Doctor Who: Time Fracture by Immersive Everywhere has plenty to exhilarate both avid and casual Doctor Who fans, delivering on its promise to let audience members step inside the show.
As you can learn from the brisk, fifty-second trailer, a World War 2 bomb left a crack in spacetime, which is increasingly causing weird stuff to happen in London and around the globe. The Doctor has enlisted us to save the universe. All in a day’s work.
Entering the site, I’m immediately struck by the attention to detail, with ‘UNIT personnel’ checking our names and Covid-compliance. Well done – rather than ignore the pandemic, they’ve gently incorporated it into the story.
We enter a frenetic scene, right in the middle of the excitement, and are immediately set to work on various tasks intended to mend the fracture. One of the strengths of immersive theatre is in creating an opportunity for the audience to participate actively, and it’s made clear from the off that we will get out of the experience what we put in. That shouldn’t be a problem for a brand with such a passionate fanbase, and my group didn’t require much encouragement to get stuck in.
Pretty soon, we’re let loose to explore, with numerous areas to visit across time and space. I’ll leave adventurers to discover these for themselves, but I’m pleased to say that many of the elements which will make fans squeal with excitement (or fear!) are in the mix. Credit to Rebecca Brower for her production design: everything is sumptuously realised and more than once I found myself gasping at the sight of a new location or clever detail. The set is loaded with what (pet peeve!) people now refer to as ‘Easter eggs’, little references you could easily miss. Arrive expecting to be delighted and you won’t go far wrong.
All this said, the production wasn’t perfect. There were a few elements that could be fixed, even now.
Remember the snappy trailer I mentioned, which told us what was up in less than a minute? Well, for some reason they repeatedly (read: four or five times!) brief and re-brief us, at a slower pace, with the same information. To their credit, unlike some immersive shows which jettison the premise once it’s established, the plot was threaded thoroughly into every part of the experience. We got it the first time, and even if we hadn’t, it is reinforced throughout.
We’re guided through a series of discrete parts of the location, and I found it a shame to feel we were rushed out of the most ‘open-world’ portion, which is (positively) reminiscent of Secret Cinema in approach. This doesn’t come close to the size of e.g. a Punchdrunk show, but even so, I’d have liked more time to explore, and there were many areas I never made it to. Perhaps they’re hoping to see return visitors. If so, they’d need to rebalance the opportunity to explore other paths (which I’d love to go back and do!), and the time devoted to set pieces (which I’m less excited to watch again), before it would be worth another visit for me. I’m sure die-hard fans will go more than once regardless.
Shows like these are to a degree at the mercy of their audience, and that even goes for who comes along to each performance. Yet I couldn’t help feeling a slight discomfort at the multiple references to the group having been hand-picked by the Doctor to save the world. Looking around at the entirely white crowd, I wondered if the Doctor maybe had a little diversity problem. Which would be odd for someone coming from a totally different race on another planet. The make-up of the audience isn’t something in the control of the company, but they chose to include those lines and, in my opinion, shouldn’t. This lack of diversity wasn’t the case with the cast, so such a misstep could be avoided.
These caveats aside, this is a rich and vibrant immersion in a beloved universe, and to my mind, it delivers exactly what fans will want. A casual viewer of the series could easily go with the flow, and would miss out on nothing more than a few nerdier references. That said, someone who’d never seen the show might find themselves bewildered.
With an internationally loved brand, and spectacular sets, it would be easy to miss the factor which really brings the show to life: the large cast delivering both scripted set pieces and quick-witted improvisation. This is very much an ensemble piece, but it would be remiss of me to fail to mention Ryan Ruel, as a Time Lord Guide, who spotted me drinking alone in an alien market and enlisted me onto the trail of an espionage plot. It’s a special skill to adapt and react to whatever an audience throws at you, and in every encounter, I had or observed with the performers they did so without blinking.
A final note on the spirit of this experience. I grew up with Doctor Who. Perhaps it’s a factor of my age, but these days the show can feel, well, a little self-congratulatory about the human race. Which is to say, while I think I have quite a high tolerance for cringe, there were a couple of moments where I really had to grit my teeth and smile my way through them. No doubt others will love these moments, so just be prepared for them.
Overall, this felt a worthy companion to the series, and one that could serve as a proof of concept. At future immersive Doctor Who events, perhaps the BBC might consider loosening control just a little and, for example, allowing writers to create their own, original villains. This one successfully justifies more, even bigger shows. I can’t wait.
Review by Ben Ross
Doctor Who: Time Fracture, a ground-breaking Immersive Theatrical Adventure, plunges you into the incredible universe of Doctor Who.
1940 – at the height of the Blitz. A weapon of unknown origin destroys a small corner of Mayfair, and simultaneously opens a rift in space and time. For decades, UNIT have fought undetected to protect the people of Earth from the dangers it poses. Weakened and beaten back as the fracture’s multiplied out of control, they’re close to defeat.
DOCTOR WHO: TIME FRACTURE
Presented under licence by Immersive Everywhere
Directed by Tom Maller
Written by Daniel Dingsdale
Designed by Rebecca Brower
Doctor Who lore consultancy and Script Editing by James Goss
Location: UNIT HQ, 1-8 Davies Mews London W1K 5AB
Press Night, Wednesday 16 June 2021
Tuesday to Sunday at 6pm, 6.45pm, 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesdays, Saturdays & Sundays at 12noon, 12.45pm, 1.30pm