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. 





The Enemy Of The World - Special Edition (DVD)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 25 March 2018 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster
Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
The Enemy Of The World
Starring Patrick Troughton as Doctor Who
With Frazer Hines as Jamie and Deborah Watling as Victoria
Written by David Whitaker
Directed by Barry Letts
Released by BBC Worldwide March 2018
It's out, and it's about time.

Some five years after its initial release, The Enemy of the World is once again released this month, this time bursting with the features we've come to expect from a BBC Doctor Who DVD and that were notably absent from 2013. Indeed, even the DVD blurb acknowledges this: "Originally rush released shortly after its recovery, there was little time to complete the extensive Special Features typical of archive Doctor Who releases". Well, quite!

So what do we get in what many would say is the "proper" release? Commentary: check. Production notes: check. Photo Gallery: check. An exhaustive making-of: check! The two-disc release also includes an interview with the man behind the rediscovery of this story, Phil Morris, a brief item on the restoration work undertaken in 2013, a tribute to the late Deborah Watling, the Jon Pertwee introduction to the then only existing episode 3 from The Troughton Years, and the original trailer from 1967 that followed The Ice Warriors. You even get a reversible cover so it can happily sit alongside the rest of your DVD collection if you prefer to maintain that consistent look and feel.

However, one thing that certainly isn't consistent is the disc's opening menu! If you've been watching a number of DVDs recently like I have, the absence of the 'traditional' Davison opening accompanying the TARDIS 'arrival' into the main menu is quite a jarring shock, with the sequence being dispensed with in favour of a brief snippet of the Troughton titles leading straight to the menu. I guess I'll get used to it - at least the familiar "roundels" menu has survived!

For the episodes themselves, the DVD boasts of further remastering with modern techniques by Peter Crocker and MArk Ayres - how much of an improvement in picture quality to the previous release I'm not so sure about, but the story looks and sounds very clean, and possibly as pristine as it'll ever be (and a definite improvement to the 480 line i-Tunes cash-in back in 2013...).

I won't dwell over the story itself - after all if you're reading a review then you're probably familiar with the plot(!) - but it is one of those stories that features the change of direction halfway through that transforms the story into something else rather unexpected that I always like in drama. With only episode three as a visual guide for literally decades I hadn't appreciated this change of direction, and it is still a delight to savour now - it's probably no coincidence that the director, Barry Letts, becomes producer of an era full of such twists and turns. The complete serial also allows us to enjoy the characters in all their glory, and more to the point being able to watch the performance of Patrick Troughton in his dual role as hero and villain. I must admit that it still feels like a novelty being able to watch and appreciate the full story, and leaves me eager for more (something that animations can only partially sate!). But seeing Troughton smoking a cigar in episode five as though in competion with Roger Delgado in The Mind of Evil still feels out of place, even though it is of course Salamander puffing away, not the Doctor. How the perception of that enemy of the world's health has changed!

The accompanying production notes provide the usual behind-the-scenes essentials, dates, figures, the development of the story from script to screen, changes to planned dialogue, action, etc., plus of course detail of the cast and crew and related observations. Insights include how several inserts made their way into later stories, how the slick action sequences in episode one were more fraught in production with both a hovercraft mishap and the helicopter very nearly following suit. During episode two it is revealed that there is a mysterious scene included featuring the Doctor and Kent that doesn't appear in the production schedules. And in episode five it is revealed how some of the more excessive blood and violence in the script were restrained in production. Though the production of the story can of course now be digested through reading Volume 11 of The Complete History, here the notes are more practical in illustrating what's currently appearing on screen - for example, In episode four, a practical example of the way in which those recording the programme worried less about the edges of the frame owing to on-screen visibility of the time is illustrated.

The commentary for the story is initially taken up with a lively discussion between Frazer Hines and Mary Peach, joined by Gordon Faith for the next couple of episodes. All change for episode four with Milton Johns and Sylvia James taking up observational duty, before returning to the original duo for the finale. Discussions across the episodes included acting with helicopters, working with Patrick Troughton, actor-come-director Barry Letts, and the delightful Debbie Watling (of course!), acting in the confines of small studios and limited sets, plus Sylvia's explanation of how the crew approached the creation of 2018[1], some 50 years ahead of time.

