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. 





Four to Doomsday (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who - Four To Doomsday (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Matthew Waterhouse

Released by BBC Worldwide - March 2017
Available from Amazon UK

Four to Doomsday seems like the type of story that is rarely going to make anyone's Top Ten list. It is a rather tedious and boring story, it doesn't have much of a thought provoking plot, and it lacks any real exciting action to make up for that.  I actually rewatched this story not too long ago when I was in the mood for some Fifth Doctor style stories, and even having recently rewatched it, most of it ended up being forgotten. If nothing else, Terrance Dicks' novelization really captures just how boring and forgettable the original serial was. 

The Fifth Doctor - along with Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric - land on a spaceship lead by some aliens who have visited Earth throughout it's history and gathered up locals each time they make it to Earth.  So there are some humans from various time periods in Earth's history aboard as well. But now they seem to be heading back to Earth to overtake it. Adric gets hypnotised or something by the evil leader, nd Tegan pouts about how much she wants to get to work some more....and eventually the only thing I remember from the story happens, which is that the Doctor uses the bounce of a cricket ball off a spaceship to propel himself back towards the TARDIS while floating in space.

It is a dul story, but I must give Matthew Waterhouse, who originally portrayed Adric, some credit, he does his best reading this dull story.  As much as I never cared for his character on screen, he proves himself a decent narrator, and actually does a pretty good impression of Peter Davison's Doctor as well! 

This is a release only for completists.  It is a lame story, and despite being nicely read by Waterhouse, that really can't make up for how uninteresting the story always has been. 





Genesis of the Daleks (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 9 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who and The Genesis of The Daleks (Credit: BBC Audio)Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Jon Culshaw
With Dalek Voices by Nicholas Briggs

Released by BBC Worldwide - October 2017
Available from Amazon UK
Genesis of the Daleks is one of the strongest serials in all of Doctor Who. Not just of the classic series, but to this day you can still see ripples from it.  Davros made another modern reappearance fairly recently in the Series 9 opening two-parter. His story, and one can even argue that one of the earliest seeds of the Time War that served as the series main background when it relaunched in 2005, began in that wonderful story.  It has a ton of memorable moments, from the introduction of Davros, the great scene between the Doctor and Davros discussing philosophical questions, the Doctor's moral dilemma about whether or not to destroy the Daleks...up to the big finale with the Daleks taking over and turning on their own creator.  It's a great story, that never feels too padded despite it's six episode lengths.  Such an iconic story could, in theory, be lessened by it's adaptation in another form of media.  But the book only enhances the story, adds a bit more behind what the characters are thinking and motivations, and this audiobook of that book is equally excellent.  
 
Read by Impressionist/Comedian/Voice Actor Jon Culshaw, and enhanced by some sound effects, music, and even Daleks voiced by Nicholas Briggs...there are moments that make you forget you are even listening to an audiobook.  Culshaw's top notch impression of Tom Baker's tones is so perfect that it is beyond parody. There were genuine times I could have sworn I was just hearing Baker himself in the recording.  And since Culshaw also uses the same voice modulation device that Briggs uses for the Daleks to voice Davros...the conversations between The Doctor and Davros leave you completely caught up in the story. 
 
Audiobooks are, for me, the most entertaining when the narrator can do a wide range of voices and keep the listening interesting.  Culshaw is then the perfect narrator for me, as he can do so many different voices, and his Fourth Doctor is pitch perfect.  Having Briggs' Dalek voices mixed in as well keeps this one of the most entertaining of these audiobooks that I have listened to thus far.  
 
It also made me think.  I remember watching a classic story of the series, and someone who really enjoyed the modern show watched a bit with me out of curiosity.  They struggled with the old effects and cheap look. But the audiobooks can take an interesting story, and remove that element. The lesser visuals are no longer part of the equation, only the story.  I actually tried to forget what I know of the classic story, and try and picture it with more modern visuals. This story holds up, and I think if old fans who can't quite get past the old show's visual cheapness, but want a taste of these great old stories, these could be an interesting way to jump in.  
 
This is a classic story, one of the all time greats, and it is wonderfully brought to life by Terrance Dicks adaptation and Culshaw, with the help of Briggs, make the listening a true joy.  




