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The Monster of Peladon (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 24 July 2020 - Reviewed by Kenny Scheck
The Monster of Peladon (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By  Jon Culshaw
Released by BBC Audio - March 2020
Available from Amazon UK

Despite my love for the Third Doctor era of the show, I was never a big fan of the Peladon adventures.  I found the stories underwhelming and Alpha Centauri to be an annoying shrieking character in a lame alien costume.  Those were my main takeaways, and since I haven’t ever revisited since my initial viewing, it is really all I have to go on.  Something of a vague memory.  Someday, when the blu-ray collections get to the seasons that feature these adventures, I will give them another whirl and we will see how they hold up then.  Until then, I have the audiobook of the Terrence Dick-penned Target Novelization to refresh my memory.  

It is okay I guess. It isn’t as lame a story as I recall, but Alpha Centauri’s shrieking is definitely toned down by Jon Culshaw’s reading.  Culshaw really sells the whole thing.  He is a solid narrator, but it is his Pertwee that is just perfect.  

I do think this story has too much pad, even in this fairly short novelization I found parts of it were dragging.  But Culshaw’s reading elevates what I found to be mostly forgettable material.





At Childhood's End (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 25 April 2020 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
At Childhood's End (Credit: BBC)
Written by Sophie Aldred
Read By Sophie Aldred
Released by BBC Worldwide - February 2020
Available from Amazon UK

It is always interesting when an actor writes a story based on the character they are so famous for.  It can be very revealing about the actor. When Colin Baker wrote a comic about the Sixth Doctor in the 90s, his Doctor was not the cranky know-it-all jerk he was on TV, he was far more reserved and kind...clearly the Doctor Baker always wanted to play was on those pages. William Shatner wrote a series of novels (with the help of ghostwriters) in which his Captain Kirk is written as the greatest guy in the universe who comes back from the dead and can beat up Data.

Sophie Aldred has now returned to the world of Doctor Who with her novel, At Childhood’s End, and it pretty much shows she just gets it.  She sees what worked about her character back in the late 80s, but is not afraid to give her character a ton of growth and maturity (as she is an older version here). Aldred recently made a brief return to the role of Ace in a specially made trailer for Season 26’s Blu-ray release, reflecting on her time with the Doctor while standing in her office for “A Charitable Earth,” her successful charity organization (first mentioned in the RTD penned Sarah Jane Adventures story Death of the Doctor)...and now she has dug deeper into that version of an older Ace, in which Ace gets a chance to reunite with the Doctor, albeit with the latest version.  

Aldred not only knows Ace (and how she would be as a middle-aged woman), but she also seems to be steeped in the confusing expanded universe lore involving the character. Ace is arguably the first of the modern companions, the first to have a real unfolding storyline.  When Doctor Who was put into hiatus following the 1989 season, Ace was still with the Doctor...her story left unfinished. The character then took on a new life in the comic strip, then the Virgin New Adventures novel series really let the character change and grow (becoming some kind of space mercenary), then the comics retconned everything and killed her off, meanwhile, the audio adventures at Big Finish have had their own life and development for over 20 years.  If you dig too deep you find a lot of conflicting ideas of where Ace ended up. She is either a space bad-ass, a spy for Gallifrey, dead, a perpetual teenager, or running a charity on Earth. It’s confusing.  

This story doesn’t dwell on rectifying all of that, and it is better for that, but it does feature Ace (in flashback) with the Seventh Doctor using a machine that shows a variety of these outcomes for her possible futures.  I also feel like there are some deep-cut references to audios or novels thrown in her. I get the feeling Aldred kept up, at least a bit, with the novels or comics that followed her and Sylvester McCoy’s exit from the show. She certainly was involved in the audio stuff. Luckily, while it feels like her story fits in nicely with (or at least compliments) the variety of adventures Ace had in spin-off material, it still stands on its own.  

It is extremely weird to pit Ace against the Thirteenth Doctor.  The thirteenth is so light and happy and utterly different to the Seventh.  He became so restrained, serious, and mysterious...and his little games certainly began to rub Ace the wrong way. All of Ace’s baggage for that version of the Doctor is carried over to a woman who is so utterly different, and it is odd.  But that odd nature is in the book. Ace is weary of the Doctor at all times and clearly is put off by her newer bubbly personality.  

 

Aldred’s audiobook is extremely well-read. Beyond being able to perform as Ace again, she puts on a variety of voices to keep things interesting.  She nails her performances as the Thirteenth Doctor and her three companions, really capturing their voices. The story is not nearly as interesting as all the character development for Ace...but that development is really good and the closure this story brings to Ace is welcome and makes it all worthwhile. 





Image of the Fendahl (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 4 April 2020 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Image of the Fendahl (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Louise Jamesona

Released by BBC Worldwide - February 2020
Available from Amazon UK

To be totally honest, I barely remember the TV version of Image of the Fendahl.  I remembered the image of the golden priestess at the end of the story, but the bulk of it has faded completely from my memory.  So as I entered this Target Audiobook, I was very much like the fans who originally picked up these Target Novelizations.  Repeats were uncommon and chances are the book was going to be your main source for re-living a story.  As a book, I enjoyed it. I think I actually enjoyed it more now than the TV version, even though my memory is definitely vague.

