Doctor Who Audio Review: Live 34
Written by: James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown
Directed by: Gary Russel
Featured Doctor: The Seventh (Sylvester McCoy)
Featured Companions: Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Hex (Philip Olivier)
This here is something new I’m going to be doing. I love Doctor Who, I love the Doctor Who audio dramas by the company Big Finish, I want to talk about them and if by doing so I get other people to try them, better still. Today, I’m going to review a Seventh Doctor Audio Drama that I just now finished (like, around a minute before I started writing) called “Live 34”.
The pitch is relatively simple: The Doctor helps take down a dictatorship on a space colony called Colony 34. The execution on the other hand, is much more interesting.
“Live 34” is told entirely through the local radio news channel called, you guessed it, Live 34. We get to hear not just the main news, but other things such as the weather or special reporting segments, but we are always firmly entrenched in the perspective of Live 34. This isn’t exactly a ground breaking concept, since we’ve seen many shows with episodes using these sorts of gimmicks before (Doctor Who’s even done it with episodes like “Blink”, “Love and Monsters” and “Sleep No More”), but the thing that makes this episode stand out is the way the story comes together with the concept.
A story about overthrowing a dictatorship is nothing new, but they’re usually seen from the resistance’s point of view. The main character in these sorts of stories, starts realizing that the system is evil, joins up with the resistance, defeats the bad government (or not, depending on the themes) and finito la commedia. But what about the people who have nothing to do with it either way?
Because, although the Government of Colony 34 is a dictatorship, it isn’t overtly fascistic, and most of the people aren’t scavenging around for food or living in squalor. From everything we see, if you keep your head down and go about your business, you can live a perfectly normal life, win a good wage and live decently, like the journalists of Live 34.
Except one day, you might start asking questions.
Why has the Premier been postponing the elections for 20 years?
What are all these rumors about monsters?
Why do we still have all of these emergency measures against no enemy in particular?
Then, your program starts getting censored, your colleagues start disappearing and the evidence mounts that maybe your government isn’t quite as “open” and “benevolent” as it may once have appeared.
“Live 34” is a story about a revolution seen from the margins, horrors glimpsed just behind the caring smile of a charismatic state figure that couldn’t possibly be a dictator because, after all, he does still allow for journalists… provided, of course, they don’t ask too many questions.
Now, I’ll fully admit that I’m a little biased towards this story, because I’ve always been fascinated by these types of “reserved dictatorships” I suppose you could call them, given my country’s history.
In case you haven’t heard, I’m Portuguese and, in Portugal, we had a little thing called “Estado Novo” (roughly translated into “The New State”), a dictatorship that lasted from 1933 to 1974, and I can tell you that a lot of the things in “Live 34” rang a few bells from everything I’ve learned about the “Estado Novo”. A charismatic leader that stokes fears about “the others”, a secret police going around punishing and torturing dissidence and the promises of “fair” and “democratic” elections (or, as Salazar put them, “as democratic as in democratic England”) were telltale signs I was more than familiar with, and the only things missing were the colonies and the appeals to nationalism and traditionalism.
That’s not to say that everything in this audio drama was perfect, no matter how much it directly appealed to me. The story lasts just under 2 hours, and you can tell that there are a couple of places that maybe needed more time. The last steps of The Doctor’s plan, for example, are executed entirely off screen (or audio, in this case) and another character who had nothing to do with the Resistance, by the end seems to be completely engrained in it without much explanation. Maybe if we had an extra episode, it could have intertwined both of these and made the whole thing a bit more coherent.
As for the more practical stuff, all the acting was spectacular from Sylvester McCoy’s booming speeches to the radio-style voices of all of Live 34’s journalists. As you can imagine from the concept, this story takes on a little bit of a different audio landscape from most others given that a lot of the audio is meant to be recorded like it’s an interview, mostly outside during skirmishes or bad weather. It does this rather well, with things usual mic problems that you’d see in an interview and the jingles for all the programs, adding the necessary realism to the story and convincing you that it’s an actual radio program. If I had one tiny nitpick I noticed, it’s that in one moment, characters go from the outside where it’s raining, to the inside of a car, but the rain sounds exactly the same, instead of sounding more muffled.
Nevertheless, “Live 34”’s experimental structure not only makes it a fun listen, but also a very interesting look into the margins of a dictatorship. For a lot of you, this might even give you some insight on how people can just let these sort of authoritarian governments come about and you may even see a couple of things that make you go “Now wait a minute, where have I heard that before?”. If you’ve never listened to any of the Big Finish audio stories, this is as good place to start as any, and I give it my full recommendation.