Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 June 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen
Written by: James Goss
Based on a Story by: Douglas Adams
Read by: Dan Starkey
Runtime: 9hrs 44mins
Originally Released January 2018
Avilable from Amazon UK
Like the preceding Douglas Adams adaptations, Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen presents an unusual challenge for a reviewer. There are really three different bases on which it needs to be judged – Adams’ original story, the success of the adaptor in capturing that while perhaps finessing the rough, unfinished edges, and whether the final result is actually any good. In the audiobook version, a fourth element is thrown on top of even that.

In terms of Adams’ canon, there’s an inescapable sense of desperately sieving the dirt and rocks at the bottom of the well for any last drops of murky fluid that can reasonably be called ‘water’.

Shada was an epic hole in Doctor Who’s history filled with Gareth Roberts’ meticulous research and skilfully Adamsesque writing. It allowed us a best guess of what Adams might have done with all the time in the world. And The Pirate Planet was one of the last remaining un-novelized 20th century Doctor Who stories. Both were a bit of a holy grail. They offered up the chance to explore all the gags and insights Adams had scribbled into the margins in his typical ‘up to the last minute’ style. The Krikktmen was a story loosely sketched out, then rejected, then worked on some more, and then rejected again.

Its pedigree as a story deemed not worth making first or even second times around immediately makes it that little bit less of a glittering prize. Even in terms of Krikkitmen’s original afterlife as Life, the Universe and Everything (aka most people’s least favourite Hitchhiker’s novel), makes for a less auspicious start. The existence of Life, the Universe and Everything creates a unique problem for Goss in his adaptation too. Shada was a script brimming full of ideas and characters, and Adams cherry picked a couple for recycling in the otherwise original Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. But Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen and the third Hitchhiker’s novel as essentially the same plot, with the same villains, and most of the same gags, only with different characters as our heroes. It makes it less of an exercise is trying to spot the bits Adams would later recycle and more trying to spot the bits he didn’t.

 

Prior to this adaptor James Goss has shown himself one of the most talented and prolific authors of Doctor Who books and audios, with a keen ear for the style and tone of any piece. Here he tries to address the unique nature of the project by adding on a couple of extra layers to the plot, but not wholly successfully. Adams’ concept was always a villainous, universe shuddering plan that didn’t make any sense. There’s a villainous xenophobic race whose motivation and end goal don’t really make any sense, exposed as a front for motivations and goals that make less sense. In Goss’ version, then exposed as yet another front for even more nonsensical motivations and goals.And as for their methods -- the whole scheme is a basically a two million year plot to press a button, where simply walking up to it and pressing it in the first place would have done as well.

As part of the rearrangement of the furniture there are journeys to more planets than I recall in the original, and new elements of Adamseque parody and these sometimes fall flat or are tonally misplaced. The elongated quest takes the Doctor, Romana and K9, for instance, to a planet where people are addicted to being terminally offended by everything. They complain about rescue ships being agents of ‘the patriarchy’ and the Doctor winds up vilified for telling a woman she’d be prettier if she smiled more. It's an attempt at the type of skewering of social orthodoxy Adams did so well, but lands well wide of the target.

Possibly the greatest misstep is making this an adventure for the Fourth Doctor, Roman and K9 at all, rather than the originally intended Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane. It immediately makes it a less interesting proposition and increases the sense of being the poor relation to the other Adams adaptations. The notion of what an ‘Adamsesque’ Doctor/Romana/K9 adventure looks like has been codified and established across dozens of TV episodes, novels and audios and the writer and the team seem to go together perfectly. But that just makes it seem all the more exciting to explore the road not taken. How would Adams have written Sarah Jane’s character? What roads would the humour have gone down? It’s a shame to miss the chance to find out.

 

But how does this fare as an audiobook? Narration duties are taken on by Dan Starkey – most famous to TV viewers as Strax and several other Sontaran characters since 2008. There are no Sontarans on offer here, but he still marshals all the forces at his command in an effort that could only be called heroic. Adams’ prose has always featured an odd contradiction whereby it reads like it was designed to be spoken aloud, but when spoken aloud it sounds like it really needs to be seen written down. Goss’ text magnifies that effect even more. Starkey navigates the river of footnotes, parentheses, diversions, and sudden intrusions from text books with the skill of a white-water kayaker throwing himself off 150ft falls for fun.

