The Doctor Who Audio AnnualBookmark and Share

Thursday, 15 February 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Doctor Who Audio Annual (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
BBC Audio 2017
Read By: Peter Purves (Steven), Anneke Wills (Polly), Geoffrey Beevers (The Master), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) and Nicola Bryant (Peri).

Wow. Now, this is an odd one. Released by BBC audio in time for December 2017, The Doctor Who Audio Annual is a collection of narrated stories from the World Distributors Annuals. Now I think it’s worth stating up front that I have very little nostalgia for these annuals, born in the mid 90’s, I missed them upon their original release. However, I did pick one or two up from charity shops at a young age and fell in love with the garish artwork and gaudy designs, though even then the stories didn’t seem…quite right. As I got older I discovered the reputation these books had, essentially as the nadir of classic who merchandise (a particular article from Eccleston’s era in DWM springs to mind). Of course, I have to agree. Bar a few exceptions the majority of the Annual stories are… dire and badly misrepresent both the Doctor and his companions. Now it’s been a few years since I’ve had one of the original copies in my hands and so this new release seemed like a chance to give some of these stories a second chance.

Read by original cast members there are six stories in total, along with two vintage essays. The first story The Sons of Grekk, whilst hardly a classic in any sense, isn’t exactly a bad listen. Simple like all of the annual stories, it does manage a vaguely atmospheric opening, helped massively by Peter Purvis narration and an eerie sound design. Unfortunately, things quickly go downhill with The King of Golden Death. The second Doctor continuously refers to his companions as ‘my children’ is woefully patronising and the story incredibly dull, simply being an exercise in basic Egyptology. Things pick up massively with Dark Intruders, read wonderfully by Geoffrey Beevers…giving you a rough idea of who the villain in this particular tale. Featuring the Brigadier and Joe, this tale perfectly captures the UNIT era.

Conundrum follows next and being a tale of warped physics within the Tardis, feels like the writers were at least trying to emulate the feel of season 18, with its themes of high science and mathematics. Unfortunately, it’s also the tale that suffers the most due to the lack of artwork and doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, it’s fun but that’s all. The Penalty is a pretty standard ‘Doctors nightmare’ story, where he’s haunted by old friends and adversaries whilst The Real Hereward is a fun historical. Ultimately though, neither are essential listens.

For those wanting a nostalgia trip, then there may be something here for you to enjoy. Ultimately, however, the audio annual, whilst an admirable attempt to bring new life to the world distributors annuals, the stories were never really that good to begin with. All of the actors do a fine job and the sound design as always is superb, but their building on less than solid foundations. It feels perhaps that the joy of those particular items relies mostly on the aspect that there wasn’t really much merchandise available at the time, along with the zany and trippy artwork. Stripped of their illustrations and placed in a world where we’re over-saturated with high-quality Doctor Who Merchandise (most of all audio adventures) these stories are exposed as being…well…a little naff. However, they do remind us that, as who-fans in a world where we have access to a constant stream of top quality merchandise, we’ve never had it so good.