Classic TV Adventures - Collection OneBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 26 April 2017 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster
Doctor Who: Classic TV Adventures - Collection One (Credit: BBC Audio)
Classic TV Adventures Collection One

Featuring narration by Frazer Hines, Caroline John,
Katy Manning, Elisabeth Sladen, John Leeson & Lalla Ward

Released by BBC Audio April 2017 (order from Amazon UK)

BBC Audio have of late been releasing items in their back catalogue in collections, with last year seeing audiobooks of the tenth and eleventh Doctors, Torchwood, and also audio adaptations of stories. This month sees a further collection released, this time focussing on televised adventures with linking narration.

With a couple of early exceptions, narrated soundtracks started to appear in the early 1990s, featuring a number of (mostly) missing stories being presented on audio cassette with linking narration by 'future' Doctors. This series was "rebooted" for CD in the late nineties, now featuring a contemporary actor providing the narration, and continued on apace throughout the first half of the new decade. However, by 2006 the "missing" well had dried up and so BBC Audio delved into the expanse of complete stories, extending the range until the company responsible for the audio range, AudioGo, went into administation in late 2013.

Whilst the release of missing/incomplete adventures was a welcome (if not essential) addtion to Doctor Who collections, there were fans who felt that there was little point to the later releases - after all, these were available in all their glory on VHS and steadily appearing on DVD. However, I've always felt that these were worthwhile additions, for two reasons.

Firstly, you can't watch a story when you're driving, but you can listen to a soundtrack and linking narration as you're doing housework, in bed, or as frequently happened to me crawling around the M25! Secondly, but perhaps far more importantly, they serve as an excellent accompaniment to the stories themselves as an audio-description track - something that the modern series has enjoyed throughout its transmission/commercial release for those with visual impairment, but the 'classic' era never accomodated (we were lucky for subtitles back then!).

Personally I think it is a shame that no further narrated soundtracks have been released since Random House took over the BBC Audio range, but at least the previous adventures are getting a new lease of life.

So what do we get with the first volume of Classic TV Adventures? The collection features seven stories covering adventures of the second, third and fourth Doctors. First up is the Patrick Troughton tale The Tomb of the Cybermen. This story is a curio in that it was one of the "original" run of missing story releases and orginally narrated by Jon Pertwee, but lost its "missing" status shortly before its release (thanks Hong Kong!). For its re-release in 2006 it featured a new narration by Frazer Hines (aka Jamie in the story).  Entering the Pertwee era there are two stories that were originally released in late 2006 as part of a Monsters on Earth collection, Doctor Who And The Silurians (with Caroline John aka Liz Shaw) and The Sea Devils (with Katy Manning aka Jo Grant) - however, the third in this set (no prizes for guessing what!) isn't in this collection, it's bumped over to the second set due in October.. Two more, connected tales continue the third Doctor's adventures, The Curse of Peladon (from 2007, also Katy) and its sequel The Monster of Peladon (2008, with Elisabeth Sladen aka Sarah Jane Smith). Rounding off the collection are two Tom Baker stories first released in 2012, The Pirate Planet (with John Leeson aka K9) and Destiny of the Daleks (with Lalla Ward aka Romana). With the latter, I'm surprised BBC Audio didn't include City of Death to have a Douglas Adams mini-theme, but I guess the Daleks are aways a selling point!

As well as the soundtracks themselves, each story includes an interview with their respective narrator, talking, so you can listen to anecdotes such as how Caroline first got involved with Doctor Who, how Katy learnt how to do a number of her own stunts, John's road to RADA and Lalla's artistic flair. There are a couple of other bits to be found, such as a BBC Radio 4 item from 2004 on caves in Derbyshire accompanying The Silurians, and a nice little dedication to Mary Tamm on The Pirate Planet. However, no additional content has been included in these re-releases (and some content has actually been lost from the originals - more on that below).

It is a perhaps tricky to determine exactly how effective the narration of existing stories actually is, being that we've (probably) watched the stories many times before and so can visualise the scenes playing out in our minds as we listen. However, I think the narration does a good job in reminding us of what's occuring (and the earlier, missing releases certainly demonstrate how the narration helps inform us as to what's happening "off-ear"!)

As the linking narration has to be scripted in such a way to minimise interuption to the stories' own narrative, it is often heard in short bursts when nobody is speaking during the episodes. Surprisingly this all works rather well, with only the occassional situation where this isn't possible: for example explaining how the Doctor surrepticiously helps Kleig resolve his logic problem to open the hatch during Tomb means Frazer's narration covers over Kleig's muttering - but that is mitigated somewhat by it being mostly repetition from a few moments ago. The choice of narrator can also make-or-break how effective the plot is imparted - a bland delivery could ruin any atmosphere that the story has built up. Fortunately, nobody falls short in this collection, though of course they have their own distinctive styles.

Narration-aside, one thing that stands out is the clarity of the soundtracks, which seems so much better than on the DVDs. This may be down to the uncompressed format of the CD, but here dialogue is crystal clear, and I found it also enhances the musical cues, too - full kudos to the audio restoration work of Mark Ayres and David Darlington.