The Robots of Death (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 1 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who And The Robots Of Death (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Louise Jameson

Released by BBC Worldwide - February 2018
Available from Amazon UK

Louise Jameson, who portrayed Leela alongside the Fourth Doctor in the 70s, reads Terrence Dicks' Target Novelization of one of her earliest episodes, and it's another solid unabridged audiobook of this classic line of novels.  As I stated in my review of The Ambassadors of Death, my familiarty with the Target line is somewhat limited.  I only really knew that they existed and that in the years prior to home video, a lot of fans were more familiar with the books than they were the original TV episodes. But from what I've gathered just listening to these two audiobooks, this really was a wonderful line of books, faithfully adapting their TV counterparts, while still feeling fresh. I've seen The Robots of Death a couple of times, I know the story, and yet this audiobook still felt fresh.  There are scenes I remember quite clearly, like the early TARDIS scene with the yo-yo and the Doctor giving his enigmatic explanation of how the TARDIS can be bigger on the inside...but Jameson's reading of it felt like I was getting it new again.

One thing I am enjoying is that these audiobooks, while unabridged, aren't terribly long.  This one was only about three hours or so long.  I listened to it in an afternoon while cleaning up around the house. A real long novel unabridge on audio can be up to 11 hours long, but these little adaptations of the show weren't terribly long books, but they weren't dumbed down either. Dicks does a great job taking the televised version, and turning it into a book that is both short and sweet, yet not compromising what the television version was all about. 

Jameson does a solid job reading this as well, and the occassional bit of music or sound effects help make the action soar. I don't know if I'd ever have time to sit and actually read every Target Novelization, but getting to sample them via the audiobook is not a bad route to take.  If you are curious about these old books, find a story you like that has been released in this format by BBC Worldwide so far, and give them a listen.  This was always a good story, and at three hours your time commitment is minimal. 





The Ambassadors of Death (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 24 February 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: The Ambassadors Of Death (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Geoffrey Beevers

Released by BBC Worldwide - January 2018
Available from Amazon UK

Way back in the day, before home video, and before there were even many reruns of Doctor Who, many serials of the Classic Series were fondly remembered by fans via their novelizations printed by Target Books. There are probably still older fans who remember seeings bits of stories that never actually aired, because their memories of the Target Novelizations were so embedded into their memories of the show.  Now the BBC are taking those novelizations, and producing audiobooks of them.  So The Ambassadors of Death this is an audiobook adaptation of a novelization of a TV serial that aired in 1970.  Also, this is not to be confused with the television soundtrack of the story which was previously released, which was the soundtrack of the TV story with linking narration by Caroline John

With all that out of the way, I can say, I was not one of the fans who grew up with hte Target books.  I've never had an opportunity to read any of them, as I grew up i nthe wrong era and wrong continent for these books to be too available.  So this is really my first taste of what Target brought to the table. I can see why this line of books lasted so long, and managed to adapt nearly every serial from the classic series. The Story Editor of the Pertwee Era, Terrance Dicks, wrote this novelization (he actually wrote several and was fairly prolific in the book series), and his adaptation of the TV story he co-wrote is very detailed and captures the spirit of the original Pertwee story perfectly. I haven't watched The Ambassadors of Death in a few years, but listening to this I could just picture it all brought back to life in my head. 

Of course, an audiobook version of any book is only as good as the person reading it, and Geoffrey Beevers could read me the phonebook.  He has a great voice, actually voices as he distinguishes several characters with different tones and accents, and that voice encouraged me to zip through the audiobook.  Beavers also briefly played the Master on television against Tom Baker, and went on to reprise that character in severa Big Finish audio plays.  He was also, fact fans, the husband of Caroline John who portrayed Liz Shaw during the first season of Pertwee's tenure (including this very story).  I have all sorts of pointless trivia!

Anyhow this audiobook was quite good.  If you are on the go and want to relive the Target novels you once read (or, like me, experience them for the first time) you want be disappointed in this.  Beevers is a great narrator, and the audiobook reminded me just how entertaining the original Serial was. 





The Macra Terror (AudioBook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 11 September 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who: The Macra Terror (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Ian Stuart Black,
Read by Anneke Wills,

First published by Target Books in 1987,
Released by BBC Audio - 4 August 2016.
Running time: 3 hours,  5 mins

In the 24th Century, a human colony enjoy a truly enviable lifestyle in their domain, which in many ways resembles a holiday camp from yester-century. Conformity and contentment go hand in hand, as everyone serves the interests of a society that runs like clockwork and never shows anything other than a positive demeanour.

But one of their own, a bearded and fidgety man called Medok suddenly insinuates that foul creatures are taking over control. No-one wants to believe his rather alarmist claims though, at least that is until a crew of four strangers arrive out of the blue...

