Tenth Doctor Novels (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 7 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Tenth Doctor Novels (Credit: BBC Audio)

Sting of the Zygons
Written By Stephen Cole,
Read By Reggie Yates

The Last Dodo
Written By Jacqueline Rayner, Read By Freema Agyeman

Wooden Heart
Written By Martin Day,
Read By Adjoah Andoh

Forever Autumn
Written By Mark Morris, Read By Will Thorp

Wetworld
Written By Mark Michalowski, Read By Freema Agyeman

Sick Building
Written By Paul Magrs, Read By Will Thorp

The Pirate Loop
By Simon Guerrier,
​Read By Freema Agyeman

Peacemaker
Written By James Swallow, Read By Will Thorp



Released by BBC Worldwide Auguest 2017
Available from Amazon UK

BBC Worldwide have released this collection of Eight Abridged Audiobooks from the Tenth Doctor's line of Novels, all of which feature Martha Jones as the Companion. The stories themselves range from mediocre to just plain decent.  Nothing in the collection really jumped out at me.  The readings all all decent, particularly those read by Freema Agyeman and Will Thorp.  Adjoah Andoh did a decent job as well, but Reggie Yates lacked something in his reading...while others found a way to capture the Tenth Doctor's voice in some way (Agyeman being the best in my opinion), Yates just never found a tone that worked for me.  His approach seemed to just be talk faster, but he missed key elements of this Doctor's delivery that took me out of the story, and just thinking "oh but the Doctor would've said it like THAT," which made it much harder to get into the story. 

It didn't help Yates that he was saddled with one of the least interesting stories of the bunch. In Sting of the Zygons, The Doctor and Martha battle Zygons in the early 20th Century...imagine Zygons on Downton Abbey, only somehow that isn't fun.  The second story of the bunch is The Last Dodo, read by Agyeman, which was a definite improvement in terms of story and reading.  The Wooden Heart is another decent story, but again nothing too stellar is found within this collection.  I did enjoy the Halloween themes and monster in Forever Autmn as well as the adventure with the sentient otters that is WetworldSick Building had some decent ideas, but the story is decidedly average. Peacemaker is another average adventure, this time with the backdrop of the old west, though I do think it got better as it went along.  This particular audiobook does show off some of the vocal range of Will Thorp, who does a lot of different Amercian accents. 

The one story that really jumped out at me was The Pirate Loop. Read by Agyeman, it has neat time travel mechanics, intriguing mysteries, unique storytelling devices, and Space Pirates who look like humanoid badgers.  What's not to love in all that?  Of all the stories, it seems the most memorable,  the only one I will probably continue to think of from time to time. 

Ultimately, this wasn't that impressive a set of stories.  There was nothing that was too bad, but everything was just middle of the road. A little bland. As someone who had not read any of the BBC original novels, these abridged audiobooks were sort of like a sampling of them...and it left me uninterested in reading more.  Because of the ongoing series, there is (or at the very least was) probably a lot of rules for what they could and couldn't do in the novels.  As such I think you end up with a fairly bland output of stories, things that certainly work as Doctor Who, but because of restrictions from the show itself take some of the edge out.  It could be that sme of the spark gets lost in the abridged nature of the audiobooks, or it could be the readings themselves weren't to my liking. For the most part, anything read by Thorp and (especially) Agyeman were more entertaining to listen to, but I can't say this was the most entertaining set of audiobooks. For collectors only, I would suggest just checking out either the audiobook of the prose version of The Pirate Loop, instead of going for the whole boxset.





Doctor Who - The Eleventh Doctor Adventures - Vol 6: The Malignant TruthBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 6 December 2017 - Reviewed by Damian Christie


Written by Si Spurrier & Rob Williams
Illustrated by Simon Fraser, INJ Culbard,
Gary Caldwell & Marcio Menys
Titan Books, 2016
HB ISBN: 9781785857300
SB ISBN: 9781785860935


Previously ...

The Squire is dead. Alice Obiefune is lost in the Time War, having piloted the Master's wounded
TARDIS back through the Time Lock. River Song's life hangs in the balance. And infamous Dalek Killer and bounty hunter Abslom Daak is almost certainly going to kill the Doctor for letting Alice go.
Now it's time for the Time War to give up its answers.
How was the Malignant created? Who killed the Overcaste? What great crime was the Doctor
responsible for? But will they be the answers that Alice - and the Doctor - want to hear?