In terms of packaging, this set follows the same format as other collections, i.e. a single central spindle that holds all the discs. This may save on space on the shelf, but it makes it fiddly to access latter stories as you spend your time lifting discs on and off to get at them. I prefer the older boxes, even with the danger of the teeth holding the CDs pinging off! The CDs themselves have new illustrated labels reflecting their collection as well as story status - though unfortunately the labels (not content!) for both discs of Destiny say CD1! These are new pressings and previous PC content is no longer present (such as the PDF camera scripts for The Pirate Planet). However, a bigger problem lies with the bonus content that is meant to be in the set: the inside cover indicates full credits and production notes are in a PDF on CD1, but the disc itself - on my laptop at least - seems to only be a standard audio disc, thus making the promised delights of Andrew Pixley missing (believed wiped?!!!).

EDITORIAL: BBC Audio have confirmed that the PDFs of both the production/credits and scripts previously available on The Pirate Planet and Destiny of the Daleks were indeed erroneously left off this collection - future pressings will be corrected, but those who have bought this collection can request the missing PDFs via email by contacting the company through us at TV-Adventures-Bonus-Material-Request@doctorwhonews.net.

 

So, all-in-all, is it worth getting this set of narrated soundtracks? If you just want the stories (which is arguably the point of the set) then it works out as an efficient way to get them - the original releases will work out more expensive (new), but have sleeve notes and other features absent here, so it will depend on how important those are to you as a listener or collector.

That aside, is it still something to get when you've probably got the original DVDs anyway? To me, it is far more convenient to listen to soundtracks in this way when I'm doing other things without the need to watch what's happening on-screen (e.g. writing this review as I listen!), and whilst it isn't too difficult to copy the audio from the DVD to listen to independently, that will be lacking the additional cues made by the narrators. This ultimately comes down to how "purist" you are with the soundtrack, of course, but this does give you the alternative option!

The second set of existing soundtracks comes out in October (featuing The Krotons, The Ambassadors of Death, The Mind of Evil, Horror of Fang Rock, City of Death and Warriors of the Deep), which completes the back catalogue. It's my hope that BBC Audio will resurrect the series in 2018, but I suspect that the interest in narrated soundtracks won't be sufficient to give the range that new lease of life (certainly not while the Target adaptations continue apace and new series tie-in releases remain popular).

However, I'll continue to 'champion' the audio-descriptive benefits of such releases - with any luck all 'classic' serials will have such accessibility in the future!





The Pirate Planet - Novelisation/ AudioBookBookmark and Share

Thursday, 5 January 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The Pirate Planet (novel) (Credit: BBC Books)
Written By: James Goss
Based On The TV Serial By: Douglas Adams
Released By BBC Books: 5th January 2017

Audiobook Read By: Jon Culshaw
10 CDS/ Audio Download
Running Time: 11 Hours, 22 Minutes

Once in a blue moon, the hardworking, devout people of Zanak experience a 'new golden age of prosperity'. The stars in the night sky suddenly change position, and the economy skyrockets. The natives are assured by their mysterious leader - The Captain - that all this is part of a grand design.

But there is an outlier group of which the are wary, contemptuous, even scared. The Mourners. Looking decidedly pale and skinny, they always wander together, and can bring only trouble. Luckily, the Captain's many armed guards are there to ensure that there is no breach of the peace.

Now enter three odd individuals, in Zanak's main city, with no warning or announcement. The seeming leader is a toothy, excitable extrovert, with a long scarf and curly hair. With him is a somewhat younger-looking woman, much more smartly dressed, with beautiful looks, and a keen intelligence. And lastly, is a diminutive metallic creature, that has a red visor instead of eyes, a little tail that sways side-to-side, and a rather more impressive nose-laser.

The Doctor, Romana, and K9 - as they call themselves - soon make an alliance with a young couple. The male is Kimus: earnest, dedicated and open-minded. The female is Mula: thoughtful, pragmatic and diligent. This in turn leads to the Mourners becoming more engaged in the future of their world, knowing that suddenly a missing piece of information may be missing no more.

Soon enough, the mystique over the Captain evaporates. He is far more machine than man, and with a decidedly twisted sense of humour. But he has a plan or three in motion, and many cards in his deck to play. Zanak, and the wider universe, may both end up facing a change of cataclysmic proportions..


This joint release of both book and audio release sees the completion of the Fourth Doctor era into novel form. For many years, three stories were outstanding, and the common denominator was that Douglas Adams wrote the scripts. In the case of The Pirate Planet, Adams was still an unknown quantity in the wider world when first pitching his first contribution to Doctor Who. By the time this second story of Season 16 - or 'The Key To Time' arc - was transmitted, Adams' other work for the BBC - The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - steadily became a sensation, and eventually a global phenomenon.

Anthony Read was responsible for editing Adams' scripts into a makeable BBC production. He also made it build on The Ribos Operation, in developing new companion Romana. She was only the second Gallifreyan to assist the Doctor, after his own granddaughter Susan. The story also had to present a different kind of mystery over which item was the segment of The Key to Time.

