The Star Beast
Free with DWM 313
The Ratings War

Written by Steve Lyons

Synopsis: A special feature from DWM to coincide with the release of Invaders from Mars


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 30/1/02

Free with DWM #313 (and featuring Invaders From Mars Part One), The Ratings War is certainly a vast improvement over last year's freebie Last Of The Titans. Featuring comic strip character Beep The Meep and Colin Baker`s Sixth Doctor, Steve Lyons has penned a script which is basically a commentary on the state of British TV at the moment. Indeed some of its characters would seem to be based on TV has-beens and this alongside the humour is part of the appeal; if anything though the highlight has to be Beep`s song (which can be heard in full as part of a hidden track); it`s sick but killingly funny.

A Review by Richard Radcliffe 6/3/02

Doctor Who fans, it seems, have an long running obsession with the demise of their favourite show. How back in 1989 the BBC, in a plot, axed one of its greatest assets. And over the last 13 years have never really replaced it with anything very good. This attitude actually extends itself to other channels, TV nowadays just isn't what it used to be. Go to Conventions, read Newsletters - the attitude is uniform - TV is terrible. Convention guests come along and join the throngs in denouncing current TV - and the BBC, those which discarded Doctor Who, receives the full frontal attack.

In 1989 the BBC axed the show after an incredible 26 years on the air. That 26 years produced an amazing 713 episodes (splitting them into 25 minute sections). A quick calculation has that at just over 297 hours worth of Doctor Who. Compare this to the following shows, arguably the top TV Cult Dramas:-

Star Trek - Original 59 hours Star Trek - TNG 133 hours Blake's Seven 39 hours X-Files 150 hours (after 200 episodes) Babylon Five 90 hours Buffy 91 hours Prisoner 14 hours

There is none that even comes close to the almost 300 hours worth of programming that the BBC gave to Doctor Who. Maybe I am a fellow who sees the cup half-full, but my point is that the BBC deserves Credit for that. I know it isn't the organization that it was, the actors and actresses who were in it tell us that a lot. Doctor Who, meanwhile, has thrived since its TV demise. The books have been as good as the TV generally, the Audios have been even better than the TV version. And yet, time and time again we have DW merchandise, having a go at TV. I have lost count of how many books submerge themselves in the direness of TV, with clever sideswipes that us Doctor Who fans are supposed to give a knowing nod to.

The Ratings War is the ultimate expression of that anti-TV sentiment. It is written by the man who gave us Time of Your Life, another that "had a go" at TV. I didn't like that book, I like The Ratings War even less. It takes the popular programmes of the day, and pulls them apart. There are plenty of people who like "Reality" programmes. There are plenty of people who like Big Brother. To condemn these programmes just because you don't like them is very narrow minded.

I am like most Doctor Who fans - I like Doctor Who, I like other Telefantasy like the ones I listed above. I don't really like Reality and Big Brother type programmes. Thankfully there is a lot of Sci-Fi and Fantasy out there, 40 years of it now, and there is enough to watch without having to watch the stuff like the above on general TV nowadays. I could moan about it, but I choose just not to watch it.

Maybe The Ratings War is a comment on how addictive such programmes are. Unfortunately it comes across as a swipe at the millions who watch such programmes. It portrays the programmes as shallow rubbish, a dig at the watchers characters if ever I heard one. To condemn so many seems a bit much, in my opinion. To focus on these shows, even in a negative light, acknowledges their popularity - a touch of jealousy maybe creeping in? But enough, I have been on my soapbox long enough. The Ratings War was free after all, it probably doesn't deserve the level of comment I have given it - but it seems I got talking about something , that The Ratings War promoted in my mind. I should lighten up and try to see the funny side of this audio.

Trouble is for something that clearly is mean't to be funny, there are very few laughs. The Ratings War brings back Beep the Meep, the cuddly assassin from DWW. I didn't get the joke back then, I don't get it now - and why Big Finish sought to inflict it on us many years later, I am not entirely sure. The comics gave us some brilliant stories - End of the Line, Tides of Time, Voyager, Endgame - to name a few. But instead of returning to those worlds, we return to The Star Beast - Meep the Beep - an obscure Comic Strip, if ever there was one.

Colin Baker is a big fan of the comics - he did write one after all. He must have loved The Holy Terror for the way it brought a comic creation - Frobisher - to life in an amusing and interesting way. Maybe he thought it was going to be the same again with The Ratings War, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. The problem of this audio does not lie with the Doctor though: Colin Baker (as always) is excellent - manipulating the villain like a puppet, and getting to shout a lot, which Colin does better than most. The problem lies squarely at the door of the writer, director and producers.

