Twice Upon a Time (BBC Books)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 30 July 2018 - Reviewed by Stephen Blenkinsop
Twice Upon a Time (Credit: BBC Books)
Author: Paul Cornell
Publisher: BBC Books
Released: April 2018
Paperback: 161 pages

This final Target novelisation brings us bang up to date with the Doctor’s adventures, recounting the 12th Doctor’s final journey towards his future, covering events following the end of series 10 that saw him lose his companion Bill to the Cybermen.  Arriving at the South Pole and deciding he doesn’t want to regenerate again he meets his first incarnation who is also wrestling with the prospect of change.  When time stops and the Doctors encounter a First World War soldier who is being pursued by a woman made of glass they begin a journey that sees both incarnations finding out what it means to be the Doctor.

The novelisation follows the broadcast story extremely closely, with relatively little additional material in terms of story development.  However, while the TV episode might have suffered, at least in the eyes of some, from the lack of an enemy to see the Doctor off in spectacular style, this seems less the case here, in a novel that has the space to explore the nature of the change and personal sense of loss that regeneration inflicts on the Doctor.  It, therefore, feels less of a postscript to what went before and more an exploration of some big themes in their own right, with a deeper reflection on the life of the Doctor as he faces his latest regeneration, and on the sense of the unknown as he faces his first.  To fully exploit this, a quite significant development that seems even more explicit here than on broadcast is the idea that the Doctor can choose whether he regenerates or dies, something that raises big questions for the Doctor personally but also for the web of time itself.

This serious subject matter doesn’t stop Cornell having fun throughout the book though.  The Doctor’s nicknames for his earlier incarnation prompt him to recall past encounters with various stars from the world of entertainment including a shared holiday with Mary Berry and a pub crawl with Clive Dunn.  There’s also some fun referencing the show’s history.  When the VHS tape held up by Archie is revealed to be the Doctor’s recording of the Daleks master plan, it elicits the comment ‘how they’d love to get that back’ – a nice acknowledgment of fans’ desire for the return of lost episodes.  And there’s further mischief with a joke addressing the old Dimension/Dimensions inconsistency in the TARDIS acronym.

In common with the other recent releases in this range the author also indulges fans with occasional continuity – some obvious, including references to events in the Snowcap base in The Tenth Planet, to companions Steven and Sara Kingdom, and a moving reference to Susan, - some more subtle, such as the reference to people being the sum of their memories.  The First Doctor getting to use the sonic screwdriver for the first time provides another fan-pleasing moment.  Throughout, Cornell shows the attention to detail one would expect, taking the opportunity to explain why the Blinovitch Limitation Effect isn’t functioning, and delightfully explaining why the First Doctor has to do more work at the console when flying the TARDIS compared with his later incarnations.  There’s also a nice acknowledgment of the legacy of the Target novels themselves with a chapter titled ‘Escape to Danger’.  These references demonstrate real respect for the show but don't distract from the storytelling.

Cornell finishes the book on a very serious note, adding perhaps the most chilling moment in the book with what was for me the revelation that plans for a subsequent Christmas truce in 1915 were stopped by the authorities.  This moment darkens the sombre mood as the story draws to its conclusion, as ever, reality proving to be far more shocking than anything the show can create.  This addition is well judged and feeds the somewhat melancholy mood as the Doctors finally come to terms with their destinies.

The book is not without its problems, however.  In remaining faithful to the broadcast episode the novel does retain what many people felt to be an over the top characterisation of the First Doctor’s dated attitudes.  This can be forgiven as it merely reflects the TV episode itself, however, it may possibly be compounded in the novelisation by an occasionally overstated characterisation of the First Doctor as devoid of humour.  This is something that doesn’t really reflect the softer characterisation that had evolved by this point of this incarnation and even contradicts him making a joke himself earlier in the story, albeit one that demonstrates the first point of criticism.  These are however relatively small points and don’t detract significantly from the positives.

As the final book in this batch of releases it’s worth reflecting on the nature of the Target range and what they offer in the twenty-first century.  My own Target collection has been packed away and living in my parents’ loft for a few years now, these books a remnant of my childhood, a feature of the past, not needed in an age of on demand TV and DVDs.  Reading these recent releases however I’ve rediscovered the joy of Target novels and realised that they can still have a unique place in Dr Who fans' collections .  Whilst they may not be the most challenging of reads it is clear they are written with a great deal of love and it’s a joy to be able to join the Doctor for a couple of chapters on the bus to work or a few spare moments during the day.  And given that these books have a style of their own, the reader can connect with (and appreciate) the series in a uniquely different way.  Until there are further new releases (hopefully!) it may be time for me to pay a visit to my parents’ loft.





