“You can’t drink while you’re driving!”
“It helps me focus on the timelines!”
“Iris, please…give me that glass.”
“oh, now look what you’ve done!…now look at me…I’ve got gin everywhere! Now shush, will ya, and help me with the brakes!”
My entire exposure to Katy Manning’s other persona came in 2003’s The Wormery. While somewhat smile-inducing, it was an odd crossover, and probably not the best showcase for the character in question. Now I’m wondering if I’d missed out on something rather entertaining…
Following on Big Finish’s announcement earlier this year that there would in fact be no further Iris Wildthyme audios produced, we get this somewhat surprising coda.
Featuring the lovely Katy Manning as both personal longtime crush Jo Grant and her ersatz alter ego of sorts Iris Wildthyme (well, actually, there’s no connection whatsoever between the characters before now, to my awareness, but you get what I’m trying to say here), The Elixir of Doom provides Manning with the opportunity to display more than the usual degree of range.
While my original assumption was a dual recording, with each part essayed separately, closer listening seems to indicate that Manning may actually be switching on the fly, with a rapid fire banter between two very different characters, accents and age ranges that many actors could only dream of pulling off with quite this level of success.
“I’m doing an anachronism…see that fella over the road with the movie camera?”
“Yes…not good. We should move away.”
“No, that’s the point. I want him to catch me with this mobile phone in 1936.”
“But isn’t that wrong?”
“Wrong? Who said there were rules?”
While I’m not sure how Jo Grant and Iris were supposed to have gotten together (the story starts with this meeting assumed to have been previously established), they make something of an odd pairing. Jo is even more earnest than usual, and Iris more anarchic than I recall from our lone meeting many years agone.
Crashing a posh Hollywood party, Iris and her new companion tail the obnoxious Joan Crawfordesque Vita Monette, only to discover a longtime acquaintance of both of our new arrivals already present…and what does the mysterious real-world appearance of all these movie monsters have to do with all this?
“Oh, don’t tell me…you mean to say the whole nightmarish situation is down to the fact that you once brought your own drink to one of Vita’s parties?!?”
Despite her deliberate mischievousness and pronounced subversive streak, Iris comes off more than a bit paranoid that Jo will meet up with an earlier appearance of the Pertwee Doctor.
Admittedly, this is more motivated by the fear that she’ll lose her new, perhaps reluctant companion to the dashing adventurer than any concerns about gumming up the timelines. Regardless, the end result is the same, leaving Iris to surreptitiously partner with The Doctor while holding a simultaneous cooperation with Jo Grant. It’s less confused than it sounds on paper.
“Iris Wildthyme! You’re not a feminist, are you?”
“Oh, yes, I’m with the sisterhood…”
As noted at the outset, this is either a fantastic editing job or a masterful display of audio performance from a veteran actress. Particularly at the outset, the two interact with a nigh-Howard Hawksian rapid fire back and forth that keeps the listener both engaged and amused.
While I’d always found Jo to be one of the freer spirits among Who companions (rivalled if not surpassed only by Sophie Aldred’s boundary-breaking, Dalek smashing Ace), she comes of as a positive fuddy duddy next to the anarchically loveable Iris Wildthyme. I find myself regretting not having tapped into the mad timelady’s own line of solo adventures prior to this, and may in fact see if I can swing a story or two for retroactive review somewhere in the near future. After the Elixir of Doom, I’m certainly curious…
The one role Manning falters a bit with is that of the posh and haughty Vita Monette. With a halting, somewhat overdone delivery, the character comes off more awkward than imperious.
“You have enabled Vita Monette to turn men into monsters!”
“They don’t need much prompting in my long experience…”
Her take on Pertwee’s Doctor is on a bit safer ground. While somewhat unfamiliar in the sense of being less of a faithful impression of her long ago costar than a somewhat broader take thereto, the audibly arched-eyebrow manner and clipped delivery in which Manning presents his lines is dead on.
Derek Fowlds costars, most notably as the doomed Harold (the Human Jelly), but also as the rest of the monster menagerie. Oddly, the official credits list him only as a character that appears only towards the very end of the story (the famed monster movie makeup artist Monsieur Claude), but I’m presuming that’s either a typo or sin of omission.
In any case, Harold is the standout among this group of characters, presented as simultaneously ridiculous and pathetic, and the listener can only feel a stunned empathy at his final horrible, if passive-aggressively resistant fate. All things considered, a nice bit of acting, and some strong scripting by author Paul Magrs (of the aforementioned Wormery, Colin Baker/Mel offering The Wishing Beast, and the excellent Paul McGann Eighth Doctor Adventure Horror of Glam Rock) which allows for the same. Regular series director Lisa Bowerman (Bernice Summerfield) keeps things light and moving along throughout.
“It’s not going to be parties all the time, is it?”
“I don’t see why not!”
All told, this is one of the more lighthearted and entertaining Companion Chronicles offerings. Alongside the Nicola Bryant/Colin Baker Peri and the Piscon Paradox or the interaction between Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter that kicked off the delightful Jago & Litefoot line in The Mahogany Murderers, The Elixir of Doom can be considered one of the highlights of its long run, and one can only hope (perhaps against hope) for further Iris/Jo adventures to come.