Sunday, 20 September 2015

Damaged Goods

There is nothing more moving than a story about people -character driven, real life, real situations, people we know, characters we recognise – these characters could be our family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, thrown into a world of adventure, of danger, of loss and of heartbreak.
This is what Doctor Who is to me and in the 1990’s, I felt it was being made for me – even though it wasn’t on the TV. Virgins’s New Adventures were “my” Doctor Who. Then, one day in October 1996 New Adventure 55 was released, it was called Damaged Goods and was written by Russell T Davies, and Doctor Who was never quite the same again.
Russell T Davies, THE best thing to happen to TV Doctor Who since Sydney Newman decided it might be a good idea to have a family show on a Saturday evening. Russell T Davies, the man who made Doctor Who the institution it is today, who resurrected the old unloved classic and made it shiny and new and loved again by a new generation. Russell T Davies who wrote Damaged Goods.
But I am getting ahead of myself, for once I am not giving you all a huge preamble about the situation before getting on to the story – but this story just doesn’t need it, it it quite simply THE greatest Doctor Who story in any format, knocking aside Human Nature, City of Death, Inferno, The Invasion & Talons of Weng Chiang – it is THAT good.
So, Damaged Goods, whats it like? Well, imagine if Doctor Who had been resurrected in the 1990’s as a Channel 4 Drama, late night, gritty edgy, dangerous but very real. At the heart of it, its a story about loss and longing, about two tragic women and the separate need to be loved and to have someone to share love with and the awful extremes that sort of desperation leads to.
It’s dripping with atmosphere, each of the two episodes starts off with a narration setting the scene before crashing into a fab new arrangement of the theme tune, symphonic and bombastic, like a 1990’s Murray Gold.
Damaged Goods is set in “The Quadrant” a run down council estate and tower block in 1987, dressed in the inner city nightmare of Thatcher’s Britain, this is a place of contrast, of drug dealers, protection rackets, loan sharks but also a sense of good and of community. Into this come the Seventh Doctor and his two companions Roz Forrester (Yasmin Bannerman) and Chris Cwej (Travis Oliver) on the trail of a new drug that has hit the streets called Smile.
Smile is being distributed by the horrific dealer known as The Capper, selling it cheap to get a market and ruthless with those who double cross him. As I said earlier, at the heart of the story are two women Winnie Tyler (Michelle Collins) and Eva Jericho (Denise Black) – pause for a second, Denise Black is a stalwart of RTD’s programmes, she was chilling in Cucumber, why was she never in TV Doctor Who – unpause – Winnie is from the Quadrant, Eva is from a privileged background, yet their stories are linked in a real Jacobean tragedy, a tragedy begun with a terrible bargain struck one cold Christmas Eve…
Everything about this story oozes class – the scripting, the pacing, the characterisation, the acting, the music – oh the music – its mournfully brilliant very melancholy and light and wistful. the story also has some intriguing future continuity…
You can see how Damaged Goods was a template for the TV version of RTD Who, real characters, urban setting, human tragedy, but this is the full hit Channel 4 late night style rather than prime time BBC1. Damaged Goods inhabits the same world as Doctor Who, but also the same world as Queer as Folk, The Second Coming and Cucumber. It’s Doctor Who from the world of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, of Bleasdale, but also Alan Bennett – it has a lot of pathos, mainly provided by the character of David (Daniel Brocklebank) a young gay man in a horribly homophobic era, it also has a lot of hope for the future amongst all the death, deprivation and despair David stays true to himself and grows as a character and his inherent goodness is rewarded. It’s a small glimmer in a sad story, but shows that while there’s life, there’s hope.
I cried when it ended, cried for Winnie, Eva, cried for the victims of The Capper and cried because maybe, just maybe Doctor Who will never be THIS good again.
I don’t need to say any more, just buy it, if you never ever listen to a word I say again listen to this – actually, you could win a copy – our friends at Big Finish have three copies of this masterpiece to give away to Planet Mondas Members, details are HERE.
A masterpiece, pure and simple, its just thanks from me to RTD, Big Finish, Jonathan Morris and all the cast involved in making it, giving it a score is meaningless, it needs to be heard to be believed.