Wil straps on his filtration mask...
It's early 1993 and Doctor Who is about to celebrate its 30th Anniversary. Currently the BBC has nothing planned. What do you do?
Well if your filmmaker Bill Baggs the answer is you gather 4 former Doctors and produce an ambitious environmental thriller on a budget of (seemingly) about 250 quid.
BBV (Bill & Ben Video) started producing Doctor Who related material in 1991, when the first of The Stranger series was released. These direct-to-video stories began as very Doctor Who-ish type adventures in everything but name. They featured Colin Baker as the Stranger, assisted by Miss Brown (Nicola Bryant - Peri Brown from Doctor Who), and many other people connected to Doctor Who, including Sophie Aldred (Ace), Michael Wisher (Davros) and Louise Jameson (Leela). Released at a time when Doctor Who was in its wilderness years and fans where desperate for any new material, they slowly began to find their own direction, the Stranger became Solomon and the stories became more and more intricate. The turning point was the third film, In Memory Alone. Released in early 1993, this story was written by and featured Nicholas Briggs, with The Airzone Solution to be his next collaboration with Baggs.
With The Stranger series gaining quite a large cult following the logical thing to do to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Doctor Who would be to provide a multi-Doctor Stranger style adventure, but Baggs and Briggs came up with something entirely different. Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy were all given the chance to show something different, and by the look of the end result the relished the opportunity.
The Airzone Solution is set in a futuristic Britain (which looks remarkably like 1993) where pollution has reached the point where the populace
must often wear filtration masks when they venture outside - à la Michale Jackson. AirZone is a
powerful corporation who signs a lucrative deal with the government to combat
with the problem. The public is told that AirZone plans to build giant
filtration plants to clean the atmosphere, but environmentalists are
skeptical, especially when people begin dying and disappearing around
AirZone facilities. Eventually the corporation propose an altogether different solution.
Colin Baker plays TV weatherman Arnold "Archie" Davies. In the role, Baker shows off an almost perfect blending of comedic and dramatic abilities as he goes from lowly weatherman to environmental crusader. It's this turn here in The Airzone Solution where Baker finally gets the chance to prove once and for all to every Doctor Who fan that he is more then just the colorful jester version of the Doctor - he is a serious actor with some serious ability. Of course Big Finish would give Baker plenty of chance to shine, but that was many years off.
Colin Baker isn't the only one to step out from his shadow though. Sylvester McCoy plays Anthony Stanwick, the tireless activist/reluctant ally to Davies, and he shows off his ability to convince anyone of strange things being real. Peter Davison, who plays reporter Al Dunbar whose ghostly appearances send Davies on his quest, shows off a more serious and frustrated side of his acting abilities. Last, but not least, is Jon Pertwee who pops in every so often to give commentary and words of wisdom as Dunbar's mysterious mentor. Each proves to be more then just the Doctor of their respective TV era's.
The supporting cast is just as good. Nicola Bryant and Michael Wisher bring to life two curious characters who help to push the story along. The former Doctors are further supported by the venomous performances of Bernadette Gepheart and the soon to be discovered Alan Cumming. Rounding out the cast is Nicholas Briggs himself, playing Sam Flint, the news editor with divided loyalties.
Considering the low budget of The Airzone Solution it is still quite effective. From the opening shots of Dunbar's documentary to the climatic scene at the trade convention, all of it works thanks to the strong script, tight direction and quality of actors. It might not be the 30th Anniversary special that most Doctor Who fans would've wanted but I'll take The Airzone Solution over Dimensions In Time in a heartbeat. And you can always pretend there were a collection of fob watches involved if that helps!
Geek. Lover. Fighter. Dwarf. Follow Wil on Twitter.