Toby Hadoke returns to the Edinburgh Fringe with what is generally described as a sequel to his hugely popular hit of some years ago now, Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf. I say generally described because I’m in denial about its status as a direct sequel, having thoroughly enjoyed Toby’s 2010 show Now I Know My BBC, which has been lost a little in the melee.
That last show was indeed a ‘difficult second album’ and although I found every moment of it funny, exciting and engaging, I guess its appeal was never going to be as broad as something with a Doctor Who theme. The irony, of course, is that Moths and now My Stepson Stole My Screwdriver pride themselves on being aimed equally at Doctor Who fans and those who just like a really good laugh.
]This new show, for my money, actually exceeds the previous two in both performance, writing and overall enjoyment. Played out in powerpoint, Screwdriver takes us into a variety of tender and beautiful personal moments from Toby’s life since the success of Moths. We experience his split from his former partner (precipitated by a text that went to the wrong mobile), we meet his children from that marriage (Harry Potter lovers would you believe? Tut.), we meet his new wife and her son who is hearing disabled, we experience Toby’s anxieties about his absent and estranged father, and we go to hospital with him when he suffers a debilitating attack of psoriasis. Doesn’t necessarily sound funny, does it? But it is – and it’s often hilarious.
Non-fans will love the ins and outs of family life and the funny but also wonderfully romantic moments shared between two old friends coming together after 20 years to discover that they are perfect together; but as a Doctor Who fan, I have to say that most of my enjoyment came from Toby’s acerbic critical assessment of his own fan gene which placed my own (and that of others) into rather stark relief and had me laughing, quite giddily and almost painfully, with self-aware embarrassment throughout. We’re a lovely bunch, but god we can be so anal and so selfish – even unashamedly so, and Toby pulls no punches about this.
The show pretty much opens with Toby recalling how thrilled he was after Remembrance of the Daleks aired. His non-stop, no breathing, autistically precise recitation of the entire plot of part one had the whole audience in fits. And even though I’m four years older than Toby, my inner geek knew that my 18-year-old brain had been reciting something equally similar and breathless that happy continuity-rich week in 1988.
Okay, so he’s unforgivably hard on The Underwater Menace (which I know he actually likes) and equally so with Meglos (fair enough), but it’s nice to know he’s picked such stories because they can get a good laugh from the audience (a talking cactus?) and even though they’re turkeys, they’re way better than The Only Way Is Essex. My wife watched the show with me and when it came to Who facts – of which Toby is a master – she said she suspected he hadn’t told me anything I didn’t already know. No, he didn’t, but the familiarity of them and my identification with him for knowing all the nonsense I know left me – and presumably many others – with a warm geek-reflecting-mirror of a glow.
Throughout, Toby’s love for Doctor Who and our fannish impulse to wrestle with the thing we love is fully on display. I am particularly fond of the line (when talking about the ‘collector’s item’ screwdriver of the title) ‘like a lot of things associated with our experience of Doctor Who, it’s not to be enjoyed’ (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea).
Perhaps the high point for me is Toby’s description of his engagement with his stepson, and I must confess to a tear of genuine sadness when he describes the moment at which he is watching subtitled Doctor Who and the words (Doctor Who Theme) come on screen. His realisation that his stepson will never hear the Doctor Who theme tune touched me more deeply than I might have imagined. This piece of music fills the majority of fans with a wonderful sense of anticipation, dread or excitement and it’s one of the best bits of music ever recorded (No.3 in Mojo’s top electronic music recordings of all time), and it means so much to all of us – it’s our national anthem – but it will never be heard by Toby’s wonderful young stepson. I’ll be surprised if there was a dry eye in the house.
But it’s not all hearts and flowers; there are bags and bags of self-deprecating laughs and jokes in here; not just about Doctor Who, but about politics and other topical subjects. If you’ve seen Toby before, you know what to expect, but I’ll say this about him – as a performer he’s matured a thousandfold in the last two years. He was endearingly bumbling in the last two shows, but here he has a smart, invigorating confidence that works very well indeed. He looks smarter, the show’s more focussed and specific and in Edinburgh terms he’s in a more suitable venue. His audience interaction is now utterly sublime and contagiously warm. Oh, and the deliberate choice not to use swear words doesn’t harm the gags (or the laughter we give them) one jot.
This show is a must-see for all fans of Doctor Who and that belly-achy thing we call laughter. Intelligent, charming, incisive, naughty but above all generous and funny – don’t let even the Daleks prevent you from seeing this.
My Stepson Stole My Sonic Screwdriver is playing at Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh, 3.10pm daily until 26 August.