The Malignant Truth is the concluding book which collects issues 11 through 15 of Titan Comics'
Second-year story arc for the Eleventh Doctor (as formerly played on TV by Matt Smith). The Doctor
has been blamed for killing the gods - or at least hyper-dimensional beings worshipped as gods - of
an entire species during the chaos of the Time War. It's a "crime" the Doctor doesn't even recall but
that's no excuse for the godless Overcaste who send bounty hunters after the Doctor, Alice and the
TARDIS, including an anomalous being known only as the Then and Now and notorious Dalek Killer
Abslom Daak.
With an extended TARDIS crew in tow - comprising an unwilling Daak (whose dead, trophy wife
Taiyin is being held hostage within the bowels of the Doctor's erratic time machine), a mysterious
elderly woman who claims she was the Doctor's squire in the Time War, River Song (who has yet
again escaped the sanctity of the Stormcage), and an Alice plagued by a string of "future memories"
of the Time War - the Eleventh Doctor establishes that he, and not the Master, may indeed have
committed the atrocity of which he is accused. This prompts Alice to steal the Master's TARDIS in a
desperate bid to break through the Time Lock and seek to prove the Doctor's innocence or stop his
wartime incarnation from committing a heinous crime.
By far the most interesting aspect of this storyline is the comic's interpretation of the Time War. The
war itself was glimpsed only briefly on TV (The Day of the Doctor) but has been portrayed in Big
Finish's War Doctor saga, in prose such as George Mann's Engines of War, and in Titan's own Four
Doctors
mini-series in 2015. Alice meets the War Doctor (as portrayed by the late, great Sir John Hurt
on TV), the younger Squire and an unexpected, dare I say "impish", version of the Master that will
astonish many readers (but could plausibly tie into Professor Yana's origins back in the 2007 episode
Utopia). A few other tropes from the Time War are also adopted within the story, including the
application of a Gallifreyan Psilent song box, another weapon from the Time Lords' arsenal, which is
very reminiscent in shape and size to the infamous Moment of The Day of the Doctor.
Alice also becomes a prisoner of the Volatix Cabal, a hitherto unknown faction of the Daleks that was hinted at in the chapter Downtime in Volume 5 (originally issue 8 of the Eleventh Doctor Year Two run) and are revealed in all their infamy here. In the Master's own words at the beginning of this volume, the Volatix Cabal are a "Dalek death cult of abominations, deliberately bred for disorder. Reviled by their own kind, tolerated only for the talent that no pure Dalek could possess. Creativity."
Certainly, in terms of style, the Cabal seemingly combine the concept of "spider Daleks" from the 1990s abortive US TV series with the covert zombified human agents that were glimpsed on TV in Asylum of the Daleks and The Time of the Doctor. But it is the Cabal's eerie, melodramatic and almost poetic dialogue and their proclivity for cannibalising the organic parts of other species (which is anathema to their regular counterparts) that makes this breed of Dalek quite sinister and creepy. Indeed, they encapsulate more of the body horror of the Tenth Planet-style Cybermen than the regular Daleks do.
In addition to the Volatix Cabal, Alice, along with the War Doctor and his colleagues, also encounters the Cyclors, the so-called "gods" of the Overcaste. Intriguingly, these "dimensional nomads" are recruited by the Volatix Cabal in a very similar fashion to the way that the enigmatic beings in Big Finish's War Doctor audio drama The Enigma Dimension are solicited by the regular Daleks.

