A new book is on the way to warm your winter cockles – “The Wintertime Paradox: Festive Stories from the World of Doctor Who” and is up for pre-order now.
Review story this episode: Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead
We’ve wanted to do this one for ages, a well-loved story and our introduction to River Song. All-round good vibes or are the creepy shadows too much?
Coming next week: SJA – The Vault of Secrets
An old foe turns up in this story as things get tasty between Androvax, Sarah and some android guardians. High stakes in this one.
Thank you all for listening, and until then have a great week, take care of yourselves, stay healthy and remember – Allons-y!
The Doctor, Constance and Flip join forces with a 51st-century bounty hunter, Calypso Jonze, to hunt down the Somnifax: a weaponised mind-parasite capable of turning its host’s nightmares into physical reality. Chasing it through the time vortex to Providence, Rhode Island in 1937, they arrive too late to stop it from latching onto a local author of weird fiction… Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
With time running out before Lovecraft’s monstrous pantheon breaks free and destroys the world, the Doctor must enter Lovecraft’s mind to fight the psychic invader from within. Can he and Flip overcome the eldritch horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos? And will Constance and Calypso survive babysitting the infamously xenophobic Old Gentleman of Providence himself?
It was that with some trepidation but also curiosity I approached reviewing “The Lovecraft Invasion”. Howard Phillips Lovecraft was an American early 20th-century writer of weird and horror stories which are in my opinion a bit of an acquired taste. His fiction uses a kind of formalised language which doesn’t translate for an easy read on the page. But something about the flow of the language actually seems to work better if heard as a story.
So I was interested to hear how a story using him as a central character would work. Secondly, this is my first 6th Doctor Big Finish story and I had heard such good things about how the Doctor’s character has been developed beyond the TV series with Big Finish that I wanted to see if it was true. For the most part with some few reservations, Robert Valentine has skilfully scripted an imaginative and complex story around his characters as the Doctor steers us through 1937 Providence and the HP Lovecraft mythos.
HP Lovecraft is the major character in this story and has been described as the father of modern horror writing. The world he creates of malign creatures, cosmic legends older than mankind which serve to highlight the insignificance of humans has many contemporary writers and moviemakers as fans. Robert Valentine explores the interesting idea about whether you can still enjoy the work of an author but not agree with his personal views. The copious letters (around 100, 000 ) left by the real HP Lovecraft highlight his xenophobic (having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries) and racist views. His various proclamations about Russians, Jews Asians and Black people are publicly documented and reprehensible. I doubt his views were unique to him at the time. He is just a visible representative of the views of a conservative right concerned about immigration prior to the Second World War.
There is a lovely moment where the Doctor describes sorrowfully to Flip being unable to read a favourite book after discovering the author’s pastime was rather destructive. The subtlety of his point is well made but then there are other times the message becomes heavy-handed. Perhaps he is protecting his companions before they meet HP but the Doctor far too easily seems to able to pass judgement on the man describing him as a “failure in his lifetime, racist and xenophobe, not someone he wanted to meet”.
There is a rather forced conversation towards the conclusion of the story between our two “gentlemen” where the Doctor lectures Howard Phillips that his hierarchical bigoty is blind, cruel arrogance showing the worst of humanity and the Doctor is nothing like him. Whilst I know this Doctor doesn’t hold back on his sarcasm it does surprise me somewhat that as a Timelord, who has met the best and creative of humanity, he allows himself a strong reaction to this particular human being. I do wonder whether the HP Lovecraft in this drama intentionally parts way with the real man to make the story modern and political, to resonant with current concerns around, race, acceptance and difference.
The story does stray slightly away from revealing Howard Phillips married a Jewish lady Sonia Greene, although the marriage only lasted two years. HP also drifted towards socialism in his later years and criticised his prior beliefs but the Doctor is just scathing of a man just a few months away from his own death at age forty-six “ His work lives on. Warts and all” he tells Calypso. Whilst I wasn’t keen on the lecturing tone of the story Colin Baker in his later years has a slight gravel to his voice which brings a greater maturity to the 6th Doctor than I was expecting. In a way, I never saw Colin Baker regenerate from the 6th Doctor originally ( well he didn’t and I’m sticking to that ) so in my head, the 6th Doctor always ages and mellows despite the coat. Here his Doctor always seems in control which is reassuring and enjoyable.