Later on, Adams would take over from Read, and oversee Season 17 (which suffered especially from industrial strikes). Eventually, he realised he could not focus on both primetime TV, and further contributions to his 'baby boomer' Hitchhikers. Such was Adams' disconnect from Doctor Who, that none of his three major stories were adapted until very recently. (However he did introduce close friend, and second Romana, Lalla Ward to her eventual husband Richard Dawkins). Shada was the last of those three, but hit bookshelves first, with the aid of Gareth Roberts. More recently in 2015, the much-loved City Of Death was also converted into a richly detailed novel.

This new effort has the same author as City, in the form of experienced writer James Goss. Although The Pirate Planet was four episodes long, this book comes in at 400 pages plus - which is considerably more. Goss has clearly taken inspiration from Adams over the years, in becoming himself a successful author, and he decides to put as much of the original script (and related notes) as can fit. This means that this is one of the longest works of Who fiction, and it lacks the pace of action-adventure that is found in both the majority of the classic, as well as the modern, TV format.

Yet, most who are familiar with the TV original must concede that whilst great fun, it is not the strongest production, and really could have done with an American TV budget. Pennant Roberts has done great work for other TV shows, but few would call any of his Who work first-rate. The cast were not all stellar in their readings, with Kimus, Mula and the Mentiads being decidedly bland. This production and acting hurdle is removed entirely here.

The book does some excellent work in making the villains even more interesting. It gives them backstory, and motivation, that is rare to find in most Doctor Who books; and I include some of the best original novels in making that statement. The Captain is portrayed as a lot more intimidating, and macabre in design, as well as having a longevity which is mind-boggling. This also makes the subplot involving his subservience to Xanxia that much more emotive and engaging. The Polyphase Avitron becomes a much more intriguing monster, in contrast to the cod pirate parrot of TV. Goss evokes real sense of dread over the Captain's pet, and makes its lethal potential more credible and unpleasant in nature.

Xanxia - otherwise simply known as 'The Nurse' - is expertly introduced into the narrative. She appears to be someone that could help the Doctor and Romana. How wrong their impressions of her turn out to be! When the facade has fully receded, there is one of Kimus' better moments, in terms of showing some steely resolve. Also good, is the use of novel 'budget' (and reader imagination), as the Nurse suddenly is adorned in royal robes, thanks to the unique nature of her existence.

Mr Fibuli is a touch more likable than in the TV original, and there is little evidence of moustache-twirling cruelty, compared to his sneer and chuckle at the end of Episode Three. He has some inner thoughts that are very 'Everyman', and his brilliant engineering skills feel more layman too. Fibuli's constant awareness that he is replaceable - like any of the Captain's underlings - mean readers care for what fate befalls him. As it turns out, there is a heavy does of irony concerning this end-point, in conjunction with the final chapters' foreboding and tense action.

Although my synopsis suggested the guards were respected, even admired, by the (mostly faceless) Zanak citizens, both this novelisation and the TV story frequently take pokes at them for being witless and predictable. All the same, they are not to be taken as completely benign, and do sometimes make a successful capture, or take out a do-gooder with a well-aimed shot.

Of course, Goss seizes the opportunity to do some nice work with getting inside the heads of heroes as well, and that very much includes K9. The Fourth Doctor is relatively easy to write for, but few can really make him truly surprising and electric on page in a manner that the legendary Tom Baker could on-screen. Luckily, Goss is very much in that select group. The much-celebrated clash of "It is not a toy!" / "Then what is it for?!" is lovingly expanded on, and probably is the highlight of the entire book.

The Pirate Planet (audiobook) (Credit: BBC Audio)There is plenty of good material for Romana too, as she shows promise that would make her a long-staying companion, and eventually do great things for both E-Space, and Gallifrey itself. She is quick to learn, proactive, and consistently helpful to the Doctor. This sometimes makes the much older time traveller rather defensive. At one point he convinces her to complete a massive timetable, but barely achieves the delay effect he wanted it to. Nonetheless, she still is made to appreciate the Doctor's genius and quick wits, when he is forced to think of a solution to both the threat facing the universe, as well as the key objective of locating the Segment.  

K9 is of course secondary to the interpersonal drama, but still a personality; one that has emotions concerning tasks, and opinions regarding those he encounters. His one word summations on his 'owners' would be "odd" and "logical" respectively. The metal mutt's inner thoughts are generally the more light-hearted moments of the book/audio-reading.  

And now, time to recognise just how good an audio release this is, for both casual fans, and die-hards alike. Jon Culshaw has never done anything routine, forced, or ordinary to the best of my knowledge, (perhaps with the exception of singing on Comic Relief Does Fame Academy). Even with the weight of ten CDs, or eleven-and-a-half hours of running time, he puts in a wonderful solo performance. There is especially good use of third-person/first-person blending, which means that listeners can be caught out, thinking Culshaw will be talk in his own steady and affable manner, when reading Goss' prose. Much of the music gives this long story clout too. There are subtle strands, and a much more bombastic sense of 'What's Next?' upon the close of another chapter. 
 
