Doctor Who: 100 Illustrated Adventures (BBC Books)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 12 June 2018 - Reviewed by Stephen Blenkinsop
100 Illustrated Adventures (Credit: BBC Children's Books)
Publisher: BBC Children's Books
Published: November 2017
Hardcover: 208 pages

The 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 (almost) 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 favourite 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 the book is clearly aimed at the younger reader and as an episode guide probably works better for the newer fan than for someone who has followed the show for a long time.  However, as a delightful, original collection of art that shows the passion and imagination of fellow fans, it works for all, young and old alike.





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

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

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

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

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

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

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





The Christmas Invasion (BBC Books)Bookmark and Share

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

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

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

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

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





Rose (BBC Books)Bookmark and Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

Released by BBC Worldwide - April 2018
Available from Amazon UK

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

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

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

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

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





The Curse of Fenric (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

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

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2015
Available from Amazon UK

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

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

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

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