BBC Online
Real Time

Written by Gary Russell Cover image
Format Web Broadcast/Compact Disc
Released 2002
Continuity Between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani.

Starring Colin Baker and Maggie Stables
Also featuring Yee Jee Tso

Synopsis: The Doctor and Evelyn experience some Cybermen of a different sort, in real time.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 3/2/03

I have the internet, you've probably figured that one out already. Unfortunately sound is something I haven't got, thanks to some dodgy speakers. I keep meaning to fix it, go to PC World and move with the technological age, but it hasn't happened yet. Thus the 2 Internet Dramas, this and Death Comes to Time have been a source of mystery to me - that is until BBCI and Big Finish released the stories on Audio.

I therefore see them as extra Audios, kind of like the Excelis Series during the McGann run, early 2002. Death Comes to Time was a bit odd - good in places, not so good in others. Real Time promised to be something a bit more traditional. But traditional to what? The TV show? The audio series? Turns out it's a bit of both. It stands alone in the Big Finish catalogue thus far because of the internet connection, but also the way the whole thing is structured. 6 parts about 10 minutes long. It ends up shorter than Big Finish standard drama, but has more cliffhangers. It's a whole different ball game - and I quite like variety.

It's about time Gary Russell wrote something for audio. As one of the key players in Doctor Who since the TV series finished, he has written some pretty good novels, but up to this point never the very thing he excels in - the audio medium. I suspected it would be better than his novels, because of his experience. That he was writing for the team he created (6th Doctor and Evelyn), had to be a plus.

Real Time thankfully is very good. I won't make the comparison with Death Comes to Time, because they are poles apart in what they are about, what they were trying to achieve. Real Time is just a very good adventure. It has some great characters, and a mysterious, yet confined environment. Thanks to Lee Sullivan's pictures, it was easy to picture both the characters and the setting (they are included in the CD booklet). Again this distinguished Real Time from other audios. I wouldn't like it all the time, but for this one it was just fine.

The take on the Cybermen is terrific. Coming quite soon after Spare Parts it is fascinating indeed to see early Cybermen, and then very late Cybermen. They are completely different characters, fully making the most of the grandeur of existing DW mythology. The story mixes time travel with a good adventure yarn. As they search the pyramid the mood is similar to the Mummy films - you know something is about to jump out. The time portal is always a good idea, if a rather convenient one. I also enjoyed the paradoxes that the story presented. They take some getting your head round, but they all make sense. In that way Real Time rewards the multiple listener.

The characters are pretty good throughout. The 6th Doctor and Evelyn are my favourites in this medium, they were brilliant again - they bring an energy and likeability that I haven't felt since the 4th Doctor and Sarah-Jane were together. Top of the supporting characters is Yee Jee Tso. After the less than substantial performances in other DW stories, it was good to see him really earn his stripes as Dr Goddard. The novel casting of Herring and Lee is also effective.

The story is quite violent in places, with some really gruesome sounds - promoting some horrific images of Cyber killings. I'm not a great fan of violence. We know the Cybermen are bad, there's no need to resort to such cheap gimmicks to prove it. But this is only a small part of the production, even if a very memorable one!

The story is pretty good overall. I also enjoyed the making of segment after the final credits. Like many Who fans I love to listen to the opinions of the actors and production team, about their stories. There's a great interview with Colin Baker, who shows again his commitment to the show and its fans. He's already at the top of the tree in favourite Doctor polls for this listener - but it's nice to have that view strengthened time after time.

Real Time - very good story, impressive twists and turns. A fine "extra" adventure! 8/10

Loop duh loop? by Andrew Wixon 9/3/03

Well, for a while it looked like it'd never happen - Gary Russell's first script for Big Finish (albeit not for one of their regular releases). And indeed it's pretty much what you would expect from the man who's surely the most Trad of the big-name new wave of pro-fan writers. He doesn't innovate, he doesn't reinvent, instead he distills the essence of TV Dr Who into a fan-friendly format. These are the Cybermen that we didn't see too much of on TV - implacable, ruthless, and physically formidable (this story's penchant for violence more graphic even than that of Attack of the Cybermen may explain just why we didn't see too much of them on TV).

Unfortunately, this story follows rather closely on the heels of the superlative Spare Parts, which explored the horrific aspects of Cyberconversion with such sensitivity and genuine emotion that Real Time's more grisly, splatterpunk look at the same subject just seems excessive. It's a card Big Finish are in imminent danger of overplaying - not every story about the Cybermen needs to be a 'horrors of conversion' tale, surely they can drive other kinds of narrative?

Another over-used tool from the BF kit also makes an appearance in the form of - yes, you've guessed it! - a time paradox denouement. This story is ultimately about a Day of the Daleks-style time loop, but I must confess that I for one can't see the way into or out of the loop. It is confusing, it is distracting and at the end of the story I was expecting another episode because - unless I've missed something, which is entirely possible - it looks to me like the Cybermen win and massively change the course of history. Which can't be right. Unless Russell and co plan to fix it all in the sequel, which is just lazy writing...

The slightly gimmicky 24-style format is a bit limitng, but at least it's original. Russell doesn't appear to have rumbled that a real time story doesn't have to be restricted to a handful of adjacent locations, though. Colin Baker and Maggie Stables do their usual sterling work and most of the guest cast are pretty good - although Yee Jee Tso overacts just a little bit. The CD release comes with a lot of extra material with Nick Briggs interviewing them - it's great stuff, for the most part - Colin is on excellent form, as is Stuart Lee - and almost as enjoyable as the accompanying story. Not that that's a great endorsement for Real Time itself, but never mind.

