Doctor Who Live, Wembley Arena, London
Who can fill Wembley without turning up?
Sunday 17 October 2010
There are times when the die-hard, in-it-for-life, didn't-stop-watching-even-during-the-Bonnie-Langford-years Doctor Who fan has to pinch him or herself and ask whether the programme's current glory isn't some cruel perceptual trick.
A psychic projection from the Gallifreyan Matrix. A dream woven by the Morpho of Morphoton. A delicious snare devised by the gestalt beings of Xeriphas.
Doctor Who Live will produce a lot of small bruises on the arms of a lot of fortysomething men. It has a script, though it's not a play. It has music, though it's not a gig. It's more like a rally to celebrate the new cultural primacy of the series that inspires it. Fireworks explode, lasers sparkle, the band strikes up Murray Gold, a spaghetti-faced Ood countertenor sings and an audience of thousands yells its allegiance as if drilled by Leni Riefenstahl. The current Doctor, Matt Smith, issues prerecorded encouragement from a giant telescreen – and the cheers confirm him as the only performer in the country capable of filling Wembley without turning up.
The corporeal star of the show is a smirking Nigel Planer, who appears as an alien showman called Vorgenson. Vorgenson owns a menagerie of creatures that escape into the auditorium, species by deadly species. Silurians pop up from a hole in the stage. A Dalek levitates. Cybermen kill a member of the audience.
And between the walk-downs and the clips, a plot asserts itself. It's a sequel to "Carnival of Monsters" – a 1973 story in which Leslie Dwyer, the Punch and Judy Man from Hi-de-Hi!, causes chaos with a similar electronic zoo full of Ogrons, Drashigs and a bunch of 1920s humans obliged by a time loop to conduct an unending discussion about the dramaturgy of Lady Be Good.
Unlike the TV original, the arena spectacular is resolved by audience participation. Which makes it closer, I suppose, to a Doctor Who-themed episode of Seaside Special than the stage version of a television drama. If Norman Barrett and his performing budgies had come on to do a turn halfway through the second act, I would have applauded them as loudly as I applauded the dance of the Weeping Angels. And, entre nous, I think it all really happened. I think it really is touring the country. I think, frankly, that Xeraphin bioplasm had nothing at all to do with it. But if you discover anything to the contrary, don't wake me up.
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