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.  





Doctor Who - Target Audio - The Invisible EnemyBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 27 February 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Invisible Enemy (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks

Narrated by John Leeson

"Contact has been made......"

John Leeson reads this exciting novelisation of a classic adventure for the Fourth Doctor – and the introduction of K9.

A mysterious cloud drifts menacingly through space, and the Doctor becomes infected with the Nucleus of a malignant Virus that threatens to destroy his mind. Meanwhile, on Titan, human slaves prepare the Hive from which the Virus will swarm out and infect the universe. In search of a cure, Leela takes the Doctor to the Bi-Al Foundation, where they make an incredible journey into the Doctor’s brain in an attempt to destroy the Nucleus.

Can the Doctor free himself from the Nucleus in time to reach Titan and destroy the Hive? Luckily he has help ― in the strangely dog-like shape of a mobile computer called K9… 

John Leeson, who was the Voice of K9 in the TV series, reads this unabridged novelisation of the 1977 television serial

 

The Invisible Enemy is probably most famous for three things – introducing K9, making the Doctor a threat (a surprisingly rare occurrence across the history of the show), and having a dodgy looking giant prawn as the main villain.

I was quite looking forward to listening to the Target Audio, as I fondly remembered the story on television, I have the DVD, which think I might have seen once.

With a running time of well over three hours, I have to admit I struggled a little. The story is narrated (of course) by John Leeson, and he does his best – but I, unfortunately, found things to be rather plodding when compared to other Target Audio readings that I have listened to. Perhaps this highlighted that the story wasn’t quite all that I remembered, or maybe that the additional material contained in the Target novelisation just didn’t do anything to make the story more dynamic.

So, to sum up, overall I was left quite disappointed – I’ll have to revisit the DVD at some point soon.





Muse of Fire (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 25 February 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Muse Of Fire (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Paul Magrs
Director: Jamie Anderson
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):

First Released: December 2018

Running Time: 2 hours

‘Muse of Fire’ is the first of two Big Finish releases that graced listeners in December of 2018. The fifth seventh doctor release in a row, it saw the return of the popular Ace/Hex companion team and plonked them down in 1920’s Paris at the height of an artistic boom. Not only that but it features the return of Iris Wildthyme and her long term companion and friend- Panda. I must confess to being something of a humbug when it comes to overtly silly Doctor Who stories. I must also confess to not having experienced much Irirs before (indeed I had only heard The Wormery) and so I wasn’t really too excited about this particular release. However, I can not only claim it to be the best main range release of the year thus far, but I must also thank it for starting my obsessive love affair with a certain 10-inch tall panda….

Written by one of the real shining stars of the Doctor Who world, Paul Magrs, Muse of Fire is a multi-layered incredibly rich piece of storytelling that weaves an eccentric comedy around themes of art and poetry. It pits the TARDIS team against Iris and Panda with ease and manages to further the Doctor and Iris’s relationship, not as easy as it may sound given that she was first introduced into the Whoniverse (or he was first introduced into the multiverse!) in 1998. Of course, Magrs has a certain advantage over some of the other writers who have written for Iris, being her creator. It effortlessly manages to include some moments of genuine tension, even if the situation is absurd, without giving us any jarring shifts in tone. The concept of the Doctor immediately mistrusting her, particularly in this incarnation, results in some wonderful moments- with Magrs getting in some great digs at this ‘era’ of Doctor Who.

Katy Manning and David Benson are of course two of the highlights of this release. In the previous series of Iris Wildthyme (which thanks to this release, I recently binged when travelling), their team of Iris and Panda proved to be one of the prime points of amusement and the fact that it took them this long to meet the Doctor together, is criminal frankly. Admittedly some of their…’vices’ are toned down a little, though this is to be expected, given that this is a Doctor Who and not a Wildthyme release. Benson takes a little longer than Manning to enter into the story, however when he does I had to stop the playback in order to wipe the tears from my eyes. Panda’s dynamic with Ace will surely reduce any hardened Doctor Who fan to sobs of laughter. Not only that but whenever I sit down to write another Doctor Who review, I won’t be able to not picture Panda ripping into Dali.