I however need to come back to my point on the page count/ running time. This is possibly a case of Goss just slightly getting the balance between quality and detail wrong. The first half of the book, whilst not totally ponderous, does feel slow on several occasions. There are some digressions that display Adams' wit, and thoughtful wonderment at a vast interconnected cosmos, but they do not all feel as organic as in the Hitchhiker's novels (which admittedly used a guide book as the framing device). Thus some passages/moments outstay their welcome. Most odd is the sense of a Season 22 story opening, in that the TARDIS crew take an age to land on Zanak, and get involved.

Nonetheless, the final half of this novelisation  - especially the final third - is so much more urgent and gripping. It particularly delights in improving on the somewhat absurd Episode Three cliffhanger, by having a homage to the modern-day use of TARDIS in-flight to save a falling victim. Also, there is a very funny moment where the Doctor, in deep, deep trouble, thinks how clever it would be to rig a hologram. Thus when he actually does it, it banishes all feelings of indifference over the implausible onscreen execution.

One change I have more mixed feelings over, is the use of the 'Mourners' title, rather than 'Mentiads', which both sounded mysterious and ominous, yet also very funny depending on the particular dialogue context. At least there is much more back-story, and insight into their transformation, and also their "vengeance for the crimes of Zanak". Especially worthwhile is the detail on how Pralix's father was shot down, not long after he transitioned into being one of the select group. This means that the rather dour supporting character is now an angel of retribution, for both the planets and his own lost parent. There also is a change-up in making the Mourners mixed-gender, with at least one of them being female. This elder Mourner is given a few evocative moments in the narrative, helping reinforce how much more progressive Doctor Who was for women in the Graham Williams era, than it had ever been hitherto.


In sum, this is a very important book for anyone trying to get more insight into the Tom Baker period of the show - one which has been analysed and critiqued for many years now. It has a sense of something old, but also something new, and deserves at least being explored in either print or audio reading, if not both. A compression of gems, that is indeed most rich.



Associated Products

Books
Released 13 Sep 2016
57% off
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet (TV Soundtrack)
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Out 30 September
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet
$19.99



Day Of The Daleks (Audiobook/ Novelisation)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 9 December 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who and The Day of The Daleks (Credit: BBC Audio)


Written By: Terrance Dicks

(Based On A Story By: Louis Marks)

Read By: RIchard Franklin

Dalek Voices: Nicholas Briggs

Running Time: 245 mins

Released: 10 November 2016

With his old enemy the Master safely locked away, the Doctor is able to relax a little and pursue some experiments. His valued assistant Jo Grant is quite willing to provide her very human perspective. By accident, the Doctor and Jo witness two counterparts of themselves from some point in the near future. 

Meanwhile at Auderly house, Sir Reginald Styles is busy preparing for his much anticipated role in a pivotal peace conference. During one night he is suddenly disturbed by a man in military attire with a weapon of futuristic design. But before the killing shot can be made, the intruder vanishes into thin air.

Some time later, other guerrillas attack the house but instead find a terrified Jo and a remarkably laid-back Doctor. They commandeer the house; preparing to finish their mission upon Styles' return. Despite their aggressive manner, the Doctor explains to Jo that there must be a proper motive behind their actions.

The fighters come from future Earth, and their time-jumps have been noticed by their enemies, who subject the majority of mankind to slave work in mines or factories. The 'Controller' of this section of Earth barks orders at powerful brutes known as Ogrons. Soon a squad of the semi-simian creatures are sent back to the past to stop the resistance from succeeding.

But behind the Controller and the Ogrons lies a more significant foe, and one the Doctor thought he had extinguished for good: the Daleks!


 

After one of the definitive Pertwee serials, The Daemons, which saw UNIT showcased in charming and impressive fashion, Season 9 was a definite come-down for this component of Who lore. The Sea Devils had a terrific outing for the Royal Navy, which was extra special due to much real life facilities on loan. The two adventures in 'outer space' had barely any mention or use of UNIT. The season opener and closers, whilst at first glance having the Doctor's allies involved in the plot, merely required them as window dressing when it came to the essential nuts and bolts of the story proper.

Day's heart and soul lies in the future Earth, and the circumstances in 20th Century time that led to its creation. The morality issues, and personalities of the human resistance was done very well in the original TV story. Here, Terrance Dicks does great work in breathing further life into Monia, Anat, Shura, and a number of more minor fighters. More explanation of the undercover work, and fear that comes trying to go against the all-mighty establishment the Daleks have put in place, makes this one of the most powerful and emotive of all the Classic Series novelisations to hit bookstores over the decades.

But in terms of how well this works as an actual Dalek story, there are problems.  Much of the time the Daleks are hiding or demanding that their minions "exterminate" the resistance and/or the Doctor. The catchphrase the Daleks use was actually sparingly featured in their dialogue during the black and white days of the show. This story sadly saw this frequency change just a little too much. And even with Dicks' fine use of universe building concepts - such as a wider Dalek Empire gripping much of the galaxy - they still fare rather weakly. Only in the final sections, do they take matters into their own protuberances. Yet even at the climax, they all blunder into Auderly House assuming that their invasion path has not impacted on the location of those they intend to murder.

