The Caves of Androzani (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 March 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Caves of Androzani  (Credit: BBC)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Peter Davison

Released by BBC Worldwide - November 2018
Available from Amazon UK

The Caves of Androzani is not only my favourite Peter Davison story, it is not only among the top of my regeneration story lists, but it is definitely my favourite story from the entire 1980s.  So much of that decade had iffy scripts, were still stiffly directed like it was 1965 and were overly lit studio episodes.  Anytime they would leave the studio it becomes a relief because suddenly everything is lit so naturally.  But then there is The Caves of Androzani, a story which mostly takes place in dark caves, and is directed with a modern pace with the camera movement feeling free once.  And then there is Davison giving the performance of his life in his final moments as the Doctor.  I just love the serial, I think it is excellent.  But what if you strip away Davison's fiery performance?  What if the directing and lighting that I admire are taken out of the equation? 

Peter Davison reads this audiobook of the Target Novelization from the 80s, and while certain elements aren't nearly as exciting as their television counterparts (the crash landing cliffhanger from Episode 3 is one of my favourite moments in the whole of the classic show, and a lot of the umph is sucked out of it in this reading), I think I appreciated the base story elements better in this.  For example, I sometimes forget that this story is so simple.  It could be any random adventure for the Doctor...he lands on a planet, finds there is two factions warring over a rare medicine, there are androids and cave monsters, and the Doctor and his friend get captured by each faction have to figure out a way to save their own skin while possibly helping fix this society's ills. 

It is a fairly standard Doctor Who story...but what sets it apart is that all those elements aren't actually what the story is about in any way.  Our heroes step out of the TARDIS and almost immediately touch an odd plant, which immediately poisons them. The entire story has the Doctor and Peri dying from the word go, and all of those fairly average story bits that might otherwise be the focus of the story, merely become obstacles in the way of the Doctor finding an antidote in time.  The Doctor doesn't try to find a way to sort out the fighting, he doesn't solve any issues with cave monsters or help find an alternative for this rare drug that is being battled over...no beyond the two main leaders of the faction killing each other, the problems of Androzani aren't really solved in the end.  Because the Doctor is actually just too damn busy trying to save his friend.  And that is what sets this story apart.  

We've become accustomed to regeneration stories that are big sweeping epics...the Doctor against a horde of Daleks, with Earth in the balance!  The entire universe will be destroyed by the Master, but the Doctor will give his life to stop him and make a grand farewell speech before he finally changes into a brand new actor.  But for as much fun as those can be, sometimes it takes dialling it back a bit.  Focus in on a more personal story, and the regeneration can be just as, if not more, powerful.  The Doctor doesn't have to save the galaxy for his death to have meaning, sometimes he can just save his friend.  

This audiobook was read with enthusiasm from Peter Davison, who has long professed that his final outing was his favourite of his tenure.  Terrence Dicks novelization of the original Robert Holmes script is quite good, and it let me focus in on different details that I've sometimes glossed over when I think of this story. If you are a fan of the original story, and we all know you are...check out this audiobook, it added to my already high enjoyment of the original television adventure.

 





Doctor Who: Scratchman (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 February 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Scratchman, by Tom Baker (BBC Books) (Credit: BBC Books)
Written by Tom Baker with James Goss
Read By Tom Baker

Released by BBC Worldwide - January 2019
Available from Amazon UK

As a franchise pushing 60, it goes without saying that Doctor Who has had a multitude of stories presented in a variety of media over the years. And in much the same vein, it also goes without saying that there is a multitude of stories that were pitched and never got produced.  There are a bunch of stories that would get pitched for each season and for one reason or another, didn't get made.  Some of these stories are more legendary than others.  There was a whole alternate Season 23 before they scrapped a bunch of stories that were in the works and shifted into the Trial of the Time Lord Storyline.  There is the season that was in pre-production before the cancellation in 1989...there was, of course, Shada, and the Douglas Adams pitch of Krikkit-Men which was at one point reworked as a feature film before he decided to rework it further into his excellent third Hitchhiker's Guide novel Life, the Universe, and Everything. But another potential film project that never got off the ground that has always interested me was Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, a film that could have been, but never was...and now it has been reworked as a novel, the title simplified into Scratchman.  

