Who Back When: Operation Pandorica — A Review

by Peter Zunitch




This is the one with the Bulldog’s danglees, a box that everyone wants into, a MILF of a Wilf, Dalek plunger action, a Monty Python mum, and lots of innuendos. This time they’re not laughing with you, they’re making you laugh. Here we go.


WHO BACK WHEN: OPERATION PANDORICA (Four Parts) — Great!

[cue title music]

They made a podcast, it’s okay, but now they think they’re movie stars. Out-ing daleks, Wilfred nude, Rory’s such a lonely dude. The doctor’s hiding in plain sight, and Churchill he can’t sleep at night. She’s MI-5 and now she’s stuck, the braces guy is out of luck. Op-er-a-tion, from the guys at Who Back When. Pan-dor-ic-a. It’s an audio pro-duc-tion.

The Daleks want pandorica. There’s ginger girl, but it’s not her. Is it good, well we shall see, cause here’s a review for all to see, It’s Who fan fun! (Who fan fun).

[end title music]

The BSCoW (Beschouw)

Rory Williams is a [sort of] man with a task. He stands vigilant throughout the centuries, guarding the one thing in the universe that means more to him than… well… anything else in the universe. Wilfred Mott (currently a young adult) is out to have some respectful fun, but when he stumbles upon Rory and his noble cause, he can’t help from… well… helping in any way he can. For a small band of Daleks is out to take control of what they consider to be the most dangerous weapon in the universe. Unfortunately they’ve lost a few screws and… well… are acting a bit screwy (uh-huh, uh-huh).

[It’s over, you’re welcome… you’re just welcome]

Discussion

Okay, I want to start this off with a question. How many of us figured this was just going to be a total sham, just a mess of an audio drama with childish dirty jokes, and silly character names and just making fun at the whole Doctor Who thing in general?

Yes! Me too! I totally expected that. That’s kind of what it is. It’s exactly what I expected. And yet, it’s not. It’s not what I expected at all. Because beyond the jokes, many of which fly by so subliminally that you probably didn’t even notice them, there’s this whole other thing I didn’t expect. There’s an interesting story, there’s tension, there’s acting and an entire production for that matter that is taken so seriously (and yet not) that it makes for a great tale as well as a bunch of smiles. I laughed, and I cared what happened to the characters (mostly), and that makes for a great little production.

Starting at the bottom of my notes, the third smartest thing Who Back When could have done is make a story where the Doctor barely appears at all, or works behind the scenes. Check! The second smartest thing would have been to take some popular characters from Who history and combine them in a way that has never been seen before, yet still tells a tale that totally could have happened in the Who universe when the cameras weren’t rolling. Check on that too. However the smartest thing they could possibly have done is opted for what amounts to an enhanced audio book format, as opposed to a full-on audio drama. It’s a fine distinction but let’s say that the difference to me is that one is presented as if someone was reading a book, and many of the scenes were acted by a supporting cast. In contrast, an audio drama is like someone is performing a stage play in the dark. You’re not going to get anyone reading long paragraphs. Anyway, it was an incredibly wise choice that WBW adopted the former format. Because of this choice they were able to inject some of the podcast’s personality into the production as well. The straight up comedy / serious split just wouldn’t have succeeded otherwise.

The writing has so many levels to it it’s not even funny. Okay well it is funny, that’s the lowest form, but that’s woven into a storyline where characters have emotions, and we feel for them. On top of that it has an introspective layer to it. It’s complete. It tells a story about a specific set of characters in a time and place, develops both, wraps it up adequately and moves on. Then there’s a bit of thought about the 2nd World War, and some exploration of what life was like at that time. On top of that, there are moments of self-awareness, when the production even references Who Back When, which is then in turn, worked back in as a story element. Finally we round it all out with explorations and enhancements of no less than three separate adventures of the Doctor Who television series itself.

It’s not perfect. There’s an excessive amount of dialog. That should probably be forgiven, because as mentioned earlier this is more of an enhanced book than a drama, but the same argument could be used against comparing it to full-on fan audio dramas. (This is an argument by the way, which I’m choosing to ignore.) In the first three parts, there were opportunities for some action and suspense that were not fully taken advantage of. There are also some extraneous bits that take too long to pay off, and there’s a final fight where one party just kind of gets left behind, albeit for bigger-picture, continuity reasons. Even with all that though, Operation Pandorica, is easily one of the best FIRST productions of any Doctor Who fan audio I’ve heard, and in many ways ranks up there with the best of them in general. An argument could be made that listeners who have never heard the podcast before may want to knock off half a point, but I don’t think so. I truly think this is a story that could appeal to all fans of new-Who (over a certain age) whether they listen to the podcast or not. Because in the end, it all just works for what it is, and what is is, and what it is, is just brilliant.