The regular Tardis team all get some great moments and it’s nice to see this particular trio in something a little more light, though still containing an incredible richness. Phillip Oliver shows a talent for comedy and he takes an immediate shine to Iris, indeed perhaps somewhere out there, there’s an Iris and Hex miniseries waiting to happen? Sophie Aldred has some wonderful moments, particularly with David Benson and McCoy manages to play the straight man beautifully, this darker Doctor seeming a little lost amidst all the madness. Yearning for the past is almost always a bad idea, however, I’d still indulge in any more one-off adventures featuring this team reunited.

All in all Muse of Fire is an incredible piece of work. The highlight of the year.






Doctor Who - Big Finish - Short Trips 9.09 - The RevisionistsBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 February 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
 Short Trips 9.09 - The Revisionists (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Andy Frankham-Allen

Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Louise Jameson (Narrator)

Guests at the Hôtel des Rois are being haunted by ancestors that never existed. The Brigadier was only in Geneva to finalise his retirement, but how could he resist? Investigating, the Brigadier quickly finds something unusual. A warrior in leathers. A warrior called Leela…

History is about to catch up with both of them. History that neither of them thinks is real.

 

The Revisionist is a clever little story that asks the questions – What would happen if our memories were erased? How would we go about getting them back? The Brigadier, Leela and the Doctor meet in a haunted hotel. They are each visited by an ghostly ancestor – but when the apparition fades, their memories of that ancestor also disappears.

The most interesting twist on this story is that we find that the Doctor thinks he is only in his third incarnation, ‘off camera’ he had been visited by this third self, and had this incarnation wiped from his memory. Of course the Brigadier is the only one to remember the third Doctor – it makes for quite an interesting premise.

Louise Jameson is always first rate as a narrator, and doesn’t disappoint here. The Leela in this story hails from quite early in her and the Doctor’s timeline, so is quite unrefined. There is an absolute belter of a moment when the Brigadier first meets Leela that I’ll leave to you to discover. It had me laughing out loud.

Written by Andy Frankham-Allen, who is no stranger to the Brigadier, having previously created and penned the Lethbridge-Stewart series for Candy Jar ensures that The Revisionist is a great addition to the Short Trips range, and is available here.

 





Doctor Who - Big Finish - Short Trips - The Last Day At WorkBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 12 February 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Last Day At Work (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer Alfie Shaw, Script Editor Alfie Shaw
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Harry Draper, Directed By: Alfie Shaw

Cast

Nicholas Briggs (Narrator)

Constable Bernard Whittam is in for a special evening. Finally retiring from a lifetime in the police force, he’s celebrating with friends, family and the woman he loves. It’s all perfect. Apart from the noise in his head, the wheezing, groaning noise that has haunted his entire life. That and the unusual gatecrashers.

It’s going to be a night to remember…

 

The Last Day At Work is a very poignant, title for one of the best Short Trips I have listened to yet. The story features the Doctor and Jamie, and is set in 1968. 

 

Apart from the synopsis above, I'll let you discover how the story unfolds as you listen to it, there is a simple joy in this second Doctor tale that should never be ruined, or the story will lack the emotional punch that it aims squarely at your jaw. I did guess as to the direction that new(ish) writer Harry Draper was taking the listener....however I didn't fully realise exactly how deep into the shows rich mythology he would  delve, so much so to create a new mythology all of his own.

 

Nicholas Briggs is on narration duties, and makes for a mighty fine second Doctor....although I did think that his version of Jamie was some way off of the mark. However this is a minor quibble, as the Short Trip range is always more about story telling as opposed to full cast audio plays.

 

I really can't recommend The Last Day At Work enough, and with it being part of the Paul Spragg Short Trips Memorial Opportunity the story is FREE, and can be downloaded from Big Finish HERE.

 

DID I MENTION THIS STORY IS FREE? GET DOWNLOADING PEOPLE!!!!






Bernice Summerfield: The Story So Far (Volumes 1 and 2)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 10 February 2019 - Reviewed by Damian Christie

Bernice Summerfield - Story So Far.

