tremendous perspective she can offer as well as the entire TARDIS team that must think quickly to have any chance at surviving this strange affair.

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