Doctor Who – “The Rapture”

Ibiza, 1997, and thousands of young people are acting like mindless zombies.

Which is to be expected. Ibiza, the island of dance music, sex, drugs and alcohol, is the ultimate hedonistic paradise.

God has sent help from on high to save the sinners of Ibiza. He has sent His angels to save their souls.

Which would be simple enough if these souls didn’t include an alien time-traveller working in a bar, a woman who disappeared in 1987, a young man carrying a photograph of a girl he’s never met and an Irish girl who doesn’t even know who she is anymore.

Sylvester McCoy is the Doctor in…The Rapture.

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor)
Sophie Aldred (Ace)
Tony Blackburn (The DJ)
David John (Liam McShane)
Matthew Brenher (Jude)
Neil Henry (Gabriel)
Carlos Riera (Gustavo)
Anne Bird (Caitriona/Shazza)
Daniel Wilson (Brian)
Jeremy James (Bouncer/Clubber)

Written By: Joseph Lidster
Directed By: Jason Haigh-Ellery

TRAILER –…the-rapture-202



If there is something to admire about the Rapture it’s that it is trying something new. But it also feels like the result of a party game of ‘World’s Worst’ and the category was ‘Places to set a Doctor Who story’. – The_Doctor, “Doctor Who: Honestly, Sydney, they’re *not* bug-eyed monsters at all!”

In the end, no matter how revolutionary a concept is, no matter how brilliant a story idea is, no matter how neat or progressive a plot point might be, a play needs three things to really work; good acting, a good script, and good direction.

With those three things, even the most boring and cliché script can be pulled off, landing somewhere between “passable,” swerving along side of “halfway-decent,” and coming up to tailgate just being “pretty good.” Anything else is just window dressing. Music can make or break a production, special effects can jazz things up, and good word-of-mouth can provide a level of “if everyone else liked it, then I like it too,” but in the end, it’s all just wrapping paper that can either be a pretty little bow on top of a gift, or a way to hide the cracks and flaws that permeate the production.

The Rapture could have been something. The seeds for a good story dealing with teenage angst and depression, with one of the main characters coping with a horrible tragedy, set against a background that allows one to forget their worries and ignore their problems, and sprinkling in those who would take advantage might have added up to one cracker of a story. Sadly, what the listener gets are poor villains, characterization problems, a whole lot of shouting instead of acting, attempts as drama falling short, and lack of a strong director, all adding up to the weakest Big Finish story since Minuet in Hell.

The death of Feldwebel Kurtz at the end of Colditz is still weighing heavily on Dorothy’s “Ace” McShane’s mind. She asks the Doctor to have a night off from saving the universe; to go to a place where nothing evil lurks, where no plots need foiled or dastardly villains scheme. The Doctor’s response is to take her to Ibiza, an island off the Spanish coast well known for its nightlife which centers around electronic music. As Dorothy meets several other teenagers and attempts to dance her worries away, the Doctor reconnects with his friend Gustavo. But when the DJ’s at the Rapture, Ibiza’s hottest new nightclub, proclaim to be angels looking to uplift the young clubgoers, the Doctor finds himself getting involved once again, despite his promises to Dorothy to not go looking for trouble. Trouble, however, is looking for Dorothy, in the form of a young man who knows her name, and carries a picture of her…

Joseph Lidster has written several highly received scripts for Big Finish, including Master, Terror Firma, and The Reaping/The Gathering. The Rapture is his first effort for Big Finish, and it’s amazing that Lidster goes from a poor quality script such as this one to stuff that’s better by leaps and bounds. The opening quote for this review sums up one of the major problems with the story, mainly that, in the end, this isn’t a Who story by any stretch of the imagination. Sex, drugs, and music is a far cry from anything Doctor Who has touched before, either on television or in the audio range, and setting a story like this on a place like Earth…it could have worked in terms of “even the familiar can be strange,” but the fact that it was Earth barely ties into the plot save for a few mentions of the Spanish Civil War. Now, throw in religious overtones with Gabriel and Jude as DJ’s claiming to be angels, and you’ve got something that simply isn’t Doctor Who. The “twist” is kind of neat, with regards to the antagonist’s plan, but even then, it’s kind of laughable and doesn’t come off well at all.

