It is always a pleasure to find a vital and self-assured group of improvisers working on a topic about which they are evidently passionate, and which produces laughter, onstage camaraderie and, best of all, a narrative which feels as though it could be ripped straight from the original source material. Any Suggestions, Doctor? The Improvised Doctor Who Parody is just such a show.
It consists of six performers who began working together in short-form improv at the University of York. The long-running, beloved BBC sci-fi series turns out to be an inspired subject for improvisation, given its already in-built function of movement across both time and space, which offers limitless possibilities in terms of period and setting.
Moreover, the combination of high concept episodes, philosophical ideas, some loveably dreadful special effects and BBC budgets restricting the Doctor to many adventures rooted exclusively on Earth (or, to be precise, Wales), make for an improv show which can combine some truly mind-bending ideas with utter mundanity. It is a potent combination and the Doctor Who troupe work within it quite brilliantly.
“Delivered with polish, panache and ensemble-driven enthusiasm”
Each production is presented as an ‘episode’ from the series and today’s title is the intriguing ‘Doctor Who: The Daily Vlogger’ which throws the Time Lord into the modern world of social media. As the Doctor remarks, ‘it’s hard to find companions today if you don’t have followers’. In order to keep things truly spontaneous, a front row audience member is asked to roll a giant dice in order to decide which of the six will play the Doctor that day.
On this occasion, the numbers fall in Lewis Dunn’s favour and he proceeds to deliver a truly inspired performance which takes strong inspiration from both David Tennant’s zany riffs about the structure of time and his own brilliance and Peter Capaldi’s cool logic and reflections on the lone nature of the Time Lord. Best of all are the moments in which Dunn world-builds on the spot and, in the manner of the Doctor, unravels the mystery of the ‘episode’ before our very eyes, as though reading a script has written by Russell T. Davies or Steven Moffatt. It is an exemplary display of spontaneity and, whilst the entire ensemble is fantastic without exception, it would be remiss to not to mention how impressively Dunn lead this particular instalment.
The episode is set in Mexico – suggested by a delighted younger member of the audience – which gives rise to a number of hilarious and changeable comedy accents. The troupe have a pleasing ability to turn instances of hesitancy or uncertainty – such as when they struggle to decide what names to give two food salesmen – into laugh out loud moments, such as when the Doctor discovers that they are called ‘Javier’ and ‘Bardem’. In a similar, and arguably even stronger, way to Austentatious, there are visible loose threads in the tapestry of this impromptu show and it is all the better for it.
The potential political pitfalls of a setting such as Mexico are eschewed and, in another display of the company’s ingenuity, we are given a plausibly Whovian storyline which finds the Doctor – intent on boosting his online following – embroiled in a plot set during Día de Los Muertos (the Mexican holiday celebrating The Day of the Dead) which involves the Great Intelligence and a less-than ideal reunion with Rose Tyler, here played by the hilarious Louise Jones.
Credit must also go to musician Nick Upton, who provides a combination of pulsing synthesisers, atmospheric pads and icy textures which perfectly compliment the required mood for each specific scene. He also treats us to remixed versions of that theme song and is clearly an essential part of the ensemble due to the moments in which the cast mess with him during a scene involving a Mariachi band, with him expected to deliver drums and guitar on the spot. It makes for a lovely moment of actor-musician interaction.
Whilst the production will be of especial interest to Whovians, Any Suggestions, Doctor? The Improvised Doctor Who Parody is by no means a barrage of in-jokes for the initiated and will be accessible for anyone seeking an improvised production which is delivered with polish, panache and ensemble-driven enthusiasm. It is essential viewing for any fans of improvisation.
Any Suggestions, Doctor? The Improvised Doctor Who Parody is running at Pleasance Dome – King Dome at 19:00 until 25th August.
Image: Bound and Gagged Comedy