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.
This week’s installment felt a lot like an episode of Quantum Leap with the TARDIS crew trying to put right something going wrong with history. But where most Quantum Leap episodes (well, at least until season five) were concerned with history on a personal scale, “Rose” found the Doctor and company at a pivotal crossroads of world and universal history.
It made for a fascinating hour of television, buoyed once again by the performances of the quartet that makes up the TARDIS crew. It was interesting to see Ryan and Yas have to confront racism is Montgomery, Alabama at the birth of the civil rights movement. Going back to Quantum Leap, it felt a bit like an early episode when Sam leapt into an older African-American man and was forced to confront the horrors and realities of racism. Continue reading
Last week was all about meeting the new Doctor and assembling her new trio of friends for adventures through time and space. “The Ghost Monuments” is about that first adventure in time and space — even if the trio is accidentally brought along on the journey to locate the TARDIS.
After being rescued from outer space, the Doctor and company find themselves on a planet called Desolation, which is the end-point for a galactic race that will leave one person wealthy and the other stuck on a world that’s pretty much going to do everything in its power to eliminate him or her as quickly as possible. Seeing a planet where even the water is a threat was a nice touch, though Chris Chibnell’s script doesn’t slow down long enough for us to ask questions like who would design such a planet and why they would do it. Continue reading
Introducing a new Doctor can be a bit of a tricky thing. Have too much emphasis on the previous eras of the series and you lose drive-by fans who might be tuning in to see what the new Doctor is like (especially this time around). Have not enough connection to the history of the show and you run the risk of disenfranchising long-time fans who may decide to not tune in again or won’t make Doctor Who appointment viewing any longer.
Over the thirty-seven season run of Doctor Who, we’ve seen examples of both.
In many ways, the debut of Jodie Whitacker as Doctor reminds me a bit of how the Jon Pertwee era began, wiping the slate clean for a new era of the series. For the third Doctor, it was a huge jump from black and white to color. For Whitacker, it was another major change for the show with the first female Doctor. Continue reading
“Shada” is something of an enigma in the Doctor Who canon. The final story of the much-maligned season 17, production was suspended due to an industrial strike at the BBC with just over half the story filmed. And while there were several attempts to get it remounted, “Shada” never saw the light of day again and was “lost.”
For years, the only snippets we got were those in “The Five Doctors” to cover Tom Baker’s absence.
Since that time, “Shada” has become one of the more re-told and released stories in the classic Who canon. We had the VHS release of the completed bits with linking narration (in character as the Doctor, I might add) by Tom Baker. We had the animated web version with Paul McGann as the Doctor and then an audio version by Big Finish (also featuring McGann as Doctor). There was an adaptation of the original scripts in printed form a couple of years back and an accompanying audiobook release, as well. (This is to say nothing of a certain fan’s creating his own animated version) Continue reading
\In an interview for a DVD extra, author Terrance Dicks notes that one aspect of his career he’s most proud of is his ability to meet deadline. As a person who understands the importance of writing on deadline, it’s easy to admire that about Dicks.
However, it’s also easy to lament that having to meet that deadline for a lot of Target Doctor Who novels in the mid-70’s means the adaptations are a bare-bones retelling of the script with little or no room for expanding the story. The image of Dicks handcuffed to his typewriter and having to churn out a new adaptation of a fourth Doctor script often springs to mind when I think of this era in Doctor Who publishing.
Which is what makes it a shame that Dicks wasn’t given the time to embellish and enhance stories like “The Robots of Death” like he did with “The Auton Invasion” or “Day of the Daleks.” Continue reading
The first (of many) books I purchased from the Target line of adaptations still holds a special little nostalgic place in my heart. Curious about the history of the series, I figured “The Five Doctors” would be a good point to get an overview and catch-up course on the twenty plus years of history surrounding Doctor Who. Picking up the shiny silver cover, I quickly took it home and consumed it. It more than satisfied my itch and was the seed from which a huge collection of Target novels grew.
The sheer fact that the story crams in as many continuity references and callbacks as it does and isn’t a complete shambles is a credit to Terrance Dicks. It’s interesting that given a laundry list of things that the production team wanted included that the person many people consider to be the greatest writer in the history of Doctor Who (classic or new) couldn’t find a way to crack it. When Robert Holmes passed on writing the anniversary story, the production team called on former script-editor and Target adaptation leader Terrance Dicks to give it a try. And somehow, Dicks managed to find a way to do what Holmes couldn’t, serving as a testament to his skills as a writer.* Continue reading