Doctor Who: Scratchman (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 February 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Scratchman, by Tom Baker (BBC Books) (Credit: BBC Books)
Written by Tom Baker with James Goss
Read By Tom Baker

Released by BBC Worldwide - January 2019
Available from Amazon UK

As a franchise pushing 60, it goes without saying that Doctor Who has had a multitude of stories presented in a variety of media over the years. And in much the same vein, it also goes without saying that there is a multitude of stories that were pitched and never got produced.  There are a bunch of stories that would get pitched for each season and for one reason or another, didn't get made.  Some of these stories are more legendary than others.  There was a whole alternate Season 23 before they scrapped a bunch of stories that were in the works and shifted into the Trial of the Time Lord Storyline.  There is the season that was in pre-production before the cancellation in 1989...there was, of course, Shada, and the Douglas Adams pitch of Krikkit-Men which was at one point reworked as a feature film before he decided to rework it further into his excellent third Hitchhiker's Guide novel Life, the Universe, and Everything. But another potential film project that never got off the ground that has always interested me was Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, a film that could have been, but never was...and now it has been reworked as a novel, the title simplified into Scratchman.  

Tom Baker conceived of the story with his debut season co-star Ian Marter during their downtime on the set.  The plotted out the whole story, about the Doctor and his friends meeting the Devil and fighting off Scarecrows and Cybermen and Daleks.  At one point Vincent Price was attached to play Scratch, and at another, after both Marter and Elizabeth Sladen had moved on from the show, a new companion was created to fill the role in the film, and was meant to be played by the model Twiggy. They even had a director lined up!  They struggled to ever find funding for the project, at one point some fans gave Baker some money, but for legal reasons, he returned the donation. I've always thought the concepts were neat, and since I have a love for 70s era sci-fi and horror, I always thought it would've been great to see.  I can imagine a movie starring Baker, Sladen and Marter, shot like a Hammer film, and seeing Baker square off against Vincent Price? How wonderful could that have been? This is a movie I would have probably loved.

This book has been written by Tom Baker (Ian Marter passed on many years ago), with the assistance of James Goss, who also adapted Douglas Adams' original Doctor Who Krikkit-Men story as a novel (which I should really get around to sometime, as I'd love to compare it to what is actually my favourite Douglas Adams novel). I don't know what has been changed for this particular version, or what would've probably been condensed or scrapped or reworked had it actually become a film, but as the only way to truly experience this full story?  I think we missed out on a fine little movie.  I am sure that had it been made into a movie, budget restrictions and technological limitations of the day would've have changed some major elements.  How would they have made Scratch's ball of flame head work in 1977? 

But despite some things that may have been difficult to really capture at the time, I can kind of picture this film. In fact, I spent a good chunk of the book thinking how it would have actually looked as a film made in that era. I could picture how some things may have looked if made in the late 70s, in that pre-Star Wars era.  I also could pick out what elements probably would've ended up on the cutting room floor.  

The framing device with the Time Lords feels like something that would've probably been diminished if not outright lost.  Don't get me wrong, a lot of that stuff is good, but it stops the action, which can work in the novel format (and help reinforce the theming), but in a movie, it would've hurt the pacing.  It also feels like the story doesn't necessarily need it to still work.  I'm not even knocking the book for having it, because I enjoyed it, I am only saying it is possible this kind of thing may have ended up not making it to the final cut.  There were sequences and scenes I could see being truncated, but overall, I like this story, and it feels like a shame it didn't get produced in some form or another as a feature film.  

The audiobook is lovingly read by Tom Baker himself, and no one will deny that it is just a blast to listen to him talk.  His voice is still incredible even as he is in his mid 80s, and he puts some gusto into his reading of this novel. I mean how many audiobooks say a chapter number then follow it up with "oh you're going to love this one!"  This is a passion project for Baker. It was a story he helped create, a movie he really tried to get produced but just couldn't get money for it, and his passionate read of the story shows how much he still loves it. 

I highly recommend checking this story out.  I was really excited about it as I already had an interest in this footnote of the show's history, but beyond my own interest in the story from that perspective, I found myself really enjoying the novel...and the Tom Baker's audiobook reading is well worth every penny.