The final televised Third Doctor story to reach the printed page was something of a disappointment when I read it initially thirty plus years ago. However, thanks to the audiobook line from BBC Audio, I was given the opportunity to visit the story once again.
In the years since I first read the novel, “The Ambassadors of Death” has grown a bit in my estimation. Yes, it’s still the weakest story of season seven, but that’s damning a bit with faint praise.
Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the John Whitacker/Malcolm Hulke script does a serviceable job of trying to condense seven episodes into the mandated page count. Dicks is able to streamline some of the action sequences (Liz Shaw’s car chase, for example, takes about a paragraph or so) and give a bit more time and space to early developments. However, after listened to some of Dicks’ earlier works when he was given more time to develop the characters and add in some background details to the situation, I can’t help but wish he’d had don that here. Imagine the Dicks who wrote “Day of the Daleks” being allowed to fill in the history of the Mars Probe missions or even time to make General Carrington a bit more of a sympathetic villain (or at least give us a better understanding of his motives).
I can’t help walking away from this one feeling like it’s a missed opportunity more than anything.
And yet, for all of that, the audio version was still a pleasure to listen to. Part of that is narrator Geoffrey Beavers, who could probably read Malcolm Hulke’s grocery list and it would be utterly scintillating to the listening ear. Once again, Beavers shows he’s one of the jewels in the audio book line.
I’m not really sure why I skipped Nigel Robinson’s adaptation of “The Time Meddler” during my Target novel collecting days. Whether it’s that the relatively recent release date came with a higher price tag or that I didn’t really appreciate the serial during my teenage years, I don’t quite recall.
But this gap in my collection allowed me to come to Peter Purvis’s reason of the story without my memory cheating on the relative merit of the original novelization.
Coming at the end of the classic series’ second season, “The Time Meddler” is a pivotal point in Doctor Who history. Continue reading
Whether it’s believing he’s the subject of a reality TV show like The Truman Show or joining the school band to get invited to a big Halloween bash, Greg Hefley’s trials and tribulations never end. That’s good news to this reader, who despite being too old to be in the targeted demographic for the Wimpy Kid novels continues to enjoy them.
Listening to the audio version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down, I chuckled and laughed out loud multiple times as Greg continues to grow up. Whether’s it’s conspiring to win a jar full of candy in his school’s annual balloon launch or using the Internet to convince his parents that he’s actually learning to play the French Horn, Greg’s antics never failed to amuse. And despite not having the benefit of the cartoon illustration in the printed version, I found the novel and its narration creating some hilarious moments in my head as I traveled to and from work.
I also discovered that I’ve missed a couple of releases in the series and any now eager to go back and catch up on what I’ve missed.
While some of my peers were reading the Sweet Valley High or R.L. Stine’s novels, I spent my teenage years reading Stephen King and Target adaptations of classic Doctor Who stories. One of the most prolific authors of the Who range was former script-editor Terrance Dicks. If you take a step back and look at the sheer volume of novels published by Dicks during this era, it’s staggering — to the point that I had an image of poor Terrance chained to a desk, fed only bread and water and forced to hammer out adaptation after adaptation on his typewriter.
Visiting some of Dicks’ output again thanks to BBC Audio has only underlined again just what Dicks was able to do for an entire generation of Doctor Who fans — keep the series alive and fresh in our imaginations when we couldn’t see all the stories we wanted to again, much less collect them to sit our shelves. The fact that these novels are still readable and enjoyable today is a testament to just how good Dicks was.
“The Claws of Axos” comes from an era when Dicks wasn’t given as much time to adapt serials as he had in the bookends of his Doctor Who adapting career. “Claws” is pretty much a straight-forward adaptation of the original script with some nifty descriptions and one or two embellishments thrown in for good measure (for example, at the end when the serial ends with the Doctor’s chagrin at being “a galactic yo-yo,” Dicks allows the action to continue onward with everyone saying their farewells and the Doctor rushing out to ensure the UNIT guys don’t jostle the TARDIS). Continue reading
Since the beginning of the Target audio book range, there have been a couple of the classic Doctor Who adaptations that I really wanted to see get the audio treatment. So imagine my delight when the range included several of those titles last year, including my all-time favorite Doctor Who serial and one of my favorite adaptations, “The Curse of Fenric.”
