THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Exile

Written by Nicholas Briggs Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2003
What if... The Doctor had escaped the justice of the Time Lords?

Starring Arabella Weir
Also featuring Hannah Smith, Jeremy James, Toby Longworth, David Tennant, Graham Duff, Nicholas Briggs

Synopsis: All the Doctor has to do to avoid being caught by the Time Lords is work in a supermarket and go to the pub. It's a cunning plan - certainly far less dangerous than fighting the dreaded Quarks and all those other alien fiends.


Reviews

Ladies Night by Andrew Wixon 16/11/03

I predict that, even if no-one else is, Rob Shearman and co. will be rather grateful for the release of Exile - because no matter what controversy the (ahem) Jacobi Doctor's doings stir up, I suspect it'll be nothing compared to the response Nicholas Briggs and Arabella Weir's offering will provoke.

My concerns regarding this particular Unbound release grew as more details of the plot firmed up, and the first words on the CD - a highly tongue in cheek disclaimer from Big Finish - confirmed them. Yes, folks, this is Doctor Who as broad, gross-out comedy, as the 1960s TV Comic strip Doctor escapes the Time Lords by hiding out on Earth in a female body, working for a well-known supermarket chain and binge-drinking herself into unconsciousness every night. (BF's sound effect of someone vomiting is actually rather good.) Meanwhile two Time Lords embark on a spectacularly useless attempt to track her down.

Very seldom has my opinion of - well, anything - swung back and forth between delight and horror so often in the course of one single listen. The first thing to say is that it is very, very funny in places, assuming you like puke gags and the kind of easy-target satire BF usually go in for. The second is that anyone with a tendency to get a bit precious about the character of the Doctor will probably find themselves organising a march on the BF bunker equipped with flaming torches and pitchforks, because this story has a fixation for alcohol and profanity not dissimilar to some of the more controversial New Adventures (even the basic concept will probably upset some people).

In fact, I was all set to congratulate BF on finally discovering the limit of the basic DW format's plasticity and then going much too far beyond it, but the annoying thing is... in a funny way the story works. The idea of the Doctor being forced into such a dismal, mundane, human life is poignant and actually rather moving - sort of like the dark flipside of Human Nature. This story could perhaps have worked even better without all the gags and satire, amusing though much of this is.

And it's a bit dismaying that, of all the Unbound releases, the one they select to be the all-out comedy is the one with the female Doctor (in a pink CD case, to boot), as if to say that this is a concept that no-one could possibly take seriously. I don't think that's the case. Finding the right story to explore the concept seriously without being prurient would probably be extremely tricky, but surely not beyond the abilities of such a creative group of people as BF. It doesn't help that this story utterly runs out of steam in its closing stages, either, with one of the weakest endings in the entire range.

This is one of those stories people are either going to love or hate: it's bold, original, funny, and very occasionally moving. But it's also crass, silly, and a bit half-baked in many respects. The uniformly strong performances keep it listenable, but all in all this is probably the least appropriate tale to conclude the Unbound series with.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 5/12/03

When a female Doctor was announced for these Unbound dramas, I was pleased. It seemed the perfect time to try out this much talked about sex change for the Doctor. When the previews were released the anticipation was tempered somewhat by talk of belches and vomiting. Arabella Weir seemed to talk of nothing else in the little interviews we had from her - and I wondered whether this could go a bit too far in the offense stakes.

Well it starts as I expected and feared, with plenty of the belches and drinking binges I feared would be part of this play. I cringed plenty as grossness after nastiness erupted from my CD player. This wasn't what I wanted to hear from these Unbound plays! I didn't want toilet humour (literally) rammed in my face.

I suppose I am liable to take offense more than most, naieve sheltered upbringing and all that, but I really don't like all this burping, farting and vomiting - call me prudish if you wish. It's trying to be funny I suppose, but I didn't find it remotely funny. Saying that though, the nature of the Doctors new, escapist life is explored later to great effect - and therefore it could be said it is integral to the drama as a whole - so there's something to be said for it.

It is perhaps unfair though to focus on the negative aspects of this production, even though they do crop up too frequently for my liking. This is about a Doctor who escapes from the Time Lords in a very effective way - she becomes one of the mass of beer-swilling pub goers of the world.

Indeed when Nick Briggs gives the Doctor a speech about the mundaneness of this repetitive and destructive kind of life, there's some highly significant social comment going on, that will no doubt strike home to many. But the tone of the story in general is humour - and toilet references aside, there's quite a bit to laugh at.

Top of this list is when the Doctor goes out into the countryside, and we are given a wonderfully stereotypical (tongue in cheek) version of country folk. This had me laughing out loud, and I actually started to really consider this a decent audio! It was about this time, I switched away from criticizing the thing, to actually seeing its good points.