The other monsters that feature are the Ogrons, who are a race of brutal mercenaries. Whilst lacking basic intelligence they were dependably loyal and far stronger in hand to hand combat than even the toughest human resistance fighter. One of the best monsters to originate in the Pertwee era, they were utilised again in Frontier In Space. Dicks does well to emphasise the contrasting mental and physical qualities of these alien beings.

 

As in The Claws Of Axos audiobook (released earlier this year) Richard Franklin is a solid and committed performer, for this production of a top-notch novelisation. With more material for Jo in this particular story he produces a charming imitation of the memorable Katy Manning. Benton has a heavily exaggerated accent compared to the John Levene original, but regardless he has always been, and will always remain a likeable, and relatable character. There is a little bit of amusing material for Captain Yates himself in this adventure, but he barely plays a role in the final episode.

The Third Doctor, with heavy lisp and superior manner, makes for the most imposing figure of the audiobook. He is showcased in tremendous fashion, being warm, dismissive, domineering, light-hearted, outraged, and gung-ho depending on where in the story's proceedings he finds himself in.

 

Day Of The Daleks, whilst hardly a flawless classic, has been a personal favourite of mine, for many years. It has intriguing ethics, plenty of action, character development for hero and villain alike, and was in the heart of a period of Doctor Who where the show reached unprecedented levels of success in production and audience reception. This release is most welcome and rewards the extra time needed to listen to the narrative, as opposed to the four fleet foot episodes of the television screen format.





The Time Meddler (Audiobook/ Novelisation)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 8 December 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who: The Time Meddler (Credit: BBC Audio)

Written By: Nigel Robinson

Based on a TV story written by Dennis Spooner

Read By: Peter Purves
 

Published: 6th October 2016

Duration: 240 Minutes

1066, Planet Earth. The Doctor and Vicki must now move onto new journeys without the company of lively and brave Ian Chesterton, and wise, protective Barbara Wright. The two Coal Hill School teachers have finally made it back to their home time and place after the Doctor's team made a close escape from a Dalek execution squad.

To their surprise another has immediately joined their crew (in somewhat stowaway fashion): pilot Steven Taylor, who was a prisoner in the city of the Mechanoids, and had begun to lose his grasp of reality. As they explore their new surroundings in north-east England, the Doctor repeatedly is forced to convince Steven Taylor that he pilots a craft that is both capable of space flight, but also time travel.

What none of the new arrivals can anticipate is that a member of the Doctor's own race has landed sometime earlier in this pre-Renaissance era, and is posing as a native monk. And this individual is both scheming and manipulative, yet perfectly jovial and charming. He is also determined to use his awareness of future events to execute a scheme whereby the Viking invasion never went ahead. This would allow reigning King Harold to comfortably defeat William (of Normandy), and thus the whole course of future history both in England and the whole world changes irrevocably...


The Time Meddler has been something of an acquired taste for this reviewer. Soon after Doctor Who's cancellation, a repeat season on BBC 2 was commissioned, and this particular black and white story was chosen as the representative of the Hartnell years of 1963 - 1966. One reason was that no episodes were missing, and another was its relatively brief episode count. The copy shown on TV was serviceable for those fans used to the BBC Videos, but certainly would not stand up today on modern TV screens (many of which support high-definition).

To my (then nine-year-old) eyes, this was quite hard to watch for other reasons. The lack of frenetic music and the long, talky scenes meant I struggled to keep myself in the moment as I normally did. I would watch the episode once or twice and quickly move on. By contrast my viewings of the next couple of stories that followed in the season, saw me re-watch each and every episode many times on home cassette. The week long wait for the next repeat seemed an eternity.

 

Now however, watched in context of a marathon of the Hartnell era, or at least a number of consecutive stories, this serial is easily one of the more thoughtful, well-crafted and realistic (in terms of then-production facilities). The Time Meddler may be relatively small stakes compared to various other tales, but it still was at pains to show how dedicated the Doctor was in terms of protecting the web of time that was integral to planet Earth. 

Many Classic Who fans cannot help liking The Chase  despite all its problems, but only would one dare show the final episode (and possibly the opener for those that like Shakespeare or the Beatles) to a 'newbie'. By contrast this story had director Douglas Camfield who always throve on the pressures and made each and every cast and crew member feel part of a team.

 

Nigel Robinson was one of the better contributors to the TARGET novelisation range, and later went on to produce two very enjoyable early entries in the Virgin New Adventures book line (Timewyrm - Apocalypse and Birthright). Robinson understood what the essence of Doctor Who was, but also what material would be worthy of expansion and exploration in book form. A lot of the two-dimensional characters of the source material are given that bit more meat on their bones. I also appreciated the use of both a prologue and epilogue - the former to give a sense of Steven's terrifying ordeal escaping Mechanus and stumbling upon the TARDIS, the latter to fully portray the just desserts the Monk has been served by his fellow (but far more moral) time traveller.

One aspect of the story which really was unusual for 1960s Doctor Who was its exploring of adult themes. Yet - by contrast to the very first season of Hartnell - some stories in the 1964-1965 run had a rather more adult side to them: Susan's relationship with a human that made her leave the TARDIS and her grandfather, and the politics and morality aspects of Richard the Lionheart's campaigns in Palestine, were certainly more than mere teatime escapism.

