Scream of the Shalka (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 28 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Scream of the Shalka (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Paul Cornell
Read By David Collings

Released by BBC Worldwide - June 2016
Available from Amazon UK

In the run up to Doctor Who's Fortieth Anniversary in 2003, fans had very little to look forward to.  The show was seemingly dead for good.  The 1996 TV movie had failed to make an impact, so the show was being carried on purely in spin-off material like audios, comics, and books.  But a small team at the BBC website was determined to make something of the fortieth anniversary, and decided to make a fully animated cartoon series.  They had put on some limited animations before, but those were mostly audio stories with still images attached. This time they wanted to make a genuine animated web series, three stories told over 12 episodes.  But that got whittled down, and in the end they produced one story written by Paul Cornell and starring Richard E. Grant as the Ninth Doctor.  Of course that Ninth Doctor's official status was immediately thrown out, as before they even released the first episode, the BBC finally decided to announce that they would bring the show back properly.  And so Scream of the Shalka became this odd diversion, the singular story for a Doctor that is not considered official. Plans for further episodes featuring this cartoon Doctor were shelved, and this Doctor became a footnote in the series history.

Cornell also wrote a novelization of his story, which has now been brought to life again as an audiobook. While each of the six original episodes ran around 10-15 minutes, each episode is expanded upon in the book, giving greater characterizations for our main players, as well as deeper motivations. This is a good thing, it makes the story stronger, as the original story lacked this due to it's shorter format. 

For example, this version of the Doctor was heavily implied to have a tragic backstory.  While it is only hinted at, it seems he lost a companion that he was quite close to. The obvious conlcusion is some tragic death, but what we are never truly given the details. The novelization doesn't either, but the hints are stronger, and help explain the Doctor's attitude. The robot version of the Master that accompanies the Doctor in the TARDIS also gets a lot of extra characterization. While it is still not clear how exactly his conscienceness ended up in a robot that lives in the TARDIS, we get a better sense of what he is all about here.  New characters like Allison, Joe, and Major Kennet all have better development here as well.

It then becomes odd that, as a story that had such short episodes, this audiobook has a full hour disc for each episode.  For a story that is less than 90 minutes in length, the fact that the audiobook is well over six hours is incredible. The average Target Novelization of even a classic six parter is about 3-4 hours.  So Cornell really expanded his story for the book, and it shows in this subsequent audiobook. To be perfectly honest, while Scream of the Shalka is a decent story, and the book version is clearly superior to the truncated original webcast, part of me thinks six hours is a lot of time to dedicate to a story that isn't really THAT good.  While Cornell did make some attempts at modernizing Who via this cartoon, he was too traditional in too many ways to make the show properly work for anything but old fans. They might've gotten into it with time and subsequent episodes, but it would not have brought in new folks the way Davies eventually did. And that is still evident in listening to this audiobook.

David Collings is a fine narrator, and this novelization by Paul Cornell clearly had a lot of love put into it.  The audiobook is a good way to experience that novelization, but if you are interested in Shalka, you can pick up the cheaper DVD and watch the story and special features in about the same amount of time it would take to get through this audiobook (probably less time really). If you find you really liked that cartoon and then want to get more intimate details of the characters featured within, then the audiobook would do you well.  Personally I found that watching the behind the scenes documentary on the DVD to be the most satisfying and interesting thing to come from this story, because there was a brief period of time when a small team at the BBC Website thought they had found a way to bring back Doctor Who in a new way, and that is truly fascinating.