The second of our loose trilogy/mini-season of plays focusing on the Doctor and Turlough alone takes us to Rio and a fresh representation of Turlough as an outsider – even more so than the Doctor himself.
Loups-Garoux, by Marc Platt
Rio, were-wolves, deforestation, genetic experimentation and nature spirits – the many and varied ingredients for this particular gumbo. While Marc Platt has an excellent pedigree (arf. Geddit?) as far as BFF is concerned (Spare Parts, of course, and The Butcher of Brisbane; we can’t discuss The Silver Turk just yet as technically, from the Doctor’s point of view it hasn’t happened…), this one needs just a little too much suspension of disbelief for me to truly enjoy it.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing to enjoy. Far from it – the near-future setting is excellently built-up, the vision of the now-verdant Amazon basin as a dust-bowl intersected by train lines terrifyingly real (and for some reason calling to mind the last frames of the old Tom Baker comic strip End of the Line). The collection of wolfish characters are also brilliantly set-up, with their own disdainful vernacular to describe “normal” humans giving them much more history than any info-dump ever could. Ileana’s suitors are both predatory and defensive, a supremely dangerous pair – until the real villain of the piece turns up to menace everyone. And Burt Kwouk? How can you not enjoy a story that features Burt Kwouk?!
But… as much as Doctor Who is a fantasy, it’s a fantasy with a surface veneer of science fiction. I can believe in deforested near-future Brazil, just as I can believe in Cybermen, and Daleks and the rest of them… but immortal werewolves and nature spirits? Really? More specifically, I could deal with the werewolves in the context of the story, but the unmasking of Rosa Caiman as an avatar of the vanished forest was one step too far and that derailed the entire end of the play for me, however poignant Ileana’s longing for travel might be.
Meanwhile, Turlough. He gets a fair amount of space in this play to show his outsider status, as I said at the top of the post. From the beginning he is doing the less-than-impressed-tourist routine, tucking into the local food with poor grace. Cajoled into drinking something less than wholesome by Ileana’s suitors, he shows the extent of his self-interest, even mocking the Doctor’s interest in his well-being before he realises to his horror how much of the wolf is already present in his soul despite (or because of?) his alien nature. For redemptive purposes, there’s a relationship with Rosa to explore and consummate, but even here he comes unstuck – as the wolves circle, he chooses to save his own pelt and flees with Rosa’s only weapon. He’s incredibly lucky that this gamble pays off – and doubly lucky that Rosa doesn’t try to kick his balls up into his throat for his decision.
There are abrasive sparks between the Doctor and Turlough too – the pair seem to rile each other in a way that even Tegan could not manage. At times their relationship feels uncomfortable and as though it is nearing its end (and given that these tales are set in the gap before Planet of Fire, that’s got to be rather close to the truth).
So while the interactions, in a different story, might create a real classic in this small pool of the Fifth Doctor’s timeline, the fact that the storyline itself left me a little dissatisfied drags the star rating back down again. Shame, really, but still time for things to improve.