Knock KnockBookmark and Share

Saturday, 6 May 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
Knock Knock: The Landlord (David Suchet) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))

Starring Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas
Guest starring: David Suchet
Co-starring: Mariah Gale, Mandeep Dhillon, Colin Ryan 
Ben Presley, Alice Hewkin, Bart Suavek and Sam Benjamin 

Written by Mike Bartlett
Directed by Bill Anderson
Produced by Nikki Wilson
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin

First broadcast on BBC1 on Saturday May 6th at 7:20pm 

This review contains spoilers and is based on a standard, non-binaural preview version of the episode. 

Speaking at the BFI/Radio Times TV Festival last month, Steven Moffat remarked that one thing he'd like to do after showrunning Doctor Who is write a play. Moffat has done his bit for trafficking between the worlds of theatre and TV talent this season, however, by securing the services of both Rona Munro and feted playwright and Doctor Foster creator Mike BartlettKing Charles III, one of Bartlett's recent and highly successful plays, is about to hit our television screens in an adapted version, whilst 2016's Wild -- a piece based loosely on the Edward Snowden case which took a radical turn into almost Who-esque territories -- has shown Bartlett's affinity with relevant material. Now, it would seem, is very much Mike Bartlett's time to clamber aboard the occasionally creaking but always smartly veneered Whoniverse.

Knock Knock is, let's face it, a rather cheesy title, gesturing at those repetitive old "Who's there?" jokes that probably still generate endless amusement among the programme's youngest fans. But by giving this reference an adult spin -- for this is a riff on the venerable haunted house subgenre -- Bartlett cleverly blurs together child and adult sensibilities right from the outset. Playing with the Doctor's relationship to Bill, and having her address him as "grandfather", is also a lovely throwback to the 1960s show; I initially responded to it in exactly this manner, as a gift to long-term fans. But cunningly, it also slots perfectly well into the theme of this episode's eventual and familial denouement, a smart tongue-and-groove piece of thematic construction (and generational confusion) that's hidden in plain sight.  

Writers new to Who have a tendency to emulate the leading tropes of their commissioning showrunner -- Matthew Graham's Fear Her often felt like RTD-lite, and Stephen Thompson's The Curse of the Black Spot replayed Moffat's favoured device of 'technology gone awry'. Here, we get an aspect of the ordinary, everyday world transformed into a fantastical threat, something which, though it has an extensive history in the programme, has also become part of the Moffat repertoire. And there's a kind of variant take on "are you my mummy?" which harks all the way back to The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. Having said that, Bartlett doesn't only seek to fit seamlessly into the Moffat-esque way of things, and also stamps his own mark on proceedings, notably in a comedic sequence criticising the state of students' rental accommodation in the UK, albeit imparting its critical stance with a deftly light touch.

On the minus side, I felt that Bartlett was sometimes a little cramped by the demands of a 43-minute single episode when he's evidently used to working with longer dramatic forms that have more space to unfold characterisation (something that the serialised Doctor Foster achieved quite brilliantly). Since the haunted house story calls for a number of characters who can be bumped off, Bartlett is also pretty much obligated to give Bill a decent number of housemates. This immediately causes a difficulty because each one threatens to become a student stereotype or a single-note creation. Perhaps slightly fewer students to be menaced by Wester Drumlins -- sorry, Bill's new residence -- would have helped on this front.

The tightly-coiled demands of an episode that has to set up atmospheric menace before delivering a pay-off 'reveal' also make life slightly difficult for guest star David Suchet, who is required to oscillate between ordinary-but-odd, outright creepy, and something far more essentially and basically human. It's a tough ask, and in places Suchet's performance seemed a little too mannered to me. But regardless of that, Doctor Who is fortunate to attract actors of such calibre, and I was admittedly disappointed that fan speculation regarding 'the Landlord' (that he would become a recurring character of some mysterious and Time Lordly status) fell wide of the mark. Suchet's character is very much a one-shot, belonging to this story alone. 

 

Knock Knock: The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Bill (Pearl Mackie) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))
Series 10's Vault storyline continues to gather pace, and the concluding moment -- withholding a reverse shot that would have revealed who was in there -- was deliberately cheeky, and all the more effective for it. But an episode entitled Knock Knock is bound to rely, more than most Doctor Who, on its sound design and soundtrack. On the whole, this worked very well, though the level of aural threat could perhaps have been more intense (I'll be interested to see whether advance hype surrounding this as a very scary episode is reflected in the general fan and audience response, as well as how much difference the binaural version makes). I'm a horror fan, but for my money this was far stronger on atmosphere and build-up than any genuine sense of shocks, jumps or 'scares'. The monsters' mass presence was, in the end, effective without being remarkable -- we dodged a Tractator-level incident, to be sure, but all the CGI hordes still felt generically competent rather than truly memorable.

