Review: Doctor Who Live

DOCTOR Who has lived in the popular consciousness for nearly 50 years. It has even seeped in the everyday language – how many times have we read estate agents descriptions describing deceptively spacious homes as TARDIS-like or seen someone labelled as an emotionless Dalek? Generations have grown up being delighted, excited and a little scared by the amazing adventures of the strangely English alien time traveller in his odd blue box.

Since 1963 it has existed in countless manifestations – from TV shows, to comic books, novel and even stage plays and Prom concerts. Now it has a new incarnation – Doctor Who Live – which premiered at Wembley Arena on Friday night. The latest spin on the Doctor is just possibly the wildest, whizz-bang pantomime ever conceived.

Current Doctor Who star actor Matt Smith and past assistant actress Catherine Tate were guests along with the packed Wembley audience to see a mix of stunning music, a parade of monsters, pyrotechnics and a new story about an galactic showman called Vorgenson who captures the Doctor and Winston Churchill in his “Minimiser”.

Although old or particularly ardent fans might recognise the story is a sequel to a 1973 Jon Pertwee episode, it is an inconsequential bit of scaffolding from which to drape the two hours of spectacle.

Nigel Planner plays the villain Vorgenson in the best pantomime tradition and children and adults need no prompting to boo, hiss and below “Behind you!” at appropriate points in proceedings. Matt Smith, appearing in pre-filmed inserts, encourages the usual audience participation and the best traditions of stagecraft are called upon to make Daleks hover and the scary Weeping Angels vanish their victims.

Clearly aimed at children and families, the roar from fans to appearances by Silurians, Ood, living scarecrows and Venetian Vampires transcended any age barrier. Sparks, bangs and audience intimidation by various aliens were greeted by thousands of photos being taken and suitable number of screams. Unlike the Doctor Who Proms, where the music remained centre stage, the live orchestra and beautiful score often seemed a little swamped by action. The triumph of the spectacle was that they actually made the constant clips from the TV show seem a little dull in comparison.

Any show that has the chutzpah to flash up on a giant screen: ‘Nihil Possum Fortassis Vado Pecco’ – a Latin motto meaning ‘Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong’ – is tempting fate. Despite being based on a television show that was wrongly infamous for wobbly sets, the problems were with the performers. A squid-faced Ood takes a tumble down some steps. A Judoon, a huge leather-clad rhino, trips over his intergalactic police boots whilst menacing the audience.

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By what Doctor Who Live got right made the hefty ticket price one that thousands of children will be glad their parents paid. The Daleks glided with a deadly, mesmerising grace, the metallic stomp of Cybermen made them scary for the first time since 1976. It is a brash, bright and shameless amusement park thrill ride brought onto the stage.

After the show, as countess children wearing Cybermen masks, fezes and bow ties were led by the hand along Bobby Moore Way, one voice stood out: “Dad, that was the best night out ever. I’ll never get to sleep now, not after seeing a Dalek fly!” Doctor Who will probably last another 50 years and on the strength of review like that, I am sure Doctor Who Live will be back as well.

Review by David Southwell