While visually the Cyclors are well realised in the artwork, conceptually they are a disappointment. There is an implication that like the Enigma of the Big Finish drama, the Cyclors are almost naïve and immature, unskilled in the ways of the plane they are visiting. Yet unlike the Enigma, there also seems to be a malevolence and bloodthirst to the Cyclors (based on the new "sensation" the Volatix Cabal has offered them) that the book's scribes Si Spurrier and Rob Williams don't really elaborate on, aside from a throwaway line. Indeed, any threat they may pose to the War and Eleventh Doctors and their companions has all but vanished by the conclusion of the tale

In timey-wimey fashion, the story eventually returns to the "present day" as the Eleventh Doctor, with Alice's help, realises the awful truth and is virtually helpless to avert the triumphant return of the Volatix Cabal. Again, in a manner that is all too frequently criticised about the modern program by fans (especially during the Matt Smith era), key pieces seem to fall into place which enables the Doctor to seize a last-gasp victory from the almost certain jaws of defeat. At any rate, the tension and excitement that ought to be felt at this juncture in the story is lost because there is far too much exposition between the Doctor, Alice, the Squire and River Song about how they have managed to pull off the supposedly impossible victory.

 

 

For the most part, the characterisation and dialogue in this volume is consistent with the TV series.The Eleventh and War Doctors and, to a lesser extent, River Song (as portrayed by Alex Kingston on TV) are true to their on-screen personas, although River spends much of this book in stasis as she was infected by the Malignant entity in Vol 5.
The "pint-sized" version of the Master is as Machiavellian as his predecessors and successors, delighting in the moral dilemmas that the War Doctor encounters in the Time War (as it clearly makes them more alike, to the Doctor's disgust). Indeed, he's probably creepier than usual because physically and mentally he could easily be mistaken for an urchin.

What's particularly interesting about this portrayal is how much Spurrier and Williams reference Roger Delgado's Master throughout the whole Year Two story arc (rather than Anthony Ainley's version), even down to the interior of the renegade's TARDIS (which is the version first seen in The Time Monster, not the later black décor of Geoffrey Beevers' and Ainley's time machines). Perhaps this is just the authors' bias towards Delgado's incarnation, or perhaps the idea is to reinforce that despite his stature, this version of the Master still houses the sharp wit and intellect of the original (especially hinted at when Alice's time-sensitive imagination in one panel depicts the Master's original Delgado-esque features on his rascally form).
Abslom Daak's portrayal is true to the original one-dimensional character envisaged by the late Steve Moore and Steve Dillon, and is entirely predictable in his actions and motivations ("I got to smash a Dalek! I got to smash a Dalek!"). Daak's fate in this tale is entirely fitting - it gives him renewed purpose (after it seemed in Volume 5 that the disappearance of Daleks from the universe had made him redundant). Aside from inviting chuckles from the reader, the closing panel also raises the potential of a War Doctor mini-series. I suspect the pairing of the Doctor's wartime incarnation with the Dalek Killer - chalk and cheese multiplied by a factor of 10! - would be short-lived but it could make for great storytelling over five or six issues.

The true hero of the story is undoubtedly Alice who literally leaps through hell and back to prove the Doctor's innocence, little realising that she has been manipulated by the Doctor himself. ("You proved you weren't a manipulative, reckless abomination by being manipulative and reckless?" she asks him angrily when she learns the truth.) Nevertheless, Alice proves herself to be a compassionate, faithful, selfless and courageous companion, someone worthy of the Doctor's company, even if he makes her feel otherwise. There is no reason why she couldn't become one of the Doctor's most memorable comic strip companions (after the legendary Frobisher, of course!).The Cyclors look impressive on paper but are otherwise a disappointment.
The artwork in this volume is shared between INJ Culbard and Simon Fraser, with Marcio Menys and Gary Caldwel providing the colours. Comic artwork is, of course, a form of shorthand, so it's no surprise that established characters like the War Doctor seem more caricatured than some of the original characters. The artists, though, seem to struggle with capturing Matt Smith's youthful appearance; the Eleventh Doctor, particularly in the climactic scenes in the Overcaste's arena, lacks the defined features that made Matt Smith's appearance (eg the high forehead, the chin) seem so outlandish and extra-terrestrial. Fortunately, the artists provide a good rendering of Smith's features in close-up panels of the Eleventh Doctor.
The placement of Menys and Caldwel's colours are also interesting. Predominantly they use darker shades in the background with splashes of colour in the foreground. This is arguably most visible in the Time War scenes, whereby Alice's purple ensemble adds colour to the grey, drab features of the War Doctor and some of the other characters. Similarly, in the final showdown in the arena, the Doctor and his companions are of a brighter palette than their drab, grey surroundings and the Overcaste that are trying to convict them.
Overall, The Malignant Truth is an example of Doctor Who comics at their best - at least certainly within the Titan stable. Not only this volume but the entire 15-part Eleventh Doctor Year Two arc overall has been highly entertaining, creative and intriguing. Aspects of the story aren't perfect, to be sure (and some of it will no doubt be redundant after the release of BF's War Master boxset this month). It's a bold move for any comic book publisher to run an arc that is effectively 15 months long and could effectively lose readers and deter others. Yet Titan, through a great writing team and some talented artists and colourists, makes it work almost effortlessly.

