Review: Doctor Who!

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It’s been a good year for the Doctor Who fans of Durham university. Not only have our television screens at last been graced by a full series of Ncuti Gatwa’s 15th Doctor, but more importantly, Doctor Who! is being brought to Durham University’s Assembly Rooms Theatre for Ooook! Productions’ annual sitcom. I think we all know what Doctor Who is, right? Time-and space-travelling oddball fights off monsters and aliens, aided by his roster of companions? Most iconic British programme ever?  Then we’re good to go.  

The episodes on which this production focuses most are Partners in Crime and The Runaway Bride, the two interwoven in a very fitting, timey-wimey fashion. The former sees the Doctor and companion Donna investigating Adipose Industries’ mysterious new weight loss pills, which convert fat into swarms of adorable little monsters. The latter sees the pair take on Robot-Santas and malevolent giant arachnid, the Empress of the Racnoss, after the duo first meet when Donna mysteriously materialises in the Doctor’s TARDIS. It’s a bold show to adapt for a student production at the best of times, but these episodes in particular must have been a formidable task.  

This play consistently raises the bar of the quality of staging that a student show can achieve

Expectations are high as Murray Gold’s iconic rendition of the classic theme blasts through the speakers as the stage curtains rise. Bit by bit, the TARDIS is revealed, lights pulsating as it materialises into London, earning a collective gasp from the audience. It’s a thing of beauty; 3D, life-sized, and painstakingly painted. This must be where all the budget for the show has gone, I think to myself. How wrong I am – this play consistently raises the bar of the quality of staging that a student show can achieve. I will later discover that even better than the TARDIS’ exterior is the TARDIS’ console. It’s masterfully, intricately crafted, the time rotor lined with green LEDs and bubbling water which really give the illusion that it’s a working time machine. Even the everyday sets are impressive – the moon that hangs from the sky as Wilf stargazes, or the tortuously detailed offices of Adipose Industries, constructed with the speed and efficiency of a professional production (seriously, shout-out to the stagehands). 

The costumes only add to the sense of disbelief that this play has been produced on a student budget. Undoubtedly, the standout is the Empress of the Racnoss, played by Emilia Lewis. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say this costume looks the quality of one used in the West End’s The Lion King or Spirited Away. Twitching spider’s legs protrude from a great red arachnid body, evoking laughter and disgust simultaneously. The Robot-Santa costumes are less complicated but equally convincing and the Adipose (which appear to be composed of stuffed socks with a face drawn on them?) are consistently a great source of comedy. 

It’s a script fans of the show will adore, with Easter eggs peppered in left right and centre

In terms of performances, the cast had huge shoes to fill – David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Bernard Cribbins – even just taking on a role was admirable.  gives a powerful performance as the 10th Doctor, with enough originality to feel fresh, but enough of a likeness to Tennant to feel consistent with the character.  gives a nuanced performance as Donna Noble and ’s energetic performance as Wilfred Mott is a heartfelt love letter to late-great Bernard Cribbins, who passed away last year.  is amazingly dislikeable as both the slimy Miss Foster and the evil Empress of the Racnoss.

’s script tastefully adapts the chosen episodes – remaining loyal to the source material while also breathing new life into the stories through original jokes and new characters such as Tom, as played by Laurie Davidson, who is a primary source of laughter. It’s a script fans of the show will adore, with Easter eggs peppered in left right and centre. Non-fans will have a great time too, though, thanks to wonderful staging, costumes and performances, though the specifics of the plot may be lost on them. 

It’s a shame Doctor Who! may not attract audiences as large as it would have been were it staged earlier in the term, because this show is a total blast, with effects that I would previously have thought simply impossible on a student budget.

Image credit: Carrie Via Ooook! Productions

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