Mawdryn Undead (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 1 August 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Peter Grimwade
Read By David Collings

Released by BBC Worldwide - July 2018
Available from Amazon UK 

I've always rather liked Season 20's Black Guardian Trilogy...not necessarily because of the Black Guardian, but I felt each story was rather good in spite of their interconnected storyline. In actuality, Mawdryn Undead was probably my least favorite of the three, though in this new audiobook context, I found I enjoyed the story better.  I'm sure the ugly design of Mawdryn and the lame 80s flashy redesign of the Black Guardian hurt my enjoyment, so maybe having those taken out of the equation helped my enjoyment factor just a bit. 

The story doesn't have too much meat on it, but I did find elements of the story were better presented in book form.  I felt I had a better grasp on Turlough as a character then I ever really did throughout the show, particularly in his early days as a pawn of the Guardian. We get more in depth as to what drives him, and how he feels about the whole deal he struck with the Guardian.  That is the kind of stuff a novel can do better than a TV series, particularly a series of this era.  On the show, Turlough seemed like a slightly conflicted jerk who I warmed up to after the Guardian left the picture.  In this book, I like him earlier on, because I felt he his conflict is better explored. 

The storyline with the two Brigadiers and the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, and the wacky time travel mechanics are pretty interesting, and feel like a precursor to the eventual Moffat/Smith Era of the show.  I still think that this stuff could have been better expanded upon, but the book gets into the gritty of it better than the show did.  Or my memory of the original TV version is just fuzzy.  I remember being slightly underwhelmed by this when watching it, but it has been so long since I have, it could just be that I am misremembering the whole thing.

The audiobook is nicely read by David Collings, and while unabridged only runs about 4 hours.  Easy listening for Classic Who fans.  Not the best story of the show's long history, but fans can not complain about this presentation. 





Twice Upon a Time (BBC Books)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 30 July 2018 - Reviewed by Stephen Blenkinsop
Twice Upon a Time (Credit: BBC Books)
Author: Paul Cornell
Publisher: BBC Books
Released: April 2018
Paperback: 161 pages

This final Target novelisation brings us bang up to date with the Doctor’s adventures, recounting the 12th Doctor’s final journey towards his future, covering events following the end of series 10 that saw him lose his companion Bill to the Cybermen.  Arriving at the South Pole and deciding he doesn’t want to regenerate again he meets his first incarnation who is also wrestling with the prospect of change.  When time stops and the Doctors encounter a First World War soldier who is being pursued by a woman made of glass they begin a journey that sees both incarnations finding out what it means to be the Doctor.

The novelisation follows the broadcast story extremely closely, with relatively little additional material in terms of story development.  However, while the TV episode might have suffered, at least in the eyes of some, from the lack of an enemy to see the Doctor off in spectacular style, this seems less the case here, in a novel that has the space to explore the nature of the change and personal sense of loss that regeneration inflicts on the Doctor.  It, therefore, feels less of a postscript to what went before and more an exploration of some big themes in their own right, with a deeper reflection on the life of the Doctor as he faces his latest regeneration, and on the sense of the unknown as he faces his first.  To fully exploit this, a quite significant development that seems even more explicit here than on broadcast is the idea that the Doctor can choose whether he regenerates or dies, something that raises big questions for the Doctor personally but also for the web of time itself.

This serious subject matter doesn’t stop Cornell having fun throughout the book though.  The Doctor’s nicknames for his earlier incarnation prompt him to recall past encounters with various stars from the world of entertainment including a shared holiday with Mary Berry and a pub crawl with Clive Dunn.  There’s also some fun referencing the show’s history.  When the VHS tape held up by Archie is revealed to be the Doctor’s recording of the Daleks master plan, it elicits the comment ‘how they’d love to get that back’ – a nice acknowledgment of fans’ desire for the return of lost episodes.  And there’s further mischief with a joke addressing the old Dimension/Dimensions inconsistency in the TARDIS acronym.

In common with the other recent releases in this range the author also indulges fans with occasional continuity – some obvious, including references to events in the Snowcap base in The Tenth Planet, to companions Steven and Sara Kingdom, and a moving reference to Susan, - some more subtle, such as the reference to people being the sum of their memories.  The First Doctor getting to use the sonic screwdriver for the first time provides another fan-pleasing moment.  Throughout, Cornell shows the attention to detail one would expect, taking the opportunity to explain why the Blinovitch Limitation Effect isn’t functioning, and delightfully explaining why the First Doctor has to do more work at the console when flying the TARDIS compared with his later incarnations.  There’s also a nice acknowledgment of the legacy of the Target novels themselves with a chapter titled ‘Escape to Danger’.  These references demonstrate real respect for the show but don't distract from the storytelling.

Cornell finishes the book on a very serious note, adding perhaps the most chilling moment in the book with what was for me the revelation that plans for a subsequent Christmas truce in 1915 were stopped by the authorities.  This moment darkens the sombre mood as the story draws to its conclusion, as ever, reality proving to be far more shocking than anything the show can create.  This addition is well judged and feeds the somewhat melancholy mood as the Doctors finally come to terms with their destinies.

The book is not without its problems, however.  In remaining faithful to the broadcast episode the novel does retain what many people felt to be an over the top characterisation of the First Doctor’s dated attitudes.  This can be forgiven as it merely reflects the TV episode itself, however, it may possibly be compounded in the novelisation by an occasionally overstated characterisation of the First Doctor as devoid of humour.  This is something that doesn’t really reflect the softer characterisation that had evolved by this point of this incarnation and even contradicts him making a joke himself earlier in the story, albeit one that demonstrates the first point of criticism.  These are however relatively small points and don’t detract significantly from the positives.