The commentary was moderated by Simon Harries, who had big shoes to step into following the mighty moderator extraordinaire Toby Hadoke; however he was more than capable of keeping the conversations going and keeping Frazer in check!

 

The Enemy Of The World Special Edition: Treasures Lost and Found (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

The Enemy Of The World Special Edition: Recovering The Past (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

The Enemy Of The World Special Edition: Remembering Deborah Watling (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

The main feature on the second disc is Treasures Lost And Found. Unlike the more usual more straightforward fact-based making-ofs, here Toby Hadoke takes us on a "treasure hunt" for new information on the story in his indomitable style, uncovering "clues" along the way in a similar vein to Looking for Peter on The Sensorites - so it isn't surprising that his accomplice on this mission is researcher Richard Bignell[2]! Along the way Toby (possibly) drank his way through innumerable relaxing teas conversing informally with Mary Peach, Sylvia James, David Troughton, Frazer Hines and Sarah Lisemore, plus several inserts on the making of the story from a 2008 interview with Barry Letts and also a 2011 interview with Deborah Watling.

The informal approach to the documentary meant that Toby took time to chat to his interviewees about more than just their Enemy-specific memories. Mary's extensive career was discussed, including what occured when she met Marilyn Munroe, and David reflected on life with the Doctor and his father's views of acting in theatre - which also highlighted the perceived nepotism of the time with his cameo as a guard in the story, not to mention Frazer's brother Ian, Barry Letts' nephew Andrew Staines and finally production assistant come influential producer Martin Lisemore's wife Sarah, whose interview at the end of the programme turns into its most poignant moment as the treasure is finally revealed.

I did have a couple of niggly issues with the presentation, though: the archive interview of Barry Letts was interspersed with shots of Toby and Richard watching the footage on a laptop, which I found both disjointing and a distraction to hearing what Barry had to say. The other was the "pop-up" message gimmick, which reminded me more of Top Gear style antics (something perhaps not lost on Toby? grin). These were only minor quibbles though, overall the feature is highly entertaining, ably guided by Toby throughout.

With this release being a celebration of its return in the anniversary year, it isn't surprising to find its recovery being featured in the extras. In Recovering The Past, Phil Morris takes us through the journey he undertook in his quest to find missing television, and in particular the trail through Nigeria to his eventual find of both Enemy and The Web of Fear in Jos. The passion he has for his job is obvious from the interview, as is his optimism for future finds He also left us with a tantalising hint of what might be in store in the future...

Restoring Doctor Who is an accompanying piece which documented some of the process in restoring the story from its original off-the-shelf condition to what we can watch today.

Remembering Deborah Watling is a tribute to the actress whose bubbly presence is sadly missed. Featuring Louise Jameson, Colin Baker, Sylvia James, Anneke Wills, and Frazer Hines, Debbie's life and career is followed through the memories of her sister Nicky and brother Giles, with everybody involved reminiscing on her wicked sense of humour, practical jokes, and of course her healthy scream!

The package is rounded off with the brief introduction to the then single remaining episode by Jon Pertwee from The Troughton Years, a trailer for the story from 1967, and the usual photo gallery, plus PDF materials.

 


 

So is the special edition worth buying? It does of course rather depend on whether you are interested in the extra features. If you're only interested in the story then, with this version released, if you haven't already purchased it you might well see the original 2013 version drop further in price in the coming months. If you're only after a commentary then an alternative, unoffiicial release from Fantom Films[3] may be a cheaper option (though there isn't much difference in cost between that and this entire DVD online at present!).

However, if you haven't bought Enemy before then I would certainly recommend this as the version to get. It's just a shame it wasn't presented this way in the first place!

 

Hmm, with all the extensive recovery articles on this release, what's left for the special edition of The Web of Fear ... ?!!

