‘Doctor Who: Redacted’ 1: ‘SOS’ reviewed

With only one more episode left for Jodie’s Doctor, it’s great to hear her in this new audio series, writes Andrew Creak.

Juno Dawson, lead writer; Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Charlie Craggs (Cleo)

As announced only a few weeks ago, Easter Sunday saw the launch of the latest Doctor Who spin off series Doctor Who: Redacted, bringing the show, finally, to the world of BBC Podcasts.

SOS introduces the in-universe conspiracy podcast ‘The Blue Box Files’ and its hosts Cleo, Abby and Shawna as played by Charlie Craggs, Lois Chimimba and Holly Quin-Ankrah respectively. We open with the hosts discussing Adipose Industries and the events of the Doctor Who episode Partners in Crime. As part of these discussions, Cleo is sent to conduct an interview with a journalist from The Observer called Penny Carter – a name which many eagle-eared Doctor Who fans will recognise from said episode.

Penny asks for her name to be off the record, and her voice manipulated for the podcast, due to the fact that people believe her to be crazy when she discusses the events that took place during the incident at Adipose Industries. This is a great touch, as in the world of so-called “conspiracy theorists” many interview subjects ask for the identities to be masked to protect themselves from ridicule.

The conversation between Penny and Cleo is brilliantly scripted. Cleo comes across perfectly as an on the fence conspiracy investigator, who doesn’t quite fully believe the testimony of who she is questioning. Penny also discusses how she is forgetting who the Doctor is. She remembers he was there, that he “got in her way”, but not what he looks like. She says his appearance is covered in her mind, restricting her from remembering exactly what the Doctor looked like. The Doctor is being ‘redacted’ from her mind.

Holly Quin-Ankrah, Lois Chimimba and Charlie Craggs

Cleo is presented to the audience as the lead character for this first instalment, and has been scripted a beautiful introduction within this new spin off, starting the show off with a big unapologetically queer bang, because Cleo is a trans woman.

Having a trans person front and centre of this new spin-off is an brilliant move by the creators of Redacted to make a stand and say that trans people are valid and their stories need to be told, which is so important in this current climate where hate speech against people who are transgender is excused on the daily, and even preached by both politicians and the press alike, and with the government removing any protections for trans people from the abhorrent torture practises known as ‘conversion therapy’.

We learn that she was thrown out of her home by her transphobic mother, who she has since cut off. Her mother is using Cleo’s brother Jordan to invite Cleo to family meals, which she understandably is hesitant to do due to being thrown out when she started her transition, as well as blaming her father leaving, or as she put it ‘disappearing’, on her mother too. I can’t help but feel the inclusion of the word ‘disappearing’ is relevant. Could his disappearance be connected to the Doctor too?

The series’ creator and writer Juno Dawson, who is a trans woman herself, brings a social realist look into the lives of trans women, allowing the audiences, many of whom may not have encountered a trans character before, to see that trans people are real people, with ambitions and hobbies, which they work at with strength and passion while not letting any discrimination they face bring them down, or get in their way of living a happy and true to themselves lives. The queerness of this series will be a strength to this show, building on the success of previous Doctor Who trans character Tanya in Big Finish Productions’ Doctor Who: Stranded.

We also hear a news report about how former fam members Graham and Ryan have gone missing, and that the police are asking for information about the Doctor – the first hint at the fact that people connected to the Doctor are starting to go missing, including names that aren’t known to the listener.

I do find it odd that the Doctor isn’t unanimous with the “blue box” in this world, as it was with Love And Monsters’ gang LINDA (who also get a name drop as the ‘blue box nutters’) but it does lead to an interesting world where the Doctor isn’t automatically connected to the blue box, and must be discovered by the team all by themselves.

The little references and winks to the show are well done, and don’t feel shoehorned in. They don’t just provide anchors to the show itself but allows the audio to world-build for any new audiences to this podcast who have never seen the show before, which I’m sure we can safely assume will be the minority of the audience.

With only one more episode left for Jodie’s Doctor, it’s great to hear her in this new audio series, making Jodie the first Doctor to ‘reprise’ her role before her final episode has aired on the TV. When Jodie says she loved the role of the Doctor, there is no denying it, and it’s great that she is being thread into the series from the get-go as I was worried she would just be a small cameo at the end of the series.

After the Doctor’s attempt to get through to Cleo’s phone, the final moments of the episode made me think she had finally got through, but within moments it was clear it was not the Doctor, it was Rani Chandra calling to inform Cleo that ‘The Doctor is killing us.’

The only criticism I have around this episode is the sound design. While technically sound and well done, when people are used to the soundscapes and sound design of Big Finish’s productions (which many of the listeners of this show will be) it does make this podcast feel more like a low budget radio play, which I suppose it essentially is, but I do feel this show would have benefited by it being a co-production with Big Finish, in a similar manner to how the BBC Radio 7 Eighth Doctor Adventures were back in the late 2000s.

I also feel the “cover art” is lacking, BBC Sounds isn’t known for its amazing cover artwork, but the artwork for their other dramas do stand out a little more, I feel the show would benefit from artwork that promoted its diverse and proudly female and queer characters, which would help draw in audiences who aren’t fans of Doctor Who itself.

I must admit that if these are my only critiques, it shows how brilliantly strong this start to what looks to be an exciting podcast series is, and I cannot wait for each new episode over the coming nine weeks.

‘Doctor Who: Redacted’ is available to listen for free on BBC Sounds app and transcripts for those who are hard of hearing can be found on the ‘Doctor Who: Redacted’ webpage. Main cast: Cleo Proctor – Charlie Craggs, Abby McPhail – Lois Chimimba, Shawna Thompson – Holly Quin-Ankrah. Written by Juno Dawson. Produced by Ella Watts. Directed by Ella Watts and James Robinson. Executive Producer: James Robinson. A BBC Studios Production for BBC Sounds.

Andrew Creak is a freelancer in TV and Film production based in South Wales. As well as this they are a producer director in their own right through their production company Third Time Lucky Productions. Follow them on Twitter: @AndrewCreak


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