The Boy That Time Forgot
Tony forgets again
I started to write this review by referring to a previous, on-screen Fifth Doctor story. Then a lot of klaxons and spoiler-alarms went off in my head and the Judoon came and dragged me off to spoiler-prison.
The first thing you need to know about The Boy That Time Forgot though is that it’s an in-universe semi-counterfactual which extends beyond the range of that previous, on-screen Fifth Doctor story.
Actually, no – the first thing you need to know about it is it’s written by Paul Magrs, so what you can expect is weirdness…but in a good way. When Magrs writes a script, and you listen to it, you make a contract to jettison the ordinary and commit to the journey he wants to take you on. It’s kind of like that moment when you find yourself strapped into a rollercoaster, and it’s all been fun and banter and then it starts to move. You get the momentary sensation of ‘Is this a good idea?’ followed by the knowledge that a) you can’t get out now anyway, and b) it’s going to throw you around and turn you upside down, for sure, but the chances are, you’ll emerge on the other side, thrilled and grinning.
Reviewing The Boy That Time Forgot without blowing the apparently spoilerific detail of who The Boy actually is, is always going to be a little tricky, but let’s say it doesn’t start where you might expect it to, Magrs throwing us right into the action and one of what turn out to be quite a few central dilemmas. The Doctor and Nyssa appear to be trapped in Earth’s far-distant past, as are a couple of eminent Victorians – novelist Beatrice Mapp, who Stands For no Nonsense (clearly preferring to take her nonsense sitting down), and adventurer Rupert Von Thal (and yes, we know, it’s a magnificent Whovian pisstake of a name – it’s by no means the only one, though to tell you many more might be considered spoilery). There’s been a touch of fashionable not-exactly table-rapping going on, and the universe being the Logopolitan nightmare it is (*Shakes fist at sky* Bidmeeeeead!), a degree of Block Transfer Computation to boot, to try and locate a Tardis that’s gone AWOL.
What becomes apparent fairly quickly though is that this is not Jurassic Park. There are going to be no raptors peeping through bushes or T-Rexes stomping through trees on this prehistoric Earth. It’s really not that kind of planet.
Which, yes, begs the question of what kind of planet it is. Erm…let’s just say it you’re ScuttlyThingAphobic (don’t tell me that’s not a real thing!), this story isn’t going to be much fun for you.
Yes, it’s a planet of Scuttly Things, ruled over by one pinkish ageing biped that doesn’t scuttle. The Scorpion King. The Boy That Time Forgot.
There are plenty of complicated, practically New-Who reasons why Time forgot this particular boy for many decades, and he’s certainly made the planet his own in the meantime, Andrew Sachs giving a suitably wheezy, creepy but energetic performance in the central role. And Magrs packs the story with surprisingly logical progressions – from Scuttly Things to Really, Seriously Scuttly Things That Eat Everything (the equivalent of dinosaurs, only Scuttly. Sleep well, boys and girls), a kind of Scuttly Thing revolution, the secret of the Scorpion King’s power over his previously benign Scuttly Thing friends and subjects, and his plans now that the Doctor and Co have dropped by – including quite a bit of revenge for the whole ‘Time Forgot’ thing and playing probably quite a vigorous game of Kings and Queens with Nyssa. (He’s the only humanoid on a world of Scuttly Things, give The Boy a break!).
That’s never going to end well, is it? Old Man, Trakenite Good Girl, rebuilding a species on the Planet of the Scuttly Things, over the probably still-warm bones of the dead Doctor? There’s a decided touch of Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall about the whole thing, or, if you want to stay in-universe, a touch of Sharaz Jek and Peri. But – perhaps fortunately – before the geriatric lurve gets going, Date Night of the Damned is interrupted by the aforementioned Revolution of the Scuttly Things. Oh yes, it’s all go, this one.
What Magrs actually does here, beneath all the flippancy of this review, is examine that thing that’s been more and more a feature of the Doctor’s life since he returned to our screens in 2005 – the consequences of his actions, and in particular, this time out, the consequences of his failures. For a Doctor so especially sensible of not being what he’s been before, it’s a particularly affecting accusation with which to hit the Fifth Doctor that somehow he did less than he could, that he failed to care enough about someone, and so condemned them to life down among the Scuttly Things, while he skipped away with his cricket sweater and his time machine, having adventures. Magrs is careful never to let the Fifth Doctor too far off the hook, while still delivering a ‘let’s run away from the demented Scuttly Things, shall we, and sort this out later?’ plotline that allows for bravery, heroism, and at least one real, and marginally more likely romance to unfold along the way.
Given actors of the calibre of Sachs, Harriet Walter as Beatrice, and the ever-reliable Adrian Scarborough as Von Thal, it’s perhaps too easy to think ‘You can’t go wrong.’ But what Magrs achieves here is more than that flip dismissal gives it credit for. There’s no reason in the wide universe for The Boy That Time Forgot to exist – the on-screen episode to which it’s a kind of Big Finish sequel was a story under which lines were drawn. It was complete in itself, with absolutely no need for a sequel. So by opening up the possibility that what we know isn’t what really happened, Magrs dares himself to the brink of a precipice, and then throws himself off to see if he can fly – this story has to be as good as the one it’s following on from, and it has to make a certain amount of sense, and it has to challenge the Doctor with the consequences of his actions, and it has to define the idea of a boy grown to an old man with only himself and his Scuttly Thing subjects for company, brooding on what’s gone wrong in his life, and what he’d do if he could only put them right. The Boy That Time Forgot didn’t really need to do any of that, but Magrs straps himself into the rollercoaster, one seat in front of us, and challenges himself to do all these things.
Does he succeed? Again, it’s too flip to say ‘Well of course he does, he’s Paul Magrs.’ That’s to make a mockery of the effort involved, and to some extent, of the punch this story packs. But yes, there’s nothing that would legitimately constitute ‘a dull moment’ in The Boy That Time Forgot, and yet it manages to make substantial philosophical strides in the Doctor’s psychology, allowing him to push back against an ungrateful universe and stake his place in it, as much as any of his louder predecessors. It also, as we say, delivers a bit of a rip-roaring ride which takes us from an intriguingly oddish beginning through ever-thickening layers of logic to a conclusion that pleases fans of the Doctor’s own usual way of ending stories in which he’s been involved.
Without giving too much away, the stakes involved in writing this story were unnecessarily huge – A Thing happened on-screen that was as shocking as, say, Peri being shaved and brain-transferred with the Lord Kiv. When that particular shocking event was whitewashed into softness a few weeks later when she apparently had gone off to marry King Yrcanos (no, really, that’s a better fate), it ruined that harsh, dramatic ending to her story. The Boy That Time Forgot dabbles with that level of consequence, but does its job far better, extending an on-screen story beyond the point where it ended, and giving The Boy a new story to live.
Give The Boy That Time Forgot a try today – for our money, Magrs delivers all down a complicated bravely high-stakes line he makes for himself.
Although of course, if you’re ScuttlyThingAphobic, you might want to give it a miss.