The Day of the Doctor (BBC Books)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 11 June 2018 - Reviewed by Stephen Blenkinsop
The Day of the Doctor (Credit: BBC Books)
Author: Steven Moffat
Publisher: BBC Books
Released: April 2018
Paperback: 232 pages

The 11th Doctor’s entry into the Target books range sees Steven Moffat novelise his 50th-anniversary celebration with two closely intertwined plots in a timey-wimey multi-Doctor tale.  The first plot strand sees the Doctor joining forces with his previous incarnation and the recently introduced War Doctor to thwart the Zygons who, having found themselves in Elizabethan England, hatch a plot to take over the Earth in the future.  However, the second plot strand which sees the Doctor confront his role in ending the Time War is more significant, addressing a major theme running throughout the series since its return in 2005.  This is arguably given even more weight in this novelisation than in the televised version, exploring the pain arising from his actions in a more personal way.  In revisiting the response of his Ninth incarnation at the end of The Parting of the Ways however, this book makes the point that the choice the Doctor faced here is the same impossible choice he has faced on many occasions.

This is the longest of this new batch of novelisations, perhaps understandably given the extended running length of the TV episode and the multiple plot lines, but also given that it covers the brief prequel, ‘the Night of the Doctor’.  Add to these the addition of new material and this feels a more substantial novel than the other recent releases in this range.  It also has a very different feel to it, demonstrating the versatility of earlier entries into the Target range.  Here, each chapter is written from the perspective of a different character, often in the first person, making each one feel fresh while challenging the reader to work out the identity of the author.  This story-telling device is put to particularly good effect when recounting the Doctor’s journey to the Tower from the perspective of each of his incarnations in turn – a journey his later incarnations have obviously experienced before.  It also allows for the injection of some humour at the expense of the Doctor and other characters, the former being variously identified as Bow Tie, Daddy’s Suit, Pinstripe, Grumpy, and Neckwear.  (As a side point, reference to the Tenth Doctor’s ‘tight suit’ would surely become a standard Target description of this Doctor should the range be extended, much like the Fifth Doctor’s “pleasant, open face”).  Each chapter is also preceded by a communication to readers from the narrator, an archivist who seems to be piecing together events in the story.  For me, the style of these interludes seemed very similar to those of Moffat’s DWM Production Notes.  I anticipate that this may grate with some readers and might be expected to interrupt the flow of the story, but for me these did make for refreshing breaks and a lightening of the mood in some of the book’s more serious moments.

Moffat also takes the chance to add to his original story, the most notable addition being that of a small but not insignificant role for River Song, perhaps understandable as one of his most significant character creations.  There is also an extended description of the Doctor’s integration in the Court of Queen Elizabeth and, of course, reference to Chapter 9 which claims to resolve so many of the show’s big questions and controversies is a typical example of Moffat playfulness.  He has further fun with the first two Doctors here being identified as colour blind and the Doctor also refers to the Peter Cushing Dr Who films and is even reported to be consulting with Cushing on a third film.

As one would expect from an anniversary story there is lots of fan-pleasing continuity with references to the great and the good from the show’s past, including Ian and Barbara, The Brigadier, Sarah Jane Smith and Susan.  The grand finale still sees all the Doctor’s incarnations join forces though here it is in a somewhat different manner to the TV episode and a significant addition comes right at the end of the book with a brief postscript featuring the thirteenth Doctor.  And as with many Target novelisations this one also takes the opportunity to extend the roles and significance of supporting characters - here Queen Elizabeth and McGillop are the main beneficiaries.  The absence of the Daleks is though more apparent in this book.  Although they are an important part of the backdrop to the story in terms of the Time War – without the impact of their on-screen cameos they are effectively absent here.

This novel then has more serious undertones than the first two additions to the Target range but is not without its moments of humour, which, as in past multi-Doctor stories are principally in the interactions between the various incarnations of the main character.  It is a book written very much with fans of the series at its heart, but going beyond the continuity this is never clearer than the beautiful moment when the War Doctor promises that whoever hears the wheezing, groaning sound of the TARDIS will know that they are not alone.  While this is of immediate significance to the Doctor in the context of the story, this is surely also speaking to the fans and their relationship with the Doctor.  The Day of the Doctor immediately soared to the top of the DWM poll of TV stories and I’m sure this novelisation will be held in similarly high regard.