Apparently, this is a story that involves a small village, witchcraft, and an ancient evil alien.  Yep, seems like a Tom Baker adventure. His era, particularly in the first half of his run, was filled with gothic horror elements...so a small village with a Witch and ancient evil seems just about right. 

As expected, Terrence Dicks' writing is easy and engaging.  Louise Jameson does a solid reading, and the production value for the audiobook (featuring some music and sound effects to add to the drama), are excellent.  If you, like so many of us, are now trapped at home looking for something to fill the air as you work from home,  why not pass some of the time with one of these Target Audiobooks?






The Caves of Androzani (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 March 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Caves of Androzani  (Credit: BBC)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Peter Davison

Released by BBC Worldwide - November 2018
Available from Amazon UK

The Caves of Androzani is not only my favourite Peter Davison story, it is not only among the top of my regeneration story lists, but it is definitely my favourite story from the entire 1980s.  So much of that decade had iffy scripts, were still stiffly directed like it was 1965 and were overly lit studio episodes.  Anytime they would leave the studio it becomes a relief because suddenly everything is lit so naturally.  But then there is The Caves of Androzani, a story which mostly takes place in dark caves, and is directed with a modern pace with the camera movement feeling free once.  And then there is Davison giving the performance of his life in his final moments as the Doctor.  I just love the serial, I think it is excellent.  But what if you strip away Davison's fiery performance?  What if the directing and lighting that I admire are taken out of the equation? 

Peter Davison reads this audiobook of the Target Novelization from the 80s, and while certain elements aren't nearly as exciting as their television counterparts (the crash landing cliffhanger from Episode 3 is one of my favourite moments in the whole of the classic show, and a lot of the umph is sucked out of it in this reading), I think I appreciated the base story elements better in this.  For example, I sometimes forget that this story is so simple.  It could be any random adventure for the Doctor...he lands on a planet, finds there is two factions warring over a rare medicine, there are androids and cave monsters, and the Doctor and his friend get captured by each faction have to figure out a way to save their own skin while possibly helping fix this society's ills. 

It is a fairly standard Doctor Who story...but what sets it apart is that all those elements aren't actually what the story is about in any way.  Our heroes step out of the TARDIS and almost immediately touch an odd plant, which immediately poisons them. The entire story has the Doctor and Peri dying from the word go, and all of those fairly average story bits that might otherwise be the focus of the story, merely become obstacles in the way of the Doctor finding an antidote in time.  The Doctor doesn't try to find a way to sort out the fighting, he doesn't solve any issues with cave monsters or help find an alternative for this rare drug that is being battled over...no beyond the two main leaders of the faction killing each other, the problems of Androzani aren't really solved in the end.  Because the Doctor is actually just too damn busy trying to save his friend.  And that is what sets this story apart.  

We've become accustomed to regeneration stories that are big sweeping epics...the Doctor against a horde of Daleks, with Earth in the balance!  The entire universe will be destroyed by the Master, but the Doctor will give his life to stop him and make a grand farewell speech before he finally changes into a brand new actor.  But for as much fun as those can be, sometimes it takes dialling it back a bit.  Focus in on a more personal story, and the regeneration can be just as, if not more, powerful.  The Doctor doesn't have to save the galaxy for his death to have meaning, sometimes he can just save his friend.  

This audiobook was read with enthusiasm from Peter Davison, who has long professed that his final outing was his favourite of his tenure.  Terrence Dicks novelization of the original Robert Holmes script is quite good, and it let me focus in on different details that I've sometimes glossed over when I think of this story. If you are a fan of the original story, and we all know you are...check out this audiobook, it added to my already high enjoyment of the original television adventure.

 





Doctor Who: Scratchman (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 February 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Scratchman, by Tom Baker (BBC Books) (Credit: BBC Books)
Written by Tom Baker with James Goss
Read By Tom Baker

Released by BBC Worldwide - January 2019
Available from Amazon UK

As a franchise pushing 60, it goes without saying that Doctor Who has had a multitude of stories presented in a variety of media over the years. And in much the same vein, it also goes without saying that there is a multitude of stories that were pitched and never got produced.  There are a bunch of stories that would get pitched for each season and for one reason or another, didn't get made.  Some of these stories are more legendary than others.  There was a whole alternate Season 23 before they scrapped a bunch of stories that were in the works and shifted into the Trial of the Time Lord Storyline.  There is the season that was in pre-production before the cancellation in 1989...there was, of course, Shada, and the Douglas Adams pitch of Krikkit-Men which was at one point reworked as a feature film before he decided to rework it further into his excellent third Hitchhiker's Guide novel Life, the Universe, and Everything. But another potential film project that never got off the ground that has always interested me was Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, a film that could have been, but never was...and now it has been reworked as a novel, the title simplified into Scratchman.  