 

And packing an episode with wood-related content is, I suspect, always going to be a risk in terms of inciting reviewers' puns or provocations (you can just imagine how any journalist looking for a punchline would reach for their finest grain of 'wooden' material). Actually, focusing on this dimension -- something that has rarely featured in Doctor Who other than as a challenge for the sonic screwdriver -- gives this episode a very specific and quasi-historical flavour. Yes, it's a present-day story, but instead of brutalist concrete-morphing creatures, steel-and-chrome monstrosities, or electronic/nano-techno-villains, there is something almost pleasingly quaint, if not retro, about a good, old wood-based threat. There's a sense of sedimented history, and the dust of ages, that setlles over 'Knock Knock', making the eventual reveal of Eliza's presence (and identity) an integral part of this 'return of the repressed past'.

Knock Knock does what the best of contemporary Doctor Who has always strived for: it combines fantastical threats with social commentary and moments of touching emotion and humanity, at the same time as fusing 'child' and 'adult' levels of meaning. As the proverbial 'family television' it also uncovers a gothic, dysfunctional family -- one that needs to be fixed by the Doctor's intervention. Holding on to the past at any cost is shown to be a powerful mistake, and 'Knock Knock' is ultimately about a very different kind of fear to its earlier evocations of creaking floorboards and unseen forces, zeroing in on the fear of loss, and all the misguided actions it can provoke, rather than notching up a villainous case of megalomania or 'evil'. In this, it marks its distance from certain previous incarnations of the show, and develops an approach highlighted in The Pilot. But the question that remains, given the Doctor's chatty engagement with the Vault's occupant, is whether he too, like the Landlord, is mistakenly holding on to an aspect of the past... In a week or two, we'll start to get some answers. 





The Mind Of Evil (AudioBook)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 5 May 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who - The Mind Of Evil (Credit: BBC Audio)

Novelization By -Terrance Dicks
(based on a story by Don Houghton)

Read By - Richard Franklin

Released: 6th April 2017

Available On DIgital Download, or on CD - (4 CDs)
Approx Duration - 246 Minutes

BBC AUDIO

This unabridged recording is the latest such release from BBC Audio to cover the novelizations of the Third Doctor Era, following different adventures featuring Daleks, Axons, and The Master (as here depicted in typically brilliant fashion by Chris Achilleos, on the retained book cover). 


Mind is a distinctive adventure in that whilst it immediately followed Terror Of The Autons, it was strongly implied that the Doctor, Jo, and UNIT all kept very busy, looking to consolidate their role as a professional group of defence - both for their native country, and the wider world in general. The Master also has kept himself occupied, and (for once) chooses to use a pseudonym in ‘Emile Keller' which gives no hint at his true nature.

The original TV story was for many years notorious for having a paucity of actual colour material, and yet by being in black-and-white it actually took on a more adult and 'horror-surreal' tone, than Don Houghton or Timothy Combe ever intended. Eventually it became 're-colourised' for DVD release, and works well enough in the format it was intended to be shown. Some Doctor Who stories have only mildly above-average scripts, but become strong or even outstanding due to first-rate work by their director. I would certainly place the opening and closing stories from Season Thirteen in that bracket. With Mind, there was a potential story idea to rival the first effort from Houghton, but the tale as transmitted did have some consistency and logic issues. It mattered little, as virtually the whole cast and the production values are as robust as any from the Jon Pertwee Years.

This adaptation comes courtesy of Terrance Dicks; which was the case for so many TARGET books at the time. The first half of the book seems to signify greater effort from the story's original script-editor, in terms of expanding on the characters and explaining the overall set-up of the story. Thereafter, nothing vital is lost, but opportunities to get into the inner thoughts of the principle characters, as well as to really explore the threat to Earth in terms of the missile and the shaky political situation are not really seized upon. However, choosing to keep the titular monster/machine as mysterious as possible is a good move, as much of its creepiness lies in the lack of clarity behind how it is alive, and how it is able to kill with greater ease as the narrative progresses.

Jo Grant in her second story would rarely have such strong material again - only The Curse of Peladon, and most of her final season would again see such heights of maturity, quick thinking and sheer likeability. Whilst Katy Manning never turned in a half-hearted televisual interpretation, she was forced to often portray a semi-helpless damsel, needing aid from the Doctor or one of the supporting characters.