Tom Baker conceived of the story with his debut season co-star Ian Marter during their downtime on the set.  The plotted out the whole story, about the Doctor and his friends meeting the Devil and fighting off Scarecrows and Cybermen and Daleks.  At one point Vincent Price was attached to play Scratch, and at another, after both Marter and Elizabeth Sladen had moved on from the show, a new companion was created to fill the role in the film, and was meant to be played by the model Twiggy. They even had a director lined up!  They struggled to ever find funding for the project, at one point some fans gave Baker some money, but for legal reasons, he returned the donation. I've always thought the concepts were neat, and since I have a love for 70s era sci-fi and horror, I always thought it would've been great to see.  I can imagine a movie starring Baker, Sladen and Marter, shot like a Hammer film, and seeing Baker square off against Vincent Price? How wonderful could that have been? This is a movie I would have probably loved.

This book has been written by Tom Baker (Ian Marter passed on many years ago), with the assistance of James Goss, who also adapted Douglas Adams' original Doctor Who Krikkit-Men story as a novel (which I should really get around to sometime, as I'd love to compare it to what is actually my favourite Douglas Adams novel). I don't know what has been changed for this particular version, or what would've probably been condensed or scrapped or reworked had it actually become a film, but as the only way to truly experience this full story?  I think we missed out on a fine little movie.  I am sure that had it been made into a movie, budget restrictions and technological limitations of the day would've have changed some major elements.  How would they have made Scratch's ball of flame head work in 1977? 

But despite some things that may have been difficult to really capture at the time, I can kind of picture this film. In fact, I spent a good chunk of the book thinking how it would have actually looked as a film made in that era. I could picture how some things may have looked if made in the late 70s, in that pre-Star Wars era.  I also could pick out what elements probably would've ended up on the cutting room floor.  

The framing device with the Time Lords feels like something that would've probably been diminished if not outright lost.  Don't get me wrong, a lot of that stuff is good, but it stops the action, which can work in the novel format (and help reinforce the theming), but in a movie, it would've hurt the pacing.  It also feels like the story doesn't necessarily need it to still work.  I'm not even knocking the book for having it, because I enjoyed it, I am only saying it is possible this kind of thing may have ended up not making it to the final cut.  There were sequences and scenes I could see being truncated, but overall, I like this story, and it feels like a shame it didn't get produced in some form or another as a feature film.  

The audiobook is lovingly read by Tom Baker himself, and no one will deny that it is just a blast to listen to him talk.  His voice is still incredible even as he is in his mid 80s, and he puts some gusto into his reading of this novel. I mean how many audiobooks say a chapter number then follow it up with "oh you're going to love this one!"  This is a passion project for Baker. It was a story he helped create, a movie he really tried to get produced but just couldn't get money for it, and his passionate read of the story shows how much he still loves it. 

I highly recommend checking this story out.  I was really excited about it as I already had an interest in this footnote of the show's history, but beyond my own interest in the story from that perspective, I found myself really enjoying the novel...and the Tom Baker's audiobook reading is well worth every penny.  





Fortunes of War (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 17 October 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Fortunes of War (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Justin Richards
Read By Colin Baker

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2018
Available from Amazon UK

Writer Justin Richards closes out his ...of War audiobook trilogy with this Sixth Doctor entry read by Colin Baker.  The Doctor has long put off actually dealing with the World War I situation, but now that he is alone, not distracted, and out of excuses...he finally goes back to the Great War in order to fix it's jumbled timeline.

I had found it problematic at the end of Horrors of War that the Third Doctor seemed to leave the situation with major threads dangling without solving it.  At least when the First Doctor fell into the mess he was also being chased through time and space by Daleks (as his entry took place during the Daleks' Master Plan), but when he is confronted with the situation he left unfixed when he was in his Third Incarnation, it didn't really make sense for him to just say "problem for another day" and then put it off for seemingly centuries. 

There are other issues with this mangled timeline as well.  When the Third Doctor and Jo landed in World War I, the timeline was askew and Jo knew the original timeline...but how can she come from a future where this timeline is mangled yet know the original. It just hurts the whole mangled timeline story when it doesn't really ripple into the future.

I did like the melancholic tone the story had.  But I did find that the Doctor's main reason for avoiding the problem, that he didn't want anyone to see what he'd have to do, fell flat when what he had to do wasn't really that cruel, so I'm not really sure I get why he put it off for so long. 

