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Doctor Who: Max Warp

March 9th, 2008 (09:04 pm)

Being an adventure of the eighth Doctor and Lucie, as portrayed by Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith; I haven't worked out a sufficiently elegant, yet practical, way of numbering the eighth Doctor audios.

Max Warp takes its name from the setting, an obvious translation of Top Gear to a spacefaring civilization, that of the humanoid (and probably human-descended) Varlan. The Varlans' neighbours and former enemies are a race of sponges, the Kith. The death of one of Max Warp's hosts, Timbo 'the Ferret' while test driving a Kith spacecraft (the parallels here are not subtle) arouses the suspicions of the newly-arrived Doctor. Unsurprisingly, someone wants to restart the Varlan-Kith conflict.

Lucie remarks towards the end that the story has more twists than Poirot, and the debts to Christie - or at least, as I've never read any, to the culturally-filtered idea of what a Christie should be like - are present, the Doctor hypothesising motives for each crime or attempted crime on the basis of the evidence avaiable and the personalities closes to the incident. Graeme Garden is Graeme Garden, but his characterization is, perhaps surprizingly, appropriate to the Jeremy Clarkson figure, Geoffrey Vantage; who is not as Clarkson-like as he initially appears. I did wonder if calling Vantage's expendable sidekick 'Timbo' was a homage too far, only drawing attention to the fact that Duncan James is not Tim Brooke-Taylor or like him - a monument to the hazards of metatext. The president's delivery was a little too arch to make comfortable listening.

Much of the setting reminded me of 1980s 2000AD - the descriptions early on reminded me of the collision between the superficial trappings of high technology and the fetishisation of what actually made things work which was a hallmark of much of what I remember from that comic. The aliens and androids indulging their mid-life crises by celebrating fuel-guzzling fast spaceships was a bit 2000AD too - aliens didn't get to be people that often in Doctor Who. The spindroids shadowing the politicians were another broad-brush contemporary reference but entertaining all the same; and there's something about a 'past' Doctor being involved in satirising contemporary trends which gives the satire more authority, the Ghost of Doctor Who Past rebuking the present.

Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith have developed a strong relationship for the Doctor and Lucie since I last heard them - in Horror of Glam Rock, early in the first season of their adventures - with Sheridan Smith delivering some potentially awkward stock boys-and-their-toys lines with aplomb. Paul McGann's Doctor has gained gravitas over the years; he remains enthusiastic but he's brought the Doctor's vocal range down a little and this lends him more authority than he displayed in the TVM. There's enough of the timeless open quality in his voice left though to be brought to effect when the Doctor's mind is running ahead of everyone else's - less gabbling, unlike the David Tennant Doctor, more leaps of imagination unchartable by humans and so not to be thought aloud.

Of course the TARDIS is the shed from which a man retreats from his family - specifically his wife, normally - to indulge in masculine hobbyism; this was made plain on television in Rose when Clive's shed was painted blue, like the TARDIS. So what of the young women who happily join the Doctor in his shed, and what fantasy might they represent?