He also deserves nothing short of a standing ovation for taking a book with literally dozens of characters and making them all distinct, recognizable, and memorable. Many of them appear for only a scene or two or – worse from the narrator and listener’s point of view – are introduced in one scene and then pop up again four or five hours later in the listening experience but must be immediately recognized and remembered.  At points he seems to be channelling the entire League of Gentlemen through one set of vocal cords. There are moments you could swear you listening to Reese Shearsmith’s angry old lady arguing with Mark Gatiss’ uncertainly plodding autocrat.  Other bits of Starkey’s mental casting are inspired, liked Hactar the evil (in principle) supercomputer sounding like nothing so much as a somewhat bored Welsh shopkeeper.

His Tom Baker is remarkable but takes a little getting used to. In essence, Starkey perfectly captures Baker’s louche, slightly ironic mode of delivery and tone of voice and then sticks with it. If his Fourth Doctor has a flaw is it that it doesn’t swoop around the full range of emotion and unpredictable acting choices Baker revelled in. But if this Doctor sails through the tale being ironically amused at everything, it’s no terrible thing. And with Baker’s voice being so rich and distinctive, being able to replicate it so well in any of its modes is worthy of great praise.

 

Overall then, Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen is worth checking out more as a historical footnote than as an original work. Strangely enough, more so to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fans than to Doctor Who fans. But it is worth checking out, especially in audio form, if only for Dan Starkey’s contribution.

 





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 Two Doctors (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 9 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Two Doctors (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Robert Holmes
Read By Colin Baker

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2015
Available from Amazon UK

I have never been particularly enamored with The Two Doctors. While it was nice to get the relief of Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines back into the show during a season that was lead by the bickering characterizations of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant (neither of whom I consider to blame for that nonsense), the story itself was still poorly written, somewhat scattershot, and a bit muddled. I can ignore strange contiuity issues for the Second Doctor and Jamie, because the show's contiuity is the biggest mess in all of franchise contiuities...but I just didn't find the story engaging at all.

So we come to Robert Holmes novelization of his episode, now brought to life in audiobook form by the Sixth Doctor himself - Colin Baker. In general, I think this version is better. I attempted to rewatch the TV version, but the tone kind of turned me off.  But the book has better characteriations, more gruesome death scenes for characters, and flows a lot better.  For instance you spend a lot of time with the Second Doctor and Jamie before cutting to the Sixth Doctor and Peri.  In the show, they cut back and forth early on, and it is more muddled and doesn't flow as well. I think one of the weirdest things about it is that it is a multi-Doctor story for no real reason. The book fixes some of those story flow issues. 

That isn't to say that the story is suddenly really interesting, because it is still mediocre. The villain's evil plot is too vague, the Sontarans don't really do much, and the threat to the Doctor seems minimal.  Having the Second Doctor's life in danger might actually be interesting if it seemed as if the Sixth Doctor could be wiped from existance, but they never really go for it. I never feel like the threat is real. 

I think multi-Doctor tales need to be saved up for special occasions. Anniversary's are worth it. Or in the case of Time Crash, as a comedy sketch for charity.  But this episode did it just for fun, and since the story has no real need for Patrick Troughton or the Second Doctor to return, it just seems like a lame reason to bring him back. It diminishes the excitement of having two Doctors together when it isn't for a big occasion and is just in the middle of a season.

As for the audiobook itself, Colin Baker does a great job reading it. That should come as no surprise to anyone that has heard his excellent work for Big Finish. He makes the story seem far more interesting than it actually is, and reads with gusto. It will alwys be a bit of a bummer that this charismatic guy got such a short straw on TV.  Just two seasons worth of pretty horrible stories in an obnoxious costume. When a mediocre story like this is on the better end of his television output, that really is a shame.

I don't think this audiobook is particularly worth it. Baker's narration is top notch, but it is all in service of a lame story. 



Associated Products

DVD - Region 1
Released 8 Mar 2011
Doctor Who: The Two Doctors (Story 141)
$24.98
DVD - Region 2
Released 8 Sep 2003
Doctor Who: The Two Doctors [Region 2]
$11.28
Audio
Released 3 Sep 2015
27% off
Doctor Who: The Two Doctors: A 6th Doctor Novelisation



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. 





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.