The Christmas Invasion (BBC Books)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 20 May 2018 - Reviewed by Stephen Blenkinsop
The Christmas Invasion (Credit: BBC Books)
Author: Jenny T Colgan
Publisher: BBC Books
Released: April 2018
Paperback: 169 pages

As the second book in the range of new series novelisations (at least in terms of the broadcast chronology) The Christmas Invasion, by Jenny T Colgan, marks the start of the Tenth Doctor’s era.  As such it is a logical choice even though there are arguably many more popular stories from this period, although for me this remained the best Christmas episode for many years until some of the more recent contributions.

This novelisation is a faithful retelling of the broadcast episode with fewer deviations or additional contributions than the novelisation of Rose.  The theme of the story is as much about the Doctor and Rose both coming to terms with the former’s regeneration as it is with battling the Sycorax invasion.  There is a therefore more emphasis on the strength of the relationship that has built up between the Doctor and Rose (and how it is affected by the Doctor’s regeneration) which is explored more explicitly, but there is also a little more background to the Guinevere One team and their relationships.  There’s also rather less continuity here than in the novelisation of Rose although John Lumic, who will crop up in the not too distant future gets a mention, as does the Brigadier.  There are also obvious references to the previous TV episode and with the Doctor’s first encounter with the Slitheen when he last encountered the Member of Parliament for Flydale North, now Prime Minister.

Jenny T Colgan clearly relishes the chance to highlight the threat in this story - the horror of the population literally standing on a precipice around the world is darker here and the shock of those watching their loved ones on the brink is more apparent.  Meanwhile, although he features comparatively little in this story, the energy and enthusiasm of the Tenth Doctor is captured on the page and by the end of the story when he finally “arrives”, that spirit of excitement and the feeling that the show was on the verge of something great really leaps form the page.  She also has fun with the idea that the world of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide could be part of the Doctor Who canon (not for the first time in the show’s history).  The book also features some nice attention to the detail of the era here that serves to date the episode but also frighteningly to remind us of the passing of time since the episode aired - see Mickey connect to the internet using a dial-up connection on a laptop with 512Mb of RAM!

Overall this story is written with a light touch that perfectly evokes the episode and its central characters and won’t leave you feeling as if you’ve overindulged on Christmas pudding.  To top it off, some wonderful chapter titles themed around Christmas songs, a rather touching author’s afterword and another excellent cover by Anthony Dry are the icing on this particular Christmas cake!





Rose (BBC Books)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 18 May 2018 - Reviewed by Stephen Blenkinsop
Rose (Credit: BBC Books)
Author: Russell T Davies
Publisher: BBC Books
Released: April 2018
Paperback: 197 pages

Target is back!  The Target novelisations of televised stories were the mainstay of Doctor Who fans in the pre-VHS and DVD days – the only way to find out about adventures of Doctors you didn’t know existed.  And for collectors, these books were also an essential archive of the show’s past in their own right

Rose is a logical choice to include in the relaunch of the series – it’s not necessarily a fantastic episode (though it is pretty good and holds up well) but it did play such an important role in introducing the show to a new audience.

Like most of the previous Target novelisations, Rose, by Russell T Davies (the showrunner for the TV series as well as writer of this episode), tells the story pretty much as it was broadcast, primarily recounting the story of Rose Tyler and her introduction into the world of the Doctor as they battle the Nestene Consciousness and its army of killer Autons.  As in past books what this novelisation does is add extra depth and background to the characters.  Here, Rose and her boyfriend Mickey’s circle of friends is expanded upon with Mickey’s life story a particularly moving addition.  Extra depth is also provided on Clive Finch and his family, making the resolution of his story here more poignant and even a little threatening.

Another added feature to this novelisation is the generous sprinkling of continuity, not only from the Doctor’s past but also his future.  RTD takes the opportunity to draw on the show’s 13-year extended history, including Rose’s encounter with a strange man on New Year’s Day and the mention of a future companion.  Both of these additions make the interesting point that companions may already have unknowingly been caught up in the Doctor’s world before we get to meet them.  Extra mentions for Bad Wolf and Torchwood, and more obscure references for the eagle-eyed, including plastic daffodils, give the eager fan plenty to look out for – a kind of Doctor Who I –Spy.

