Object Permanence

William Merlock

December 2005

Object permanence is the term used to describe the awareness that objects continue to exist even when they are no longer visible. -en.wikipedia.org

For the first time in the long (20+ years) and storied (160+ stories) history of the Doctor Who Audio Dramas (DWADs), the production staff found themselves in the position of unexpectedly needing to replace the lead actor. Each of the preceding regenerations overseen by the DWADs was the product of design; however, this time, series producer Thomas Himinez had the same problem as the BBC’s John Nathan Turner prior to Season 24, needing a regeneration story that wouldn’t feature an appearance from the prior Doctor. JNT’s solution, as written by Pip and Jane Baker, was rather dodgy; both the regeneration (Sylvester McCoy in a bad wig) and story (Time and the Rani) are generally not held up as pinnacles in the show’s history. Himinez’ solution was to turn to established writer Julio Angel Ortiz, who answered the call with a story that took advantage of this difficult situation, turning it into an asset rather than a liability.

I think it’s a tribute to Ortiz and Himinez that Object Permanence has more similarities to the premiere Christopher Eccleston story than to Sylvester McCoy’s first tale. In both Rose and OP, we get to see a new Doctor, unencumbered with ties to past stories, through the fresh eyes of new characters. The Doctor is both old and new, familiar and alien.

OP opens with a wonderful pre-credits flashback that highlights the strengths of this story. First and foremost is the acting of new Doctor James K. Flynn. He is simply amazing. His voice contains everything we know and love about the Doctor. He begins by telling us about an event that happened to him when he first left his home world. The story is poignant, and again, completely reflective of the strengths of the Doctor Who series and lead character. If this opening was all that was good about OP, it would have been enough.

Once we get into the story proper, it’s clear there’s plenty more ‘good’ to come. In the 19th century town of Middleshire, strange things have been happening. People remember recent history differently; animal life seems to be leaving the town; threatening clouds have hung over the town for a long time, yet the rain never comes. Into this situation, a disheveled, injured man wanders into town; it is here we meet the new Doctor. Assisted and befriended by the town nurse, he becomes determined to solve the mystery of Middleshire.

And so it goes. The story is terrific, particularly in terms of character development, which is magnified by some terrific performances. I’ve mentioned the new Doctor, James K. Flynn. There are also strong performances across the board, especially by Sue Parkinson as Nurse Chapel, Nagome Higurashi as Cassandra Krevling, and Shannon Hilchie as Nerice Fetner. Though the Doctor’s companion Christine is largely relegated to the sidelines, Rachel Sommers delivers her few lines with her typical gusto, reminding me why I like the character (and actress) so very much. To my knowledge Christine is the first companion whose continuous term of service overlaps three Doctors. This regeneration is a great opportunity to grow her character, and I hope she continues on as Mr. Flynn’s companion for some time. Production values have never been higher; the DWADs continue to set the standard for unofficial Doctor Who audios.

One final thought on the new Doctor. One of the strengths that has set the DWADs apart from most other unofficial audio dramas is the care taken in defining the personality of the title role. After nine official and dozens of unofficial Doctors, one might think that all the good ideas had been used. But Ortiz, Himinez, and script editor Fawn Adamson struck gold with this new incarnation; Flynn’s Doctor is distinct from all previous versions yet clearly, and absolutely, the Doctor. The distinction was seen most clearly in his relationship with the child Cassandra. I can’t see any other Doctor in the almost parental role Flynn’s Doctor filled with her. This has the potential for leading into very interest territory in the development of the Doctor’s relationship with Christine.

To sum up, Object Permanence contains many elements we’ve seen before, woven together into a very comfortable whole. But there’s much new here as well, particular when the story in considered in light of its title. The title works on several levels, both within the story, and, in a sort of post-modern way, with regards to the Doctor and regeneration itself. Despite the unexpected loss of Jym DeNatale as its Doctor, the Doctor Who Audio Dramas, like the BBC series before it (and concurrent with it, huzzah!) lives on, enhanced by the change in lead character rather than diminished by it.

Last updated: Thursday, January 5, 2006