There’s something about Doctor Who which brings out the craziest in people. I’m not talking about fans (maybe that’s true, but if so it’s probably true of anything people get fanatical about), but about writers and creators. Stories often feature insane, far-reaching plots and concepts. This was true back in the original series, and only seemed to increase during the “wilderness years” that followed its cancellation in 1990. Indeed, I read a bunch of the New Adventures line of novels that came out during that time period and it seemed like the writers reveled in doing whatever crazy thing they wanted to the characters or the concept. In the modern series, actual changes to the core concept are more restrained, but the show still gives writers the opportunity to let their imaginations run wild.
Ish… is an original Doctor Who audio drama from Big Finish which came out in 2002, during the show’s extended hiatus, and is an example of the sort of nuttiness that the franchise seems to encourage. As is common with a lot of stories like this, I’m not completely sure what it’s going on, but the story is still a lot of fun. The Sixth Doctor and Peri visit an enormous conference of lexicographers on the eve of the release of the universe’s most comprehensive dictionary, in a world that actually uses words for currency.
Things of course go wrong, as it turns out that the dictionary’s research has led to the unearthing of the “ish” – a sentient syllable which exists as affix to the “omniverbum” – an infinitely long word whose meaning is so dense that it can warp reality. The ish “infects” people and breaks down their ability to communicate–they end up being able to do nothing but chant “ish” over and over again. Ultimately, the ish finds itself used by a crazed sentient holographic computer program who wants to free reality of the confines of meaning by speaking the omniverbum and thus destroying all language and articulation forever.
See? Crazy stuff.
What makes Ish… really enjoyable is the dialogue itself. This script is by Phil Pascoe, and is fast-paced and jam-filled with double-meanings and puns. I don’t remember enough to give a lot of examples, but one that stands out to me is the Doctor saying something like “We’re dealing a sentient meme, and all it can do is say ‘Me me me!'” Colin Baker obviously revels in this sort of wordplay and is clearly enjoying the script. Nicole Bryant (as Peri) and the rest of the cast are all up for the task as well, with no real weak spots among them.
The story betrays an obvious love for language, and speaks of English with a doting fondness that compares it favorably to other languages. It’s a bit over the top, but the wit that accompanies these raptures make them more acceptable.
Overall, it’s clever entry in Big Finish’s line of stories.