Alan Marriott plays both Howard Phillips Lovecraft and his fictional creation and alter ego Randolph Carter and his performance of both characters is polished as Robert Valentine’s script combines funny as well as humour against the background of the horrific. There aren’t recordings of HP but actor Alan Marriott creates a nasally New Englander keen to create the characteristics of Howard Phillips not being a masculine child obsessed by the idea of being a 17th century gentleman with manners. Its cleverly conveyed in the script by small scenes of Howard Phillips chiding the postman for a throwaway saucy comment about ladies when delivering the post and betraying his own inability to convey emotions in a letter to his wife.
I did wonder whether the script portrayal of him as a whiny highly-strung man at times made it easier to despise him and accept the other characters as they make their dislike of him and his views known. There is a tension between the horror writer, companion Constance Clarke who is living through the horror of the Second World War at home and pansexual, bi-racial bounty hunter Calypso Jonze ( played by Robyn Holdaway)who physically represents everything HP is afraid of.
In the social media world, we live in where everyone seems to have an informed or no opinion about how history should be interpreted there will be some people absolutely saying Calypso and Constance have a right to challenge his behaviour. Yes, they do but on the other hand, I never felt we had a satisfactory right of reply from him in the story or sufficient exploration of what caused him to hold those views except it was due to “logic and reason” so it felt one-sided.
Regarding the story, I’m relatively a newbie in Big Finish terms and so the beginning was a bit unsettling as the Tardis crew are running back to the Tardis from a previous adventure. This as I understand is an unheard adventure as the last story so far with Flip and Mrs Clark as companions was “Scorched Earth” set in World War 2. But they are chasing after a genetically modified parasite, the Somnifax which has escaped from a lab. Once the Tardis arrives in 1930’s Providence done fairly quickly the story then settles in its location.
This is my first Flip and Mrs Clark story and along for the journey is a bounty hunter Calypso Jonze (played by Robyn Holdaway). It worked splitting up the Tardis team up as Calypso and Mrs Clark were tasked with looking after HP Lovecraft whilst breaches in reality appeared. Constance Clarke kept HP calm in a very British stiff upper lip way and I quite like her calmness and strength of spirit which counterbalanced the single-mindedness of Calypso who has her eyes on the reward for the capture of the Somnifax. I enjoyed the touches to the script as they visited the place HP was born, Angell Street and Butler hospital which has emotional resonance to him.
The Doctor and Philippa (yes, she’s Flip but I’m not sure I actually like the name) meanwhile follow the Somnifax who has possessed HP Lovecraft’s imagination to lure it out of its host. I’m not quite sure how old Flip is meant to be, at times she sounds like a teenager other times older but I liked her energy. They encounter all sorts of monstrosities on the journey through HP Lovecraft’s subconscious including Wilbur Whateley, a repulsive inhabitant of Dunwich from one of the writer’s stories. Using the made-up world of an established writer can risk alienating a listener if they are unfamiliar with the references of “Lovecraft Country”. I must admit it initially felt a little strange to hear the terminology but Flip and the Doctor are our guides.
I do wonder where Lovecraft’s nightmarish ghouls and ancient deities before man existed that really don’t care about us came from. Can it be explained by the psychological scar of his mother repeatedly calling him hideous as a child or was it is his fascination with chemistry, astrology and the recognition that mankind is just a speck of dust in the cosmos? One of the benefits dear reader of Big Finish covering Lovecraft Country is as the Doctor, Flip and later Carter moved around the dark places I created my own fearful images in my head. The nightmare corpse city, Nyarlathotep / Cthulu with the sound of the tribal drums were well realised alongside the creepy musical score throughout by Andy Hardwick.
Robert Valentine clearly enjoyed writing this story which mixes a very current political message alongside a decent sci-fi horror plot. The examination of racism and xenophobic themes is timely but it shouts its message in a particularly heavy-handed way at times which is obvious. The nightmare world is probably the strongest element because the Somnifax manipulates the fictional landscape so the story doesn’t go down a familiar horror route. For lovers of Lovecraft Country, it’s a decent homage as Valentine uses the characters to explore relevant themes without seeming unreachable.
An engrossing story from Robert Valentine 7.5/10
No news this week.
