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
36% off
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet (TV Soundtrack)
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Released 27 Jun 2017
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet
$19.99



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.





Philip Hinchcliffe Presents - The Genesis ChamberBookmark and Share

Thursday, 6 October 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
genesis chamber

Written By:Philip Hinchcliffe, adapted by Marc Platt 

Director:Ken Bentley

Cast          

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), 

Jon Culshaw (DeRosa Janz), Hannah Genesius (Ana Janze), Jemma Churchill (Farla Janz/Inscape), Dan Li(Grillo Clavik), Vernon Dobtcheff (Jorenzo Zorn), Arthur Hughes (Shown), Gyuri Sarossy (Volor), Elliot Chapman (Dack/Loyyo)

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor John Dorney

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

So, here we have The Genesis Chamber, where we join the Doctor and Leela on a planet that has been colonised by humans. There are two communities, one that lives inside a technologically advanced dome, where they rely on a powerful computer system called Inscape to provide their every need, even down to designer children. The other community lives outside the dome, and relies on more traditional methods to survive, shunning technology completely. Both colonies are fearful of each other. Suddenly there is a third faction, could this be an advance guard of an invasion force with a twist? With the sudden threat, Inscape goes off line, and the city is in turmoil. Can the Doctor and Leela repel the invaders, reunite the two communities and get Inscape up and running again? Only time will tell.

Philip Hinchcliffe Presents – The Genesis Chamber is a full on, epic, it's a six part Fourth Doctor and Leela adventure. Personally I had the feeling it might be set right after The Talons of Weng-Chiang, the relationship  of the two leads still seemed quite new to me, they seemed to be still wonderfully, and quite gleefully discovering things about each other as the story progressed. The writing is great, but I felt not overly evocotive of Hinchcliffe's 'gothic' era, which surprised me. Like most of Hinchcliffe's work though there are undercurrents of classic literature. Romeo and Juliet being mostly to the fore (even Leela gets a tragic love story). Oh, and the sequence where Leela has to drive a futeristic car is priceless!

With a running time of three hours,  I was concerned that the audio might struggle to keep my attention, but once it gets going it romps along. There seemed to be a huge cast of characters, but never does it become confusing….unless you count the plots numerous twists and turns (there are many!). Some of which are pure genius.

Along with Tom Baker and Louise Jameson, we have Jon Culshaw - who rather ironically of course has aped Tom Baker on numerous occasions, including voicing him for The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot (please, do google his impressions if you havent seen them already - Jon rather famously  even fooled Tom Baker), as well as lending his vocal talents to the McCoy audio, Death Comes To Time. Ae also have Hannah Genesius, Jemma Churchill (who also featured in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, Dan Li (The Bells Of Saint John), Vernon Dobtcheff (The Borgias), Arthur Hughes, Gyuri Sarossy and Elliot Chapman. All voice artists do a sterling job at bringing their characters to life, the stand out being Volor (played with glee by Gyuri Sarossy), a character who is essentially the villain of the piece, and who there is much more to than meets the eye. My only gripe with the story is that the writers deided to give the 'simpler' colonist-folk, who live outside the dome a West Country accent, which grated on this Bristol boy just a little bit.

So, The Genesis Chamber is a great re-visitation back to a time when Doctor Who ruled Saturday evenings, with Tom Baker at his most bonkers, and the loyal savage Leela at his side. Those were the days!






The Fourth Doctor: Casualties Of Time (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 24 August 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Casualties Of Time (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Nicholas Briggs Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), John Leeson (K9/The Oortag), David Warner (Cuthbert), Toby Hadoke (Mr Dorrick), David Troughton (The Black Guardian/Edge), Jez Fielder (Drudger/Ecidien Cerebus Bird/The White Guadian/Salonu Prime), Jane Slavin (The Laan/Conglom-net Computer/Salonu)

 

This title was released in August 2016. It will be available to buy from the BF website until September 30th 2016, and on general sale after this date.

This review contains spoilers

 

Casualties Of Time, the last in this series of fourth Doctor audio adventures from Big Finish picks straight up from the end of the previous adventure, The Pursuit Of History. We find Romana being forced  by Mr Dorrick (Toby Hadoke) into the chamber to repair the time engine and the Doctor about to take another perilous trip in the TARDIS through one of Cuthbert's (David Warner) dodgy quantum gateways. Needless to say that both cliffhangers are resolved quickly and neatly (perhaps the Doctor's just a little too quickly, or maybe the TARDIS is just getting used to these perilous trips through quantum gateways).

I couldn't help but notice that the blurb from Big Finish for Casualties of time is particularly bold, it's final two lines are:

The Doctor, Romana and K9.

Today one of them will die.

So do we lose one of the best TARDIS crews ever assembled? Possibly maybe, perhaps....