Written by James Goss, Jacqueline Rayner, Simon Guerrier, Eddie Robson, David Llewellyn and Una McCormack
Produced by James Goss
Directed by Scott Handcock
Big Finish Productions, 2018
Stars: Lisa Bowerman, Miles Richardson,
David Warner, Michael Jayston,
Emily Laing, Stephen Fewell, Ayesha Antoine

Bernice Surprise Summerfield – archaeologist, adventurer, friend, cat lady! It was at the end of the 20th century that her audio adventures began, which makes her – as far as records tell us – the holder of the following accolades: the longest-running science fiction audio drama series; the longest-running audio drama series; the longest-running audio drama series starring a woman. What makes her so remarkable? Does she deserve all the praise that is heaped upon her?

Miles Richardson (as Irving Braxiatel), in the introduction to the Behind the Scenes discs

Even if you’re not necessarily a devoted follower of archaeologist and plucky adventurer Bernice Summerfield over the past 20 to 25 years, there’s a strong chance you’re nevertheless aware of her character – whether that be through Big Finish (via her own long-running audio series) or through the Virgin New Adventures novels (one of the few media in the “dark times” of the 1990s that continued Doctor Who as a property in the absence of a TV series).

Bernice (aka Benny) was a proto-River Song, an independent, hyper-intelligent and charming archaeologist who had a wicked sense of humour and fun and an arsenal of clever wisecracks (Benny predated Song by about 16 years). Created by veteran Doctor Who scribe Paul Cornell and modelled on actress Emma Thompson (one of Cornell’s crushes), the role of Benny has taken on a life of her own – not only thanks to a long line of dedicated writers and producers but the talent of Lisa Bowerman (whose relevance to Doctor Who before she played Benny was her role in the final classic serial Survival – as Cheetah Person Karra – in 1989).

Indeed, it is The Adventures of Bernice Summerfield audio series (which in 1998 began with adaptations of various New Adventures novels starring Bowerman and featuring actors associated with Doctor Who) that made it possible for Big Finish to ultimately capture the rights to make Doctor Who proper for audio. Despite that coup, BF never abandoned Benny – it instead provided a springboard for the character to have fresh adventures outside of the New Adventures adaptations – and the latest of those endeavours is Bernice Summerfield: The Story So Far, which celebrates 20 years of the character on audio.

The Story So Far comprises two volumes, each with three diverse tales set across different spans of Bernice’s life and career – from her youth to her role as a curator in the infamous Braxiatel collection to her strong relationship with David Warner’s “Unbound” universe Doctor.The standalone tales are also written by BF producers and contributors who have been instrumental in advancing Benny’s adventures over the past two decades – Jacqueline Rayner, Simon Guerrier, Eddie Robson, David Llewellyn, Una McCormack, current series producer and script editor James Goss and director Scott Handcock. Subsequently, in the behind the scenes extras on each volume, Goss interviews each of the contributors, alongside Bowerman, as they reflect on the directions they sought to take the character and the range while they were in charge. Cornell also discusses the character’s amazing trajectory – which he attests to being quite proud of, in spite of having minimal involvement in the range.

The highlight of Volume 1 is Goss’s peculiarly titled opener Ever After Happy which takes listeners right back to Benny’s origins as a rebellious cadet-cum-emotional guru on a military academy asteroid. Up and comer Emily Laing puts on a fantastic performance as the brash, overconfident and angst-ridden young Benny, virtually stealing the limelight from Bowerman. It’s more than likely this won’t be Ms Laing’s sole work for Big Finish – not only does she make a great Benny but she is ballsy Doctor Who companion material in her own right.  Whether BF chooses to cast Laing in another role across its output down the track or even contemplate a boxset celebrating Benny’s early adventures as an archaeologist, she is a talent they should be utilising now before she ends up with a British TV contract or a Hollywood career!