The Doctor and Ace arrive in World War II at classified naval base where one of the first computers is being used to break the German coded ciphers. But with the arrival of a group of Russians, it soon becomes clear that a bigger game is being played — one that the Doctor has known was coming ever since he met Ace.
To number the ways I love “Fenric” could take all the characters I have left in this review and it wouldn’t even crack the surface. While the storytelling in the late 80’s wasn’t quite as serialized as we see in many of the television series today, seasons 25 and 26 did insert a loose character arc for Ace. Continue reading
Christopher H. Bidmead’s adaptation of his third (and final) classic Doctor Who script, “Frontios” restores parts of the script that were dropped either due to budget constrnts or they were considered too dark at the time, making this seem like a glimpse of what could have been on our screens.
Bidmead’s “Frontios” novelization was one of those Target novelizations I missed in my days of collecting them (as a younger viewer, the story wasn’t among my favorites). So coming to it now as an older reader/listener, I must admit I was intrigued by the small flourishes that the adaptation indulges in. (It’s also interesting to have the DVD now with the extended and deleted scenes and get some idea of where those scenes would go in the context of the story).
The TARDIS crew arrive on the edge of the Time Lord’s knowledge of time and space, drug down to one of the last colonies of humans by a mysterious force. In trying to not become too involved in these later days of humanity, the Doctor is drawn into the mystery of the colony on Frontios. Seems that the colony has been enduring attacks from the skies for thirty plus years with no signs of the invaders coming to follow-up. In the course of one attack, the TARDIS is destroyed, stranding the TARDIS crew in this time and place possibly forever.
As far as cliffhangers go, the TARDIS’ destruction is a pretty effective one. It’s also a memorable one that was, to my younger self, the only real highlight of the show. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to appreciate the story a bit more — and Bidmead’s adaptation has helped me see what could have been if they’d had the budget for it. The Tractators who come across on screen as a bit silly are given a bit more menace in the novel. There’s also the grim detail that the mining machine used the monsters of the week uses human parts to tunnel under the ground in Frontios as opposed to having it be all mechanical.
And yet for all of this, the same weaknesses that I see in the story are still on display here. Namely, it’s a bit oddly paced at times. There are times when it feels a bit too much like the old Doctor Who cliche of wandering down a corridor and biding our time as we wait for something to happen.
As with his previous two scripts, Bidmead reads his own adaptation for the audiobook. And once again, he does a solid enough job, though it’s not quite as memorable as some of the other readers we’ve had in the past couple of months.
One of things you have to admire about Stephen King is how he is willing to keep pushing the boundaries of the publishing world. He’s not just content to churn out best-seller after best-seller in hard-cover format, but instead he’s willing to take a chance or two along the way to challenge not only himself but his readers. Some of them work very well (The Green Mile) and some have withered on the vine (The Vine).
King has also been releasing stories via audiobooks for the past dozen or so years and every once in a while he puts out an exclusive audio only story. (King has admitted he’s a an audio reader himself). Sometimes it’s a fairly straight-forward short story and then other times it’s something like Drunken Fireworks.
And while the story will be part of his upcoming short story collection, King said in an interview that this one was meant to be listened to.
It certainly shows.
Thanks to an insurance and lottery windfall, Alden McCausland and his mother spend the warmest months of the year at their three-room cabin on Lake Abenaki. One fourth of July, Alden and his mother light up a few sparklers and other fireworks, setting off an inadvertent contest with their neighbors across the lake, the Massimos. Each summer, Alden tries to find the next big thing to shoot off, only to have the Massimo family ready to counter them with something just a bit better. It would all be in good fun for the two families if Alden and his mother didn’t feel like one member of their family was taunting them with his trumpet. Continue reading