As the final book in this batch of releases it’s worth reflecting on the nature of the Target range and what they offer in the twenty-first century.  My own Target collection has been packed away and living in my parents’ loft for a few years now, these books a remnant of my childhood, a feature of the past, not needed in an age of on demand TV and DVDs.  Reading these recent releases however I’ve rediscovered the joy of Target novels and realised that they can still have a unique place in Dr Who fans' collections .  Whilst they may not be the most challenging of reads it is clear they are written with a great deal of love and it’s a joy to be able to join the Doctor for a couple of chapters on the bus to work or a few spare moments during the day.  And given that these books have a style of their own, the reader can connect with (and appreciate) the series in a uniquely different way.  Until there are further new releases (hopefully!) it may be time for me to pay a visit to my parents’ loft.





Rose (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 27 July 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Rose (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by: Russell T Davies
Read by: Camille Coduri
Cover by: Anthony Dry
Duration: 4hrs 14mins
Publisher: BBC Audio
Originally Released June 2018

When Doctor Who returned with Rose in 2005 its necromancer in chief, Russell T Davies, was understandably nervous of going too far too soon. Both in terms of keeping the new mystery at the heart of show a mysterious tease (War? What war did he fight in? What planets couldn’t he save?) and in keeping the show’s past at arm’s length. Let the public learn to love the show again first, then introduce them to the potentially embarrassing extended family. Don’t scare them off straight away.

But Davies’ affection for the show he grew up with pure and true, and it makes this Target novelization a unique case across the hundreds of titles to carry the Target logo. It’s not remotely unusual for Target books to deepen and expand on the original script. But this is the only case I can think of where the author is indulging himself with all the back references and fan service he couldn’t the first time around. The job is done. The crown has been passed on. Now it’s time to play.

And so Clive’s history is greatly developed. Not only does his collection feature more than just Christopher Eccleston’s face staring out of historical events, but all the Doctors past and present, from Hartnell to Whittaker and even beyond have their own files on the shelves of the shed. And the origins of his obsession are revealed as being his own father’s presence during the events of Remembrance of the Daleks. But this book looks forward too. Davies has said he considers this itch scratched now, and being able to say that he wrong one entry in the beloved range of novelizations is enough for him. Nothing he’s said could be more convincing of that than the way he approaches this take on the Doctor and Rose. In a move that feels almost slightly greedy, he reaches into his own show’s future to plunder it for character beats that, on TV, were spun out for much longer. So, in this text-based universe, Rose and the Doctor have their discussion about his world having been destroyed and being the only survivor here rather than in The End of the World. A lot of the material about the Tyler family finds it way here from its original placement in Father’s Day and similarly, Mickey’s backstory from Rise of the Cybermen is included and expanded here. Indeed, Mickey overall is given far more sympathetic treatment here than in the televised episode. Another suggestion of Davies seeing this as his one shot at the character in prose, with no future installments over which to develop Mickey's good points.

That will make for an interesting puzzle for future writers if the range ever gets around to novelizing such episodes – but if the Doctor winds up revealing the death of his people in the Time War to Rose twice, well, such continuity issues are almost a Target tradition going right the way back to Ian and Barbara’s multiple choice origin stories. In fact, even within this initial set of four releases, there’s an element of that – Davies’ Rose introducing a whole supporting cast for his version of Mickey (who, in another universe perhaps, would be the star of his own single-camera Channel 4 sitcom about a loveable ne’erdowell and his mates), all of whom have apparently evaporated by Colgan’s The Christmas Invasion, which notes that Mickey’s a bit of a loner who doesn’t make friends easily.

There's a lot of brand new material in Davies’ book, too, both in fleshing out the bones of the plot and in the way Ian Marter famously used to with his novelizations – pushing the violence and horror well beyond anything that could have been gotten away with on television. The more in depth look at the characters is a delight. As soon as the passing line of “Wilson’s dead,” in the television script becomes an entire chapter of Wilson’s history at Henrick’s down the decades it’s clear we’re in for something special.  The increase in the violence isn’t quite as successful. There are scenes where the Autons utilizing bladed arms and so on are ingenious and clever, but at other times the detailed descriptions of people being hacked to pieces, or having the back of their heads blown off by Auton guns seems to sit badly with the general tone of the book and to be included just for their own sake.

As with The Christmas Invasion, Jackie Tyler herself, Camille Coduri, takes on narration duties. The sheer pace of storytelling here leaves her less room to inject her own breezy reading style, and she seemed more at home approximating David Tennant’s mockney than dealing with Christopher Eccleston’s Salford tones (which here wind up more generically ‘Northern’). However, her recapturing of the Tyler matriarch is as perfect as ever (and she clearly relishes some of Jackie’s new lines like “Rose Tyler. You tart.”) And she again matches Billie Piper’s Rose so well that at times you’d be forgiven for thinking Piper had shown up in person. Coduri’s reading of the various tragic backstories of characters like Clive and Mickey is nicely sympathetic too, with a tangible sense of sitting across a kitchen table from her as she tells a new neighbour all the sad, sad stories of the locals right after they’ve left the room.

Having Russell T Davies back on anything Doctor Who is always a massive treat and his revised take on Rose is no exception. Matching his prose with as warm and engaging a reader as Camille Coduri, it makes the audiobook a shot of pure nostalgia and a wonderful way to take listeners back to where it all began (again).

 





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!