One section of The Time Meddler saw a rather disturbing 'after-shock' scene of Edith conveying that she had been sexual assaulted, or raped, with the actual crime taking place off-screen. In the original story this was rather brushed under the carpet soon after and it appeared that all was more than well by the time the TARDIS crew have won their battle of wits with the Monk. In this book Robinson commendably tackles the topic in some detail, and was surely aware of portraying keystone morals for the youngster/child demographic that was essentially the target readership. The final violent end for the two Vikings who committed the despicable act feels justified. But there is that tinge of 'two wrongs do not make a right' which is part of the laudably strong characterisation at work by the adaptor.

 

Peter Purves once again shows his all round skills as a narrator and voice artist. I had the pleasure of reading his enthusiastic and detailed memoirs some years back. The former Blue Peter presenter had a varied and interesting career, with a lot of fast paced training/ performing in theatre in his formative years. Consequently the alter ego of Steven Taylor is able to handle both high pitched and bass voices with equal aplomb, and has the uncanny sense of when to speed up the tempo of his reading and when to allow some meaningful silences. Some of the music used is familiar from other BBC Audio releases, which is welcome, as so few TV Hartnell stories were linked to each other through recurring musical themes. Suspense and excitement are punctuated well, and the sound effects continue to be employed with good judgement.

So in short, this is yet another entertaining and atmospheric audio gem, and you could do far worse in choosing an item for the impending Yuletide gift list.





Class Series One - Episode 6 - DetainedBookmark and Share

Saturday, 19 November 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Class - Ep6 - Detained - Matteusz (JORDAN RENZO), Tanya (VIVIAN OPARAH), Charlie (GREG AUSTIN), April (SOPHIE HOPKINS) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)
Starring: Katherine Kelly, Sophie Hopkins, Greg Austin,
Fady Elsayed, Vivian Oparah, Jordan Renzo with Ferdy Roberts

Writer: Patrick Ness
Director: Wayne Yip
Producer: Derek Ritchie 
 
Executive Producers: Brian Minchin,
Patrick Ness, and Steven Moffat  
Released Online (BBC Three)  - 19th November 2016

This review contains spoilers.

Its another conundrum to unravel for our gang of do-gooders, having been abandoned to unsupervised detention by Miss Quill. This is no normal punishment, however, as they have been cast outside space and time itself, thanks to the rift.  Remaining trapped in one room, they all feel mounting alarm. The view outside the door and windows is a blank void.

At first they wonder if a mysterious segment of an asteroid could be the means to their escape. It turns out the rocky entity forces their deepest, most heartfelt feeling to the surface, as one by one they clutch it in their palms.

Truth and honesty unchecked can be damaging, and so it proves as the ties of friendship are strained to their very limit. Relationships come under heavy, unexpected scrutiny, for respectively Charlie and Matteusz, and April and Ram. Tanya also is taken on a difficult emotional path in terms of her insecurities over being the youngest of the group.

It eventually becomes clear that someone must take a stance, even if the ultimate sacrifice is the only pathway. Otherwise, this group of five could be reduced to just the one lone survivor..

**

The premise of a bottle episode has been done many times before in television. In Buffy, one particular episode involved the main characters forgetting who they were, but once they regained their memories, their relations were drastically altered. This story somewhat echoes that plotline, and does similar work in germinating the seeds laid out in prior stories. Enough craftsmanship by the writing, acting and production teams is involved, however, to make this tale feel like it is both relevant to today, and to be heartfelt in the emotional journeys presented.

One noticeable difference between Detained, and all preceding Season One efforts, is that effectively the core narrative is told in real time. Charlie describes the ordeal they go through as lasting "forty-five minutes". But in that time, a lot of things a considerable sea-change has occurred in the relations they have with each other.

This proves that sometimes sound, fury, and visual effects are not always needed for making a drama show work. Believable and fleshed-out characters will always be vital for any discerning viewer. It is also a neat conceit that the enemy in this story was the ruthless survivor of a group of five, and at one point it appears the same outcome will play out with our lead characters. The series may have had some moments of tonal confusion - particularly in Nightvisiting - but it is very good at bringing across themes, and parallels between different characters and/or groups.

Mystery is often one of the best methods to make a work of fiction gripping. Patrick Ness certainly gets the balance right between exposition and speculation, as the quintet are able to piece together enough to clarify how and why events are unfolding. We never get the full details of why this is all happening. The enigmatic prisoner's original appearance, where he came from, and just what motivation and method applied to the many murders he committed; all this remains open to our imagination.

It turns out that the Prince of Rhodia is anything but an angel, despite his mild manners and awkwardness that on the surface. His willingness to kill all civilisation on Earth, and that only his romance with Matteusz holds him back, is rather alarming. One wonders if Quill is actually the most immoral one after all. Of course Charlie's Polish boyfriend is able to reassure him repeatedly, and this helps the group overcome their predicament. Some damage is done to their relationship in the short term with the 'confessions', but perhaps it will bode well in the long run.  