Big Finish announces new epic 10th Doctor story “Dalek Universe” landing in 2021.
Review story this episode: Torchwood – To the Last Man
Poor Tommy and poor Tosh. Love is never easy in Torchwood, especially when your loved one has to die to save everyone else. Another good one from S2 or a bit cold?
Coming next week: Silence in the Library & Forest of the Dead
We haven’t seen this 10th Doctor story in a while so drop back for our thoughts on this often highly rated two-parter.
Thank you all for listening, and until then have a great week, take care of yourselves, stay healthy and remember – Allons-y!
This might be contentious, but I tend to avoid missing episodes. Television is, after all, a visual medium and to listen to an audio recording whilst squinting at still images doesn’t do the original work justice. Also, linking narration or title cards are all well and good but they don’t make The Feast of Steven or The Celestial Toymaker any less noisy or chaotic. I’ve dabbled with the Loose Cannon reconstructions for some of the missing episodes but, lovingly and painstakingly crafted though they are, they still don’t quite match up.
I guess I’m always going to be holding out hope that one day soon, 92 film cans will find their way to the front door of BBC Enterprises. Thankfully the flourishing range of animated reconstructions, which this month adds Fury from theDeep, is the most engaging way that I’ve found to experience lost stories. They’ll certainly keep me going until Philip Morris empties his attic…
Personally, the loss of Fury from the Deep is a bit of a stinger for me. No pun intended. It’s only one of two Doctor Who stories filmed near where I live in Margate. (The second is The Mind of Evil, filmed at Manston airfield) I’ve spent many hours walking alongside those beautiful white cliffs at Botany Bay, retracing the footsteps of Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling. I don’t know about you, but I always get a little frisson of excitement when visiting a Doctor Who filming location. It’s even more exciting when you’re able to experience the story itself and actually see your favourite characters trample over one of your local beaches, and introduce the sonic screwdriver! Oh well.
It’s especially frustrating because Fury from the Deep has long been considered a classic base-under-siege story, full of atmosphere, genuinely chilling imagery and a final two episodes which are full of the breath-taking action sequences you’d normally expect from the Pertwee era. On watching this new reconstruction, it mostly earns that reputation. After an audacious TARDIS landing and a rubber dinghy ride we’re soon on familiar ground as the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arrive on the Kent coast where something rather unpleasant is lurking in the pipes at the local Euro Sea Gas facility.
However, because this is a tried-and-tested Doctor Who format by this point, there are large stretches where the plot starts to sag under the weight of the six-part runtime. To his credit, Victor Pemberton wisely fills each episode with incident – the terrifying visit by Messrs Oak and Quill, Mrs Harris’ chilling seaside stroll, the foaming bedroom – but these set-pieces don’t distract from the fact that large chunks of each episode involve various characters rehashing the same arguments with the belligerent Robson.
As well as the foam, Euro Sea Gas is full to the brim with stock base-under-siege archetypes, although pleasingly Pemberton gives them more texture than characters in similar stories – there’s Roy Spencer as Harris, the meek second-in-command, worried about his wife as much as he is about annoying his boss. There’s John Abineri, terrific as the enigmatic, slightly manipulative Van Lutyens, an external expert who’s arrived to check up on the facility. Then there’s Robson himself, the archetypal suspicious senior authority figure. And yet, in Pemberton’s writing and Victor Maddern’s performance, there is a fascinating portrayal of the psychological damage done by years of isolation whilst working on the rigs.
Robson is an uncaring, bolshy boss because he’s forgotten how to interact with real people. His ordeal will go some way to reconnecting him with his humanity. There’s real motivation and character arcs mapped out for a lot of the characters here, in a way that you don’t always get with similar stories of the era. Robson’s boss Megan Jones, played with a good deal of steely efficiency by Margaret John really livens up the final third of the story. Between the whimpering, ailing Mrs Bennett and the whimpering, screaming Victoria Waterfield, women aren’t served particularly well in this story, so it’s a relief to see a woman taking charge of the base as the story heads towards the barnstorming conclusion.