Thankfully, during the audio play's run time, a lot of the questions raised in the last episode, are answered - Questions like - What are Cuthbert's motives? Is the Black Guardian involved? What is the Cerebus Bird doing in the bowels of the TARDIS? And probably the MOST important of all - Could Toby Hadoke'sMr Dorrick possibly get more camp and moustache twirlgly devious? (That last one is a most definite yes).

Big Finish seem to be quite clumsy with their credits, they brazenly give the game away with regards to the Black Guardian's involvement before you get a chance to listen to the lovely season seventeen opening theme. But then again, I guess that it acts as an advert for a returning villain.

Nicholas Briggs not only brilliantly wrote, but also ably directed this story which is full of very intelligent paradoxes, one of which reaches right back to the iron age and involves an alien ship, Cuthbert, a bazooka and the Doctor (twice). Mr Cuthbert's timeline of self-perpetuation is very clever indeed, and makes perfect sense, especially when you find out how his whole life has been influenced, and manipulated. Oh - and the twist is a doozy. Nicely played Mr Briggs.

Tom Baker and John Leeson are (as you would expect) excellent together which is a good job as again we find The Doctor and Romana (Lalla Ward) are separated for a vast amount of the story. However when the Doctor does finally catch up with Ramona....sorry, Romana on the space platform, their chemistry once again is very evident and welcomed.

Tom has (of course) most of the best lines, and has fun delivering them. My favorite of which has to be "Hello Mr Dorrick, it's so nice to see you. I'm joking." As the story unfurls, both Toby Hadoke and David Warner's characters require a complete change in the way that they are played, and both handle this change with deft and with style. In fact the Doctor's relationship itself with Cuthbert changes also, and I'd welcome another visit from this new twist on the character, just as this adventure left him. I mustn't also forget David Troughton's Edge, who finds himself somewhat, shall we say at odds with Cuthbert for a while.

The last two of this series of eight has left me wanting more of the Doctor, Romana and K9. I can't wait for series six!






Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment (audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 11 August 2016 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
Doctor Who and The Sontaran Experiment (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Ian Marter
Read by Jon Culshaw
Released by BBC Audio on 7 July 2016
First published by W.H. Allen & Co. Ltd in 1978
Running time: 3 hours approx.

The Sontaran Experiment was the first two-part story to be novelized. Ian Marter’s text provided a model for others to follow, selectively expanding scenes or reimagining situations and sections of the plot in such a way that the book didn’t seem to have stretched its source material too thin in order to fill the 128 page count standard for Target in 1978. Not all his examples were followed by others, but Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment remains one of the most readable Target books. It’s now one of the most listenable too.

The success of Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment as an audiobook owes much, of course, to its reader. Jon Culshaw is a versatile and sensitive performer and shows his familiarity with the television source material. His Styr (as Marter renames Styre, slightly Germanically) has a lot of Kevin Lindsay’s bored colonial officer about it, but with an added note of cruelty to the hoarse voice in keeping with Marter’s reinterpretation of the character. The Galsec crew members turn up with South African accents present and correct, all distinctive and all from Culshaw. Sarah Jane Smith is Culshaw talking slightly more lightly and gently, and Harry Sullivan not too different from Culshaw’s narrator’s voice, respecting the relationship between the authorial voice and Harry’s viewpoint in Marter’s first two novelizations.

A good number of listeners will be curious to know how far Jon Culshaw’s fourth Doctor reflects his Tom Baker impersonation from Dead Ringers. Culshaw’s Doctor is realized more sensitively and subtly here than it was in his comedy persona, though there are still more than flashes of it every time Culshaw has to talk in pseudoscientific jargon or reminisce about constellations visited. He enjoys the dialogue which Marter adds, creating a fourth Doctor a little closer to the Tom Baker whom Ian Marter knew, crossing over fiction and reality. The Doctor’s rugby ball metaphor might have appeared on television, but certainly not his carrying around a flask of Glenlivet. We are assured, though not in precisely these words, that Styr would not have survived a night in the Colony Room with Tom and his Soho friends.

One of the great strengths of Ian Marter’s writing, at least where his first two books were concerned, was that he took the sets and locations of the television stories and created something extraordinary from them while keeping faith with his source. The Dartmoor locations of The Sontaran Experiment on television become the foundation for a gnarled postapocalyptic landscape, full of monstrous ochre reeds and brittle, black ferns atop deep ravines and cavernous labyrinths. As mentioned above Styr is developed into a dedicated sadist by Marter, who writes of how Styr enjoys putting his subjects – particularly Sarah Jane Smith – through tortures far more horrible than anything realized on television. In contrast he Styre written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin is someone who can easily be read, in the words of one of my favourite reviews, as ‘a harassed Biology student trying to complete his practical on time.’ Marter’s Styr, though, is a complex creation, a cyborg entity whose flesh is likened to plastic, seaweed, rubber and steel wool, and viewed by different characters in different ways. To Sarah, he’s a noxious reptile and a bloated, snorting pig; to Harry he’s ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and the Golem of Jewish folklore, as if spontaneously generated from the devastated Earth, though Culshaw’s short vowels will make listeners think of Tolkien’s Gollum.