Scary-men! by Joe Ford 14/3/03

I don't like Gary Russell. Not a very nice way to start a review but there we are. I've heard many interviews with him over the years and ever since he took over Big Finish he comes across as a pompous git, a guy who likes to use his Who status to bloat his ego. However, Gary Russell is an excellent director, an excellent script writer and a good novelist. He is an extremely talented man in many ways.

Real Time is a superb story, complicated but entertaining. I love the shorter episode length the BBCi broadcast demanded as it means there is a decent cliffhanger every ten minutes and the plot twists bloom every couple of minutes. Ten minute episodes suit audio quite well, with too much to listen out for (and nothing to watch) and I hope they try it again in the future.

God bless Gary for finally achieving something with the Cybermen that nobody has ever managed before, they come across as desperate and threatening and SCARY. Attack of the Cybermen did give us a glimpse at just how horrible the whole conversion process is but the Saturday teatime slot prevented them from going too far. Not a problem here, we can have Cybermen twisting arms off, blowing up heads, torturing women... it's actually quite a feat that the metal meanies can finally gain some threat credit.

It's another good Big Finish cast with plaudits going to Yee Jee Tso (who I have been quite cruel about in the past but actually performs admirably here) and Jane Goddard (who makes a real impression as the first female Cyberman). Another wonderful thing Gary achieves is the re-habilitation of Evelyn. The Sandman sacrificed much by putting the sixth Doctor in the hot seat and Evelyn came across as a might subdued, something I would have thought was impossible. Here she's on form, loud, proud and useful. Her conversation with the Cybercontroller where she admits she's "bloody terrified" is brilliant. Equally good (but much, much funnier) is the first scene with the Doctor where they come back from a funeral but neither of them know who the person was!!!! It's an example of their unbeatable chemistry I've grown so fond of.

Colin Baker is excellent in a script that affords him the chance to be witty, clever and herioc. There were lots of bits that wouldn't suit any other Doctor, the foremost being the scene where he says he would rather the Cybermen killed the little party of them rather than sacrifice the human race. He gets lots of quiet, elegant speeches about emotion that knock spots of Saward's from Earthshock... he's so good at understated emotion I felt tears prickle at my eyes during these gentle moments. And he finally admits that he loves Evelyn... well who wouldn't?

The plot works both as an action piece but also as an intelligent affair dealing with some quite weighty issues. Its true things are needlesly complicated in the last episode but its so exciting who gives a damn... I was certainly swept up in it all.

The direction is engaging (Gary can ensure his script is given the full treatment, not always a good sign as some writer/director stories are full of indulgences but his work here is surprisingly focussed and exciting) and Alistair Lock is there to remind us when to be scared with some delicious bombastic music.

A great production boding well for future BBCi/Big Finish collaborations. I just hope the next one lives up to the joy of this.

A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 15/8/04

Despite its relatively short episode lengths Real Time manages to be a somewhat traditional if flawed Doctor Who tale. The Cybermen portrayed here are a race on the brink of extinction and they are effectively used, thanks to the horrors of the Cyber-conversion process. This alone however doesn`t save Gary Russell`s script, thankfully free of continuity Real Time is essentially a time paradox story and the tales conclusion seems to hint at a sequel, affecting Evelyn in particular, although Big Finish have yet to resolve this.

Performance wise Colin Baker is superb demonstrating both the pragmatism and passion of the Sixth incarnation of the Doctor. Similarly Maggie Stables is also excellent although Evelyn herself gets very little to do bar stand around and talk to the supporting players. Speaking of whom, most are credible the only standout being Yee Jee Tso as Goddard (although for all the wrong reasons). In short Real Time entertains but is more memorable perhaps as the first Big Finish online story.

A Review by Ron Mallett 28/3/07

Real Time is a ripping good yarn. If only scripts like this had been commissioned during the mid-eighties! Possessing more static animation than it's successor Scream of the Shalka, this factor does not serve to detract from the excellent production values (listen to the slight echo of the voices when in the stone complex) and solid script (well paced and full of scenes that flesh out the characters). It is a little like a Tomb of the Cybermen for the new millennium. The cast is first rate.

Now for the gripes: the theme tune and the costume of The 6th Doctor. I can sort of understand using the current Doctor Who symbol for the purpose of marketing but is it really necessary to rewrite history and pretend that the traditional theme arrangement (that was dropped at the start of season 18) flags the beginning and end of an adventure of any Doctor after The 4th? All the current Who DVDs feature the eighties arrangement (that in one form or another served through seasons 18 to 22) in their main menus - so I think it is regarded by some as being the superior version. I think the theme of the Trial season would have been more appropriate - as it is definitely the one that belongs to, and only to, The 6th Doctor. Now about the costume: The 6th Doctor seems to have lost his alien sense of taste and become completely colour blind. I'm a big fan of Lee Sullivan but that blue thing sucks! I think to replace The 6th Doctor's multi-coloured coat with something that isn't at least tasteless and multi-coloured is to totally misunderstand the character.

One further thing that tends to confuse me is the ending: is this all taking place in an alternative timeline? The story seems to indicate that Evelyn's horrific future will be fulfilled at the end. Still, Real Time is a very welcome addition to the annals of Doctor Who as it certainly works on all the levels that really count. Highly recommended for all fans of quality Who.