And speaking of Victoria, she gets an atypical companion exit in the sense that it’s telegraphed from the opening episode. No last-minute weddings, space coronations or airport departures here. Poor Victoria’s grown tired of the constant threat of death that comes with travelling in the TARDIS and decides it’s time to settle down on Earth. Whilst it’s almost undercut by the daftness of her screams defeating the seaweed, her departure is a moving moment and Pemberton’s script allows the time to deal with the departure in a manner befitting both the characters and the actors themselves.
In the making-of documentary, Deborah Watling (in archive footage) talks of how her, Troughton and Hines felt like a family unit and you get a real sense of that in the touching heart to heart Victoria has with the Doctor and her heartbreaking chat with Jamie in the garden. Whilst this is one of the few Doctor Who stories where everybody lives, there’s still a tremendous sense of melancholy in the story’s closing moments as the Doctor and Jamie sadly row back to the TARDIS. It’s testament to the artists and animators at Digitoonz that all of that still comes through in this reconstruction.
The art style of Fury is a marked improvement on the previous releases and captures the likenesses of our leads and supporting characters in an evocative way that befits the actors and the medium. What’s enjoyable about these recent animated reconstructions is how they give us an idea of what Doctor Who would have looked like as a full colour 1960’s cartoon series. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate move or one necessitated by the small budgets afforded to the team, but it mostly works.
There are some drawbacks though, the climactic sequence of repelling the seaweed in the control room loses the frenetic energy of the surviving footage. Similarly, Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill aren’t nearly as horrifying and other-worldly as they are in the original unnerving sequence (possibly the most terrifying moment in all of Doctor Who?) with Mrs. Harris. Whilst the facial animations are an improvement on The Faceless Ones and The Macra Terror it struggles to properly replicate Bill Burridge’s unique physicality. As a result, this reconstruction occasionally lacks an atmosphere, which is a real shame.
It’s possibly an issue with framing. Are base-under-siege stories better suited to grainy black and white 16mm film than they are pin sharp colour animation? The 16:9 format aspect ratio means more of the frame to fill, and whilst the design of the ESG facility achieves more than they could have realistically done in 1968, it often leaves empty space. Claustrophobia is a big part of what makes those types of story so compelling and the cavernous impeller room doesn’t feel quite as gloomily atmospheric as it may have done on original broadcast.
Minor quibbles perhaps, especially as the alternative is popping on a narrated soundtrack and squinting at telesnaps (there’s a 141 minute reconstruction cut of the story included too if that’s your bag). It’s not perfect, but chances are that was the original to be returned to us in a few years time, we’d find that it wasn’t perfect either. Look at The Web of Fear.
“Not enough time, not enough money” is a constant refrain on Doctor Who making-of documentaries, and I’m sure that the same was true for the production of this animation. The love for the source material and the creativity shines through the shortcomings. Much like in the 1960s, some magic has been conjured up from little money and a difficult situation (though classic Who thankfully avoided a global pandemic). You couldn’t ask for a finer tribute to the Troughton era than that.
As with previous animated releases, this is a three-disc set with a whole host of additional material. The cruellest of which is the beautiful remastered film footage of the climactic control room battle, giving us a brief insight into just how great 1960s Doctor Who looks on Blu-ray. Hopefully the 1st and 2nd Doctors will join The Collection in due course. On a positive note, however, the surviving Fury footage does emphasise how the monsters and, specifically, Robson’s transformation is much better served by the flexibility of animation. In the brief surviving clip from episode five, Victor Maddern’s costume and make-up look more like a shabby scarecrow than terrifying seaweed creature.
Also included are all seven episodes of Victor Pemberton’s radio drama The Slide, which formed the basis of Fury from the Deep – pitting Roger Delgado’s Josef Gomez against sentient mud, rather than seaweed.
The highlight of the set is The Cruel Sea – Surviving Fury from the Deep, a hugely entertaining and insightful making-of documentary filmed at Botany Bay and the Redsands Sea Fort. It reunites Frazer Hines, Michael E. Briant, Margot Hayhoe and the utterly fascinating helicopter pilot ‘Mad’ Mike Smith. Seriously, I’d watch a whole documentary about Smith’s exploits – swinging from chandeliers at the Botany Bay hotel, flying his helicopter between the legs of the sea fort (“…just like driving a car”), he’s a proper character.
