Carl Gustav Jung famously dreamt that Liverpool, ‘the pool of life’ as the psychoanalyst somewhat generously viewed the mouth of the Mersey, represented the centre of his personal cosmos. As to the actual universe, he was a few miles off. For a child growing up in the 1970s, raised on Jon Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen, its centre was in Blackpool – at 111 Central Promenade, to be exact, where a Tardis exterior led downstairs into the Doctor Who Exhibition.

With pleasing synchronicity, there’s something rather Blackpool about the Gallifrey Cabaret, albeit more North Pier than Central Promenade. A star in the constellation of the annual Queer Contact season in Manchester, it’s a post-watershed fan letter in drag to the Time Lord in all their gender and person fluidity, its compere and their companion making up a kind of Little & Large without a straight man.

Of course, the Doctor and the queer community have long been the most companionable of bedfellows, most obviously since Russell T Davies commenced his first tenure as showrunner in 2005, although the first regular gay Doctor Who group, Soho’s The Sisterhood Of Karn, began to meet in 1994. Tonight’s audience reflects this rather (ahem) broad church; a diverse multiverse in monochrome blacks and multicolours, they give the aptly-named Space 1 in Contact a convention atmosphere, in spite of the relative paucity of cosplay.

Credit: @emwajones

On stage, host Reece Connolly looks as though he’s having the time of his lives as he incarnates a succession of Doctors. The Anthea Turner to his Bruce Forsyth in this Regeneration Game is Carrot, slipping themselves comfortably into the shoes of Donna Noble, the Doctor’s most voluble assistant. The two share a winning rapport, coming to the fore in the end-of-the-pier medley that closes the first act.

Like a more scattershot Buffy Revamped, Brendan Murphy’s breathless recap of seven series of the eponymous Vampire Slayer, the revue straddles the overlap between fan fiction and theatre, albeit with occasional semi-nudity, and, in the case of Rex Cherry’s stoned love note to the Love And Monsters episode of the show, a use of Mah Na Mah Na to soundtrack an act no Muppet would willingly perform; one that had even Tony, the BSL interpreter, corpsing.

Whatever their respective night jobs, each performer seems to bring a genuine love for Doctor Who to their respective pieces, whether it’s Bailey J. Mills sporting a Weeping Angel mask straight out of Reeves & Mortimer’s imaginary Action! Image! Exchange theatre company while parodying the grammar of sexualised video choreography, or Judas Darkhome celebrating The Girl In The Fireplace by throwing themselves into the pre-Rose Tyler Billie’s stage school strop, Because We Want To.

Flamboyant though both are, the performance that is arguably most evocative is Mandla’s response to The Daleks In Manhattan, first performing a burlesque show to that episode’s own song and dance number, My Angel Put The Devil In Me, before reciting what she calls a ‘found poem’ from Helen Raynor’s all-too-apposite dialogue from the episode, speaking of another century’s Great Depression. In its aftermath, you could hear a sonic screwdriver drop.

Credit: @emwajones

Silence, though, is the exception in a cabaret that has the audience dancing back to its seats after the interval, giddy as much with reciprocal feeling as alcohol. When Mills, having misplaced it, asks the compere, “Have you seen my bra?”, the audience is quicker than Connolly with the ad lib, “It’s behind you!”

In spite of its makeshift veneer, in keeping with the not-so-special effects of the Doctor’s early years, it turns out that beneath the tomfoolery, there’s a bona fide narrative thread, one that ties proceedings back once more to Blackpool, this time as one-time host to the party conference season. It’s a threat much closer to home than the Daleks’ Skaro, an institution with two hearts fewer than a Time Lord, a force that’s been appointed to the centre of the BBC itself: the Conservative Party.

That there’s six more colours in the rainbow than their narrow strip of blue, and enough life in each of them to regenerate time after time, is cause for optimism. Specifically British, but literally universal, if the Doctor has taught us anything, it’s that we find our humanity in the glorious range of its light, from infrared to ultraviolet, and the more we seek to restrict its wavelengths, the closer we get to darkness.


By Desmond Bullen

Main image: @emwajones





Gallifrey Cabaret is part of the Queer Contact festival, a series of shows which celebrate LGBTQ+ theatre.

The festival runs until February 18, 2023. For more information on shows please click here.