Doctor Who
Real Time

Starring: Colin Baker
Big Finish Productions
RRP 9.99
ISBN 1 903654 78 5, BFPDWBBCiCD01
Available now

The Doctor and Evelyn are summoned to the planet Chronos to help a military and archaeological team unlock the secrets of a strange temporal wave that is emanating from an ancient temple. Time is not on their side, and neither are the creatures attempting to control the temporal phenomenon - the Cybermen...

Since the planet's name is Chronos, you just know the story is going to be about time travel, don't you? The title Real Time is another good clue! (However, the Doctor is wrong when he claims that the Cybermen have never had access to time technology before - they had it in Attack of the Cybermen.)

The title also refers to the storytelling device employed here by writer/director Gary Russell. Like the American TV thriller 24, events for the characters unfold over more or less the same length of time that it takes to experience the drama. I say "more or less" because this CD release contains a couple of extra scenes that didn't make it into the serialised BBCi webcast (the second such broadcast of Doctor Who, and the first to be produced by Big Finish), which slightly undermines the "real time" concept.

The brevity of the episodes gives this adventure a different quality to your average Big Finish story. Plot developments are dealt with in shorthand, such as the fact that the Doctor is recruited using a space-time telegraph rather than his customary more gradual involvement. All in all, the pace feels more like a comic strip than anything else, though perhaps the seeds of that notion were planted in my head by the sleeve illustrations of Lee Sullivan (who also provided the images for the webcast).

Long scenes of discussion or disclosure are few and far between, which make those delivered by Dr Goddard (Yee Jee Tso) stand out all the more. The first of these is a thumbnail sketch of the Cybermen's origins, which was certainly useful during the webcast, since not all visitors to BBCi can be expected to be die-hard aficionados. However, this conspicuous info-dump is cunningly crafted into a plot point. Tso gives a markedly better performance here than he did in Excelis Decays.

The other notable guest stars are the comedians Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, of whom I am a big fan. Fortunately they don't play their roles entirely for laughs, but they do provide some lighter moments, which contrast starkly against the horrors that ultimately befall them. The wry humour of Herring is also evident during the behind-the-scenes documentary that appears on the second disc. Just as he tends to do in his comedy routines, he bravely airs opinions that might offend his target audience when he describes Who fans as "nerds" - he uses the term affectionately, though!

Although in a weakened state through having to use the bare minimum of cyber-technology, the Cybermen remain a frightening foe. The concept of visibly half-human Cybermen makes them even more chilling. The sound effects for some of the gruesome cyber-conversions of helpless victims prove particularly gruesome.

This is a decent enough adventure, though a little bitty, and the time paradox elements are rather brain-aching. I would say that Real Time is best experienced in short bursts, as it was originally broadcast, in order to allow the events of each episode to sink in, rather than listening to it in one big "real time" chunk.

Richard McGinlay