We’ve come a long way from the static, solo interviews from the early days of the DVD range and The Cruel Sea really benefits from having all the interviewees on location together. There’s a real warmth between them all, like old friends reuniting after a long time. I’m sure some of the stories have been told before in Doctor Who Magazine and at conventions, but there is a sense that returning to the locations unlocks long-forgotten memories and hilarious new anecdotes in the team. It’s a truly wonderful little documentary which will no doubt increase the number of Doctor Who fans making pilgrimages to Margate. I’ll see you there!
“Daleks!“, the last story for the Time Lord Victorious arc has been announced and will be an animated five-part series.
No merch this week.
Review story this episode: Terror of the Autons
Jon Pertwee’s second series as The Doctor kicks off with a new companion and our first story with The Master. All good stuff or a bit drippy like melting plastic?
Coming next week: Torchwood – To the Last Man
Back to Torchwood next week as we continue series 2 with this Tosh focused story.
Thank you all for listening, and until then have a great week, take care of yourselves, stay healthy and remember – Allons-y!
Odd events are taking place as the Tardis materializes on board a space-craft: a mysterious killer stalks the ship’s ducting; two dubious policemen are investigating the theft of art treasures, and the computer has taken on its own distinctive personality. Soon the doctor stumbles on a shocking secret, a secret upon which depends the fate of the entire universe…
Thirty-five years ago in 1985, there was a first in Doctor Who as Slipback starring Colin Baker as the 6th Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri became the first Doctor Who serial to be produced as a radio drama broadcast on Radio 4. Rummaging through my Doctor Who collection I came across my home-recorded audio cassette of the drama, which I haven’t listened to in many many years and didn’t remember at all. Listening to“Slipback” though brought back memories of a brief summer when Doctor Who was on hiatus and in danger of cancellation. Produced by the BBC and broadcast in the summer of 1985 it was a radio drama in six 10 minutes episodes broadcast from 25 July to 8 August 1985.
These days I have become resigned to long delays between series, due to showrunners needing more time to or due to their commitments writing for multiple productions. Now with the coronavirus also affecting tv production schedules, we are having to wait even longer. In 1985, as a teenage fan, it came as a total shock that Doctor Who was on a break threatened with cancellation after a relatively steady 22-season run since 1963. After the 22nd season, Colin Baker’s first series aired it had drawn criticism from viewers for its more “horrific” violent tone. The BBC then decided to push back the programme for a whole year which stirred up everyone who loved the show. There was outrage in the tabloids at the decision and music producer and Doctor Who fan Ian Levine produced the protest music single Doctor in Distress ( bless Colin. Nicholas and Anthony for having a go!). The BBC responded a few months later with “Slipback” as a kind of placatory offering to the fans during the hiatus filling the gap before the Trial of a Timelord 23rd season came back in the autumn.
It was broadcast as part of BBC Pirate Radio Four, a children’s magazine show aimed at attracting younger viewers. Perhaps giving the BBC the benefit of the doubt, the scheduling was meant with the best of intentions, designed to attract a new era to the tv show. To me, it seemed to me the BBC had the knives out for the show. Doctor Who was traditionally made by the drama department not the children’s department at the BBC so as a fan I felt a little uncomfortable at the scheduling. As a massive enthusiast about the show, it seemed the show’s status was being purposely demoted to “just a children’s show”
“Slipback” is written by Eric Saward, author of one of my favourite classic Who stories on TV “Earthshock” so my expectations of this story would have been immense at the time. Its definitely lacking the atmosphere of Earthshock. It shares a freighter and aspects of time travel but there the similarity ends. Is Slip back actually any good? Well, it’s roughly an hour and for audio stories for me are about whether I can connect to the characters and their reasons for being there. We are introduced to Shellingbourne Grant, a first officer onboard the census ship Vipod Mor, alongside the ship’s computer. Fair warning the child-like voice of the computer does quickly become annoying as it has been programmed to sound like a “ ditzy dame “ so your ears may feel assaulted as mine did. There seems to be Douglas Adams homage to the story as Eric Saward teases out some of the characters.