As we would expect from RTD the story features plenty of humour, particularly when writing for Rose’s mum Jackie.  There are also knowing references to the episode’s broadcast – most notably a reference to Graham Norton whose voice was erroneously broadcast at a critical point of the episode.  The book also doesn’t try to avoid more mature themes, discretely hinting at the misbehaviour of Bernie Wilson and portraying a modern attitude to sexual difference that the show hasn’t hidden from.

Perhaps the most obvious place where extra material is provided is the climactic battle between the Doctor and the Nestene Consciousness – including an unexpected bluff involving Mickey – but most spectacularly the final battle with the Autons across London, with RTD taking the opportunity to wash MPs away as Parliament is flooded in the aftermath of the battle!  This battle is also more deliciously violent than we see on-screen with some gruesome comeuppances for some of the extra characters.  A significant improvement on the TV story is also, for me, the departure of Rose to travel with the Doctor which is handled more sensitively here.

All in all the story rattles on at a breath-taking pace, despite the extra details, and manages to evoke the spirit and novelty of the revived show but also the comfort and familiarity of the Target range.  The book also features one of the most vivid descriptions of the TARDIS dematerialisation I’ve read. 

The book cover is decorated with an illustration by Anthony Dry who evokes the classic designs of Chris Achilleos and so these books sit nicely, though not identically, alongside the recent classic series re-releases.  With three other titles from the new series also just published I’m hoping (as a reader and a completist collector) that there will be further additions to this range.





The Mark of the Rani (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 30 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: The Mark Of The Rani (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Pip & Jane Baker
Read By Nicola Bryant

Released by BBC Worldwide - April 2018
Available from Amazon UK

I was never a big fan of Pip and Jane Baker's writing on the series.  They only wrote three stories, but none of them thrilled me. "The Mark of the Rani" was probably the best of the three...but even then it was a little too campy. I didn't think the Rani was an interesting new villain, as she just seemed to be a pale imitation of Anthony Ainley's version of the Master, and her scientist goals seemed very anti-science in their depiction.  

Little did I know I'd need to write a review of the audiobook someday.  

This is the kind of sentence that seems to end a lot of sequences and chapters in this novelization.  "Little did they know..." and variations upon that permeate the book. The Bakers aren't particularly good writers in my opinion, not for the screen, not for the page.  While Nicola Bryant proves to be a great narrator, the story is only so-so.  

I don't remember disliking the original episodes, though I went back and read my review of when I last watched it many years ago, and my review is pretty critical of it.  I'd have to rewatch to see where I stand on the televised version.  But the novel is mediocre.  Not awful, but just somewhere in the middle...and there is little that is less interesting to talk about than something that is middle of the road in terms of quality.  

If you happen to be fan of this story, Nicola Bryant is giving her all to the audiobook. I would say her reading made up for the lack of story and interesting characters.  If you don't really care about this particular Sixth Doctor story, I wouldn't waste my time. 





The Curse of Fenric (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Curse Of Fenric (Credit: BBC Audio)Written by Ian Briggs
Read By Terry Molloy

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2015
Available from Amazon UK

It is quite probable that The Curse of Fenric is my favorite story of the Seventh Doctor. I loved the atmosphere, where it developed the character of Ace, and her relationship to the Doctor and her past, and I loved where it seemed to be pushing the show...even if imminent cancellation shelved those plans.  Maybe that is for the best. The writer of the story, Ian Briggs, wrote his own novelization, and the results are pretty stellar. 

The way Briggs wrote it, it feels like a novel unto itself, it doesn't feel like it was based on a cheap TV show, it feels like an original novel that once got adapted for TV. That is rare in these novelizations.  But Briggs puts in a Prologe and an Epilogue, and instead of the standard Chapters, he breaks the story up into "Chronicles" which are the more straight adaptations of the serial, and "Documents" which give more in-depth background on elements of the story in a unique and creative way. 

It is things like that that up the ante, make this story feel like it is completely fresh, and not just a quick novelization of the story to sell some paperbacks.  Briggs seemed to put in some extra effort on this. I've been enjoying my audibook tour of the old Target books, but this one really jumped out at me.  I understand that apparently Page limits were removed for Briggs, and so maybe he felt the impulse to go wild with it. But there are elements to the story that Briggs expanded upon, and little details that he made clearer, and in general the story just feels thematically stronger. 

Terry Molloy does a good job narrating the story, managing to capture the characters and keep in that ominous atmosphere when needed. All in all...this was a great listen.  Having recently slogged my way through the less enjoyable Two Doctors audiobook, I found this was far more entertaining, and I breezed through it much easier. I think I can give no higher recomendation than, I didn't want to stop listening to it!