If you’ve ever wanted to live a Doctor Who adventure, there are more than a few options these days. You could create a fan film with friends, visit a Doctor Who escape room (there are a few variations) or just strap on a Virtual Reality headset for a couple of digital stories.
However, new interactive theatre experience Doctor Who: Time Fracture looks on the surface to be your best bet for total Doctor Who immersion. In a loose 2 hour 15 minute performance, fans are recruited by the Doctor to UNIT to investigate the titular “time fractures”, travelling between various planets and time periods (in realit,y different rooms of the same sprawling set) and meeting unusual characters, all of whom are trying to save reality.
But is it worth trying out? Well, after a brief behind-the-scenes visit a few weeks ago, I’ve now managed to experience the entire show in person and, while I’m sure many Whovians will delight in the chance to dip a toe into the world of the Whoniverse, I’m sure still more guests might find it bewildering and hard to follow, even if you’re very au fait with the show itself.
Stuffed with great Easter eggs, winning performances and fun characters, this should be the perfect Secret Cinema-style Doctor Who experience but, in practice, the impression is of an overstuffed story that can’t be fully experienced in the time and space allotted, despite the best efforts of a talented cast.
From the off, things felt a bit rushed. In the opening segment, we were treated to a bustling room of screaming UNIT scientists, all shouting over each other to explain exactly what was going on and what we were going to do to save the universe. At times, it was a little like we’d wandered onstage during an improv workshop, as various performers tried to foreground their own character while others were speaking or stand out in other ways (one scientist putting his tie around his head like Rambo, for some reason).
It was chaotic and loud, which fitted the story and added a sense of excitement but also gave the impression that things were slightly beyond the performers’ control. Brief games and tasks were set up then quickly ignored when another technical cue started, and a much-heralded selection process from the guests fizzled into nothing when we were attacked by enemies and received a message from the Doctor(s).
A moment later, we were ushered through the fractures themselves and shunted to a certain set, where more performers had to shout to be heard over the noises, sound effects and castmates in the adjoining rooms. Despite the length of the show, a lot of what we experienced felt rushed and not quite perfected, while other moments felt overly drawn out and hard to extricate yourself from. And sometimes, that meant you missed out.
One of the big marketing points of this show is that every guest has a unique experience, with no two visitors likely to have the exact same adventure – and that was certainly the case for us, whisked before the Elizabethan court and making a pact with Davros before ending up in an alien space-bar and facing off with the Weeping Angels in various shifting groups that were regularly split up and taken to different locations by different historical figures, aliens or “Time Lord guides”.
However, the freewheeling style of the show is a double-edged sword, with guests likely to miss out on entire areas and storylines wherever they end up. In fact, I’d say it’s almost impossible that the show, as it’s set up, would allow visitors to check out every location. In our case, this became something of a downside as we were trapped learning a synchronised dance in the royal court for around half an hour, never making it to other sets like the Tomb of the Cybermen, Leonardo Da Vinci’s workshop, the Torchwood Hub or an alien market before we were quickly hustled along for the interval.
For anyone keen to get their money’s worth this could grate, especially as it wasn’t clear whether we could wander around and check out different areas at our leisure. And getting stuck in one location really did make it feel like you were missing out, especially when glimpses of other storylines – an alien assassin! A Cyberman attack! An Ood on a date! – slid past your peripheral vision. Key plot points also passed us by, while elements that we did see were presumably missed by others, making it hard for any one person to follow the whole story.
This loose approach to structure applies to the performances too, often brilliantly – the various guides and characters within the show were universally good, and great improvisers – but also in a way that sometimes undercut the impact of the story. At one moment, an undercover operative revealed himself and requested our help later with a special signal – but then when an armed gunman attacked, he was apparently killed, and never appeared in the story again. Then, for no apparent reason (or at least one that may have been set up in another room) the Cybermen were there! And we all went off to get drinks.
Following that, another alien character I’d never met was lying dead at my feet… and I still have no idea why, or what its significance was. Later, after a fraught run through a terrifying corridor of monsters, a Time Lord Guide emerged, thanking my group and urging us to trust her – “I haven’t let you down so far!” she said. I didn’t quite have the heart to tell her that we’d never met before, and she’d presumably been shepherding a different group.
When going into Time Fracture, I thought it was a fairly long show but, coming out, I felt we’d not had nearly enough time to sample what was on offer. Perhaps if the frantic, dragged-around experience was replaced with something more exploratory, it could be a more satisfying night out but, as it stood, it felt like we were rushed through the interesting bits, and kept waiting like cattle in others so we wouldn’t get in the way.
To be fair, a commendable emphasis on COVID protection can’t have helped; maybe in the initial plans there would have been more wandering, before a need to keep an eye on where everyone was standing came in – and certainly the compulsory masks sometimes made it difficult for cast members to hear and understand what we were saying to them.
And even with the strictures I’ve described, there were truly brilliant moments. Bargaining with the creator of the Daleks in his lair was a highlight, as was the genuinely terrifying Weeping Angel attack, and the grand finale (which I won’t spoil here) was a pleasingly interactive if slightly overlong experience that managed to include almost every Doctor from the series (some from new video or audio, some from recordings and some from impressionists). Though no Paul McGann, as far as I could tell – maybe there was a rights issue.
As my friend said as we left the final room, “I wanted it to be more like that!” – and in a way, that was my main bugbear with Time Fracture as a whole. So often it felt like we were held back from some of the truly inventive storylines, clever Easter eggs and interesting sets because we were stuck on rails we had little control over.
For now, while this may be your best bet at an interactive Doctor Who episode, it’s unlikely to be up there with Blink or Rose in the top 10s. As the performances continue, hopefully Immersive Everywhere and their team can continue to iron out the cracks (if not the time fractures) to create a more satisfying experience for everyone, building on the great bones that this show has beneath the chaos.
And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll go back, and find out once and for all what on Earth Brian the Ood was up to.