I got Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy vibes listening to the voice of the computer which reminded me of the American drawl of Trillian. and it seems a deliberate decision of the script. There is also a service drone the Doctor encounters called Barton who much like Marvin, the paranoid android is voiced for dry comic relief. Jon Glover, who is an experienced actor, plays Shellingbourne Grant,( He was also in HGTTG ) as droll, smart, questioning, trying to complete his duty as systems and events are going spiralling out of control. He has a secret which his role facilitates but this soon catches up with him. I honestly wasn’t that keen on the policemen he encounters. The performance of them as atypical “evening all” policemen didn’t add much to the story and the monster prowling around was in the end inconsequential.
Captain Slarn is played by Valentine Dyall, who played the Black Guardian in several of the tv serials, The Armageddon Factor (1979) the Mawdryn Undead, Terminus, Enlightenment trilogy (1983) I’m not surprised he was well known for being a voice actor for many years as, “The Man in Black” the narrator of the BBC Radio horror series Appointment with Fear. His distinctive low gravelly voice easily suites the nature of the self-important Captain who as an ill-tempered character, won’t hesitate when roused in mustering his real and imagined illnesses to pass into his crew. Captain Slarn restricted to his cabin is quickly jealous at the thought of Peri and Grant being together so he delights in seeing his body swell with the Mors Immedicabilis the incurable death infection. It is wonderful listening to Valentine Dyall and I think children would have enjoyed his growling captain. Valentine Dyall plays the vindictive Captain with such lovely relish for what is really a small role. All the crew, including his masseuse Seedle acquiesce to the Captain so he doesn’t lose his temper. One thing omitted is the Doctor doesn’t meet the Captain which is a real shame. Dyall and Baker together now that would have been something but the fantastic Valentine Dyall died a few months after recording and “Slipback” was broadcast posthumously.
Doctor Who audio dramas, thanks due to (award-winning) Big Finish have gained a respectable following over the last few years and Colin Baker’s 6th Doctor has been able to expand his portrayal in audio in a way he never really was given time to do in his tv tenure (being sacked after the 23rd season) “Slipback” is years before Big Finish and it does feel a product of its time, with many familiar aspects of classic Who embedded in the plot. Peri and the Doctor encounter a loud growly monster and they get chased. Peri falls down a ventilation shaft. The script doesn’t offer any new insight into the 6th Doctor or Peri as characters. They are atypical as they were in season 22.
It’s an energetic performance from Colin Baker as always although the script really gives him too little to do in the end. With the 6th Doctor and Peri the antagonistic aspects of their relationship which became so tiresome in their first season are still here. They are snippy with each other at times. Peri gets scared and the 6th Doctor is boastful, arrogant, brash, rushing in. Nicola Bryant does feel poorly served at times by the way Peri is written. Colin has the last word in most of the cliff-hangers though. He enjoys doing them to leave the listener in no doubt this is a point of high drama and you should be on the edge of your seat.
Overall, I did like listening to “Slipback” again to an extent although at 55 minutes, except for the main villain’s motivation, we learn mostly superficial details about the characters just to enable the plot to move forward. Its a run of the mill story from Eric Saward and that pains me. I would have liked to have learned a bit more about why Grant, or the Captain were as they were but the time doesn’t allow it. There were some interesting elements such as the voicing of the villain with the mystery of the eclipse of time allowed to turn going full circle at the beginning and the confrontation with the Doctor and the Inner Voice is energetically handled by the actors. But other times the story meanders too much in the early part with the Doctor and Peri running away from the monster. What I do like is the ditzy computer does gain some sense of understanding as events move to a conclusion.
The appearance of the Timelords is a surprise I don’t remember. They are booming sounding almost godlike calling the Doctor. But they arrive near the end in the last ten minutes and their presence becomes too brief allowing the wrap up of the story. I suppose their entrance and the Doctor’s comments about interference reflects the tensions of the time. Questioning the doctor’s actions is probably a foreshadowing of the themes of season 23.
“Slipback” is hardly ever mentioned in fandom and reviewing it again I can get a sense why. I think at the time in 1985 we felt just glad to have something whilst waiting for the new series. and although I liked it ( that is as strong as I can go) It feels like it should have been so much more. But it was a sign of the times I guess that the series wasn’t being loved as it should then. It feels as if the BBC were experimenting at the time with a different format (and probably saving money) but without knowing how to exploit the format of audio drama to deliver for all ages.
6.5 / 10 Don’t go down to the ducting or you could be lunch!
DW has been added, for a limited time, to the BBC online multiplayer game Nightfall to defend the Dream from the Daleks.