The writer, Steve Lyons has done some great stories, but this is thrown together badly. It contains some sick jokes that made me shake my head in bewilderment. Who on earth finds this kind of thing funny? It also takes its inspiration from Batman Forever - hardly original either. The producers should know better, but they chose to record it, and therefore must take the blame. I was quite looking forward to an additional Big Finish production, it seems ages till the end of January 2002 when the 5th McGann audio comes out. But I shouldn't have built my hopes up. Let's hope the next freebie The Maltese Penguin, comedy again, is better. Can't be any worse really.

The Ratings War is free, thank goodness I didn't have to pay for it. Give me Last of the Titans anyday over this. Even Slipback is better. 3/10

A Review by Ben Jordan 22/2/03

Ever since it first appeared, the television has become an integral part of our lives. Without it, this website would of course not exist. Generations of people have whiled away countless hours of their lives, surrendering their higher brain functions to mind-numbing rubbish, that has shortened their attention spans and made them ripe for brainwashing by the ruling elite. But enough about the commercial stations! Of course, when a desire to appeal to those higher brain functions is married with a desire to entertain, we get science-fiction. We get of course, Doctor Who. However, the bland and the mindless has become the programming of choice for the masses these days, and so it's fitting that our hero is finally confronted with it, and the perfect Doctor to kick up a fuss over the lack of quality in television programming is of course the Sixth Doctor as he gets embroiled in The Ratings War.

On a planet that might as well be Earth, on the eve that a Big Brother-style show is about to surrender it's surviving inhabitants, the Doctor bursts into the control room of the network, with an apparent aim to complain about the demise of television quality. What he finds there is far more sinister. It's blue, it's furry, it's psychotic, and if it isn't stopped, it'll enslave the entire planet in a mind-controlled bloodbath. But showing a very 7th Doctor-like craftiness, the Doctor is saving a few cards of his hand for later.

Although I never read the comic tale in which Beep the Meep is trapped in a film, I did long ago read the original story, The Star Beast. Having more than enough to go on, it was with great delight that I heard Toby Longworth bring the Meep to life perfectly, at one moment pretending to be obnoxiously cute, and the next moment, horribly deranged and bloodthirsty. It seems that Black Star radiation doesn't wear off over time. Probably one of the funniest moments, is Beep's long threatening diatribe at the end of the story. You'll hear it better on the DWM coverdisc on which The Ratings War appeared, along with the full version of the Beep and Friends theme tune. Both hilariously disgusting.

Robert Jezek does a satisfactory job as the station controller Lowell, but his is not a part with too much meat on it. The actor portraying ex-house member Lucy makes her perfectly vacuous and dim, just as you'd expect from a Big Brother contestant. No, I never did like Big Brother!

Colin Baker of course, shines through. As I said, this story was perfect for his Doctor, and he battles the Meep with deviousness and humour. His complaint to Lowell at the beginning about the rubbish on t.v today, docu-dramas, lifestyle shows, "so-called" reality t.v is spot on. It's interesting that it's once more the Sixth Doctor who is on hand to poke fun at contemporary t.v in The One Doctor, but since Bang-Bang-A-Boom is a 7th Doctor tale (Eurovision song contest), maybe it's just coincidence. Whatever. It's Doctor Who dealing with the here and now, and it thus has maximum impact. Highly recommended. As long as television continues to be blanded out pointlessness, I only hope the Doctor will continue to be with us along the way!

A Review by Gareth McG 10/3/03

There are certain films such as Sunset Boulevard, The People v Larry Flynt and The Truman Show that were made primarily to express a message. Whilst undoubtedly meriting their place in cinema history, they do however tend to be admirable rather than objects of affection. The Ratings War, whilst obviously not in the same league as these titles, nevertheless, has much in common in that its main function is to make a point about a contemporary issue in society, which happens to relate to the world of Doctor Who. I think it does this well, particularly in the context of what it is (a 25-minute DWM freebie). However that doesn’t mean to say that I like it.

To begin with let me just say that I know first hand how easy it is to be entertained by Big Brother. Y’see back in the summer of 2000 during the first series, when ‘Nasty’ Nick Bateman was conning all his flatmates right, left and centre, I became hooked. It was fascinating tuning in every night just wondering what the hell he was going to do next, far more so than wondering how the cliffhanger of a certain episode of Doctor Who would be resolved. After all this was real life and that made things so much more unpredictable. Beyond this first series though I promised myself that I would never again waste weeks of my time engrossed in this type of entertainment. It was a guilty pleasure because I sat very uncomfortably with the idea that my viewing was being manipulated by those people behind the scenes whose only real concern was their wage package. So my dislike of reality TV is for very different reasons than that of the condescending writer of The Ratings War, Steve Lyons. I don’t automatically assume that people who watch this stuff are morons. In contrast a lot of people just don’t give a damn that they are being manipulated as long as they’re being entertained. Besides, The Ratings War deserves even more stick than would ordinarily be warranted because the whole thing it just one massive contradiction. After all in dealing with a subject that is so close to the hearts of Dr. Who fans, The Ratings War is really being as commercially astute as its object of scorn, Big Brother, ever was. It is aware that Who devotees are forever moaning about the state of modern day television and it just jumps on a massive bandwagon that will alienate very few of the hardcore fans that will end up listening.