 

[1] The production discussion places the setting of the story as 2017, but a newspaper clipping seen in episode five shows "last year's date" of 26th August 2017, indicating it is actually set in 2018 after all.

[2] I might well be the only person who will laugh out loud at Richard's ringtone!

[3] A notable absence on the DVD commentary is of course the wonderful Debbie Watling, who had left us by the time this package was put together. All is not lost, however, as she can be heard on the alternative commentary from Fantom Films (and you can also get your Toby fix as Master of Ceremonies too!). The CD is still available from Amazon etc.





Survival (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: Survival (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Rona Munro
Read By Lisa Bowerman

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2017
Available from Amazon UK

In 1989, Doctor Who aired the final story of Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor...and then was quietly put into "hiatus," but was really just secretly cancelled. That final story was Survival, and involved the Doctor and Ace facing off against the Master and Cheetah People in Ace's hometown of Perivale. In the end the Doctor and Ace walked off back to the TARDIS, and they weren't to be seen together on screen again. It was one of the stronger efforts in that final era of the Classic show, and while you can definitely see the upturn in quality of scripts returning during the Seventh Doctor's era, I think it was very much a "too little, too late" situation for the series at the time. 

So we come to Target's novelization of that finale episode, which is written by the author of the television script Rona Munro, and it is actually slighlty better than it's television counterpart.  Munro adds in some extra details and character motivations which were lost in the TV adaptation, as well as whole sequences that were probably cut for time.  These details improve the overall story.  The television version was always pretty solid, but the book just works better in some ways. 

The audiobook is read by Lisa Bowerman, who played Karra the Cheetah in the original serial, and has gone on to become quite well known to Who fans as Seventh Doctor companion Bernice Summerfield in a wide variety of Big Finish audios.  She does a fine job as narrator for the most part. Her impression of Sophie Aldred's Ace is impeccable, though her McCoy is a little too cartoonish and distracting.

This is a good audiobook, it's a novelization that builds on and improves upon it's source material, and it is nicely read by Bowerman...even if her impression of McCoy is kind of awful.  Fans of this era and this story would most likely enjoy this one. 





Four to Doomsday (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who - Four To Doomsday (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Matthew Waterhouse

Released by BBC Worldwide - March 2017
Available from Amazon UK

Four to Doomsday seems like the type of story that is rarely going to make anyone's Top Ten list. It is a rather tedious and boring story, it doesn't have much of a thought provoking plot, and it lacks any real exciting action to make up for that.  I actually rewatched this story not too long ago when I was in the mood for some Fifth Doctor style stories, and even having recently rewatched it, most of it ended up being forgotten. If nothing else, Terrance Dicks' novelization really captures just how boring and forgettable the original serial was. 

The Fifth Doctor - along with Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric - land on a spaceship lead by some aliens who have visited Earth throughout it's history and gathered up locals each time they make it to Earth.  So there are some humans from various time periods in Earth's history aboard as well. But now they seem to be heading back to Earth to overtake it. Adric gets hypnotised or something by the evil leader, nd Tegan pouts about how much she wants to get to work some more....and eventually the only thing I remember from the story happens, which is that the Doctor uses the bounce of a cricket ball off a spaceship to propel himself back towards the TARDIS while floating in space.

It is a dul story, but I must give Matthew Waterhouse, who originally portrayed Adric, some credit, he does his best reading this dull story.  As much as I never cared for his character on screen, he proves himself a decent narrator, and actually does a pretty good impression of Peter Davison's Doctor as well! 

This is a release only for completists.  It is a lame story, and despite being nicely read by Waterhouse, that really can't make up for how uninteresting the story always has been. 





