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Friday, 13 July, 2001, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
What's up Doc?
Sylvester McCoy as the seventh Doctor Who
Sylvester McCoy is the first online audio Doctor
By the BBC's William Gallagher

"There are bigger things at stake than the fate of this planet," announces the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) in this typically over the top adventure - but he's right.

For Doctor Who: Death Comes to Time is both the BBC's first broadcast Doctor Who since the failed 1996 TV movie and, more importantly, it is BBC Online's first drama production.

Drama is as much part of the BBC's core as news and sport, so its absence from the web has been noticeable and this Doctor Who is a big, important and very welcome step.

It is just not a very good one - perhaps because it is not really an online drama at all.

BBC Online is dipping a toe into the water by taking an old if previously untransmitted adventure and putting it online in downloadable chunks.

The Doctor travels time and space in a police box
The TARDIS is still an integral part of the drama
Originally, this half hour episode was produced as a pilot try-out for BBC Radio 4 and while there have been radio Doctor Who stories before, this one failed.

Experiment

So BBC Online was able to buy an off the shelf show that would let them experiment with an unheard production, guaranteed to grab fans who know all about it and are mad keen to listen.

What they get is a story about a war with the Doctor on the side of the good rebellion against the evil and, it must be said, a rather camp big bad villain.

It is not complete: the downloads add up to one half-hour first episode of a story and the rest of it has not been made yet.

Given that, it takes a surprisingly long time for the story to get going - the Doctor Who theme does not start until seven minutes into the half hour.

Sylvester McCoy gets friendly with a dalek enermy in the TV series
McCoy recreates his TV Doctor extremely well
This Doctor Who is strictly for the fans but it nicely ignores a standard Who cliché and does not have the Doctor getting slowly sucked into a situation.

Instead, the moment the Doctor arrives - and despite the story's failings it is hard not to cheer when you hear the TARDIS materialise - he is already in action, already knowing the problem and starting to manipulate people to get to the solution.

McCoy is very good as the Doctor and both he and Sophie Aldred as the companion Ace recreate their television characters extremely well.

They have the advantage of having done this job before where the rest of the cast are new to it and in almost every case have trouble making their characters believable.

But then they would because the underlying story and the script are like fan fiction rather than a BBC Online drama.

It frantically wants to make Doctor Who modern so it tries for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer route of comedy alongside the drama.

Pantomime

Buffy can burst a laugh out of you with superb wit in its most heightened moments but in the next second it will startle and even scare you.


It shouldn't be in a hurry to do part 2 of this Doctor Who tale

Death Comes to Time just hasn't got the balance right, its gags come across as almost pantomime and they invariably undermine any sense of menace that the episode builds.

Equally, the old TV Doctor Who could be a bit slow so this aims for the verve of modern storytelling, the kind of pace that makes ER and The West Wing so breathlessly exciting.

You can do this: Dirk Maggs' radio productions of Superman were remarkably atmospheric and exciting but Death Comes to Time confuses pace with noise.

Fingers crossed that BBC Online will do much, much more drama - but it shouldn't be in a hurry to do part 2 of this Doctor Who tale.

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