There is a certain preconception of Fringe shows in general. Then there are preconceptions about musicals, and then there are preconceptions about Doctor Who themed shows. Small, low-budget, amateur productions to a dwindling audience who aren’t in the mood for recent drama school graduates being earnest, silly and dabbling with the meta-fictional.
It’s basically the McCoy era. Live. With less money.
Fortunately, I like the McCoy era. And if there’s one thing Doctor Who fans should understand, it’s that you can overcome a lack of budget with imagination. Thus we have I Need a Doctor.
I Need a Doctor is advertised as a Doctor Who musical, because its creators aren’t stupid. However, it isn’t just a loose collection of songs that reference Timeflight and Planet of the Ood. It’s cleverer than that. Its creators are aware of all the above preconceptions and set out to address them. It ends up being more about the people putting on the show (or fictional, exaggerated versions of them) than it does about Doctor Who. Rather, the show is providing a supporting framework and a hook for audiences. The actual meat of the show is about a delusional man going on a power trip via the medium of musical theatre, and his friend/companion failing to cope. If the Tenth Doctor met Tegan, perhaps.
That’s not to say there aren’t some good Doctor Who related jokes. There are a few tired observances about Daleks and staircases and so on, but there’s also some cheerful digs at actors, copyright infringements, and some of the Master’s more bewildering schemes. In the story, due to a cease and desist letter from Steve Moffat the musical has had to be rewritten at the last minute. The nearest comparison point I can think of is Hamlet 2, a film starring Steve Coogan as an egomaniac trying to put on a musical (featuring the memorably jaunty Rock Me Sexy Jesus). Here though, the performers are in on the joke.
Jamie Wilson-Taylor and Jessica Spray are engaging, and their script is clever. They lull you into thinking the story is going along clichéd routes before subverting it, and produce a few big laughs along the way. There are musical jokes, although possibly they could go further with that aspect by exploring leitmotifs, and the show’s incidental music. The only big let-down though is the ending, which is very pat and somewhat jarring with what’s gone before. It doesn’t fit with the characters, or make any comment about Doctor Who or musical theatre. It’s a shame because the set up suggests something interesting, and it just doesn’t deliver that.
Despite this, overall I Need a Doctor is a lot of fun. Self-aware, ambitious, imaginatively staged and accessible, it’s still at the point where it would benefit from further development. Hopefully by the end of their Fringe run they’ll have plenty more ideas to work with. In the meantime, it’s a fun and undemanding hour, pin-pointing the intersection on the Venn diagram of Doctor Who, Alan Partridge, and the power of musical theatre.
Read more about I Need A Doctor: The Unauthorised Whosian Adventure, here.
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