We also witness Ram's deep feelings for April, but how he senses she does not quite return those feelings on the same level. She has perhaps every reason to be cautious about a man in her life getting close to her and being trustworthy, given the way she and her mother suffered (and continued to suffer) through Hew's actions years ago. Indeed, some exposition over the horrific incident to befall her family features when April clutches the meteor.

I know I was not alone in finding the competitive footballer's match-up with the thoughtful violist something that came out of left field. Certainly their moment of physical intimacy in Episode Four was one of the lowlights of the show, and further made ludicrous by the juxtaposition with the Shadow Kin. There never was proper discussion of how Ram was able to move on from losing Rachel, who died in such a manner that she could not even be allowed a proper burial.

Fortunately this episode manages to make the romance feel engaging, and the performances of both Sophie Hopkins and Fady Elsayed continue to feel authentic. I appreciated how April and Ram have different attitudes to the past, present and future, and how that defines their chances of staying together. They also are responding rather differently to not being - in biological terms - fully human anymore. The viewer really is made to care that their union needs considerable work from both parties.

All of the regular main cast continue to impress. Certainly with Ness' best script thus far there is little room for anyone to have a bad day's work. But perhaps the most notable performance comes from Jordan Renzo as Matteusz. I had been slightly indifferent about the character, and indeed he had barely featured in the early episodes. Here though he has enough screen time to fully establish himself as likeable and engaging. Although for much of the plot it may appear Charlie is the least angry, it actually transpires that it is his lover who has more control in the pressure-cooker situation. Renzo shows a good range and seems to thrive on the stage like confines of the one room here, so hopefully the dynamism can be followed through in other stories as well.

A lot of good drama thrives on not taking itself stone cold seriously, and having undercurrents of humour, or even absurdity. This episode shows poise in achieving this delicate contrast. One highlight involves April moving the situation along by announcing she is going to pick up the prisoner/meteor, but undercuts it by asking if anyone will "stop" her, accompanied by a comical look on her face.

Another fine moment of levity: Charlie's limitations in coming across as an actual human teenager- through being transplanted into 21st century Earth by the Twelfth Doctor - are exposed when he does not realise that 'Narnia' is a fictional realm, and quickly guesses it is somewhere in Canada. There is also of course the subtext that they have been transported to another dimension, and time has progressed back on Earth in notably different pace to their own in the void.

A few minor issues hold Detained back from being a true masterpiece. The voice for the alien prisoner is serviceable in and of itself, but is just a touch too similar to how the Shadow Kin sounded. The decision to have the classroom lights flicker and the group cower under desks makes sense within the context of the storyline, but is one of the few moments that fails to really resonate as imaginative or notable.

Also, perhaps an opportunity was missed to have some more screen time for Quill when any given person who held the stone could be made to imagine her presence, relating to the influence she has had. Katherine Kelly is really impressing me, and reminds me of Michelle Gomez in being a villainess that can inspire some sympathy. 

Some profanity - but by no means the strongest kind - features in dialogue for both April and Ram. However, it manages to still feel within context. Tanya at one point utters "airbag" as an insult, which cast my mind back to Sophie Aldred's brave attempts with Ace's more emotional dialogue, in the Seventh Doctor era.

But overall this instalment sees the series raise the bar, and iron out some flaws in earlier episodes. It boasts some skilful and dynamic direction from Wayne Yip, that lives up to the sterling work of the other directors involved in Class. Enough groundwork has been done for the final pair of stories to make this particular school term end strongly. Certainly that cliffhanger with Quill 'unshackled' will make me rush to my BBC I-Player connection in double-quick time.

The episode's confidence and effectiveness is such that it deserves to be a companion piece to the 2008 classic Midnight, and thus help justify once again the amazing scope that there is in the extended Doctor Who universe. 





The Invasion Of TimeBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 16 November 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who and The Invasion Of Time (no narrator announced) (Credit: BBC Audio)Terrance Dicks, Narrator: John Leeson
 
 Available from BBC Audio (Download/ Four CDs)

 Published: 1st September 2016

Run Time: 247 Minutes

Season Fifteen of Doctor Who was arguably the most directionless of the Seventies. After the wonderful three prior seasons under producer Philip Hinchcliffe, Doctor Who suddenly had a very different person at the helm, as Graham Williams took over. However the new showrunner perhaps was less able to make the most of the limited resources afforded the Saturday teatime show, and also commanded somewhat less authority over the sometimes domineering leading man. It was evident to many viewers how the show was struggling through a period of transition, and the average quality of both script and production dipped quite dramatically. It does need to be acknowledged, however that budget cuts were enforced by higher management, and furthermore in the case of this story industrial strikes took their toll. 

 

The last two years had featured very strong climactic stories, which made the often regarded 'burden' of six episodes into an opportunity to really explore an exciting storyline and afford one-off characters stronger examination. The Invasion of Time unfortunately stopped the run of triumphs, although it still had quite a few merits to prevent it from being anywhere close to a disaster. The foundations for a satisfying season finale were never quite right from Day One, and even the same budget as Season Fourteen would not have prevented some of the decisions made by the production team. Experienced writer David Weir was unable to offer a script that could be made to work on screen; although perhaps if made with Hollywood resources it would have proven a success. Some Who stories failed for being too ambitious, with many of those being in the experimental Sixties era. But surely the concept of killer cats that could walk upright and talk should have been vetoed from the off(?). Deciding to keep the basic setting of the Doctor's home world, script editor Anthony Read, along with Williams, came up with Invasion. It was a work of some desperate measures, and to be frank it did show through a significant portion of the story's duration.

