The War Machines (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 May 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The War Machines
Written by Ian Stuart Black
Read By  Michael Cochrane
Released by BBC Audio - March 2019
Available from Amazon UK

I have always ranked The War Machines fairly high in First Doctor stories.  I've always felt Hartnell is quite good in it, and it drops dead weight companion Dodo in favor of the charming Ben and Polly, who at the time better represented modern youth. It also had fun robot villains trying to overtake London and the World, and what isn't fun about that? But somehow, I didn't really find myself that interested in this audiobook of the Target Novelization. 

Written by original script writer Ian Stuart Black, the novelization just isn't written with any energy. It highlights the deficiencies of the television story.  On TV they got away with some filler and a story that isn't full of action, because the performances of Hartnell, Anneke Wills, and Michael Craze keep you engaged. But as a novel or audiobook, I just found that there isn't much happening, and even though I finished listening to it a week ago, I've been struggling to think of much to really say about it. 

The only thing of note I truly remember is that the first chapter adds a bit of business between the Doctor and Dodo, in which both note secretly think they will be parting soon.  This is certainly more than the TV version ever did, as Dodo just disappears at one point, and at the end of the story, her replacements show up and say she's gone to live on a farm upstate somewhere, and then they callously steal her job. The book does the same, but at least there is this acknoweldgement of her exit in the beginning of the story.

I don't think it is the fault of the narrator, Michael Cochrane, who I think does a fine job.  His Hartnell impression is particularly great.  But the guy has little to work with. I find it so odd that a story I have always liked has left me so cold in the novelization. 

Shakedown - A 'New Adventures' Story (Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 7 June 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Shakedown (Credit: BBC Audio)
An Audio Reading Of 'The New Doctor Who Adventures' Novel

Written by Terrance Dicks

Read By Dan Starkey

Released By BBC AUDIO: 5th May 2016

The Doctor, alongside his youthful companions Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester, is tracking a Rutan spy which remorselessly continues a destructive rampage at the cost of various innocent lives. The justification? The securing of a decisive advantage for the Rutan race, in their aeons-old war against the squat and belligerent Sontaran clone warrior forces.

The pursuit of this lethal being - that can mimic the appearance of its dead victims in order to confuse any adversaries - leads the Doctor to separate from his friends and find himself on Space Station Alpha. There, the elegantly designed Tiger Moth racing yacht will soon begin its very first journey across the stars. Chris and Roz have their own agenda to pursue within the bustling Megacity, capital of a mining planet, and a hotbed of corruption, criminal activities, and Wolverine ferocities.

In the meantime, the Doctor's third associate in his time and space travels - Bernice Summerfield - is trapped on the library planet Sentarion where religious zealots have promised to slay her, if she leaves the sacred temple.

After both the Rutan spy and a squad of Sontarans face off on Captain Lisa Deranne's Tiger Moth, the chase finally comes to a climax on Sentarion. Can the Doctor's wits and wisdom be enough to save the cosmos from either one of these cruel and destructive species?


Shakedown is a curious entity in the Doctor Who universe. Originally it was mainly focused on uniting Doctor Who and Blake's 7 acting alumni, namely Carole Ann Ford, Sophie Aldred and Michael Wisher, as well as Jan Chappell and Brian Croucher. Legal rights at the time meant that only the Sontarans and a Rutan could be brought back from the Doctor Who canon, and the Doctor himself could only be vaguely referenced in dialogue.

Produced as a fast paced straight to video extravaganza, it was directed by the diligent and innovative Kevin Davies, and written by the ever-trustworthy Terrance Dicks. The original VHS video was only on release at specialist shops or on mail order in 1994, before later being reissued with a 'Making Of' documentary, and made available in mainstream shops. There has been no official DVD release yet sadly, and perhaps this may never be the case. Regardless, it is still worth tracking down should one have access to VHS player (that still manages to function!).

The story was considered to be worthy enough for a fuller novelisation/New Adventures combination in late 1995. That book was designed so that the film's events formed the central 'book' of three, and thus both an original prequel and sequel 'book' gave substance to the initial brisk storyline. Dicks returned to carry out the necessary expansions, and thus produced one of the more immediately enjoyable and readable entries in the book line, then-licensed to Virgin.  Whilst the New Adventures could be thrilling reads, they also frequently strayed into territory that was unwelcome to those of the youngest ages, and also could be rather verbose and more 'hard-sci-fi' than most TV stories, To my mind, Doctor Who is meant to be enjoyed by all ages. Whilst these books undeniably helped with the TV show returning in the 'Noughties', they perhaps should be regarded as interesting but optional, in terms of the general 21st Century fan's reading list.

