Blurb: The Doctor, his companion Jo Grant and the Brigadier face their strangest case yet – a Saturday night TV show that has been invaded by aliens that look like puppets!
The Scorchies want to take over the world. They want to kill the Doctor. And they want to perform some outstanding showtunes. Though not necessarily in that order…
With Jo caught inside The Scorchies Show, can she save the day before the planet Earth falls victim to the dark side of light entertainment?
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the point-of-view of Jo Grant. Published by Big Finish Productions and released March of 2013.
Setting: Earth: London, England towards the end of the Doctor's exile, which I place in 1974.
Continuity: This story takes place between Planet of the Daleks and The Green Death. While this story could happen at any point after The Three Doctors, Companion Chronicles producer David Richardson indicated that this story happens immediately prior to the events of The Green Death and there's no reason not to honor that placement of the story. The Scorchies sing songs that refer to Azal (see The Daemons), Ogrons (see Day of the Daleks and Frontier in Space), Ice Lords (see The Curse of Peladon), Daleks (see Day of the Daleks and Planet of the Daleks), Axons (see The Claws of Axos), Autons (see Spearhead from Space and Terror of the Autons), and the Master (to many stories to name). They also mention the worlds of Solos (see The Mutants) and Metebelis III (see references in Carnival of Monsters and Frontier in Space). The device that the Doctor constructs to defeat the Scorchies is almost identical to the one that he built to interfere with the Master's time experiments (see The Time Monster).
Canonicity Quotient: The whole thing is a complete mess. Thematically it would have never happened in Doctor Who under the Letts/Dicks era but there aren't any contradictions per se. While there are loads of "plot issues" none of them contradict established continuity. 1.00
Discussion: I went into The Scorchies expecting something a little different. It sounded highly reminiscent of an episode of TV's Angel called "Smile Time". In that story as well as this one a bunch of children's show puppets take over a TV series and use it for their own nefarious purposes. The Angel story made me a believer, mostly because the dichotomy between the cast of "Smile Time" and the cast of Angel was using to good effect. Having the serious world of Angel interact with the absurd world of Smile Time lead to some genuine humor and the creatures while goofy had a plan that made sense. I was expecting something similar with this story, which was almost certainly inspired by the episode of TV's Angel, so I put it in my CD player with some anticipation.
After listening I can say that the story while having several problems committed one extremely serious sin. It wasn't funny. It wasn't funny at all. Part of the problem is that so much of this is a sight gag. In Angel part of the humor came from watching the regular cast with sawed-off shotguns blowing away various muppets and watching their stuffing falling out as if it were the blood and entrails of a human being. The dichotomy of that violent act with the sillyness of the object being a muppet made the whole thing very funny. The muppets having their hands up a human to control him was another funny sight gag. Some of this could have been converted to audio but we would have needed those sorts of elements in here. Instead we get some singing. I realize that the lyrics were designed to incorporate as many Doctor Who references as possible and that was probably a task in and of itself but they weren't particularly funny. I can tell from other reviews that some people just found the notion of muppets singing about the Doctor to be funny but I was hoping some humor was to be found in some of the songs themselves. It also doesn't help that the puppets in question don't really do anything bad in the whole story. We heard that they killed some people on their previous episode, which is what brought UNIT in the first place, but we don't even get a description of how the people died. Some combination of the absurd and the deadly might have lead to some humor but otherwise we just get told through this whole story about how the Scorchies do nasty things such as destroy planets but we never actually see it happen. We just hear the Magic Mice say "kill" a few times and that's about as bad as it gets other than the electrocution of the Doctor. Yet then again we miss the opportunity to make this story funny by giving the Doctor a far more absurd yet eerily deadly send off. A story like this needs to be funny to work. I had serious reservations about the Smile Time episode of Angel but it worked because it had a decent plot and because it was funny in a way that worked with the plot rather than subverting it. Here the Scorchies both subvert the plot and aren't funny, which is really as bad as it can get.
There are a lot of plot problems. Apparently the Scorchies have had guests on their show in the past and only recently did any of them die. So, how did that even happen? Did people honestly get on a show with no humans and only muppets and not question it? Their origin also leaves a lot to be desired. It's unclear if they traveled from their planet and materialized as animated muppets or if they exist as a telepathic force and they possess already existing muppets on the planet of their destination. Also we learn of a whole world that was evacuated in this manner but there's only about 10 or so Scorchies. Were they supposed to be all that was left, were the beings merged in some manner, or are there multiple groups of Scorchies running around? For that matter how does the Doctor find them familiar? Was he on a world destroyed by them? What is their plan exactly? We're told that they've got people brainwashed into watching the show and somehow they're going to destroy the world. They mention an activation signal. Is there a bomb somewhere? The Doctor bizarrely doesn't seem concerned about defusing it at the end. I really feel like this would have been a stronger story if the Scorchie show did something more like brainwash those watching it into becoming homicidal killers and they destroy worlds by turning everyone against each other. It would have worked better than the constant talk that there's an imminent threat and that the Scorchies are so horrible but we never actually see any of it. I'm also not to fond of the meta element of having Jo say "it's ok just this once to turn the channel to Space 1999". I get that the show is not considered to be a good one but it seems both out of character and far to light for the situation like Jo would care that people don't like the show if she's trying to save people. Yet this also brings up another plot flaw in that what does she think that it'll do to undo the Scorchie brainwashing? Everyone will still die when they blow up the world, so its not like the hypnosis really does anything other than give the Scorchies a warm feeling that they're terrorizing the population before they blow it up. Finally, how does the Doctor survive? He comes back controlling Amble and then Professor Baffle but no one ever says how he survives. Also, why does Professor Baffle suddenly turn bad at the end if he allowed the Doctor to possess him and end his creations in the first place? Some of these elements seem to be fundamental flaws of the story but a few could have been addressed, which is part of why I feel so negatively about this story. This was one of the shortest companion chronicles ever and if they'd just given it an extra 5-10 minutes they could have addressed some of these issue and made it an overall better story.
I will say that the saving grace of this story are the tremendous performances by Katy Manning and guest star Melvyn Hayes. They both do incredible work and create multiple characters and unless you know that it's only two voice artists you are easily fooled into believing that this a full cast audio play. Also on display is Jo's typical awesome performance as the third Doctor, which I adore and I'm glad to see her continue doing it. I also like the sound design on this one, especially the flashback music played on a real harp within the story and the sound of Professor Baffles head popping like someone popping the stuffing out of a pillow. The canned applause is a little "to fake" in a way that no TV show would have ever actually used but everything else works pretty well.
Final Rating: 3/10
Recommendation: A strange, demented, production but it was probably expected to be as an experiment. Unfortunately the story isn't really all that funny and with such a small runtime it fails to produce anything like a decent plot. The sound design is wonderful and the two actors are amazing at their craft but it isn't enough to save this story from just being a tedious slog. I recommend skipping it.