As the climactic episode of a reality TV show makes its live debut, the Doctor storms into the office of the network’s president to lodge a series of complaints about programming. But the Doctor soon discovers that the network is in the hands of the vicious Beep the Meep, a cute but bloodthirsty creature who plans to bring the people of Earth under his mind control by embedding subliminal instructions into his new children’s program. Even though the Doctor has already taken steps to prevent the domination of the viewing audience, he has failed to destroy the control mechanism that will allow Beep to take control…
written by Steve Lyons
directed by Gary Russell
music by David Darlington
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Toby Longworth (Beep The Meep), Robert Jezek (Roger Lowell), Alistair Lock (Robbie McHale), Jane Goddard (Lucy)
Notes: The traditional Doctor Who opening theme is not heard at the beginning of the episode, and the story closes – rather unusually with the “Delaware Version” of the theme that the BBC Radiophonic Workshop prepared for the TV show’s 1972 season, even though it was ultimately not used. Beep the Meep originally faced off against the fourth Doctor in the 1980 Doctor Who Weekly comic strip “Doctor Who and the Star Beast”, written by Pat Mills and John Wagner, with art by Dave Gibbons; that strip is included in the graphic novel reprint “Doctor Who: The Iron Legion”. Another CD included free with Doctor Who Magazine, The Ratings War was later released as a free podcast in 2011.
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: A slightly over-length one-part adventure distributed on an exclusive Doctor Who Magazine CD along with a preview episode of the new Paul McGann adventure Invaders From Mars, The Ratings War is a clever quick shot of Colin Baker-era adventure (with some surprising touches of the McCoy era) as well as an equally clever self-promotional piece for Big Finish’s Audio Adventures.
Colin Baker delivers his usual grandiose performance to perfection, though he meets his match here with Toby Longworth’s sinister Beep, who swings from the cutesy end of the pendulum to the murderous end in mere seconds, and back again. For those who don’t know, Beep originated in DWM’s comic strip, and though there are numerous references to his last four-color encounter with the Doctor, those references aren’t enough to leave you in the dark. And since Who continuity seldom touches on the comics, it’s actually a bit interesting.
Also interesting are The Ratings War‘s colorful palette of pop culture in-jokes; the reality TV show taking place in the background of the episode resembles Big Brother, Popstars and Survivor all at once, and sports a music theme that smacks more than just a little of The Weakest Link or Millionaire’s melodramatic music cues. The Doctor also makes reference to soap stars who are predominantly Antipodean (Kylie and Jason, anyone?) and whose careers tend to end around their 25th birthdays, and there’s a fleeting mention at the end of the episode that Meep’s new children’s show is going on an 18-month hiatus – a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to Doctor Who’s own year-and-a-half vacation from BBC-TV in 1985 and ’86, right in the middle of Colin Baker’s reign in the role.
The Doctor’s pointed comments about the state of television and the reality TV trend in particular will echo more than a few listeners’ own thoughts on that topic, especially given the fact that some of those programs are graced with a higher budget than, oh, say, a special-effects starved series about a wayward Time Lord. Slightly less subtle are the Doctor’s comments about how television doesn’t do him justice, and he needs a medium where he can express himself more freely; a cute tip of the hat to the success of Big Finish’s audio dramas, but perhaps a bit too much. Do we really want to put anyone off of the idea of bringing the Doctor back to television, guys?
There are hints that the Doctor has meticulously planned for his battle with Meep, which pushes Colin Baker’s Doctor closer to the trademark behavior of the Sylvester McCoy version of the character. And this story easily fits into Baker’s first full season in the role, with its implied violence against innocents and animals alike – just the sort of troubling over-the-top meanness that critics often said was the 22nd season’s downfall, even though this audio story goes even further with it than the television series ever could have – if you don’t believe me, just pay close attention to the nauseating lyrics of Beep’s song, heard at various points in the story. If you actually like the song in question, it is included in its entirety at the end of the disc’s last track, in addition to a rather amusing bit of demented rambling from Longworth as everyone’s favorite Meep.