More positively, this story was in a period where the (literary) Sylvester McCoy incarnation of our title hero was blessed with a TARDIS crew that included the lovably unique Bernice Summerfield, and the  duo of Roz and Chris - 30th century specialist police investigators. This clutch of companions was difficult to write badly, and Dicks masterfully adds to their story arcs. He also, in typical fashion, allows first-timers the luxury of being able to know sufficiently detail on who these characters are, where they come from, and what makes them tick.

The plot here is easy to follow, without being simplistic, and manages to get round the issues of the Shakedown film having a fairly conclusive ending. It avoids doing so by mere contrivance, and instead cleverly adds to the mythology of how the Sontarans and Rutans are able to survive, and pursue their agendas, through ingenious and deceitful means. The Seventh Doctor is very well done by Dicks here, and perhaps this should be no surprise given how the prolific script editor and story writer had contributed one of the earliest gems in the book line - 'Timewyrm: Exodus' - set during an alternative timeline where the Nazis won the Second World War.

As for this actual BBC Audio release, which is now just the latest of a rapidly growing collection, I can assure readers that the eight hours running time provides much to enjoy and admire. I was quite delighted to learn that Dan Starkey returns as the main contributor, and he effortlessly makes the most of Terrance Dicks' fluent prose. The narration of the various expository, descriptive and action-oriented prose never falters for a single minute. Starkey continues to excel in showcasing his voice acting range, and provides enough distinct character voices to help make this feel like an audio play, and not just a simple reading.

At 7 CDs this is a considerable investment in listener commitment. Yet, I can assert that 'tempus fugit' really does apply here. The intensity and intrigue of the plot and action dovetails, as chapter follows chapter.

So whether you are somebody old enough for this story to provide nostalgia, or a newcomer keen to know more about the many adventures of the Seventh Doctor outside his limited TV lifespan, this is a fine bit of diversion. 2016 really has begun to heat up, and the long-awaited Class spin off will soon be onscreen, and declaring its own spin-off credentials...

Rivers of London: A Web Interview with Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel and Lee SullivanBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 25 May 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Rivers Of London: Issue Two (Credit: Titan Comics) was given the combined pleasure and honour of having an in-depth chat over the internet to these 3 imaginative and uniquely skilful individuals, who combine skill with words and pictures to tell spellbinding stories, based on Ben Aaronovitch's original book series 'Rivers of  London'. (A list of the novels follows at the end of this article).

The hope with the comics of 'Rivers' was to 'move the franchise a bit sideways' according to Ben  and '[have] a chance to get pictures drawn. The whole adventure of fun stuff. Comics are a lot of fun.'

Jokingly, and warmly Ben pointed out the sheer hard work Lee Sullivan puts into his visual, to which his response was "No I don't  think of [those] fondly at all [tricky] cafe scenes at the moment. Or don't do any [art] set in a fair ground."

Andrew Cartmel then elaborated on the aims and hopes further: "Ben always wanted to write comics because he kept having  these great comic ideas that he'd tell me. [And was especially keen to do Batman]".

That turned the conversation into which comic franchises and authors were favourites with Ben and Andrew:

Ben stated how he was '[an] agnostic in comics' and that he 'read ones that [he likes with no] favourite universe. "I like Alan Moore."

Andrew seconded this opinion: "You can put me down for that too. Alan Moore is the greatest comic writer who ever lived...[and] a huge influence on me as a writer".

I then queried Ben on the influence of London itself, asking how it generated ideas for stories, for characters, and social commentary:

 "[Based on my home city being London I choose to set the story [there]. I am blessed that [my home town] London is the greatest city in the world, and the most interesting. Apart from that it is mainly because I am a Londoner. Andrew is just stuck with it!

Some concurrence from Andrew: '[I was born in London myself]..and I do love London it is very true.'

I then turned to the topic of successfully balancing humour and drama; which to my mind, as a child of the McCoy era, was one of the biggest pluses of that period in Doctor Who history.

Andrew put it as such "When you are writing it has got to be a mountain range and not a plateau, or a prairie. It has got to have variation. Humour is a brilliant way of alternating with the drama; hence the term 'comic relief'. [If something is relentless drama] then you understand the desperate need for variation."

Ben agreed with his long-time colleague and friend: "What he said."

Characterisation and having believable villains was the next topic for debate with my interviewees:

Andrew believes that an 'interesting [villain] is the crucial thing', more so than how they might be relatable to a given reader.

