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!





Scream of the Shalka (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 28 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Scream of the Shalka (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Paul Cornell
Read By David Collings

Released by BBC Worldwide - June 2016
Available from Amazon UK

In the run up to Doctor Who's Fortieth Anniversary in 2003, fans had very little to look forward to.  The show was seemingly dead for good.  The 1996 TV movie had failed to make an impact, so the show was being carried on purely in spin-off material like audios, comics, and books.  But a small team at the BBC website was determined to make something of the fortieth anniversary, and decided to make a fully animated cartoon series.  They had put on some limited animations before, but those were mostly audio stories with still images attached. This time they wanted to make a genuine animated web series, three stories told over 12 episodes.  But that got whittled down, and in the end they produced one story written by Paul Cornell and starring Richard E. Grant as the Ninth Doctor.  Of course that Ninth Doctor's official status was immediately thrown out, as before they even released the first episode, the BBC finally decided to announce that they would bring the show back properly.  And so Scream of the Shalka became this odd diversion, the singular story for a Doctor that is not considered official. Plans for further episodes featuring this cartoon Doctor were shelved, and this Doctor became a footnote in the series history.

Cornell also wrote a novelization of his story, which has now been brought to life again as an audiobook. While each of the six original episodes ran around 10-15 minutes, each episode is expanded upon in the book, giving greater characterizations for our main players, as well as deeper motivations. This is a good thing, it makes the story stronger, as the original story lacked this due to it's shorter format. 

For example, this version of the Doctor was heavily implied to have a tragic backstory.  While it is only hinted at, it seems he lost a companion that he was quite close to. The obvious conlcusion is some tragic death, but what we are never truly given the details. The novelization doesn't either, but the hints are stronger, and help explain the Doctor's attitude. The robot version of the Master that accompanies the Doctor in the TARDIS also gets a lot of extra characterization. While it is still not clear how exactly his conscienceness ended up in a robot that lives in the TARDIS, we get a better sense of what he is all about here.  New characters like Allison, Joe, and Major Kennet all have better development here as well.

It then becomes odd that, as a story that had such short episodes, this audiobook has a full hour disc for each episode.  For a story that is less than 90 minutes in length, the fact that the audiobook is well over six hours is incredible. The average Target Novelization of even a classic six parter is about 3-4 hours.  So Cornell really expanded his story for the book, and it shows in this subsequent audiobook. To be perfectly honest, while Scream of the Shalka is a decent story, and the book version is clearly superior to the truncated original webcast, part of me thinks six hours is a lot of time to dedicate to a story that isn't really THAT good.  While Cornell did make some attempts at modernizing Who via this cartoon, he was too traditional in too many ways to make the show properly work for anything but old fans. They might've gotten into it with time and subsequent episodes, but it would not have brought in new folks the way Davies eventually did. And that is still evident in listening to this audiobook.

David Collings is a fine narrator, and this novelization by Paul Cornell clearly had a lot of love put into it.  The audiobook is a good way to experience that novelization, but if you are interested in Shalka, you can pick up the cheaper DVD and watch the story and special features in about the same amount of time it would take to get through this audiobook (probably less time really). If you find you really liked that cartoon and then want to get more intimate details of the characters featured within, then the audiobook would do you well.  Personally I found that watching the behind the scenes documentary on the DVD to be the most satisfying and interesting thing to come from this story, because there was a brief period of time when a small team at the BBC Website thought they had found a way to bring back Doctor Who in a new way, and that is truly fascinating. 





Survival (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: Survival (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Rona Munro
Read By Lisa Bowerman

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2017
Available from Amazon UK

In 1989, Doctor Who aired the final story of Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor...and then was quietly put into "hiatus," but was really just secretly cancelled. That final story was Survival, and involved the Doctor and Ace facing off against the Master and Cheetah People in Ace's hometown of Perivale. In the end the Doctor and Ace walked off back to the TARDIS, and they weren't to be seen together on screen again. It was one of the stronger efforts in that final era of the Classic show, and while you can definitely see the upturn in quality of scripts returning during the Seventh Doctor's era, I think it was very much a "too little, too late" situation for the series at the time. 

So we come to Target's novelization of that finale episode, which is written by the author of the television script Rona Munro, and it is actually slighlty better than it's television counterpart.  Munro adds in some extra details and character motivations which were lost in the TV adaptation, as well as whole sequences that were probably cut for time.  These details improve the overall story.  The television version was always pretty solid, but the book just works better in some ways. 

The audiobook is read by Lisa Bowerman, who played Karra the Cheetah in the original serial, and has gone on to become quite well known to Who fans as Seventh Doctor companion Bernice Summerfield in a wide variety of Big Finish audios.  She does a fine job as narrator for the most part. Her impression of Sophie Aldred's Ace is impeccable, though her McCoy is a little too cartoonish and distracting.

This is a good audiobook, it's a novelization that builds on and improves upon it's source material, and it is nicely read by Bowerman...even if her impression of McCoy is kind of awful.  Fans of this era and this story would most likely enjoy this one.