The Sixth Doctor and Peri arrive on a mysterious space liner, where intergalactic policemen are investigating art thefts, a computer is suffering from a split personality and the Captain's disease threatens every living thing on the ship…In 1985 Doctor Who found itself on hiatus, so in an attempt to give fans something new during this time a radio story was made. Slipback was first broadcast in six episodes on BBC Radio 4 from 25th July to 8th August 1985, as part of a children's magazine show called Pirate Radio Four. It was later released on cassette and CD as part of the BBC Radio Collection.
Listening to Slipback conjures up memories of the worst stories of the Colin Baker era. This isn't Baker's or Nicola Bryant's fault though, as much as it is the fault of the writing and other actors. In short, Slipback is amongst the worst Doctor Who stories ever made.
Both Baker and Bryant manage to play Eric Saward's script as well as they can. In fact, they make Slipback worth listening to just to hear their chemistry together. Baker in particular seems to be a little more human and less arrogant then his TV performances in the role. Bryant plays the only really sane character, which gives her a chance to shine. They both do their best with the story.
The rest of the cast is a disappointment. Valentine Dyall as Captain Slarn (in his final role) is a real letdown, with some odd line delivery and a poor performance all around. Jane Carr seems to have fun in the dual role of the ship's computer with two personalities, but while the hidden personality is fine to listen to, the public voice of the computer is very annoying and, while meant to be humorous, it isn't in the least. The other characters are just there for the laughs and are really dumb... and that's being nice.
The main problem with Slipback is the writing. Eric Saward, the show's script editor and sometime writer, had done some good stories in his time (Earthshock, Revelation of the Daleks) but this is not one of them. In fact, this may be his worst piece of work on the series. The main story is perhaps the most improbable collection of characters and circumstances ever to be put together in a single Doctor Who adventure. The characters are bland and played for laughs to the point of annoyance, in particular the whole section featuring Dyall's Captain Slarn could have been left out without making a single difference to the story, considering he does absolutely nothing! Saward seems to have forgotten what makes Doctor Who work and instead creates, or rather tires to create, a poor man's version of Douglas Adams' classic Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. As I said, it's a poor man's version.
Is Slipback worth listening to? That depends on how much of a Doctor Who fan you are. If you're a casual fan, avoid this and listen to one of the Baker Big Finish stories or one of the other BBC audio adventures. If you're a die-hard fan of the series, then yes. But keep this in mind: listening to this is a really bad way to die. Slipback is perhaps the worst Doctor Who story ever and I do not recommend it.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.