Ben elaborated on the aim of a "realistic thing in quite a realistic world." and also how "[antagonists] have that kind of balance. We don't have super villains....We don't really have bad people."

Andrew then gave further elaboration "What Ben calls moustache twirlers [or]  melodramatic, one-dimensional villain[s]"


We then had a bit more of a chat on characterisation in general:

Andrew emphasised how "with character development, unless you create likeable [and] interesting characters, then all the stuff that happens to them is just irrelevant."

Ben then tied this to the central character of 'Rivers of London' - Peter Grant - being a detective and how he fulfilled a given 'function' in this kind of 'detective genre':

"If you think about the [most popular/ well-known] detectives like [Inspector] Morse, [Miss] Marple .. [and] Sherlock Holmes they are, what happens to other people to develop their characters...[thus] you don't need to worry quite so much with detectives. So [regarding overall characterization] it's organic, and [how much a given character grows depends] on what [those characters] want to do usually."

Then talk by Andrew over how the basic foundation of good character elements will allow a strong story to unfold overall  "[as a budding writer one finds] that other characters tend to take over [and the story writes itself] It's wonderful when that  happens, which it does if you just persist."

This then led to Lee sharing some of his own thoughts on how enjoyment can be found in giving visual interpretation  to characters: "Nightingale is the one that fascinated me most.. because he is a guy out of time [and..] quite a bit older  than he looks. So it's fun [making] him look a bit stiff and slightly ill at ease with today."

 Ben than showed his appreciation for Lee's work, adding to his statement into just how much work goes into the  characters being drawn:

 "The quality work you get with Lee [is considerable]. He does not just go [in kamikaze] with his artwork] ... None of the  [other artists Andrew and I were to work with before the Rivers series got off the ground] were not a patch on Lee, who is amazing."

 Having read and enjoyed the premiere issue of 'Rivers': Nightwitch and noticed its globe trotting aspects I decided to ask if  travel to other capital cities had inspired Lee in terms of his approach to comics' art and the portrayal of various things?

Lee stated how "Every city has got a good feel to it.. the impressive ones are [those with] most contrast to where you come from, I guess. Tokyo [stands out despite being] nearly 30 years ago... The western bits they bolted on top of their culture are very recognisable but then you realise that at home you don't put your washing machine outside of your house. That is a cultural difference and you can do that [there] because they are made of plastic. Because they are plastic, they can be made in all candy colours. And so these kind of things are wonderful without having to go somewhere different."

I then enquired about comic book storytelling as a specific storytelling framework, and how it can be used to try and get perhaps a less than realistic reflection on our world [on occasion]. Andrew responded "in terms of art.. Ben does something called an 'art shift', where we might move from he realistic to the cartoony."

Ben then backed this up stating "What I like about writing the comics is that you have access to all sorts of techniques you can't use in a book. and now we have acquired someone of} Lee's capabilities [to portray all these characters, and visual elements].."

Andrew gave a hint of an upcoming Rivers issue later on in the new Nightwitch run:  "he has just done a fantastic [art] piece that looks like a Russian icon, and is absolutely gorgeous I have to say." 

Ben again spoke of the storytelling techniques: "[with our] comic book storytelling techniques.. the people are more realistic, but not so much the settings or the things that happens to them."

I then queried how the comics and the ongoing novel series interlink with one another and Ben put across how he treats them all as the same thing. "Some are comics and some are books. I don't really think of [the two as separate entities]. They are all part of the same universe, and so all are equally important. I have a very playful attitude to my universe. I am not too po-faced about it. I have put as much creative energy into the comics [for [ the characters, the new things and the ideas. And I know that Andrew does. I don't have a hierarchy of canon."

I then asked Andrew how a climax or cliffhanger is shaped in the storytelling he and Ben serve up with each issue:

"We do put a lot of thought into what is a left hand page, and what is a right one, as that [is crucial in determining] what is a surprise to the reader. You wait for them to turn the page over and reveal something."

Unfortunately time was finite for us, even if the Doctor knows a way round that issue, so the interview did draw to a close, but a lot of laughter and amusement that (often) embodies a harmonious working unit was clearly evident, over the Skype internet connection that I had, with the talented triumvirate.

Please have a look at the full interview in the review section later this week, which includes further chat on Lee's illustrious back catalogue of work, and how he goes about realising his creative vision as an artist.



                                                                            Ben's published Rivers of London book series to date:


                                                                             1) Rivers of London

                                                                             2) Moon over Soho

                                                                             3) Whispers Underground

                                                                             4) Broken Homes

                                                                             5) Foxglove Summer

                                                                             6) The Hanging Tree