The other problem with this story is how it’s written. It’s a story that takes place in the late 90’s, with concepts from the early 90’s, released in 2002. This story, with electronic music and drug use, is straight out of the late 90’s. But instead of being written by someone who had some inkling of what happened during that era, it’s like a moral guardian like Mary Whitehouse or Jack Chick wrote a story about what they thought went on at raves, turning everything up to 11, muttering “these kids dancing around, getting sweaty, getting close, drinking and doing drugs, probably thinking about sex, Christ I need laid” I mean, before listening to The Rapture, I never thought I’d hear Sylvester McCoy describing angel dust to someone. And apparently, dancing will lead to hypnotic trances which will lead to being spirited away in the night, never to be seen again…and if you do drugs just once, you’ll have a complete mental breakdown and become open to brainwashing. Roger Delgado preserve us, it’s so heavy handed…

Sylvester McCoy is my Doctor, having grown up with him and Sophie Aldred for a few months on PBS before the plug was pulled in the late 80’s. And while he’s given some absolutely smashing performances in The Fearmonger and The Fires of Vulcan, here, McCoy just tears through the script, and acts as if shouting is the only way to show anger or desperation. As opposed to Davison, Baker, or McGann, McCoy’s performances have been up and down, with stories like The Shadow of the Scourge and The Genocide Machine as the low points so far. With The Rapture, McCoy comes off like this is the first time he’s reading the script, forgoing any attempt at nuance or understatement and simply shaking with rage for most of the play’s running time. With some much needed direction (I feel like McCoy’s the Doctor who needs just a little bit of extra instruction from the director in order to get the best performance), we could have had a quiet Doctor who enjoyed a little bit of time off, just handing out drinks with his friend Gustavo and chilling out for a bit before events pull him in, as they always do. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have the Seventh Doctor as their bartender? But when McCoy is involved, aside from a scene where he sneaks past the bouncer with the old “hey, what’s over there” trick, his Doctor just comes off as old, cranky, bitter, and out-of-touch.

This audio was a chance to really define Dorothy “Ace” McShane for Big Finish. Coming off of the devastating events of Colditz, an audio where she realizes that traveling with the Doctor means there really are no days off from fighting evil could have been one of the high points of Sophie Aldred run with Big Finish. Instead, what we get is a performance that belonged on one of the earl seasons of Hollyoaks. Aldred, mother of two, is asked to play a teenager trying to figure out her place in the universe with a Time Lord at her side. Teenagers have it bad enough without that added stress, especially with Dorothy’s deliquent backstory from the TV series. While Ace is a character who definitely needs to “grow up” in order to “catch up” with the older Aldred (much like how, in a few audios, Nyssa will disappear and reappear with the Fifth Doctor, having matured in the mean time in order to match up with Sarah Sutton’s older voice), this serial is a case of “tell, don’t show” in that regard. Dorothy either mopes about, yells everything at the Doctor save “you’re not my real Dad,” and stomps about Ibiza when things don’t go her way. Now, there’s acting like a typical teenager, and then there’s going way overboard. Again, a little bit of direction and guidance could have tempered the performance and improved the story a bit. But instead, it’s the late 80’s all over again, with the distress and conflict badly written and coming off as over-the-top and comical. It’s not until Hex shows up in The Harvest that Dorothy moves from the “trouble teenager” role into the “big sister” role, a part Aldred is MUCH better suited for.

I wish I could speak well of the secondary cast, who can lift a serial if the main pairing is having a spot of trouble. But there’s nary a likeable one in the entire bunch. Neil Henry as Gabriel, the quiet, childlike angel, is the only highlight in the bunch. In the end, the story is about him and his music. Why his music has such an effect on people and how it came to pass it well done, and Gabriel comes off as touched, but troubled thanks to Henry’s performance. If only his fate lived up to everything else about him, but it just doesn’t carry any emotional weight or resonance. His brother Jude, played by Matthew Brehner, has one of the most sudden and dues ex machine villainous breakdowns in the fourth episode, serving only to highlight and force a dramatic climax. Before that, he’s charming, suave, and ruthless, but the reasoning for his actions falls a bit flat; if he wants to save people, why is he trying to kill them as well? When the heel turn hits, the listener just shrugs, because it’s seen coming from a kilometer away. Gustavo, played by Carlos Riera, is the Doctor’s long time friend, but aside from “he saved me during the (Spanish Civil) War,” we really don’t get anything from the relationship. When his part is revealed, it’s almost like something from an episode of Scooby-Doo, in a “oh, yeah, we need something here, let’s pick a secondary character and put him into the plot hole.”

