In Alan Barnes’s Fourth Doctor story, Suburban Hell, it’s all Doctor Who meets Abigail’s Party. K9 is sidelined in this story and the focus is on a North London dinner party, the guests, the neighbours, a house and a particular painting.
If you’re old enough to have seen this on TV or on stage in the 1970s then all the better; many of the themes and details will evoke Mike Leigh‘s play. If not then this should still entertain. I adore Abigail’s Party, so no guesses as to what I thought about Suburban Hell…
The Big Finish synopsis from the Suburban Hell product page is a good place to start:
Somewhere in a suburb of North London, there’s a crisis. More than a crisis, a positive disaster: Belinda and Ralph are expecting four for supper, and there’s no Marie Rose sauce for the Prawns Marie Rose. All in all, the evening couldn’t possibly get any worse…
Until the doorbell rings, bringing the Doctor and Leela to the dinner party. They’ve got a crisis, too – temporal ruckage has sent the TARDIS to another time zone entirely. Meaning they might have to endure a whole evening in Belinda’s company.
But the Doctor and Leela aren’t the only uninvited guests tonight. There’s a strange fog falling, out in the road. And in that fog: savage blue-skinned monsters, with dinner party plans of their own. Because it’s not Prawns Marie Rose on their menu – it’s people!
So it’s Abigail’s Party with time travellers. Of course it isn’t that simple. While meddling and trying to flatten out a ruck in time, the Doctor dabbles and gets separated from Leela. As the two explore the strange events of a dinner party Alan Barnes plays tricks with our assumptions – the dinner party is set in the 1970s but it isn’t the 1970s, at least not until people start coming adrift in time. All this and a mysterious painting, flesh-eating aliens and worst of all a fondue set!
Once the dinner party is explained, reality starts coming unstuck via the mysterious fog, strange telephone messages and then hordes of ne’er-do-wells trying to force their way into a suburban house. Underneath this is another base under siege but no matter, of more consequence is the ruck in the time and the mystery behind why the neighbour, Thelma (Annette Badland), doesn’t seem to age.
It all peaks nicely then comes to a satisfying end.
Nick Briggs as director has done a good job of making sure the tone the actor project is spot on with regards the homage to Abigail’s Party. Alan Barnes has left almost no stone unturned in terms of references back – the Thelma character for example is an analogue of the neighbour in the Mike Leigh play, Susan, who in turn was played by the actress Thelma Whiteley. Many characters jobs match the play and so on.
As ever, all performances are good, but Louise Jameson makes the point in the extras that Katy Wix as Belinda the part hostess has probably the best part.
If you are the sort of person who this will appeal to, you probably know who you are. It may be Suburban Hell, but it is listener heaven!