Now, Titan, about that War Doctor/Dalek Killer Time War team-up ... In memory of the late Steve Moore, let's make it happen! :)


My thanks to Martin Hudecek for the opportunity to review this volume.
 





100 Illustrated AdventuresBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 22 November 2017 - Reviewed by Stephen Blenkinsop
100 Illustrated Adventures (Credit: BBC Children's Books)100 Illustrated Adventures
Hardcover: 208 pages
Age Range: 7 - 12 years
Publisher: BBC Children's Books
Published 2 Nov. 2017

The latest hardcover large-format book, 100 Illustrated Adventures, published by Puffin, highlights one hundred of the Doctor’s ‘most wonderful, jaw-dropping and eye-popping escapades’ and claims to bring these episodes to life like no other episode guide.

So does it live up to this billing?  The book is bang up to date, covering the show all the way up to the end of the 2017 series.  Most stories are given a double page spread which includes a brief episode guide on one page – the incarnation of the Doctor and his companions, first transmission dates, number of episodes and the writer, along with a very brief (around 200 words) story synopsis.  The other page is typically devoted to a related piece of artwork.  It is these, as the ‘illustrated’ in the title suggests, that are the selling point of the book.  These were gathered from the publisher’s Illustrated Adventures competition which has provided art in a variety of styles ranging from detailed pencil drawings (including some stunning portraits) to abstract representations, and from comic strip styles to children’s drawings.  These are therefore original pieces of art that you won’t have seen anywhere before, and whilst the breadth of styles means that not all the art will be to everyone’s taste they all display great talent, imagination, and creativity and show a love for the show.

The inevitable question with this sort of book – is my favorite story in?  Well probably -  If we take the DWM 2014 poll as a benchmark most of the top 100 from that list are in and you have to get to 38th in the poll to find a story not included in this book (The Daemons – sorry!) and all in all only 32 of the DWM top 100 are not included here.  The choice of stories to include may also, therefore, be an interesting point of discussion for fans.

Overall, as an episode guide this book probably works better for the newer fan than for someone who has followed the show for a long time, but as a delightful, original collection of art that shows the passion and imagination of fellow fans, it works for all.

 

Amazon Link





Doctor Who and the World of Roger Hargreaves - Official Launch EventBookmark and Share

Sunday, 23 April 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley

As has been teased for some time, on Saturday 22nd April two mighty worlds clashed. Doctor Who and The Mr Men were put in a same blender and out popped.....Dr Mister....well four interpretations of four different Doctors, all set in the world first created by Roger Hargreaves back in 1971. The idea is to have a Doctor Who story in the Mr Men format, with all of it's simple shapes and colours,  and simple, broad humour, but told in a way that would appeal to both the young and of course - rather cunningly, us fans.

Doctor Who and the World of Roger Hargreaves Set One (Covers) (Credit: Penguin)The books available at the event were the four released, and I must confess that it seemed quite a random choice of Doctors to introduce into the Hargreaves world. We had Dr First (the first Doctor), Dr Fourth (the fourth - oh you get the idea!), Dr Eleventh and of course Dr Twelfth. 

To launch the series Roger's son, Adam (who has continued the much loved series of books since the death of his father Roger in 1988), was in attendance nestled among daleks and weeping angels, on the top floor of the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff.  

So, I settled down next to a Skovox Blitzer that had defiately seen much better days, and watched the man charm an adoring audience of both young and old. I must confess to being a bit of a fan myself, as a child I was given a new Mr Man book every week, and can remember being rather proud of my little collection. (us fans and our collections eh? - nothing ever changes). 