Definitely one of these good points is Arrabella Weir as the Doctor. When she was not being sick all over the place, I really believed in this Doctor - there was a likeability to her, and an impressive air of authority, yet sadness, to her performance. Also effective were the two Time Lords on the chase. Largely comic creations, they were excellently played by Toby Longworth and David Tennant. The previous Doctor, played by Nick Briggs himself, was equally good. The chap has done that much to further the adventures of the good Doctor over the years, and he really does provide an effective alternative Doctor. If the Unbound series happens again, let's have Nicholas Briggs as a fully fledged Doctor. I have lost count of how many times now he has played (or been drawn) as an alternative Doctor.

So the Unbound series finishes on a comic note, and eventually a very good one (the second half of this play is so much better the drunken exploits of the first half). Hated some of it, loved some of it - a mixed bag to complete the first Unbound series. 7/10

The rest of the series had largely played things straight, so it was good to lighten things up at the end. It's been a nice change, an interesting dive into the many worlds that Doctor Who can take us. The Doctors have been uniformally excellent, and I really think now the part is actor proof, as others have often said.

This What If scenario has provided more scope for some brilliant writers to explore. All the 6 chosen for this series are amongst the top DW writers we have today - and they all provided interesting and entertaining dramas. If I was to pick my favourite I'm tempted to go for Rob Shearman's Deadline.


How can a story be brilliant AND rubbish? by Joe Ford 13/12/03

What on Earth!!!? What kind of sick twisted individual would pervert such an innocent little show so shamelessly! What a vulgar, tasteless slice of toilet humour, only to be appreciated by the real 'lads' out there! Who could create a world where the Doctor is a woman, gets shamelessly drunk, swears and doesn't take anything seriously! Perish the thought!

Oh sweet merciful Jesus, what a laugh and half! I haven't wet myself giggling so much in ages!

This is in many ways the ultimate Unbound story because it is the only one that leaves behind any sense of plausibility, any doubts that this would ever be accepted in canon. Much as I would like to erase He Jests at Scars from the shelves of all good shops I have to concede its terrible storyline could be honed into a genuine Doctor Who story. Exile is so ridiculously daft, unquestionably crude and its very atmosphere of disgusting set pieces so detached from the Doctor Who universe it is in all respects a standalone adventure. But therein lies its genius, what the other writers of this mostly excellent series haven't realised is this is the chance to get away with ANYTHING and still call it Doctor Who and Nick Briggs, ideal at writing a stonking Doctor Who adventure anyway, takes his opportunity to abuse this right to extremes.

Reading fan opinion online can be a mistake; to hear so many people criticize something you fell in love with can be disheartening. However in Exile's case it has increased my enjoyment tenfold. The execution was terrible, they chant. The idea was great but it was grossly misused, they moan. Oh shut your cake holes you miserable twerps! It's something that's a bit different, that enjoys its one-off status, that refuses to take anything about the show seriously.

I thought it was outrageously brilliant.

Imagine Terrance Dicks, Malcolm Hulke and Robert Holmes had not written The War Games/Spearhead from Space and instead it had been penned by the writers of Bottom, The League of Gentlemen and South Park. That should tell you everything you need to know about Exile, a story so full of burps, puke; drink binges, obscenities and half arsed parodies. If you don't like the sound of this then steer clear but if you're in the mood for a laugh then slip it in. Trust me, if you're not a stuck up continuity obsessed dullard you will greatly enjoy this.

Because the truth is this is actually extremely well written and Nick Briggs, God bless his heart, actually understands how to use continuity in his story without giving you a Grand Canyon sized headache (hey Gazza!). When you get past the diabolical ideas at work (the Doctor is working in Sainbury's car park... hehehe!) there is a man trying to poke fun at just how po-faced the series can be with continuity ("The Quarks were rubbish! They couldn't even go up stairs!" "Well how many planets do you know that sill have stairs?" "Quite a few actually!"), with its identity (the Doctor is... shudder! gasp!... a woman!) and with its limits (erm who would ever imagine a Time Lord muttering the words "Oh Shit!").

Agreeing with Big Finish's recent love (in fact it's so frantic these days let's call it LUST) with continuity, trust good old Briggsy to take the series framework and twist it for his own sake, you know, just for a laugh! Nick, just as Bob Holmes did when he wanted to team up Docs 2 and 6, chucks in loads of references but they are all for comedy effect. Some of the stories best laugh out loud moments (and I mean LOUD) involve throwaway kisses to the past ("The Master? He said his name was Bob!" "Oh Theta Sigma that wretched little anarchist!" "The best thing he did was steal a TARDIS and leave us all in peace!").

Instead of plugging for an intelligent, coherent story Nick is happy to jump from one FHM inspired set piece to another, piling on the gross out material and continually daring to make the jokes as close to the mark as possible. I hate laddish humour, I have never been able to sit through an entire episode of Bottom in my life (all that abuse and violence!) but for some reason to have that outlandish silliness planted into Doctor Who is such an odd change of pace I couldn't help but get swept up by its audacity. This is pretty bad by any storytelling standards but in entertainment terms it scores an A plus.