Part I (21 minutes)

Summary

We’re set in World War II, and young soldier Wilfred Mott returns home to catch up with his dearest Eileen, a very forward lady with an unfortunate last name. After some making up for lost time, they make up for lost time, and then have a bit of a go at it. After that, he’s off for a stroll, and she’s off to work. Braceface’s life takes a turn for the worse.

What’s good

Wilf’s back! Daleks are not turtles. Dalek nicknames. Dalek mannerisms. Rory’s back! The characters are written and performed spot on. Grown up Doctor Who done with a purpose, rather than just having the doctor curse and swear for the sake of it. The production quality and audio mixing is near flawless! Innuendos coming out yer endo.

What’s bad

Braceface could have had a more innovative (and relevant) name. Too many Churchill images stuck in the mind now. (I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…) A little too much in and out when there could have been more diverse character development. It feels just a little long…the episode that is. All character development, no action.

Plot Points

That music sting always reminds me of the opening theme to Farscape, which is never a bad thing. Rory goes through all this time wearing his Roman Centurian’s garb, but when we see him in The Pandorica Opens he’s happy to have shed this for a night security guard’s uniform. Just to allay any undue stress, the shoelace and the dog never make it back into the story. They’re irrelevant.

Part II (28 minutes)

Summary

More military manoeuvres set the stage for more character exploration (uh-huh). Eileen is off to find new work. Wilf is off to redeem his integrity of the other kind. Churchill bares his integrity to find the right employee who can handle pressure. Braceface’s life seems to take a turn for the even worse.

What’s good

Wilf’s parent’s names. The portrayal of Mrs. “what’s on the telly?” (one of my favorite skits). How Braceface deals with it. Eileen trying to act posh. Darlings… exterminate! Be that Dalek.

What’s bad

Braceface hasn’t been developed enough, and it’s been so long since we’ve visited his storyline that I kind of already don’t care. Still no action (apart from the “action”, that is). The forced mangling of “espionage”.

Plot Points

The writing during the hazing scene is a constantly dizzying play on words. (although again, too descriptive…my dreams have been forever scarred). It’s so brilliantly written that you almost feel some words actually belong in the sentence before or after.  Eleven instantly becomes an interesting and likeable character in one sentence. Wilf is such a good person that you can’t help but like him, just as in the show. Were wood locks really a thing? One splinter and you can’t get in. (They should have made them for chastity belts.) It sounds like Eleven is implying that they made the wood locks in order to lock up the doctor if he comes by.

Part III (36 minutes)

Summary

The Daleks have a plan. Eileen’s new job is not what she expected. Braceface’s life takes a turn for the better. Wilf introduces Eileen to his new friend and they hatch a plan and play hide and seek with the box.

What’s good

Agent nicknames. What’s a girl to do? Dalek Erotica. Your legs are so strong. Rory speaks of Amy subliminally (again, writing props). Braceface’s jingle. “He Hadn’t”. “She couldn’t.” The position discussion.

What’s bad

The drink description sounds so good, now I want one. We could do with some more sound effects, like Braceface running off after meeting Rory and Wilf. It’s a little confusing without it.

Plot points

The Dalek interactions are hilarious. Eileen’s first day on the job is brilliant. Unfortunately it strikes a little close to home. It reminds me of some of my past jobs. The treatment of women in the story is both of and ahead of its time, it’s a perfect balance. Has Braceface really been wandering the streets for two days? Does Dora really care?

Part IV (32 minutes)

Summary

The three main parties converge on the warehouse. Oh yeah, and there are Germans too, sort of. It is WWII after all. The Daleks close in on the box. Edwin’s life takes a really, really big turn for the worse.

What’s good

Winnie’s notes. Everyone ignores the tooth! Can I watch? The “Plan B” discussion. Eleven’s final chat with Fred. Wilf’s final adventure is his first.

What’s bad

Why is there so much talk about how heavy the door is? Who is breaking through what door gets a little confusing. It took me two listens to figure out why Churchill isn’t in the final battle. Although Braceface becomes much more interesting later on, his character never really pays off in this story. He needed a better arc. Were the screams recorded late at night when the actors didn’t want to wake anyone up? It’s not clear when Rory uses his hand weapon. Again, more sound effects would have helped. Eileen’s leaving her job seems strictly in the interest of a “leave everything as it began” reset. Four entire episodes and neither I (nor other faithful podcast listeners) was ever asked to contribute a bit part.

Plot Points

The innuendos seem to have mostly died away, even though there are tons of opportunities. This totally provides Braceface and the Daleks more depth the next time we see them. I never got the whole thing about the real and fake universe thing in the television series, but the description in this episode sorts it all out perfectly. NOT!

This article was written by

Peter Zunitch

Father, husband, video editor, writer. I want to experience and create stories of all kinds in all mediums and genres. I want to teach and learn something new.

This article was written by

Peter Zunitch

Father, husband, video editor, writer. I want to experience and create stories of all kinds in all mediums and genres. I want to teach and learn something new.