Hargreaves took questions from both the the host of the event and from the audience while drawing Dr Twelfth for for all to see. And what an eclectic bunch we were, as well as the young, excited children were of course the fans, and they did us proud. There were cosplayers abound. Along with pretty much every incarnation of the Doctor, we had a couple of Osgoods, some Missys and even a Jamie. The cream of the crop though (in my opinion) was a young guy cosplaying as Missy in the full Edwardian dress, make up and varnished nails. He looked stunning.......and very, very tall.

Nuggets gleaned from the Q and A were that Dr Fourth was Adam's favourite to draw, as he loved the scarf and hat. He had drawn (spoilers) a Sea Devil, and took the colours of his Doctors were inspired by clothing they wore. He also divulged that the BBC has quite a bit of involvement in the stories, and the development of how the characters look. Also that the Mr Men books themselves started when Adam asked his Dad what a tickle looked like.

There was a break for lunch, during which a promotional video for the new range was shown, it was quite amusing to see cute little daleks scooting over the green hills of Hargreaves world. A sweet looking weeping angel stalking closer and closer to the camera, and a chunky little cyberman smiling cheerfully while taking pictures. The short film on a loop made me want to read the books, so it was obviously doing it's job.

Doctor Who and the World of Roger Hargreaves (Credit: Matt Tiley)When Hargreaves returned, he started signing. There were a lot of people wanting signed copies, evidently more than expected as the event over-ran slightly. The long queue for autographed copies snaked in front of a stone dalek around a brightly coloured Moffat dalek (urgh!) and all the way back to a wooden cyberman. I have to confess to having a quiet little chuckle to myself, as now and again I did notice Hargreaves give one or two puzzled and mildly concerned looks at some of the more elaborate cosplayers who were seeking his autograph. Welcome to our world sir.

By the time most of Cardiff (or so it seemed) had managed to get their books signed, we moved onto to a special video presentation. It was a reading of Dr Twelfth by none other than Missy herself, Michelle Gomez. Missy (quite rightly) featured heavily in the Dr Twelfth book. It is essentially the story of Missy stealing artefacts throughout time with the Doctor in hot pursuit, until he stops to have something to eat. It was obviously all very Doctor Who and all very Mr Men.

 

Doctor Who and the World of Roger Hargreaves: Set Two (Covers)Finally we had the big reveal - and that was the unveiling the next four entrants into this seemingly bizarre (but incredibly cute) cross over universe. There were clues given for each new Doctor who was to have the Mr Men treatment, the best by far being a road sign that simply said 'North'. The new Doctors were......Dr Second, Dr Seventh, Dr Eighth and yes, you guessed it, Dr Ninth. Dr Seventh with his cute little hat and question mark umbrella seemed to particularly suit this new range. After the announcement, a stunning looking cake was unveiled and the crowd went wild.

So, to sum up, it was a lovely afternoon, spent in the company of a very genial and patient man, who is obviously very proud and passionate about his father's brand. A brand that I'm surethat now, with the involvement of the BBC and Dr Who can only strengthen further.

As people started to disperse I made a quiet exit through the gift shop, and like the marketer's dream that I am, purchased an I.M. Foreman, Totters Yard hoodie on the way out.





The (UnOfficial) Doctor Who Limerick GuideBookmark and Share

Friday, 21 April 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The Unofficial Doctor Who Limerick Guide (Credit: Long Scarf Publications)

The Unofficial Doctor Who Limerick Guide

Compiled By: Jenny Shirt and Christopher Samuel Stone

LIMITED RUN - available in Hardback and Paperback

Please see the social media link:

https://www.facebook.com/doctorwholimericks/

There Once Was a Limerick Book~
Using Old Legends as a Hook
Covering Over A Hundred Pages..
... A Dozen Time Lord Stages
It truly demands a good look.

[Reviewer’s Own Summary Limerick]


Although limericks are designed to be light hearted through their very nature and fixed structure, the book is for a very worthy cause in MIND. This charity is one of the most renowned in its sector, and one of a number of causes that has been given further credibility and support by Great Britain's very own Prince William and Kate Middleton. (And as we know the Queen is as loyal a Who fan as any in the history of royalty).

