The musical Cabaret tells a very similar story to today’s Doctor Who of a nightclub in Berlin that is slowly being overrun by the Nazi party. It also shares similarities to the themes of Cabaret of acceptance of ones flaws and facing up to adversary. As the naïve characters of Cabaret are unable to see their own flaws and the danger coming for them, so too does the character of Iris Wildthyme who gets to have her version of The Ultimate Foe as an evil distillation of her is running the club and making deals with Nazi worms who want to stop all evolution. They find every bit of dissent as wrong and the punishment for wrongness is to be killed like the Jews in World War II.
Continuing on with the allusions to Cabaret, the Sixth Doctor and Iris are the analogues for Cliff and Sally as almost star-crossed lovers. Iris knows something is wrong at Bianca’s but drowns her sorrows in tequila while the Doctor is doing all the investigating into the existence of the worms. Iris is the one who thinks it will all blow over in the end as it is just politics. The performance from Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor is great here as this story takes place soon after the trail and the Doctor finds himself to be extremely vulnerable. He wants to find himself a better life and is extremely afraid of Mel being his next companion as that means his life is going to end and he is one step closer to becoming the Valeyard. He goes to Bianca’s club initially to get away from it and put himself into trouble. He has no real intention of drinking but he wants to get himself embroiled in a plot just to take his mind off it. The show is stolen however by Katy Manning as Iris Wildthyme, trans-temporal adventuress. Iris is just a fascinating character as she is a parody of the Doctor who even steals his adventures. She travels in a bus that is smaller on the inside than it is on the outside and has become completely smitten with the Doctor. Katy Manning is just perfect as a character who just goes around the universe searching for a good time which I love. The performance shows just how versatile Manning is as an actress as Iris is distinct from Jo Grant which is for the best especially later down the line when they appeared in the same story together.
Continuing on we have the villains of the story first being the less interesting of the two with Henry played by Paul Clayton who is the analogue for Ernst Ludwig, but the translation is the boring character in the story. He is power hungry and with the setup of the story, his actions don’t really fit in with the major theme in any real way which is where the problem lies. In a story like this everything major should be connected to the overarching theme. Bianca on the other hand while she is a villain she is our Emcee analogue and just an all-around fun villain. She wants Iris’s remaining regenerations and is ready to go to any real length to get them as she loves the lifestyle of entertaining guests and getting drunk, while unaware of the presence of the Nazis and the many crimes she is committing in the club. Her story is a touching one that allows for a lot of sympathy even if she is in the wrong for most of the plot.
This is another story that is told through a frame story which is where we get the larger diversions from the homages to Cabaret. Many years after World War II and the events of the night in Berlin tapes of Bianca’s survive and bartender Mickey is showing them to a mysterious and silent Mr. Ashcroft to whom we get an interesting twist with at the end. The frame story allows Magrs and Cole to point out just how good the ideas around how Doctor Who works on audio. This is also an interesting way to work around copious amounts of technobabble in this story as we learn about the worms and how they work with Mickey filling in the explanations. I also have to point out the music by Jason Loborik who uses a piano score in the background of every scene which really helps with the transitions from the frame story into the story proper as we get to hear the piano play as the tapes start with Mickey’s narration.
To summarize, The Wormery is a story from Paul Magrs who has some great ideas and if he was writing this all on his own everything would most likely be perfect but Stephen Cole writing in a homage to Cabaret just cripples my enjoyment of the story. The homage hits every beat Cabaret his yet Cabaret hit them better as they were unfettered with an older audience. That doesn’t mean this story is bad as the stuff Magrs is responsible for is brilliant and shines through the homage for most of the story which could have gone terribly wrong. 80/100