Doctor Who: Time Fracture spoiler-free review

I went to one of the preview nights for the Doctor Who: Time Fracture immersive theatre production last week, and this is my absolutely 100% spoiler-free thoughts about it.

Mostly, you get out of immersive theatre what you put into it, and there are places where your experience will depend very much on how enthusiastic the people around you are for joining in. You couldn’t fault the cast for their energy though, and while none of the characters you meet in the flesh are actually directly from the show, they act as good ciphers for the kind of people who have been in it in similar roles. There is a Time Lord Victorious tie-in though, which made me glad I had read a couple of the books and listened to a couple of the audios.

There are, I guess, three main areas of the production. After an initial section which sets up the premise of the story, and acts maybe as a bit of a (re)introduction to the world of Who, you’ll find yourself being sent around a large set with a lot of different areas on prop quests and information quests as events unfold around you. My daughter did her best to keep us split up into separate groups wherever possible so we could see more of it, so we met different historical figures and characters, and consequently had a very different first act.

I’m quite shy and introverted, but you’ve just got to throw yourself into it I think if you want to enjoy it. It was fun and silly and had moments of tension, and some really good close-up illusions and tricks. And some moments that showed up the limits of what stage-fighting is really like if you are only a few inches away.

There’s a slight tendency to barrage you with information – and of course the cast don’t know who else you’ve spoken to, so there was some occasional repetition. There was also a lot of FOMO. Were the people over there having slightly more fun? Is the bit of the story I’m doing the best bit? I really want to go back and find out more about that guy, but bad things have happened to him now. Damn.

I also, for some of the time, didn’t know exactly where my daughter was because she was on another part of the set, and parents will appreciate that was a continuous low-level nag in my mind preventing me getting properly immersed.

There’s a half hour interval in a themed-bar with custom cocktails. That provided us with a much needed chance to catch-up and swap notes with each other and what we’d seen and what we’d found out. That’s a good time for a loo break too, although some of the story-telling continues through the break so don’t all go to the loo at once – you might miss a story development.

The second half is (mostly) a rather more traditional theatre presentation, albeit with some audience participation. Afterwards you can hang around and get pictures on one of the sets before heading to the merch stall.

There are some scares. My 11 year old was fine, my 8 year old definitely would not have been.

On the logistics side: they have commandeered a bar on nearby Davies Street which acts as a foyer where you can have a drink before and after and there are toilets. They were very welcoming to me having my kid in the bar with me there before the show. There’s a cloakroom.

If you are at all squeamish about social distancing at the moment, this may not be the show for you. The organisers have reduced capacity, and stressed lots of times to keep within bubbles and stand apart in certain places at some set-pieces, but lots of it was a bit of a free-for-all to be honest. And nobody cares about social distancing when you are being menaced in person by some of Doctor Who’s scariest monsters.

The production got a bit bogged down in the current Doctor Who culture wars just before it opened with the announcement that John Barrowman would be doing a video cameo, and then the kiboshing of that after his behaviour on the Doctor Who set was resurfaced alongside the Noel Clarke allegations. I could guess where his bit might have been slotted in, but I don’t think my daughter who isn’t actively arguing about Doctor Who 24/7 on Twitter would have noticed anything amiss. They’ve advertised that they’ve filmed some stuff with ‘Fugitive Doctor’ Jo Martin, but I didn’t see any of that. Not sure whether that was because it hasn’t been integrated yet or whether I just wasn’t on that path.

The makers kept saying it was a “love letter” to Doctor Who in advance, and it was fun with lots of familiar faces and items and so much attention to detail. There was literally something everywhere you looked. I’d interviewed production designer Rebecca Brower for the Guardian last year for a preview piece and it was lovely to see it all made full-size.

Is it a great Doctor Who story that adds much to the show? Well, there’s definitely a couple of things that people will want to cling to being canon, but it was more like being in a Doctor Who universe sandpit for a couple of hours.

There was someone in the party next to me at one point who had come cosplaying as the 13th Doctor and was carrying their sonic screwdriver around and I just thought “I hope this is everything you dreamed it would be.”

There was another moment where something happened, three of us in the audience all spontaneously said the same thing, and then the actors riffed off that, which is I guess the kind of bits that the writers and directors hope get sparked all over the set and keep it like a live developing piece.

If I had to put a star rating on this, I’d give it three-and-a-half out of five. I feel like I would probably like to try and do it again in a few months and make all the opposite choices and see what that was like. I think, personally, last week I got more enjoyment vicariously out of my daughter thinking it was awesome and her enjoying having a late night out in town doing something grown up than I did from having to do a bit of improvised theatre myself, but as I say, I think your mileage may vary depending on how comfortable you are with that.