There’s a lot to intrigue in the writing, particularly the hallucinating Harry’s successive threatening visions of Sarah. Perhaps Marter viewed Harry as jealous of Sarah’s relationship with the Doctor, depicted as intense and trusting with Harry too often a third wheel. However, one of the more spectacular expansions is Harry’s exploration of the Sontaran ship, a more complex vessel in the book than suggested on television, which not only allows Harry to be heroic but is read with a careful urgency by Culshaw.

Simon Power’s sound design is appropriate throughout, especially in the torture scenes which are given suitably visceral cues. At about 180 minutes this audiobook isn’t too long and writer and reader are good companions for a few hours. It’s a small but determined sidestep into a reimagined fourth Doctor era, of interest to old and new audiences and an early indication of the elasticity of Doctor Who.

 





The Fourth Doctor: The Pursuit Of History (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 6 August 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Pursuit Of History (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), John Leeson (K9),  David Warner (Cuthbert), Toby Hadoke (Mr Dorrick), David Troughton (Mr Edge), John Dorney(David Goddard/Oceanic Airforce Commander), Lisa Bowerman (Conglom-Net Computer/Oceanic Airforce Pilot) Jez Fielder (Neville Sanders/Drudger/Ecidien Cerebus Bird/Albert Chatterton/Salonu Prime), Jane Slavin (The Laan/Salonu). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Released by Big Finish July 2016 - purchase via Amazon UK

 


 

Big Finish's seventh part of the Fourth Doctor's fith series (thats a lot of 'ths'!) opens in 1859 with a steam engine about to be robbed by a character called Cuthbert, and his band of men. In the far future, a space platform is reeling from the escape of a creature called the Laan, which has been powering the platform. Meanwhile, on the TARDIS, Romana and K9 are going on a bird hunt. The idea of Romana and K9 in the bowls of the TARDIS on an 'avian hunt' is a beautiful one, and where they find it might surprise you. The avian was mentioned in the last episode, and I'm nsure will be a plot point that will be picked up again in the future. Back in the console room the Doctor detects something approaching in the vortex. It is the escaped Laan, which appears inside the TARDIS and takes Romana. It is, of course down to the Doctor and K9 to rescue her, and also to find out exactly what Cuthbert is up to.

I must confess that The Pursuit of History left me, at times a little confused. Cuthbert (played by the fantastic David Warner) has appeared in a number of previous stories in Big Finish's Doctor Who universe. Me being a fairly new convert found myself a tad lost. Cuthbert is essentially an intergalactic, time jumping dubiously moraled businessman. The head of The Conglomorate. Not knowing the history, or of his previous relationship with the Doctor was initially a disadvantage for me, but after a quick look at The TARDIS Datacore, and I was up to speed not only with Cuthbert, but also his villinous assistant Mr Dorrick (played with relish by Toby Hadoke - who'd have thought that Hadoke could play scheming so very deliciously?), and the Laan.

There are many fantstic moments - trust Big Finish to successfully overcome K9's mobility issues by giving the Doctor an earpiece with which to communicate with his robotic dog. Why hasn't this been done before? Plus it's hilarious when Cuthbert's communication device picks up their conversation. Oh - and the Doctor calling the TARDIS 'Old girl' put a smile on this fan boy's face.There is also the Cerebus bird name dropping the Brigidier, and Romana's new friend (voiced by John Leeson)on the space platform, who put me in mind me of a subservient Sully from Monster's Inc.There is also a vist to the year 182059, with an out of control TARDIS causing some concern to the Australian authorities of that time. My word, a TARDIS does make a rather loud bang when it crash lands!

The only real downside of the story is that the Doctor and Romana are seperated very early, and don't get back into each other's company for the duration of the story, this left me feeling a tad robbed, as I love the chemistry between the two characters. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward have done so very well at rekindling their on screen relationship for audio, it seems like too much of a waste to not have them together for the majority of this episodes run time.

There is though a lot of peril. The TARDIS is REALLY put through the mill, and there is a great set up for part two that not only leaves Romana in a very tricky situation, and the Doctor about to put the TARDIS through another quantum gateway that will surely destroy the old girl, but also reveals who the real villain of the piece is. It is something that has been hinted at for the run of this series of stories, and finally pays off. The visual images that you get when listening to this audio are absolutely stunning, if this were televised, it would have cost a bomb. Nicolas Briggs has pulled off a marvel - I can't wait for part two.