 

This story has grown steadily in my affections over the years as a fan of Doctor Who, and also someone interested in social science and philosophy in general. I first encountered it when it came out at the same time as The Evil Of The Daleks on dual audio cassette in 1992. 

As a child back then I would devoutly replay these releases on my portable Sony 'Walkman' when travelling somewhere new, yet I would only fully engage with David Whitaker's epic.

Macra was just a curiosity. Not even a solitary episode existed, and having the Sixth Doctor / Colin Baker as the narrator somehow felt more opaque than the definitive (especially back then) Fourth Doctor/ Tom Baker.

But over time I have realised how the Season Four finale does suffer slightly from its seven episodes, and multiple locations, even if it remains great escapism. Macra is however concise, ascends in its suspense and feeling of high stakes, and makes the most of its overall premise.

 

As of today, only The Power Of The Daleks stands head and shoulders higher over this tale, as the marquee story of a season of Doctor Who, that said 'goodbye' to one talented actor in the lead, and 'hello' to an arguably more skilful thespian. Of course now we have the news that the debut Troughton story will make a comeback of sorts in the coming months, in the form of an exciting and newly envisioned animation.

For a great story to exist in the first place, it invariably needs a very strong and confident writer. Ian Stuart Black is one of the perhaps more under-rated scribes in Who lore and should be thanked for giving the show a vital shot in the arm when it began to falter in the latter half of Season Three. Today, we only have The War Machines (essentially intact), whilst Black's other two efforts - The Savages, and this story - are lost almost entirely. All three do however deserve to be remembered fondly.

I do think Macra is the cleverest and boldest of Black's three televisual serials. The novelization here accomplishes admirably efficient world building whilst maintaining the pace of the 'snappy' four parter structure.

 

The story has much to make the readership ponder themes and philosophy. One of the more overt is the need to be sceptical and questioning over what a person is told, and how they should invariably conform. If there is not enough of this independent thought, then the individual is in danger of losing their array of senses, and to be effectively brainwashed. Each chapter has something to say about the subliminal techniques used by the story's antagonists to wield power, and this manipulation is effective primarily due to the victim' sense of being euphoric and having the perfect life.

By making Ben Jackson the most susceptible of the TARDIS crew, when normally he is the most argumentative and dominant in nature, the original TV story managed to take viewers at the time on a journey where they questioned if what they thought they knew about the show's heroes was perhaps more superficial than first thought.

There is also a very strong amount of in-depth exploration on the nature of what is acceptable in society, and what is 'eccentric' or 'insane'. The various references to insanity and to hospitalisation/medication that controls said malady are as relevant to today's social confines, where the idea of normal is so strongly prioritised, they were in the 'swinging' Sixties, when this story was conceived (and had its regrettably one-off UK transmission).

The fate of one of the key guest characters of the story is also altered. Whereas in the transmitted story this person seemed to meet an abrupt end, in this version the author was allowed to present an alternative fate, as he held the full reins as the writer of the novelization. Consequently this key player in proceedings is allowed a fully formed arc and a sense of vindication.

 

And as an audio book, this stands up rather well too. Anneke Wills does a very respectable job in showing her range of skills, as the sole member of a one person cast. Many guest actors in the original show were strong, not least Peter Jeffrey (as the 'Pilot'), who later went on to have an even better role as the more villainous Count Grendel in the Tom Baker Era. But Wills uses the rich text of the book to narrate events and characters vividly, and switches personas for the various members of the colony distinctly and with full attention to detail.

The only niggling issue I have is that whilst her Second Doctor portrayal has much of the core mercurial spirit of Patrick Troughton, the actual voice - in terms of pitch - is more akin to William Hartnell. But I must admit, this is one area that is rather easy to criticise, much like Maureen O'Brien could only gamely attempt to portray her Doctor in The Space Museum, released earlier this year. Sometimes the sheer star quality of the main man in this sci-fi/fantasy phenomenon can be a double edged sword...

 

Sound effects and musical cues are well up to the usual standard for these BBC Audio releases. Such is the strength of the core text, and the dedicated, whole-hearted presence of Anneke Wills, these supporting elements act as a nice bit of icing on the cake, rather than something to break up a potential monologue. Whether you are clued-up on classic Who like myself, or someone who has only glimpsed the Macra in the Tenth Doctor belter Gridlock, this is a great addition to your audio collection. This late summer release lives up to the legacy of the sadly missing black and white BBC production.