Rayner’s The Grel Invasion of Earth is the most satirical entry in these six celebratory stories. Not only does her script feature the long overdue return of comical Ood-like villains the Grel (who Cornell invented for the first Benny-centric New Adventure Oh No It Isn’t …) but the story is an unashamed parody of the classic Doctor Who serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth in terms of its structure, give or take some liberties.In fact, as it was Rayner who originally adapted some of the New Adventures novels for the Benny range, it’s clear that her brief was to adapt a traditional Doctor Who tale in a similar manner. The Grel Invasion of Earth is very much a playful and fun homage to those early Benny adaptations, as well as the original Doctor Who/Dalek serial it cheekily apes. Fact: Any Whovians who are offended by this imitation really ought to have a bex and a good lie down!

Bowerman is ably supported by Stephen Fewell, reprising his role as the hapless Jason Kane, Benny’s ex-husband. Fewell has some great comedic moments as Jason, as well as a few touching ones. His dialogue about Benny in one scene is vividly poetic and romantic until it is undercut by his own misunderstanding of the original question that prompted it!

Guerrier’s Braxiatel in Love takes the listener forward in time to Benny’s work as a curator at the Braxiatel Collection post-the Fifth Axis/Dalek invasion. What’s particularly interesting about this tale is that it seems to be narrated by the antagonist, the seemingly unassuming Veronica Bland (Gabrielle Glaister) who has inveigled herself into the Collection community and (much to Bernice’s astonishment and suspicion) become engaged to Irving Braxiatel (Miles Richardson).

Glaister gives a stand-out performance as Veronica and coupled with Guerrier’s characterisation, you cannot help but be charmed by her seductive, silky voice and feel some empathy for her character (although, as it transpires in the tale, these are all attributes of her magnetism). The manner in which the protagonists break out of her thrall is quite ironic, to say the least.

Volume 2 of The Story So Far is more specifically referential of Doctor Who, the “parent” concept that spawned Bernice, than Volume 1, which was deliberately vague, subtle and quite unsubtle in equal measure (eg in Ever After Happy, you presume the Daleks are the vaguely referenced “enemy” that attacks the military academy; it’s already been noted that The Grel Invasion of Earth is a none too subtle parody of The Dalek Invasion of Earth; and in Braxiatel in Love, references are made by Benny to Braxiatel’s brother without specifically referring to him as “the Doctor”). This is no doubt deliberate to keep Volume 1 true to the era in which it is purportedly set (even though the Bernice range actually more comfortably embraced its Doctor Who heritage pre-the Fifth Axis invasion) but Volume 2 exhibits no such limitations.

On one hand, the middle tale of Volume 2 – The Empress of Drahva – references the ruthless female Drahvins first encountered in the Hartnell tale Galaxy Four, thereby utilising one of Doctor Who’s lesser iconic villains as early “seasons” of the Benny range did in 2002-04 (when it used the Ice Warriors, the Rutans, the Draconians and the Sea Devils as antagonists). The Doctor’s murky dark side counterpart the Valeyard (Michael Jayston) in Eddie Robson’s Every Dark Thought (glimpsed on the boxset cover, so it’s only a mild spoiler on this writer’s behalf!) could also technically count as one of these “one-off” antagonists. Nevertheless, he seems a strange choice for an adversary in what is also a peculiar choice of tale for a boxset that is celebrating two decades of Bernice’s exploits.

While Bernice’s character is most commonly associated with the Seventh Doctor, she has met other incarnations of the Time Lord in the audios and books (eg the Eighth Doctor, the Twelfth Doctor, and more recently the “Unbound” Doctor in Volumes 3 and 4 of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield). Therefore, Robson’s intention is to clearly show how Benny will shape up against an incarnation that lacks the Doctor’s moral fibre.