Genesis of the Daleks (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 9 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who and The Genesis of The Daleks (Credit: BBC Audio)Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Jon Culshaw
With Dalek Voices by Nicholas Briggs

Released by BBC Worldwide - October 2017
Available from Amazon UK
Genesis of the Daleks is one of the strongest serials in all of Doctor Who. Not just of the classic series, but to this day you can still see ripples from it.  Davros made another modern reappearance fairly recently in the Series 9 opening two-parter. His story, and one can even argue that one of the earliest seeds of the Time War that served as the series main background when it relaunched in 2005, began in that wonderful story.  It has a ton of memorable moments, from the introduction of Davros, the great scene between the Doctor and Davros discussing philosophical questions, the Doctor's moral dilemma about whether or not to destroy the Daleks...up to the big finale with the Daleks taking over and turning on their own creator.  It's a great story, that never feels too padded despite it's six episode lengths.  Such an iconic story could, in theory, be lessened by it's adaptation in another form of media.  But the book only enhances the story, adds a bit more behind what the characters are thinking and motivations, and this audiobook of that book is equally excellent.  
 
Read by Impressionist/Comedian/Voice Actor Jon Culshaw, and enhanced by some sound effects, music, and even Daleks voiced by Nicholas Briggs...there are moments that make you forget you are even listening to an audiobook.  Culshaw's top notch impression of Tom Baker's tones is so perfect that it is beyond parody. There were genuine times I could have sworn I was just hearing Baker himself in the recording.  And since Culshaw also uses the same voice modulation device that Briggs uses for the Daleks to voice Davros...the conversations between The Doctor and Davros leave you completely caught up in the story. 
 
Audiobooks are, for me, the most entertaining when the narrator can do a wide range of voices and keep the listening interesting.  Culshaw is then the perfect narrator for me, as he can do so many different voices, and his Fourth Doctor is pitch perfect.  Having Briggs' Dalek voices mixed in as well keeps this one of the most entertaining of these audiobooks that I have listened to thus far.  
 
It also made me think.  I remember watching a classic story of the series, and someone who really enjoyed the modern show watched a bit with me out of curiosity.  They struggled with the old effects and cheap look. But the audiobooks can take an interesting story, and remove that element. The lesser visuals are no longer part of the equation, only the story.  I actually tried to forget what I know of the classic story, and try and picture it with more modern visuals. This story holds up, and I think if old fans who can't quite get past the old show's visual cheapness, but want a taste of these great old stories, these could be an interesting way to jump in.  
 
This is a classic story, one of the all time greats, and it is wonderfully brought to life by Terrance Dicks adaptation and Culshaw, with the help of Briggs, make the listening a true joy.  




The Robots of Death (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 1 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who And The Robots Of Death (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Louise Jameson

Released by BBC Worldwide - February 2018
Available from Amazon UK

Louise Jameson, who portrayed Leela alongside the Fourth Doctor in the 70s, reads Terrence Dicks' Target Novelization of one of her earliest episodes, and it's another solid unabridged audiobook of this classic line of novels.  As I stated in my review of The Ambassadors of Death, my familiarty with the Target line is somewhat limited.  I only really knew that they existed and that in the years prior to home video, a lot of fans were more familiar with the books than they were the original TV episodes. But from what I've gathered just listening to these two audiobooks, this really was a wonderful line of books, faithfully adapting their TV counterparts, while still feeling fresh. I've seen The Robots of Death a couple of times, I know the story, and yet this audiobook still felt fresh.  There are scenes I remember quite clearly, like the early TARDIS scene with the yo-yo and the Doctor giving his enigmatic explanation of how the TARDIS can be bigger on the inside...but Jameson's reading of it felt like I was getting it new again.

One thing I am enjoying is that these audiobooks, while unabridged, aren't terribly long.  This one was only about three hours or so long.  I listened to it in an afternoon while cleaning up around the house. A real long novel unabridge on audio can be up to 11 hours long, but these little adaptations of the show weren't terribly long books, but they weren't dumbed down either. Dicks does a great job taking the televised version, and turning it into a book that is both short and sweet, yet not compromising what the television version was all about. 

Jameson does a solid job reading this as well, and the occassional bit of music or sound effects help make the action soar. I don't know if I'd ever have time to sit and actually read every Target Novelization, but getting to sample them via the audiobook is not a bad route to take.  If you are curious about these old books, find a story you like that has been released in this format by BBC Worldwide so far, and give them a listen.  This was always a good story, and at three hours your time commitment is minimal.