Complaints aside, there is still something of an interesting in story in this, and Colin Baker is a great narrator and always a joy to listen to.  It isn't a bad way to spend an hour or so, but the basic mechanics of the time travel problems never truly gelled for me. There are kinks in the story that maybe could've been worked out if the story wasn't being stretched to three releases with three different Doctors.  Had it focused in on one Doctor, maybe even two, I could've gone with it...but it just stretched the premise too thin to stretch it to a third incarnation. 





Horrors of War (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 29 August 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Horrors Of War (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Justin Richards
Read By Katy Manning

Released by BBC Worldwide - July 2018
Available from Amazon UK

Writer Justin Richards continues his warped timeline of World War I storyline (started in Men of War) in this Third Doctor original Audiobook read by Katy Manning, which follows up on the lead that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand survived his assassination and the war was delayed somehow.  The Third Doctor regrets having done nothing about the discrepancy after he discovered it in his first incarnation, but as that story took place in the midst of the Daleks' Master Plan, I suppose he was busy at the time. 

In this installment the Third Doctor and Jo Grant end up in an earlier part of the war, and meet the nurse who had saved the Archduke from death, and figure out who was possessed and causing the time disruptions. 

Manning's reading is highly entertaining, and the story is just as interesting as Men of War had been, though with a slightly better ending this time around.  I still feel like there is a loose thread, as the Archduke still seems to have survived...and now the Third Doctor isn't busy...so why not solve this? If he did solve it, it was so brushed over that it did a disservice to the story. 

We still have one more of these audiobooks to go in this series, so I suppose it will all be wrapped up then.  For a quick light adventure, these Audiobooks are decent fun, but they leave a little to be desired in the story department.  But Katy Manning is always fun and she does a great job reading this story. 





Men of War (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 26 August 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Men Of War (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Justin Richards
Read By Peter Purves

Released by BBC Worldwide - May 2018
Available from Amazon UK

In this new original audiobook featuring the First Doctor, we have a short adventure built into the middle of the classic First Doctor epic serial The Dalek's Master Plan with the Doctor, Steven, and Sara Kingdom ending up in the middle of World War I, and finding that the timeline has been delayed, and it is causing havoc on the Web of Time. 

As a simple short story, Men of War is solid on atmosphere but feels incomplete. It has a good premise, a major battle of the war has not yet begun, and now the timeline is trying to fix itself by swallowing up all the lives that would've been lost if the battle had taken place.  The problems of this audio are in the ending, which feels like a lazy quick wrap up, leaving dangling threads for another story to solve. 

The big cliffhanging reveal is that Archduke Franz Ferdinand survived his assassination that launched the world into war, meaning the Timeline is even more screwed up than initially thought.  But the Doctor just sort of says that it will have to wait because they must avoid the Daleks, and the story is over. It is unsatisfying to the story being told.  It feels like this story has all this promise and then it just ends with a tease that basically tells the listener to buy another audio if it wants to get closure. 

This might not be a huge problem if the story felt like it had a more satisfying conclusion to it's contained story.  I've enjoyed many a Doctor Who adventure in a variety of formats that ends with a tease of tales to come...but if you have a self contained story that teases more to the story, the ending for the self contained bit ought to be a bit more interesting. 

As I already have the next story (Horrors of War), it takes the annoyance out of that ending.  And I've already seen that the title of BBC Audio's third release, also written by Justin Richards, is Fortunes of War, which has me more prepared for the story to end later.  But if I were a listener who purchased an audiobook and didn't know it was part of some bigger plot-line, I'd be a bit more irritated. 

But let me dial back the criticism a bit.  I actually liked the bulk of this story.  I thought Peter Purves did a lovely job reading it, and it has some brilliant ideas floating around. I am quite interested to hear this little series of audiobooks out. It doesn't have a great ending, and while the cliffhanger feels like a cheap way to not actually end this specific story...it is a good cliffhanger that left my interest peaked. 





Twice Upon a Time (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 9 August 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Twice Upon a Time (Credit: BBC Audio)
Adapted by: Paul Cornell
Based on the script by: Steven Moffat
Read by: Mark Gatiss
Cover by: Anthony Dry
Duration: 3hrs 15mins
Publisher: BBC Audio
Originally Released June 2018

“Stories too broad and too deep for the small screen.”