Dozens of contributors feature in this collections, and there are likewise dozens of accompanying illustrations - some are simple 'motifs' and some would look handy gracing a proper comic strip or cover art for a book. Each of the Doctors feature in full colour glory, with a selection of their stalwart companions. Amongst the majority of names that are perhaps less well known in fandom, are some of the more prolific and important literary authors to grace Doctor Who over the years - such as Andy Lane, Jonathan Morris, and John Peel.

Each of the contributions was carefully chose, and the editors have thoughtfully arranged different waves of limerick in either thematic or Doctor 'era' order. I appreciated how actors' names and characters or types of races were mixed together in the same piece at times - perhaps highlighting also how effective Doctor Who tends to be in its escapism, even if much of its history had barely sufficient production values for the sheer ambition of imagination.

I also enjoyed just how irreverent the fans/contributors could be with supposedly sacrosanct 'classics'. To my mind anyway, part of being a dedicated fan is to sometimes accept its limitations, but still embrace them in the right spirit. The Tomb of the Cybermen has perhaps suffered of late with the ‘return’ of its Season Five colleagues – The Web Of Fear and The Enemy Of The World - but is still essential viewing. Plot logic for this long-lost story was never its strongest feature, and whilst the effects for the emerging Cybermen from their hibernation pods do work in glorious black and white, there remains the certainty that cling-film is one of the cheaper props available (even back in the late 1960s). Both these aspects are mentioned in Kingsley Clennel White’s sharply written piece.

The limericks are pitched at both the highbrow and lowbrow levels, with some managing to make sense to children, without being too obviously risqué – and yet  still working on that adult level.

But even in the space of five lines, with an overly rhyming 'gimmick' there is every so often a truly poignant example in the mix. The Third Doctor's death and the "tear" is brilliantly brought back into focus by Callum Stewart. An ambiguous picture – which could be argued is Alpha Centauri shedding a tear from his/her/its lone eye - manages to really hit home just what a monumental moment in the show’s history was the passing of the torch, from one amazingly magnetic leading man, to another of the same calibre (though markedly different in his image).

Then there are three whole sections, containing work on Four Doctors at a time, which manage to summarise their key raison d’être but also how they met their end. At the time of writing - despite plenty of speculation - we still do not know the exact end for the Twelfth Doctor, but the limerick confidently acknowledges this, and simply describes his demise as a “crash”.

This is a very nicely done collection, which never takes itself too seriously, but is designed to help those across space and time (and in particular on our planet) who do not have the easiest of existences. A 'Song Book' which promises to reveal the real reasons behind some stories' conception, is mentioned as being available in the near future. On the evidence of this pleasing compilation, the follow-up should be much anticipated, and hopefully lead to yet more, further down the Time Lines.





The Pirate Planet - Novelisation/ AudioBookBookmark and Share

Thursday, 5 January 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The Pirate Planet (novel) (Credit: BBC Books)
Written By: James Goss
Based On The TV Serial By: Douglas Adams
Released By BBC Books: 5th January 2017

Audiobook Read By: Jon Culshaw
10 CDS/ Audio Download
Running Time: 11 Hours, 22 Minutes

Once in a blue moon, the hardworking, devout people of Zanak experience a 'new golden age of prosperity'. The stars in the night sky suddenly change position, and the economy skyrockets. The natives are assured by their mysterious leader - The Captain - that all this is part of a grand design.

But there is an outlier group of which the are wary, contemptuous, even scared. The Mourners. Looking decidedly pale and skinny, they always wander together, and can bring only trouble. Luckily, the Captain's many armed guards are there to ensure that there is no breach of the peace.

Now enter three odd individuals, in Zanak's main city, with no warning or announcement. The seeming leader is a toothy, excitable extrovert, with a long scarf and curly hair. With him is a somewhat younger-looking woman, much more smartly dressed, with beautiful looks, and a keen intelligence. And lastly, is a diminutive metallic creature, that has a red visor instead of eyes, a little tail that sways side-to-side, and a rather more impressive nose-laser.

