Big Finish: Doctor Who The Lost Stories - THE DOOMSDAY CONTRACT Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who The Lost Stories - THE DOOMSDAY CONTRACT Review

Tony reads the small print.
Many writers, when they come to write Doctor Who, bring their own unique universe with them, and essentially give the Doctor a sojourn in that space. In Robert Holmes’ universe, there were strongly-written pairs of rogues with hearts of gold skulking behind every rock. In Eric Saward’s universe, you’ll find Terileptils, tinclavic and an alcoholic drink called voxnic all popping up with implausible regularity, irrespective of whether the stories deal with missing twins or resurrecting Daleks.

Then there’s Douglas Adams.

Douglas Adams was script editor of Doctor Who for Season 17 – the season of disco robots in a flying teacup, multiple Mona Lisas and a one-eyed, many-bodied alien, a fluorescent sentient testicle in a pit, walking drug stashes popping out of pictures, and the interrupted but subsequently endlessly remade Shada, involving space prisons, dementing Time Lords at Cambridge, a very remarkable book, and a villain with no dress sense and a beach ball of death.

That right there is a very definite mood. A very individualistic universe. Whether you love it or hate it more or less determines the ‘kind’ of Doctor Who fan you are. When Adams and producer Graham Williams were replaced, they were replaced by either a team who wanted to be less silly, or a bunch of po-faced beige-brains who thought mathematics made for gripping sci-fi – again, depending on which side of the divide you stand.

You’re going to really need to be a pro-Adams/Williams to enjoy The Doomsday Contract.

That’s hardly surprising. It was originally written by John Lloyd – Adams’ equal and uncredited co-writer for some of the initial Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy radio show, and his out-and-out co-writer on the equally batty ‘Meaning of Liff’ – a dictionary of experiences for which no words currently exist. It was a story in fact commissioned by Adams himself, and so, make no mistake about it, if you’re an Adams/Lloyd fan, you’re going to get a lot out of the new adaptation of Lloyd’s script by Nev Fountain – himself no slouch in bringing the comedy to Doctor Who and using it to devastating effect.

If you’re anything but a fan of Adams and Lloyd’s universe, where a couple of Goonish lines can take an outright absurdity and turn it into an obvious reality, you may be grinding your teeth by the time you get to the end of this one.

Basic premise? The Doctor is summoned as an expert witness in an intergalactic courtroom, to provide testimony that there is intelligent life on Earth. Why? Because the Earth has been under an ecological preservation order which is up for renewal. If there’s no intelligent life there, the order can be lifted and the Earth can be turned into luxury flats by a deeply unscrupulous businesscreature with more tentacles than principles.

Ironically, there are also plans for the planet by some ecological do-gooding folk (headed, naturally enough, by former big game hunter turned green advocate, Smilax (Paul Panting)). And, just to complete the triangle of impossible pressures, if the Doctor testifies that he has evidence of intelligent life on Earth, he will have to admit to having been there during the period while the preservation order was in force. The penalty for which is immediate vaporization.

Like lots of the best Doctor Who, it’s a satire on bureaucracy and its dread power, and like some of the best John Lloyd/Douglas Adams work, it takes something very simple and expands it to a universal size so it can assume the full power of its folly.

Does it…work?

Yes. And no. Probably at the same time.

On the one hand, putting the Fourth Doctor in a courtroom setting is always going to be a funny thing to do – he objects to the lawyers for whom he’s appearing (notably the much-put-upon Tragacanth, played by Jenny Spark with deliciously increasing infuriation), cites a yo-yo as proof of intelligent Earth life, only to discover it’s made in Alpha Centauri, harangues the sleepy, lunch-addicted judge (played by audio Avengers’ Steed, Julian Wadham), and milks the situation for all the comedy that’s in it.

The ostensible villain of the piece, the enigmatic Mr Skorpios, played by Richard Laing, naturally does the ostensible villain thing and sends assassins after the Doctor the moment it begins to look like he might have evidence of intelligent life on the planet. Cue an interesting, but never entirely successful parade of threats. The first and most ongoing threat is a gang of creepy monster children, who think they’re bringing you to life when in fact from your point in relationship to space-time, they’re killing you stone dead. Which is difficult to explain before they get their mitts on you.

Then there are the assassins who, if they fail in their duties, go off and kill themselves by way of penance. There are deadly fish who may be vicious but who do at least have a nose for good wine, and would much rather be drinking than stripping the flesh from your bones, no matter what the stereotypes say. There’s a stroke of science fiction genius here too, when the Doctor and K9 end up in a witness protection micro-universe – a mini-Matrix, if you will. And those who enjoyed the absurdity of Douglas Adams’ Golgafrinchans – a society made up of nothing but marketing people, middle managers, hairdressers and telephone sanitizers – there’s a treat in store when you meet a famous lost jury who, rather than return a verdict which was prejudiced in favour of verifiable fact, naffed off into a netherworld, to exist as bunches of pixels in a never-ending state of indecision.

And don’t get us started about the endangered feathered lizards. Really. Or the machine which makes a cup of a substance almost, but not entirely unlike…coffee.

If all this sounds like a right old romp around an Adamsesque universe while pouring on the satire against bureaucracy, courtroom procedure, big business, green interest groups and fake news – get yourself a copy of The Doomsday Contract, and laugh your tentacles off.

If it sounds too zany for your blood – it’s one you should probably avoid, because the description of it here is merely a snapshot of the storyline.

In audio, it has the attention-span and the energy of a pinball, as you try to cling on to story-threads that tangle, intersect, and just occasionally feel like they have no place in the same story.

There’s a logic to that – Nev Fountain has done his best to maintain as much of the Lloyd original as possible. Except the Lloyd original is actually a plural thing, as there were two full outlines – each of which had a different assassination-threat in it, both of which were ultimately deemed impractical or insensitive. Both threats are in this version, and the need for them both feels underproved, so you might well find yourself going ‘What?’ quite a lot. Though in all fairness to Fountain, you’d probably have found yourself going ‘What?’ a lot at whichever version of Lloyd’s original had made it to your TV screen.

In a sense then, what you have here is a modernized, amalgamated version of two drafts of a story outline, by probably one of the best writers ever to come this close to getting a Doctor Who story made without ever quite getting there. It’s interesting that Jon Lloyd himself was invited to adapt his original ideas into a Lost Stories recording around…8 years ago, when the Lost Stories were coming to what seemed like a natural end. When it came about that there were going to be some new Lost stories released this far down the line, he demurred, and gave Nev Fountain his blessing to write the piece. For some listeners, there could be a sense that the script charges as every open door it can find, and pounds the comedy home a little hard, but it’s very much in the style of Hitch-Hiker’s comedy, and you have to do a lot wrong to mess that up. Neither Lloyd nor Fountain does that much wrong here, so you end up with a breathless but funny philosophical sprint through a handful of problems, all of which bridge the gap between the Lloyd/Adams universe and the more mainstream Doctor Who version.

The Doomsday Contract is a smart, fast, funny, more than a little screwball satire on a lot of irritating things, with the sense of a fictional universe of absurdity, chicanery, clashing impossible realities and often the little species in the middle getting squeezed. For those who loved the idea of the Earth being demolished to make a new hyperspace bypass, it’s a return to a universe which was, however briefly, entirely intertwined with the reality of Doctor Who, and as such, it’s both endangered and precious itself, and should be cherished.

For those who found the Adams/Williams era unbearably silly and wanted stories about real, hard science and how important it was, this one’s going to drive you spare. Best move along to a different audio universe where serious science applies.

Doctor Who: The Doomsday Contract is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 April 2021, and on general sale after this date.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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