But the big question that all this raises for me is whether television really is so much worse today compared to the so-called golden age? I really can’t say if it is or not but one thing that I do know is that the memory tends to become very selective as one grows older. For instance I’m only three years out of college and yet whenever I meet up with my old flatmates our time is spent reminiscing about all the great laughs we had during our four-year University spell. We choose to forget all the arguments about the mouldy dishes stacked up in the kitchen. We choose to forget those cold, bleak Sundays when there wasn’t much else to do other than to launch into some uninspiring piece of coursework. We choose to forget those nights when we went out and didn’t have much fun at all. My point is that television was always full of crap but, unlike Big Brother, it was ultimately forgettable crap. Pages from Ceefax usually filled the BBC2 schedule in the 80’s right up until 6pm for God sake. See, now you’re beginning to remember. The hard evidence that modern day TV isn’t so bad is to look at the shows that have spawned since the demise of Dr. Who back in 1989. These include Our Friends In The North, Have I Got News For You, This Life, One Foot In The Grave, Cracker, Red Dwarf and The Office and that’s just the cream of the crop. I’d challenge anyone to come up with a stronger list from any other thirteen-year period in television history.

Moving on though and another problem here is that I always have a very hard time enjoying satire. As a bit of a sarcastic bastard I do however find that, at its best, satire can be sublimely funny and more effective than any other form of humour. Witness, for example, Pulp Fiction’s subtle piss takes of the dumb assed and the redneck elements of American society or the in your face weekly tirade of Hislop and Merton on Have I Got News For You. Both work marvellously well. However all too often satire fails to strike the right balance and consequently feels not only like an inevitable by-product of a highly critical age but also a cunning, politically correct method for expressing ones prejudices. At least as cheap, exploitative, unimaginative, trash TV, the likes of Big Brother deserve to have the piss ripped out of them (speaking personally, it’s now become a real bonus every summer when I realise that I’ll be dodging two weeks of B.B. hype during my vacation to foreign shores). So then The Ratings War doesn’t fall at the first hurdle. However, where it does fail is that it just isn’t funny. This, of course, is a sin for any form of comedy but more so for satirical humour. Given its mean spirited nature satire really needs to be nothing short of hilarious. It quickly becomes apparent that in lacking this ingredient The Ratings War is fighting a losing battle right from the off.

So then the biggest fault of The Ratings War is that it just doesn’t make me laugh. Had it done so then I could easily have forgiven all its sins. In fact, as someone who has a very firm dislike for reality TV, I would probably have loved it. Sadly it’s just a bit too much like that bitter old man you tend to meet down the pub on a Saturday night who adamantly claims that everything used to be better than it is now. He makes his points but does so in a smug, arrogant manner that not only bores you to tears but also makes you want to throttle him before you leave. Beware all Who fans!

A Review by John Seavey 4/7/04

Oh God, this is absolutely GREAT! I actually paid about ten dollars for this CD, if you consider how much the back issue of DWM cost me, and it was worth every penny. Steve Lyons takes the same savage eye on TV he used in Time of Your Life and turns it on the odious "reality TV" craze, in the process indulging in his affection for the Meeps from DWM's comic strips. It's sick, sick, sick twisted humor, and I loved every second of it -- and frankly, the hidden track at the end of this is worth ten dollars in and of itself. "Make the streets run red, spread our message of pain, when they beg for their lives, use the pliers again..." It's catchy, dammit!

A Review by Ron Mallett 1/3/07

This is one of those stories that seems to have drawn a mixed response. Strange you can make a story about evolution today and no-one bats an eyelid, but you try knocking reality TV and boy...!!! This is a neat little story that owes much to the comic strip continuity. Beep the Meep was actually a villain who first appeared in The 4th Doctor comic The Star Beast. The idea of a alien using TV as a method of destruction is quite novel.

Aside from the ever-fruity voice of Colin Baker, the voice of Beep himself is quite effective. He sounds rather like an asthmatic snorkler. Regular supporting actors Robert Jezek and Jane Goddard give excellent support. The story is meant to be humorous, of course, but with some seriously sadistic undertones. It was written by Steve Lyons, who has written a number of novels and created Grant Markham. In fact one of his novels dealt with TV violence and depravity, Time of Your Life. I found the novel rather dark and inaccessible. Still these issues deserve attention and I think Lyons succeeded in getting the balance right in this audio. Of course, you can't expect a total roller coaster ride in a little half and hour story that was given away with Doctor Who Magazine #313!