Some of the best jokes come with the two dozy old Time Lords in pursuit of the Doctor on Earth. Their understanding of how Doctor Who works is incredible! They dress up in rubber costumes, transmit a threat to the world and expect the Doctor to come out of hiding! Alas they only manage to transmit on channel five so nobody really watches (hehehe!). And their experience of Earth cuisine... burnt baked beans ("Quite the most disgusting thing I've ever tasted!") and how they get their cash for their stay (mugging an old woman!) ...you get the point, it's all point-less but genuinely funny.

The hardest thing for die-hard fans to get to grips with in Exile is Arabella Weir as the Doctor. The characterisation is up there in the stratosphere, a binging loser who can't hold down a job in Sainbury's car park. Hardly the formidable hero who took on all the greats (Sutekh, Fenric, etc) is it? But the liquor-obsessed queen of the night is just a front, a cover for a desperate, lonely exile who is trying to escape the judgement of her people. I loved the scene where her previous self appeared in the glass of Vodka and she finally admits how scared she is to do something incredible that would reveal her presence on the Earth. How terrified she is of actually being herself. It's a painful moment of honesty amongst all the comedy. Weir is good, an excellent and respected performer outside of Who circles anyway and she is strangely affecting as the Bridget Jones-style Time Lady.

Jeremy James returns to the fold as the appropriately named Cheese. Not much to say except, why? Pissed as a fart and largely unintelligible, a truly unusual (and pretty worthless) character. Equally useless but a thousand times funnier is Hannah Smith as Cherrie who is there pretty much to giggle at the Doctor's bizarre suggestions of alien invasions and time machines. Her lines are not the funniest but quite frankly she carries them with such bubbly exuberance they made me chuckle.

Enjoyment can also be found in the obscure, lazy ending, once again playing against our expectations that the world should be in mortal peril (which is suggested but never comes to anything), that the Doctor should escape the clutches of the Time Lords (which she doesn't) and that she should triumph to fight another day (nada). And how they finally capture her is so damn easy I was certain some secret plot twist was on the way (nope). And don't the Time Lords and the Doctor discuss her capture in such a calm, rational chatty manner? Unbound: Exile is so excruciatingly awful and yet poles apart from regular Doctor Who that it is radically different and fun. For seventy minutes of non-stop piss takes of your favourite show you can't go wrong! I loved every second of it.

Now don't you dare make anything like it ever again.


A Review by Matthew Clarke 16/4/11

In a series of non-canonical, 'what if?' Doctor Who stories, doing a script about a female Doctor is an obvious choice. The problem then comes as to what sort of story one would write about a female Doctor. Would she become a mother? If she had a relationship with a male character, would that be 'unDoctorish', seeing as the Doctor generally avoids that sort of thing? We might suppose that a female Doctor might adopt a different modus operandi, but how could that be shown in just one story? Sadly, Nicholas Briggs took the easy route and just wrote a gross-out comedy with lots of great laughs. Very funny, but one feels that something much more interesting could be done with a female Doctor. Still, it has a lovely pink CD case.

The story opens at the conclusion of The War Games, with the condemnation of the War Lord. The Time Lords then find that the Doctor has escaped. Having regenerated into a woman, the Doctor then finds herself working in a supermarket and indulging in some rather heavy drinking at the weekends. A lot of the humour is a bit on the lavatorial side; one gets the impression that Briggs is aiming to make a serious point about the banality of the binge drinking culture. What is a bit disappointing is that very few of the jokes deal with the obvious subject of the Doctor being in a female body. Perhaps Briggs was concerned that jokes about women's bodies might not be appropriate if boys of the age I was when I became a fan are listening. This story would probably have been little different if the Doctor had been a just a newly regenerated male Doctor. He could just as easily have got a job in a supermarket and started binge drinking.

Call me politically correct if you like, but it has to be asked if there is something horrendously misogynistic about the idea that as soon as the Doctor becomes female s/he becomes a drunken loser. I suppose you could look at it the other way and consider that it is making a point about the underprivileged status of a lot of thirty-something single women who do turn to drink.

The affectionate parody of this story is mostly aimed at the Second and Third Doctor era. The inclusion of the War Lord's trial is quite nice and references to those dreaded Quarks are frequent. Exile also brings in the TV Comic's version of Season 6B with the inclusion of those freaky scarecrows that the Time Lords used to capture the Doctor. The theme music for this audio is based on Second Doctor era theme, but sounds rather more wobbly and scratchy. Arabella Weir puts in a wonderful performance as the Doctor. Despite the comedy and the weird circumstances in which she is placed, she manages to come across as genuinely Doctorish. As with the mean, brutal Doctor in Full Fathom Five (who in that story came across as a bit of a moron, despite a brilliant performance by David Collings), one feels that one would like to see more this alternate Doctor in some rather more serious stories. Nicholas Briggs gives a good contrast by playing the voice of the previous Doctor.

The two Time Lords who hunt down the Doctor are hilarious, particularly the one played by David Tennant.

One of the other big letdowns of this story was the ending. It really was a bit of a disappointment.