There are times reading a Terrance Dicks adaptation of a classic Doctor Who serial that I imagine the poor man, chained to a typewriter, given only bread and water and told to churn out the next Target adaptation as quickly as possible. Dicks was prolific adapting the classic Who stories in the age before we could own the entire run on VHS or DVD. And many times he could turn a less than memorable story into a more memorable one by either harnessing the reader’s imagination or creating some deeper characterization than we were treated to on-screen.
Unfortunately, he’s not able to do much with the second story of the Peter Davison era, Four to Doomsday. It’s an entirely faithful adaptation of what we saw on our screens with little or no room for embellishment. The televised version had Monarch offering commentary on what the Doctor and his companions were up to across the ship with jump cuts for a reaction and a word or two. The novel keeps those intact and feels a bit scattered and unfocused at times. Dicks also tries his best to give some motivation to Adric’s shifting loyalties and trying to make sense out of the long term invasion plan that Monarch is running. Neither is entirely successful, but it’s nice of him to try.
This one was part of my Target collection back in the day and I believe I picked it up right after seeing the serial in question repeated on my local PBS station. Years later, listening to it again as an audiobook, I found myself enjoying it a bit more than on the printed page simply because of the performance by Matthew Waterhouse. Yes, you read that correctly.
While he was never the strongest asset to the series, Waterhouse has delivered a couple of nicely performed audio books in the Target range. Waterhouse ably mimics the speech pattern of Monarch and he gives the reading some subtle shading as it goes along. It doesn’t help make the story itself any better, but it did lead me to enjoy listening to this story again a lot more than I originally expected.
It also made me almost give into an urge to dust off the DVD and give the story another look.
With the eighth installment in Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series, Greg Hefley’s luck isn’t getting much better. His best friend Rowley is no longer available to help him look out for dog poop on the walk to school because Rowley has a new girlfriend (they’re celebrating their nine-and-a-half day anniversary!). This also means Greg needs to find someone knew to write out his homework because Rowley’s been doing that all year for him as well.
With Hard Luck, Kinney gives readers another funny, warm installment in his popular kids’ series. Whether it’s trying to find a new friend at school, looking for black market, already complete science fair projects or his thoughts on the family Easter dinner, Greg’s reflections, observations and penchant to get into trouble still makes his reader (or in this case listener) grin knowingly. The hilarious implications of Greg deciding to use a Magic 8 ball to make all his decisions (including doing homework and the answers to tests) alone is worth the price of admission.
Kinney’s series shows little signs of running out of comedy fodder and situation for Greg and his family. After eight books, he’s still keeping it real as well as allowing his characters to grow up. But hopefully Greg won’t grow up too soon. I’m still enjoying his middle school escapades.
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
Whenever I’m asked by new Who fans for a good starting point to watch classic Doctor Who, I don’t point to “An Unearthly Child” but instead to Robert Holmes’ classic fourth Doctor serial, “The Ark In Space.”
Not only does the story kick off a great run of stories, but it comes from an era this is (arguably) the most consistent and best in the entire fifty plus year run of the show — classic or otherwise.
The story includes a minor call back or two to the previous installment, but for the most part it’s a self-contained horror story set in the near future. Promising Harry a quick trip to the moon to prove the TARDIS is what the Doctor says it is, our trio instead ends up in the far future thanks to Harry’s twisting the helmic regulator a bit too much. The Doctor, Sarah and Harry arrive on a future space station that is home to the final remnants of humanity in suspended animation waiting their chance to awaken and begin the conquering the Earth again. But something has gone wrong and humanity has overslept.
What’s gone wrong is the Wirrin, an insect race that can survive in deep space and has journeyed to the ark seeking our humanity. The Wirrin are also driven to survive and are looking for a new home — and the ark and the Earth look like just the right place to get started. 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.