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?!!!).
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!