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...