That was the credo of the Doctor Who New Adventures novels of the 1990s. It’s a phrase that is written on the heart of certain circles of fandom right next to “Never cruel or cowardly.” It seems appropriate then that one of the authors that most defined the voice of those books, Paul Cornell, uses his last Doctor Who book (though he’s said that before, in fairness) to lend greater breadth and depth than the small screen could allow.

Twice Upon a Time was always a remarkable story to play out on a Christmas Day. Ultimately it’s the story of a man, standing at the precipice, deciding whether or not to commit suicide. Normally that sort of thing is the reserve of Albert Square, where Christmas means even more misery than usual. But in 2017 Doctor Who danced on the tiny overlap that allowed it to be a funny, thrilling adventure about wanting to die with dignity. Part of that trade-off was the Doctor’s exact reasons and feelings not having room to be deeply explored, but Cornell takes full advantage of his page count to give us exactly that. It’s no less witty or packed with incident, but it more clearly acknowledges that this is a story full of characters who are, one way or another dead or dying.

The Doctor’s yearning for completeness comes to the fore of his thoughts. His desire to be able to finally provide a full stop to his life and say ‘so that was it.’  River comes to the fore of his thoughts and, in a genius spark of perspective, Cornell notes that this is a Doctor who lived for 75 years in a rather settled life. Twenty-four years in one long night with River, and then fifty years at St.Luke’s University. He’s had his retirement and his good death. Why can’t he just have it?

Bill’s future history with Heather is also fleshed out and with purpose as it shadows the Doctor’s dilemma. We learn of them returning to Earth to live a full, long, human life and how Bill ultimately chooses to die of old age rather than resume her ‘puddle’ form and return to the stars, even as she urged Heather to go without her. The faint hypocrisy of this isn’t touched upon, but it’s very human. The deeper, broader question of Bill’s existence – something the TV episode has time to little more than nod at – gets intelligently examined too. The Doctor connecting the concept of Testimony to growing up with the everyday reality of the Matrix on Gallifrey seems obvious in retrospect, as does that informing his opinion on whether such digital ghosts are actually the person involved, or simply an extremely detailed diary left behind by them.

All in all, Cornell has constructed a novelization which adds a new dimension of tenderness and emotion relative to the time and space of the original. A fine example of a Target which doesn’t so much overwrite, or compete with, the televised version in your mind, but rather adds additional layers of quality and grace to it.

As an audiobook, Cornell’s efforts are assisted hugely by Mark Gatiss. Himself no stranger to reading the Target range as a child, he knows exactly what’s required and turns in a touching, sensitive reading of the material. Not only are his Doctors note perfect in their voices (interestingly, he’s definitely decided to channel Bradley rather than Hartnell for his First Doctor) but he invests them with a sense of performance and character beyond the voice that truly captures their personalities.

Gatiss’ own persona also meshes smoothly with the tone required by the text. At times you can almost picture him in a comfortable antique leather chair, relating a diverting anecdote he thinks might amuse you. At others, his dropped voice and quiet control effortlessly communicates the pathos of a moment. All of the audiobooks in this series have selected appropriate and talented readers. But Gatiss is probably the only one so far to feel like he could genuinely have read any of them.

The sound design also keeps up the high quality of the series. Unobtrusive, yet giving an appropriate sense of setting, it hits just the right balance. It’s particularly nice to get the unique, and never repeated, bloops and whirrs of the console going crazy during the First Doctor’s regeneration faithfully presented her. One tiny niggle though is when the polar winds continue to blow in your earphones even when time stops still – which did prompt a little Bradleyesque “Oh, surely not? That can’t be right, can it, hmm?” from this listener that momentarily took me out of the action. But when that’s the worst criticism one can make of a three-hour recording…

This is the final of the current set of new Target novelizations and it’s fitting that they’ve proven just how varied the original range was, and just what their readers loved about them. We’ve had Jenny Colgan’s deeply traditional Dicksian take, and RTD’s version which took cues from both David Whittaker and Ian Marter (gleefully raiding other stories for bits and pieces, while upping the gore and violence beyond anything BBC One would have allowed at 7pm on a Saturday). We’ve had Steven Moffat’s wildly experimental take which doesn’t so much expand on the original but treats the TV episode as a kind of Serving Suggestion for where the story could go. And now Paul Cornell’s fine novel which manages the trick of adding massively to the inner lives of the characters while altering the actual events hardly a line.

Here’s to the next batch (“The Unquiet Dead by Mark Gatiss” anyone?)