Tom Baker conceived of the story with his debut season co-star Ian Marter during their downtime on the set.  The plotted out the whole story, about the Doctor and his friends meeting the Devil and fighting off Scarecrows and Cybermen and Daleks.  At one point Vincent Price was attached to play Scratch, and at another, after both Marter and Elizabeth Sladen had moved on from the show, a new companion was created to fill the role in the film, and was meant to be played by the model Twiggy. They even had a director lined up!  They struggled to ever find funding for the project, at one point some fans gave Baker some money, but for legal reasons, he returned the donation. I've always thought the concepts were neat, and since I have a love for 70s era sci-fi and horror, I always thought it would've been great to see.  I can imagine a movie starring Baker, Sladen and Marter, shot like a Hammer film, and seeing Baker square off against Vincent Price? How wonderful could that have been? This is a movie I would have probably loved.

This book has been written by Tom Baker (Ian Marter passed on many years ago), with the assistance of James Goss, who also adapted Douglas Adams' original Doctor Who Krikkit-Men story as a novel (which I should really get around to sometime, as I'd love to compare it to what is actually my favourite Douglas Adams novel). I don't know what has been changed for this particular version, or what would've probably been condensed or scrapped or reworked had it actually become a film, but as the only way to truly experience this full story?  I think we missed out on a fine little movie.  I am sure that had it been made into a movie, budget restrictions and technological limitations of the day would've have changed some major elements.  How would they have made Scratch's ball of flame head work in 1977? 

But despite some things that may have been difficult to really capture at the time, I can kind of picture this film. In fact, I spent a good chunk of the book thinking how it would have actually looked as a film made in that era. I could picture how some things may have looked if made in the late 70s, in that pre-Star Wars era.  I also could pick out what elements probably would've ended up on the cutting room floor.  

The framing device with the Time Lords feels like something that would've probably been diminished if not outright lost.  Don't get me wrong, a lot of that stuff is good, but it stops the action, which can work in the novel format (and help reinforce the theming), but in a movie, it would've hurt the pacing.  It also feels like the story doesn't necessarily need it to still work.  I'm not even knocking the book for having it, because I enjoyed it, I am only saying it is possible this kind of thing may have ended up not making it to the final cut.  There were sequences and scenes I could see being truncated, but overall, I like this story, and it feels like a shame it didn't get produced in some form or another as a feature film.  

The audiobook is lovingly read by Tom Baker himself, and no one will deny that it is just a blast to listen to him talk.  His voice is still incredible even as he is in his mid 80s, and he puts some gusto into his reading of this novel. I mean how many audiobooks say a chapter number then follow it up with "oh you're going to love this one!"  This is a passion project for Baker. It was a story he helped create, a movie he really tried to get produced but just couldn't get money for it, and his passionate read of the story shows how much he still loves it. 

I highly recommend checking this story out.  I was really excited about it as I already had an interest in this footnote of the show's history, but beyond my own interest in the story from that perspective, I found myself really enjoying the novel...and the Tom Baker's audiobook reading is well worth every penny.  





Fortunes of War (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 17 October 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Fortunes of War (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Justin Richards
Read By Colin Baker

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2018
Available from Amazon UK

Writer Justin Richards closes out his ...of War audiobook trilogy with this Sixth Doctor entry read by Colin Baker.  The Doctor has long put off actually dealing with the World War I situation, but now that he is alone, not distracted, and out of excuses...he finally goes back to the Great War in order to fix it's jumbled timeline.

I had found it problematic at the end of Horrors of War that the Third Doctor seemed to leave the situation with major threads dangling without solving it.  At least when the First Doctor fell into the mess he was also being chased through time and space by Daleks (as his entry took place during the Daleks' Master Plan), but when he is confronted with the situation he left unfixed when he was in his Third Incarnation, it didn't really make sense for him to just say "problem for another day" and then put it off for seemingly centuries. 

There are other issues with this mangled timeline as well.  When the Third Doctor and Jo landed in World War I, the timeline was askew and Jo knew the original timeline...but how can she come from a future where this timeline is mangled yet know the original. It just hurts the whole mangled timeline story when it doesn't really ripple into the future.

I did like the melancholic tone the story had.  But I did find that the Doctor's main reason for avoiding the problem, that he didn't want anyone to see what he'd have to do, fell flat when what he had to do wasn't really that cruel, so I'm not really sure I get why he put it off for so long. 

Complaints aside, there is still something of an interesting in story in this, and Colin Baker is a great narrator and always a joy to listen to.  It isn't a bad way to spend an hour or so, but the basic mechanics of the time travel problems never truly gelled for me. There are kinks in the story that maybe could've been worked out if the story wasn't being stretched to three releases with three different Doctors.  Had it focused in on one Doctor, maybe even two, I could've gone with it...but it just stretched the premise too thin to stretch it to a third incarnation.