Benny confidently holds her own against this version and there are instances when even this personification is not immune from the Doctor’s proclivity for “mansplaining” and arrogantly dismissing the advice and counsel of his/her companions. However, stylistically the whole tale would probably be more fitting and interesting if it were part of The Diary of River Song saga than a Benny adventure. There would have been considerably more gravitas pitting the Doctor’s archaeologist wife against his darker alter ego. (Perhaps it’s still not too late for BF to consider such a pairing in the future but I digress …)

The Empress of Drahva, by comparison, is more traditional fare from David Llewellyn, as well as being a comedy adventure. Benny and her erstwhile assistant Ruth (Ayesha Antoine) crash-land on the torus-shaped world of Drahva, whose inhabitants are still to become the spacefaring conquerors the First Doctor encountered. By a quirk of fate, the black-skinned Ruth is mistaken for and worshipped by the blonde-haired, pale-skinned Drahvins as the reincarnation of an ancient empress.

The story has many parallels with another Hartnell era tale The Aztecs (eg false deities, human offerings and sacrifices, an engagement, efforts to break into a tomb to steal a space vessel), although the similarities do not make this tale the wholesale parody that The Grel Invasion of Earth definitely is. By contrast with The Aztecs, it’s a fun romp, with the luckless, naive Ruth thinking she’s hit the jackpot with chocolate for breakfast, foot massages, gold-layered four-poster beds and a suitor that to her smells of “sexy almonds” and whose name Bernice equates with a character from Lord of the Rings!

Indeed, Antoine almost literally upstages Bowerman in the humour and sarcasm stakes. It’s enough to make this novice eagerly seek out Professor Summerfield’s adventures earlier this decade when Ruth was a staple cast member!

The final instalment of the second volume – and of both celebratory volumes – is the bleak Angel of History which completely eschews much of the tongue in cheek atmosphere of Benny’s adventures. Given Volume 2 of The Story So Far preceded Season 11 of Doctor Who by a matter of weeks (it was released in September 2018), this serial could be described as perhaps this set’s answer to the recent TV episode Rosa. Una McCormack’s script enables Lisa Bowerman to stretch her acting range as Bernice literally steps into the shoes of another archaeologist, Annis, who is persecuted for her indigenous/ethnic heritage and for her theories about her people’s true history.

While there are some superficial parallels from McCormack’s serial that could be drawn with Rosa (eg the treatment at first of Annis’s people is akin to the discrimination of the African-Americans of the US deep south or European Jews prior to the Second World War), the tale becomes more sinister as it moves from prejudice to abhorrence to genocide. The old South African apartheid regime is also evoked as various authoritarian policemen are portrayed with intimidating Afrikaner-style accents and brutally break up and assault peaceful demonstrators.

Interestingly, while the fascistic nature of the governing regime is strongly implied, McCormack never reveals what it is about Annis and her people that makes them stand out from their world’s other inhabitants and justifies discrimination and persecution. Is it their appearance (eg skin colour)? Is it because they were the original, indigenous inhabitants? Is it because they outnumber the descendants of the original colonists? It’s never really explained even after the Doctor (David Warner) steps in to break Bernice out of an induced dream-like state.

Nevertheless, The Angel of History is a powerful tale about a courageous woman – not unlike Rosa Parkes – who stays true to herself and her convictions and defies a despotic regime that would prefer that she is meek and silent. Annis is a more introverted character than Bernice, but Bowerman’s performance is exceptional, as she dials back much of Benny’s outspokenness and expresses the vulnerability of Annis’s character.

The Story So Far is a fitting double set to celebrate Bernice Summerfield’s journey at Big Finish. While some of the stories are a strange fit for a celebratory set (Every Dark Thought, The Angel of History), they nevertheless demonstrate the versatility and imagination of the Benny range which – much like Doctor Who itself – has endured for as long as it has because the various writers, producers and directors have been prepared to take risks, be daring and (much like Benny herself) have fun.

The set is particularly a good primer for fans who are interested in learning more about Bernice but don’t necessarily know where in her range to start. There are enough “breadcrumbs”, so to speak, for casual listeners to have a taste of the fun to be had – especially at a time in Doctor Who’s life when the most recent TV series has been accused by some fans of being too “politically correct” and “preachy”, too character-focused at the expense of drama, and “devoid” of credible monsters and antagonists.  If you’re one of those fans, then Bernice is a welcome reprieve from those more “earnest” aspects of the program’s escapism – and as long as BF continues, long may Bernice continue to be a long-standing fixture!