The Doctor’s ‘Moriarty’ is rarely better than here, being both ruthless and generally very sure of himself, with only the autonomous Keller Machine getting him truly flustered. At one point, he is totally convincing when he threatens the Doctor - "You'll do nothing, or I'll put a bullet through both your hearts." Surely this is one of the few ways that a regeneration can be cut off and thus lead to a Time Lord's premature demise. (Turn Left gave us another example). And during the finale, the brutal manner in which the Master escapes a trap laid by the Doctor - partly due to the after-effects of his machine being tested on the hardened criminal Barnham - is a notable moment where a fictional character created for escapism, feels chillingly credible as a threat.

The biggest problem I have with the story - apart from how the Kellar Machine actually helps with the ‘World War Three plan - is the portrayal of the Chinese. The Talons of Weng Chiang has come under fire in the years following its transmission, but this story does itself even less favours. The sheer number of repeated references to a "Chinese Girl" (which is already suspect,given that she is an adult woman) are carried over into this novelisation. There is also some broadly played humour over the Doctor being able to speak to Fu Peng, but the Brigadier completely struggles to understand a single word. Also, the Doctor's somewhat boasting references to meeting Chairman Mao seem to be a somewhat questionable choice of political commentary by Barry Letts and Dicks, and have only become further awkward over the ensuing years. Finally, the TV cliffhanger for Episode Two was risible in the extreme. I could never credit a world-weary diplomat having any kind of phobia of a ceremonial symbol like a 'Chinese Dragon'. That Dicks tries to explain this away as a strong distrust of the Chinese in general perhaps was acceptable when the book was published, but is glaringly dated now. And for good measure, it really makes no sense that the others who intervene on Chin Lee (channelling the Kellar Machine) in this assassination attempt would see the same thing.

In this novel version the Master having a chauffeur of Afro-Caribbean roots is barely acknowledged, but then the original TV story gave no dialogue to the character either, and furthermore he is simply missing by the end of the story. Whether he was hypnotised or simply on good pay was also left to one’s interpretation. This is a more minor reservation I have, however,. The Master really does make a great initial appearance with cigar in hand, whilst cruelly giving his latest destructive orders to the mesmerised Captain, from the comfort of his limousine.

Also slightly disappointing is how economical the author is when it comes to UNIT ‘turning the tables’ at Stangmoor. A fantastic set piece - indicative of the TV production being so polished as to qualify as a borderline TV movie – is condensed to its barest details. This was presumably due to the restrictions of page count that the author had to meet. The Invasion of Time, (previously reviewed on this site), had many moments that could be condensed down, or left without embellishment, as the original story was made in trying circumstances and did not fully justify six episodes. But this 1971 action-thriller had a lot more meat on the bones – partly due to the three major plot threats - and more expansion was needed, instead of the opposite.

But now to turn to some praise. The depiction of all of the principle criminals that feature, is very nicely done by Dicks, with evocative and entertaining back stories. I also appreciated how Professor Kettering was depicted as a virtual quack, and was made far less likable in general than the original TV version. Whilst the Doctor would not have wanted him to lose his life, (and especially in the manner he did), there is consequently a tinge of poetic justice owing to how this man carelessly helped the Master with his scheme, with nary a concern for wider society.

As an audio book, this is a solid effort. Sound effects for the riots, the various high-speed vehicles, and the brutal gun shots, all manage to bring the right feeling of tension or excitement. As for the ‘Mind of Evil’ itself, the audio dressing used for this creepy monster/device is perhaps a little stripped-down compared to its TV counterpart, but still effective nonetheless in selling the threat it poses to both mental and physical well-being.

Richard Franklin does fine work in the overall narration of the story. I found his takes on Jo and Benton better than his previous interpretations of these two roles, (which in the parent TV show were classic cases of the actor and character being very close indeed to one another). He is at his very best when breathing life to the self-assured Third Doctor, and of course to the very familiar Yates persona.

The Brigadier gets a passable interpretation, but will always suffer in comparison to Nicholas Courtney's superlative voice. However Season Eight was a distinctly marked downturn in the character's initiative and general intelligence. (Whilst The Three Doctors had some infamous moments, it did not actually signal anything new at that point). As a result, the rather more lackadaisical take Franklin has on Lethbridge-Stewart is reflective of the change in depiction of this long-standing character in the show's history.


SUMMARY:

This story is entertaining and a definite change from the standard formula of many a Doctor Who tale. Whilst never getting to the dizzy heights of Inferno - or indeed a good handful of other Third Doctor stories - it is always worth a revisit. This digital and CD production is especially convenient for a person with some other tasks requiring attention, and likewise is a good listen when ‘on the go’. Thus, it ultimately succeeds as being a worthy alternative to one of the better stories, which featured the ‘Earthbound’ Doctor on increasingly prevalent colour television.





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.



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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.