Anne Bird is Catriona. She’s a friend of Liam’s and, according to him and everyone else, incredibly depressed, so she dances and does drugs to compensate (thank you, again, Mary Whitehouse). Constant mood changes, lashing out and then clutching to Liam and then Gabriel, all sounding like she’s reading right from the script. Once again, this could have been an important character that introduces depression as a serious issue, but it just comes off again as “depression because the script says so.”

David John is Catriona’s friend, Liam…and Dorothy’s long lost brother. John played in the final TV serial of the classic series, Survival, so there should be chemistry with Sophie Aldred of some sort. But forget Hollyoaks, Liam’s reveal of his blood relation to Dorothy and their subsequent screaming match is pure Eastenders, and I found it laughable. Liam is Ace’s younger brother by 4 years, and when he was an infant, their mom had an affair, so her dad just picked up Liam and walked out…and Ace, who was FOUR YEARS OLD at the time, forgot all about her younger brother.

If I may channel Gorilla Monsoon here for a second…will you stop?

It’s ham-fisted soap opera writing that ruined the entire moment. Dorothy’s back story is a mess as is, with the Virgin New Adventures turning her into a Space Marine, but Big Finish keeping her as the troubled teen and adding in a completely new character in such a poor manner doesn’t even give the poor bastard a chance. He spends the rest of the serial beating himself up for driving Dorothy away and alternately rejecting and trying to save Catriona. And the best (worst) part is, this is Liam’s ONLY appearance with Big Finish. As I said, when Hex shows up in The Harvest, he’s a much better brother to Dorothy, even without the blood relation. Liam never even gets out of the starting block and is nothing more than a footnote.

Now, there is one good thing about The Rapture. The music is fantastic. Each episode opens with a dance remix of the Doctor Who theme, and they’re very well done. Famed British DJ Tony Blackburn plays himself, providing exposition and a bit of recap with each episode, and it’s funny that the guy playing himself is indeed the best actor in this play! The Big Finish crew, led by Jim Mortimore and Jane Elphinstone, are at the top of their game. For the flaws of the play, they put you ON Ibiza and IN the Rapture night club, and even in the quiet seaside cave with Gabriel prays for salvation comes alive with lapping waves and the distant cry of seagulls. A lot of the faint praise for The Rapture goes to the end of the second episode, where a mix of music and landscape blur and crash together to represent Catriona’s breakdown in a hectic cacophony of sound. It’s very well done, with Tony Blackburn providing the stinger at the final drop.

But it comes back to the script. And this script attempts to be Psychology 101, with discussions on depression and co-dependence that go nowhere other than “she’s depressed” and “she’s co-dependent.” With the right dialogue, these matters could have not only been discussed in a respectful and unique manner, but also have added some emotional gravitas to everything. But instead, they’re only words added in to serve as bridge between lines of dialogue instead of a script that deals with young people coping with problems. From a writer’s standpoint, it’s frustrating. While Doctor Who is never going to be held up as classical literature or high drama, a script from someone who is as big as fan of the show as Joseph Lidster deserved the topics to be treated seriously and not simply serve as character traits. And for the cherry on top is that the big climax of the story, for a serial with such fever pitch when it comes to music, is ten minutes of people shouting at one another and the final push is a big letdown. For a script with “adult themes” like “sex, drugs, and music,” it’s all just so childish and melodramatic in the end, and in this case, style does not save substance.

Final Synopsis – Imagine Mary Whitehouse penning the three episodes as a “just say no to drugs” manifesto while playing teenage depression for pure melodrama and then Matthew Graham taking those same drugs and scribbling the final episode, and you’ll have a rough idea of what makes up this absolute mess of a story. 1/5

Next up – The Sandman, a figure of myth and folklore, preys on the young and old alike. He lurks in the shadows and it is death to look upon him.

The Sandman, according to the tales, also goes by the name of the Doctor!

Colin Baker is the Doctor in…The Sandman.

About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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