I should confess at the outset of this review that I am an enormous fan of Doctor Who. If you think it’s trivial, nothing more than a bit of wobbly-walled sci-fi nonsense, you’re wrong. It’s inspired everyone from Mark Gatiss to Neil Gaiman and is at the root of this funny, moving one-man show by comedian Toby Hadoke, who’s loved it since childhood.
My Stepson Stole My Sonic Screwdriver is Hadoke’s follow-up to the acclaimed Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf, which debuted at the 2006 Edinburgh Fringe. Like its predecessor, it weaves autobiography with anecdote, plotting its course through a wave of digressions that never lose their focus. Hadoke lobs a few chunks of Doctor Who trivia into the audience as he jokes about making poetry of facts. But this is never overwhelming, nor is it the point of the show.
Instead, Doctor Who is the unobtrusive connective tissue of a story about a boy abandoned by his father, who grows up to be a divorced dad of two, trying to bond with his new partner’s deaf son. It’s an unexpectedly personal story, made more so by the family photos projected on to a screen stage-left. Hadoke is too intelligent a writer to descend into mawkishness, but he’s not afraid to be honest when a quick quip might have been the easier way out. His father reappears throughout, only to disappear like a Time Lord with no TARDIS and no promise of better things to come.
Hadoke is brilliant at sketching the awkward, tentative transitions we sometimes have to make to enter each other’s lives. His precious Doctor Who figures become the currency of a new family set-up, as he leaves them around the house for his stepson to play with while he moves in. When this backfires and his ‘collector’s item’ (i.e. still in its packet) sonic screwdriver – the pacifist Doctor’s gadget of choice – is treated as, well, a toy, it becomes a test of how willing he is to put his inner child to one side. There’s more at stake now than onscreen continuity errors.
Hadoke is a warm and engaging on-stage presence, pacing with the restless energy of a child and sipping water from a Doctor Who mug as if he were running a race. It certainly feels that way when he summarises the opening episode of Sylvester McCoy-era Remembrance of the Daleks in a two-minute verbal sprint. Even if you have no idea what he’s talking about, you’ll want to applaud his virtuosic performance. But this show is also about pauses: as Hadoke talks of suffering from debilitating psoriasis and the way people ignore his stepson out of awkwardness, the room is momentarily still.
Behind the laugh-out-loud lines and spot-on ad-libs, this is a show about bridging distances between people; about a man and a boy finding a common language in a messy world. That’s where Doctor Who comes in. Like the best fan, Hadoke’s not blind to the failings of some episodes – his cry of despair at Meglos’s giant cactus baddie echoes back to childhood. But for him, what the show about an eccentric alien travelling in a blue police box offers is a universe of broad horizons, not defined by skin conditions or broken marriages. It’s silly, thoughtful and hopeful – the same qualities that make this show so enjoyable.