“The High Price of Parking”
Directed by Ken Bently
Written by John Dorney
Starring Sylvestor McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), and Bonnie Langford (Mel)
There are certain standards of travel a companion to a Time Lord gets used to, but while everybody knows to praise visiting anywhere in space and time, they frequently forget the biggest advantage. With the TARDIS as your ride, parking becomes a non-issue.
At least that’s what usually happens. The Doctor has picked some questionable places to land over the years, but one precaution he hasn’t had to worry about is arriving thirty minutes early to find a free space on the street. The TARDIS docks wherever it pleases and, more importantly, never concerns itself with municipal parking garages.
Would that everyone could say the same but, if it weren’t enough that parking lots have gotten so expensive, the lack of comparable reassurance they inspire in their customers makes the thought of an entire planet dedicated to parking a concrete nightmare.
Such a place doesn’t play against type when the Doctor, Ace, and Mel get there. Come to visit Dashra, a planet popular enough to warrant a separate planet for visiting spacecraft, lately the ships housed there have been exploding around take off, and the wardens think the Free Parkers are responsible.
Before our trio can be swayed to investigate–before they can set foot on Dashra–they’re arrested and escorted to the warden’s lodge. Accused of being Free Parkers, they’re unsure what Free Parkers are, but if they don’t find a way to escape, they’ll be found guilty anyway.
Both companions have a chance to put their skill sets to good use, Ace with explosions and Mel with computers. Continuous typing doesn’t naturally encourage active listening but, because Mel needs a reason to explain what she’s doing aloud, Bonnie Langford is inseparable from a great scene partner in Gabrielle Glaister’s Cowley, the head warden.
Watching Mel presume her way into changing the nature of their relationship, from prisoner-guard to ally and friend, is a master class in power navigation. All of the female authority figures in this story (and there are a few of them) avoid being reduced to walking obstacles and come up against the Doctor in dynamic ways that keep events interesting.
In a closing interview writer, John Dorney, explains how he came up with the idea for this story, but since it could be perceived as a spoiler I’ll avoid transcribing it here. Like all great Doctor Who titles, though, there are many corollaries to be made between the drama and real life, notably with artificial intelligence (a line about tech like Amazon’s Alexa), nonviolent conflict resolution, and preventive measures that put too much faith in the thinnest accusations.
If there’s one thing “The High Price of Parking” gets wrong it’s the availability of wardens at parking garages. Try finding somebody to help you when your ticket won’t validate and you’ll see how bleak the search can get, but for a story that never leaves the parking lot and its universal irritation, it couldn’t be a better set for satire.
Doctor Who: “The High Price Of Parking” is available to purchase from Big Finish.