blogger_who (blogger_who) wrote,

Doctor Who: The Lost Stories 2.02 - Prison in Space

Rewritten from material that I originally posted 6/23/13 on another forum:

Blurb: A relaxing break for the Doctor and his companions Jamie and Zoe becomes something decidedly more sinister when they are arrested for trespass. But what has happened to the planet Earth? And how has the malevolent Chairman Babs gained control? As the Doctor and Jamie are incarcerated in a prison that they can never escape from, Zoe is forced to change sides…

Format: Limited-cast audio drama with narration. Adapted from an unmade television script. Published by Big Finish Productions and released December 2010 in a box with an audio production of the unmade television script for the Dalek TV series pilot, The Destroyers.

Setting: Earth: Great Britain, time unknown. The technology on hand appears to be 21st century level, but Chairman Babs is said to have been in power for 122 years. As there isn't a 122 year gap anywhere in the 21st or 22nd centuries where we see a gender role reversal in Doctor Who we have to postulate that this is the very far future after humanity has lost some of its technological and cultural sophistication. This could very well be post-Solar Flare (see The Ark in Space and The Sontaran Experiment), post-Sleeping Sickness (see Home Truths, The Drowned World, The Guardian of the Solar System, and The Cold Equations), or post-Ravalox (see The Mysterious Planet). Since this is Simon Guerrier's adaptation and he seems to keep a strong continuity with his own writings I'm going to assume that this is several hundred years after The Cold Equations, when humanity has once again achieved some rudimentary space travel capabilities. Lance Parkin's AHistory places this story sometime between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 AD. He also believes that this story may precede the post-Earth civilization shown in The Sun Makers.

Continuity: This story takes place between The Invasion and the Krotons. There's no indication where this occurs with respect to other stories set within this gap. The Doctor and Jamie refer to the battle of Culloden (see The Highlanders). Zoe refers to encounters with The Daleks (see Fear of the Daleks), The Cybermen (see The Wheel in Space and The Invasion), and the Quarks (see The Dominators).

Canonicity Quotient: This story asks us to squint our eyes and pretend that much of the characterization in Doctor Who is wrong. The original unamde script has the Doctor saying that a woman's place is in the kitchen. Even though for this audio they moved those lines to Jamie, I can't imagine him actually saying that after the adventures he's been through. Then we've got the spankings to cure Zoe of her brainwashing. It's hard to differentiate what's in bad taste and what's a contradiction but in any event it's fairly clear that this doesn't fit in with the established canon. 0.75

Discussion: I was very surprised by this one and have absolutely no confusion as to why it wasn't made. Most of the "sexual politics" in this one were already obsolete by 1969 and in today's climate it seems like even more of an immature relic from a previous age. The story also suffered from a surfeit of physical humor, which is hard to realize in audio. Some scenes, like the shower scene where the Doctor and Jamie have to go through fully clothed and are only later revealed in their suits which are either to large or to big is a gag that I can fully see being done in the show and can really imagine well. Others where you're describing the Doctor jumping and capering about really aren't so funny to hear described. What really seems strange in this story is that in previous attempts at comedy Who like The Romans and the Mythmakers you also had some good drama to intercut with the comedy. The villains were deadly and ruthless so that it heightened the comedy when it came. Not so, for Prison in Space which really seemed to be a straight comedy where its all laughs with no danger. If this had been made I think that this would have been an incredibly hollow experience to view. Sure the viewer may have laughed a bit but there was no real bite and I'm not sure that it would have been memorable.

The other main problem with this story IMHO is the setting. The best Who is able to conjure an entire world through a few characters, lines, and sets but this future Earth is fraying at the edges. Its placement is already difficult, needing to have a period over around 100 years or so where they have flying cars and seem to regard the idea of travelers from space as preposterous. It implies a 21st century placement but in the 60's it would have been hard to shoehorn it in there as Zoe knows nothing of Chairman Babs and she was not in evidence during Enemy of the world as well. I suppose it could be around 2050-2150 or so if you give an earlier place for Wheel in Space as the production team at the time may well have done. Male emancipation would be just in time for the Dalek invasion in that case. Yet, we get no real details about how or why all of this occurred. The ending gives the impression that Chairman Babs was just jilted to many times and decided as a result to take over the world to get her revenge on them. It seems to run counter to the whole message of the piece, which is that men and women need to work together to achieve happy world whereas instead Babs seems to be bitter just because she doesn't have a man and could only achieve happiness if she could find the Doctor. There also isn't any reason, however flimsy that is ever given for this to have happened. Other science fiction series that I've seen that have done a world run by women at least tries to justify it by showing gender differences and casting the male differences in the negative. Like "men can't be in control because they're to aggressive." Here men are just "inferiors" because Babs says so and there appears to be no question of the correctness of the statement or of her authority until the Doctor shows up. We also get no impression of what the male life is like here. We meet a few in prison but learn nothing really. Babs and co seem to think it sandalous that Zoe would even be near the Doctor and Jamie meaning what that men live in segregated communities? No procreation happens at all just because the women live longer? Surely someone must have realized how short sighted that view is. Something would have to be done about it eventually and besides with how everyone seems to "hook up" after Babs is dethroned I think it would be difficult for Babs to have restrained so many people for so long. The whole thing is absurd.

The regulars as always act their brains off to give us a good product. Fraser and Wendy are wonderful in this. Zoe doesn't get a whole lot to do in this one which is a shame but Wendy does a good job here of pitching her voice up and getting a lot of that Zoe feel back into the story. Fraser as has often been mentioned is superb and recapturing both Jamie and the Doctor. My only gripe is that script writers need to give him a pause between the two performances. When he has to go from being the Doctor to Jamie his Jamie suddenly sounds like the Doctor. I don't think that it happens the other way but when the Doctor speaks first every time he switches to Jamie it sounds wrong. I don't think that he can get back higher again at the drop of a hat. Susan Brown does a fair job as Chairman Babs but the character is such a caricature that its really hard to evoke a performance that makes her in any way believable.

In the end, I just don't think that this story works. Its not the fault of Simon Guerier. He tried to stay close to the original story and I just don't think that original story works. I shudder to think what the original would have been like. If the Doctor says things like a woman's proper place is in the kitchen its just an embarasing line in general and it would have really alterred the way that the Doctor was perceived then and now. Moving things to Jamie helped a little but it still doesn't help the core problem that this story doesn't really say anything other than that women should know their place and tries to dress that up in a comedy where the Doctor and co just happen to be there. Hopefully we aren't going to see The Return of Chairman Babs in a future story...

Final Rating: 4/10

Recommendation: One of the most unfunny comedies that I've ever been exposed to, Prison in Space will shock you with its level of misogyny before underwhelming you with verbal descriptions of physical humor. I can imagine some of this getting made on screen but not much. Chairman Babs is a ridiculous villain. While the idea of a world where gender roles are reversed is prime material for sci-fi the opportunity to actually tell a story that uses this as a forum to discuss gender issues on Earth is completely squandered. This is one of the dullest audio stories that I've listened to for Doctor Who. I definitely recommend skipping it.
Tags: ark in space, audio drama, cold equations, destroyers, dick sharples, doctor who, dominators, drowned world, fear of the daleks, fraser hines, guardian of the solar system, highlanders, home truths, invasion, jamie mccrimmon, krotons, lost stories, mysterious planet, prison in space, season 6, second doctor, simon guerrier, sontaran experiment, wendy padbury, wheel in space, zoe heriot

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