The Doctor, Romana, and K9 - as they call themselves - soon make an alliance with a young couple. The male is Kimus: earnest, dedicated and open-minded. The female is Mula: thoughtful, pragmatic and diligent. This in turn leads to the Mourners becoming more engaged in the future of their world, knowing that suddenly a missing piece of information may be missing no more.

Soon enough, the mystique over the Captain evaporates. He is far more machine than man, and with a decidedly twisted sense of humour. But he has a plan or three in motion, and many cards in his deck to play. Zanak, and the wider universe, may both end up facing a change of cataclysmic proportions..


This joint release of both book and audio release sees the completion of the Fourth Doctor era into novel form. For many years, three stories were outstanding, and the common denominator was that Douglas Adams wrote the scripts. In the case of The Pirate Planet, Adams was still an unknown quantity in the wider world when first pitching his first contribution to Doctor Who. By the time this second story of Season 16 - or 'The Key To Time' arc - was transmitted, Adams' other work for the BBC - The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - steadily became a sensation, and eventually a global phenomenon.

Anthony Read was responsible for editing Adams' scripts into a makeable BBC production. He also made it build on The Ribos Operation, in developing new companion Romana. She was only the second Gallifreyan to assist the Doctor, after his own granddaughter Susan. The story also had to present a different kind of mystery over which item was the segment of The Key to Time.

Later on, Adams would take over from Read, and oversee Season 17 (which suffered especially from industrial strikes). Eventually, he realised he could not focus on both primetime TV, and further contributions to his 'baby boomer' Hitchhikers. Such was Adams' disconnect from Doctor Who, that none of his three major stories were adapted until very recently. (However he did introduce close friend, and second Romana, Lalla Ward to her eventual husband Richard Dawkins). Shada was the last of those three, but hit bookshelves first, with the aid of Gareth Roberts. More recently in 2015, the much-loved City Of Death was also converted into a richly detailed novel.

This new effort has the same author as City, in the form of experienced writer James Goss. Although The Pirate Planet was four episodes long, this book comes in at 400 pages plus - which is considerably more. Goss has clearly taken inspiration from Adams over the years, in becoming himself a successful author, and he decides to put as much of the original script (and related notes) as can fit. This means that this is one of the longest works of Who fiction, and it lacks the pace of action-adventure that is found in both the majority of the classic, as well as the modern, TV format.

Yet, most who are familiar with the TV original must concede that whilst great fun, it is not the strongest production, and really could have done with an American TV budget. Pennant Roberts has done great work for other TV shows, but few would call any of his Who work first-rate. The cast were not all stellar in their readings, with Kimus, Mula and the Mentiads being decidedly bland. This production and acting hurdle is removed entirely here.

The book does some excellent work in making the villains even more interesting. It gives them backstory, and motivation, that is rare to find in most Doctor Who books; and I include some of the best original novels in making that statement. The Captain is portrayed as a lot more intimidating, and macabre in design, as well as having a longevity which is mind-boggling. This also makes the subplot involving his subservience to Xanxia that much more emotive and engaging. The Polyphase Avitron becomes a much more intriguing monster, in contrast to the cod pirate parrot of TV. Goss evokes real sense of dread over the Captain's pet, and makes its lethal potential more credible and unpleasant in nature.

Xanxia - otherwise simply known as 'The Nurse' - is expertly introduced into the narrative. She appears to be someone that could help the Doctor and Romana. How wrong their impressions of her turn out to be! When the facade has fully receded, there is one of Kimus' better moments, in terms of showing some steely resolve. Also good, is the use of novel 'budget' (and reader imagination), as the Nurse suddenly is adorned in royal robes, thanks to the unique nature of her existence.

Mr Fibuli is a touch more likable than in the TV original, and there is little evidence of moustache-twirling cruelty, compared to his sneer and chuckle at the end of Episode Three. He has some inner thoughts that are very 'Everyman', and his brilliant engineering skills feel more layman too. Fibuli's constant awareness that he is replaceable - like any of the Captain's underlings - mean readers care for what fate befalls him. As it turns out, there is a heavy does of irony concerning this end-point, in conjunction with the final chapters' foreboding and tense action.

Although my synopsis suggested the guards were respected, even admired, by the (mostly faceless) Zanak citizens, both this novelisation and the TV story frequently take pokes at them for being witless and predictable. All the same, they are not to be taken as completely benign, and do sometimes make a successful capture, or take out a do-gooder with a well-aimed shot.