Review story this episode: SJA – The Nightmare Man
We’re kicking-off Series 4 (yes, we’re at Series 4 already!) with a creepy one featuring an often highly reviewed story and character. A welcome return for SJA?
Coming next week: Terror of the Autons
It’s been ages since we watched any 3rd Doctor stories so it’s about time we dived in to see what The Doctor, Jo and Unit are up to.
Thank you all for listening, and until then have a great week, take care of yourselves, stay healthy and remember – Allons-y!
After a little break, we’ve jumped back into the Virgin New Adventures. The next two books took me a rather long time to read, mainly because I wasn’t feeling very well for a while and I didn’t have the energy for them. But we’re back with Legacy and Theatre of War.Legacy sees Gary Russell take us back to Peladon for a third story on that planet and Theatre of War, from Justin Richards sees a Doctor Who story told in a rather new and interesting way!
Written by: Gary Russell
I’ll be honest, I’m not a massive fan of the Pertwee-Peladon stories. They aren’t bad, just not my cup of tea, so the third outing for me seemed one two many. And unfortunately upon finishing this book, my fears weren’t entirely wrong. However, what I did like, was that this story sees Peladon leave the Federation. Looking back at The Curse of Peladon, it sees Peladon joining the Federation at the same time Britain joined the EU, The Monster of Peladon was a direct parallel on people’s fears of being in the union at that time and Legacy, albeit about twenty years beforehand, sees Peladon leave the Federation, just like Britain has just left the EU. Could original writer Brian Hayles have been unwittingly predicting the future? Gary Russell certainly seemed to be.
Despite being set on Peladon, the politics of the planet doesn’t play much of a part to the main story, which Russell hands over to the quest to get a device called the Diadem, something that gives people dominance over other’s minds. We do still have all the Peladon-stables though, we’ve got royalty in charge, an untrusting chancellor obsessed with Aggedor. We’ve got Aggedor, Ice Warriors and Alpha Centauri.
Russell sets up the story with a flashback featuring a previous Doctor and aliens called Pakhurs, creatures which go on to appear in a few of Russell’s later works too. With Ace chasing down the Diadem, the climax to the story doesn’t really do much to get across how powerful this device is despite the bodies it leaves in its wake throughout the rest of the novel. Worse still, Russell leaves it on something of a cliffhanger promising a continuation to the Diadem when he doesn’t really finish things up here.
I don’t know if this was Russell’s very first time writing any form of Doctor Who story but he really doesn’t have a handle on dialogue. No one speaks how he makes his characters speak. Kort, a spoilt brat who goes to Peladon with the Doctor and Bernice doesn’t get any scenes which make the reader actually think he’s changed over the course of the book and Russell pairs him with a Pakhur called Keri who ends every sentence with “Yeah”, which get very annoying very quickly. And for some reasons, the Ice Warriors make a comment about Bernice wearing Chinos but I don’t know when in conversion Bernice would have told them what she was wearing. He doesn’t have a great handle on Bernice either. Part of her character is that she is a studier of human behaviour but we get inner monologues about how she’s noticed that a particular person is or isn’t smiling. It doesn’t add anything to the story, makes Bernice sound rather stupid and doesn’t give her anything interesting to contribute to the story.
Ace is treated even worse and is hardly in it. But given how little Bernice gets to do on Peladon, perhaps it’s a good job she doesn’t go with them as she certainly wouldn’t have had anything to do. While I’m more than happy to read more from Bernice, basically dumping Ace at the beginning of the story is a rather inelegant way of making sure Bernice gets the ‘solo-companion’ role.
Mismanaging the two companions, you’d think Russell would at least get the Doctor right. Given how much he wanted to write a new Peladon story but you’d be very wrong. Instead, the Seventh Doctor here feels like he’s been pulled right out a Target novelisation. Nevermore than a few feet away from his umbrella and sporting his question-mark jumper once more. What’s even more shocking is that the Seventh Doctor seems to have an internal hatred for the Ice Warriors despite getting over this in Curse of Peladon. It’s almost embarrassing to read, given how it doesn’t fit the characterisation for who the Doctor is at all. The Doctor should always believe the best in people, not always expect the worst.
