Doctor Who: Time Fracture – Immersive Everywhere, London
If you’re a Whovian (the official term for an absolutely massive Doctor Who fan) – and I’m absolutely one of these, by the way – you know you’re going to be in for a treat when one of the first things you see on a heavily graffitied wall just inside the venue is the spine-tingling phrase ‘Bad Wolf’. If you’re not a Whovian, this will mean very little. But if you are, you know what it means. Trouble. Big trouble. I’m only three minutes in and already I’m thinking ‘this is going to be fun!’
Doctor Who: Time Fracture is a new and heavily promoted production from Immersive Everywhere – a group pioneering immersive theatrical experiences with high production values. Produced in collaboration with the BBC, its access to genuine props, sounds, music and clips from the TV series gives it an unmistakable authenticity. For the best part of three hours, you really do step into the world of Doctor Who.
Now, I’m going to try to do this review without giving away plot points or notable encounters, because, well, as River Song would say: “Spoilers!” For simplicity, just assume that the answer to any question you might ask that starts along the lines of “Will we actually see…?” is “Yes”.
The basic premise is this: at the height of the Blitz, a bomb landed on London that was no ordinary bomb. It was a device that fractured time, causing a rift in time and space that leads to the usual chaos that ensues in Doctor Who whenever and wherever there’s a rift in time and space. The audience members – there are about 60 at a time, admitted with the best of social distancing intentions in groups of about 15 – are recruits of UNIT (the Unified Intelligence Taskforce – a Doctor Who staple since the days of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor). We’ve been recruited to help sort out this whole rift in time and space thing. Of course, this involves entering the rift and exploring what’s on the other side. What’s on the other side turns out to be a range of scenes set in different times and places in which different parts of a single story are being acted out. It’s semi-interactive – actors will interact with you, but ultimately you’re not affecting the story, simply observing and milling about in it. There’s more freedom than you initially realise; although you’re shepherded to particular scenes, you can explore more freely than is made apparent. (Perhaps the shepherding is a deliberate effort to keep audience numbers in each scene manageable, given the need for social distancing.) Just when you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all and not sure what to do next, a gaily-dressed cast member will come bounding up to you and suggest somewhere for you to go. It’s all very “Come with me and see the universe!”, which is very fitting. After delivering a message to some sort of psychic in an alien junkyard, my wife and I were invited to pop through a fireplace and meet Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s mad, often incomprehensible, and very Doctor Who.
The acting is mixed but generally good. There are one or two who are superb. The use of audio and video clips and effects is well integrated into the story and doesn’t feel gimmicky. It’s around three hours long, but you’re well taken care of. There are places to get drinks throughout, and everyone adjourns to a large bar aboard an interstellar spaceship for the half-time break.
It’s not perfect, to be sure. The script is a bit clunky and somewhat repetitive (doubtless because it tries to make sure nobody misses a vital line). This results in the best parts being those which are most interactive – where you’re actually conversing with the actors who are ad lib-ing around their lines. The second half is more static than the first, and significantly more passive. But this is the point where the main story has to be told and there are only so many ways to tie together a plot that has unfolded across a range of scenes in the first half, not all of which everyone has had the opportunity to see. It’s necessarily expositional.
The producers boast that there are thirteen different storylines to follow. I don’t think you need to make thirteen visits. But with all immersive theatre there is some inevitable FOMO (fear of missing out). There are scenes I didn’t get to see, so I’m tempted to give it a second run at some point. Of course, that’s really a recommendation. It’s good enough that, even though I know how it ends, I wouldn’t mind a second go.
If you’re a Doctor Who fan, I think you’ll love this. If you’re not, I’m afraid I just don’t know. Because I’ve been a fan since I was five and have, frankly, no idea what it would be like to go through life without Doctor Who. For me, this was the stuff of dreams. There are encounters with aliens and humans, goodies and baddies – I won’t tell you who, because, well, “Spoilers!” But they’ll knock your socks off.
All in all, I don’t think you’ll necessarily feel like you’ve saved the universe after seeing Time Fracture. But you might just feel like you’ve experienced it. And this particular universe is, as the Ninth Doctor would say with a grin, fantastic.
Review by Daniel Bennett
To find out more about Dr Who: Time Fracture and to book tickets you can visit their website.