Of course, Goss seizes the opportunity to do some nice work with getting inside the heads of heroes as well, and that very much includes K9. The Fourth Doctor is relatively easy to write for, but few can really make him truly surprising and electric on page in a manner that the legendary Tom Baker could on-screen. Luckily, Goss is very much in that select group. The much-celebrated clash of "It is not a toy!" / "Then what is it for?!" is lovingly expanded on, and probably is the highlight of the entire book.

The Pirate Planet (audiobook) (Credit: BBC Audio)There is plenty of good material for Romana too, as she shows promise that would make her a long-staying companion, and eventually do great things for both E-Space, and Gallifrey itself. She is quick to learn, proactive, and consistently helpful to the Doctor. This sometimes makes the much older time traveller rather defensive. At one point he convinces her to complete a massive timetable, but barely achieves the delay effect he wanted it to. Nonetheless, she still is made to appreciate the Doctor's genius and quick wits, when he is forced to think of a solution to both the threat facing the universe, as well as the key objective of locating the Segment.  

K9 is of course secondary to the interpersonal drama, but still a personality; one that has emotions concerning tasks, and opinions regarding those he encounters. His one word summations on his 'owners' would be "odd" and "logical" respectively. The metal mutt's inner thoughts are generally the more light-hearted moments of the book/audio-reading.  

And now, time to recognise just how good an audio release this is, for both casual fans, and die-hards alike. Jon Culshaw has never done anything routine, forced, or ordinary to the best of my knowledge, (perhaps with the exception of singing on Comic Relief Does Fame Academy). Even with the weight of ten CDs, or eleven-and-a-half hours of running time, he puts in a wonderful solo performance. There is especially good use of third-person/first-person blending, which means that listeners can be caught out, thinking Culshaw will be talk in his own steady and affable manner, when reading Goss' prose. Much of the music gives this long story clout too. There are subtle strands, and a much more bombastic sense of 'What's Next?' upon the close of another chapter. 
 
I however need to come back to my point on the page count/ running time. This is possibly a case of Goss just slightly getting the balance between quality and detail wrong. The first half of the book, whilst not totally ponderous, does feel slow on several occasions. There are some digressions that display Adams' wit, and thoughtful wonderment at a vast interconnected cosmos, but they do not all feel as organic as in the Hitchhiker's novels (which admittedly used a guide book as the framing device). Thus some passages/moments outstay their welcome. Most odd is the sense of a Season 22 story opening, in that the TARDIS crew take an age to land on Zanak, and get involved.

Nonetheless, the final half of this novelisation  - especially the final third - is so much more urgent and gripping. It particularly delights in improving on the somewhat absurd Episode Three cliffhanger, by having a homage to the modern-day use of TARDIS in-flight to save a falling victim. Also, there is a very funny moment where the Doctor, in deep, deep trouble, thinks how clever it would be to rig a hologram. Thus when he actually does it, it banishes all feelings of indifference over the implausible onscreen execution.

One change I have more mixed feelings over, is the use of the 'Mourners' title, rather than 'Mentiads', which both sounded mysterious and ominous, yet also very funny depending on the particular dialogue context. At least there is much more back-story, and insight into their transformation, and also their "vengeance for the crimes of Zanak". Especially worthwhile is the detail on how Pralix's father was shot down, not long after he transitioned into being one of the select group. This means that the rather dour supporting character is now an angel of retribution, for both the planets and his own lost parent. There also is a change-up in making the Mourners mixed-gender, with at least one of them being female. This elder Mourner is given a few evocative moments in the narrative, helping reinforce how much more progressive Doctor Who was for women in the Graham Williams era, than it had ever been hitherto.


In sum, this is a very important book for anyone trying to get more insight into the Tom Baker period of the show - one which has been analysed and critiqued for many years now. It has a sense of something old, but also something new, and deserves at least being explored in either print or audio reading, if not both. A compression of gems, that is indeed most rich.



Associated Products

Books
Released 13 Sep 2016
36% off
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet (TV Soundtrack)
Books
Released 27 Jun 2017
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet
$19.99