 

The (audio) book format takes away some of the considerable ropiness of the onscreen production. On the other hand, it also excises the excellence of Borusa and Kelner - performed respectively by John Arnatt, and Milton Johns, (who also made a fine villain in the re-discovered The Enemy Of The World). The ever-strong Louise Jameson made the most of the emotional tribulations that faced Leela, as she appears to be cast aside by her best friend. Even Andred and Rodan, while hardly the stuff of legend, did make for likeable one-time characters, and as portrayed on-screen gave some colour to the rather obtuse and stuffy society of Gallifrey's Capitol.

All the same, there is no getting away from the laughable visuals/costumes used for the Vardans, and the inadequate allocation of money for the Sontaran invasion squad. The casting and/or performances for both the Vardan leader, and Commander Stor left something to be desired as well. And most dedicated classic Who fans will be aware of the use of a disused hospital for the final episode run-around sections, within the endless depths of the Doctor's TARDIS, with even some verbal 'acknowledgement' by the characters of the repeated use of the limited sets.

 

Apart from exploring Gallifrey in notable depth and seeing Leela leave the show, Invasion was one of a number of stories where the Fourth Doctor went 'evil'. Other examples involved possession, being impersonated, or replicated in android form. This story however did the most with the trope, by allowing Tom Baker to come across as chillingly ruthless and corrupt. And yet there was also that hint at times he was still the same do-gooder, as viewers had long come to expect. Once episode three of the story is underway, an element of tension subsides as the Doctor's true intention is clarified. But then with each passing episode the plot become shakier as the rushed writing process shows through.

Nonetheless, this brave choice to start a season closer with such a shocking premise should still be given some credit. Thus, taken on its own terms as an intriguing story, with a hook as to the Doctor's loyalties and overall game plan, and also a chance to see how Gallifrey has fared since the conspiracy that took place in The Deadly Assassin, the novelisation had some distinct in-build advantages. Terrance Dicks, so comfortable at this point as an author, was always going to produce something pleasantly readable. 

This new audio production is yet another feather in BBC Audio's cap, and the decision to once again employ John Leeson was a sound one. This loyal supporter of the show - both during his time in the cast, and many years after interacting with fandom - reprises his K9 voice effortlessly, and seamlessly incorporates any extra lines he is afforded in this version. One of the most minor characters sounds a little too much like K9, but that is forgivable, as Leeson's overall range is strong, and he breathes life even into the more one-dimensional figures of the original scripts. 

The much-praised Episode Four cliffhanger makes for the most dramatic chapter ending, and sees Leeson's heartfelt read-through of the prose at its absolute peak. This moment is coupled with a nicely done accompaniment of orchestral music - somewhat similar, but certainly not identical to the great work of Dudley Simpson. Even if the front cover gives away the main enemy's identity, for someone completely new to the story and/or Doctor Who in general, the decision made by Williams and Read to use a big twist to bolster the 'four-plus-two' episode structure twist still holds up almost forty years later. Of course, back in 1978 the chances of spoilers were next to none, with a little bit of discretion. 

In terms of what original material Dicks' adaption brings to readers who want more than just a solid translation of the teleplay, in all honesty this effort has limited 'bonuses'. Most regrettably, there is no build on the Leela/Andred relationship in this version of the story. Compared to the likes of Jo Grant, Vicki, or even Peri, this romantic exit - especially for a companion as iconic as Leela - really felt artificial. In fact there is less indication of their bond than the TV version, which had some moments of hand-holding/ eye-contact for Jameson and Christopher Tranchell to try to signpost to viewers. Also, perhaps Dicks missed opportunities for the Doctor to justify risking a full-scale Vardan invasion, and also the price paid in a number of Time Lord and Gallifreyan deaths. This loss of life, so normally abhorred by the Doctor is likely the by-product of a necessarily rushed script at the time, which still needed its quota of action-adventure and suspense.

There are at least some welcome explanations of how the Doctor was able to use the status of President, despite continuing on his travels, via a solid recap of the previous (and superior) Gallifrey story, and also a little bit of clarity over which of Rassilon's artefacts remained intact, for those who make the effort to scrutinise such details. 

In sum then, this is a nice little addition to the BBC Audio library, mainly thanks to John Leeson's committed involvement. The original book was efficient in getting the rather elongated six-parter told in expeditious fashion, and the running time here - spread over 4 CDs - feels comparatively lighter. As a tale in its own right it can be followed with little difficulty, although it certainly resonates more if the listener is somewhat clued up on Time Lord basics, and also familiar with Leela's development (which evoked George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion).Whilst probably not the first choice for a fan unfamiliar with the Tom Baker era - and in particular this maiden season of the Williams era - this audiobook still holds its own, and offers a good few hours of easy listening.