It is difficult to find anything good to say about Legacy, the writing is just awful, its clichéd, its overly long, the dialogue is horrendous, the characterisation of everyone involved is shockingly bad. And like I said, I’ve never been a massive fan of the Peladon stories but perhaps it would have been better had it not featured the Seventh Doctor but instead a different, earlier incarnation. It’s not really a setting that lends itself well to The New Adventures format. Being a Gary Russell book, there are plenty of continuity references but despite the pros and cons of those types of references, Legacy still isn’t a good book. The plot begins to stall and fall flat pretty early on, the vast majority of characters are unlikable and the regulars don’t really get out this without egg on their faces. It’s not a good book for anyone involved and good have done with a few more drafts before submitting it to print. Hopefully, this will be the last I ever have to hear, watch or read from Peladon in a very long time.
Theatre of War
Written By: Justin Richards
Like Legacy, Theatre of War is the debut of another first-time novelist. This time its Justin Richards. However, unlike other first time novelists, Richards actually seems to have read through what he’s written first, as this time, the prose reads really easily.
Richards is one of my favourite Doctor Who writers and I believe wrote one of my favourite Doctor Who books, The Sands of Time and I was a little wary of going into this one, given how it was his first book and these novels don’t have the greatest track record of new incoming authors. There is a patience to the prose that lends itself quite well to being able to either read in one go or like I did, in small chunks if you’re busy with other things. It was the sort of breather we really needed after the last arc finished with No Future.
That’s not to say that Richard’s prose is slow going, but he isn’t afraid to stop and smell the roses for a moment before continuing. And given out its based a lot on different aspects of Shakespeare, that a lot of this book is about building the anticipation and waiting for things to happen. The book opens with Bernice taking a look around the Braxiatel Collection, a large library with almost everything you can think of in or around it. It sounds like a fascinating place and is brilliantly realised by Richards. Likewise is the theatre, the main bulk of this story takes place in. You instantly get used to the layout and remember the grisly deaths like something out of your nightmares.
Perhaps its because I’m a member of a dramatic society and love acting, that the layout of this book made it a real easy read for me. It’s not something that I can see everyone liking and I’ll admit that I did think it was a little too long for the story that it was trying to tell. But for once, this is a new author who seems to have the story sorted out nonetheless and knows what he’s trying to do with it even though there were a few bits and bobs I didn’t quite grasp!
One of those things is the main villain of the piece, a machine that can bring any play to vivid life. While I get it as a concept, in practice, the rules Richard’s puts in place for the machine seem to be in as much flux as the machine’s sense of reality. It can put people from plays into the real world with real weaponry but can also transport you within itself. It’s not just fictional characters it can reproduce, it makes clones and holograms of real people too. One thing I did like but doesn’t get used again is in the first half of the book, it kills a number of archaeologists in ways they remember from their past. But this doesn’t come up again, despite being a brilliant concept.
Despite the elegant prose, where Theatre of War doesn’t quite reach the bar is in its characters, namely because there isn’t enough for them all to do. Bernice comes across rather well though, finally getting a version of her character close to what Paul Cornell created in Love & War is nice too. And Ace gets plenty to do, including a rather movie-ish moment where she jumps out the back of a space-ship to destroy their pursuers. Richards should be praised for handling two companions much better than many other writers before him.
And we finally get a Seventh Doctor who feels like the McCoy incarnation. Yes, there is the usual manipulations from him but even that doesn’t feel as bad as it could have been, especially as he gets as caught up in his machinations as everyone else does. It’s nice to have a book where this feels like the Doctor and not a dark-imposter.
While I doubt that Theatre of War will connect with people on any form of emotional level, there is still plenty to enjoy here and it’s never boring. Its got one eye on culture and isn’t afraid to smell the roses, while the other eye is an action movie, throwing characters from one gruesome moment to another. While some of the supporting cast don’t really get much to do, we are finally introduced to Braxiatel, a character who plays an important part in the life of Bernice Summerfield as well as the Gallifrey range from Big Finish, though he did leave me wanting to hear more from the character in these pages.
This is a very elegant book, maybe not expertly written but for a debut novelist, its nice that it is clear Richards has done his homework and a good few drafts beforehand. And it feels like we’ve finally gotten the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Bernice right. Hopefully, that will continue in the upcoming books, I guess time will tell.