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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Underworld by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Underworld: 4th Doctor Novelisation

This is one of the few novels from the Tom Baker/Louise Jameson era of classic Doctor Who I had in my original Target books collection. It was only because I somehow kept missing the serial — whether it was my PBS station skipping it in the rotation or just plain not setting the VCR right to catch it when it was repeated (ask your parents, kids).

So, for a long time, my only impression of this story came from Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the Bob Baker and Dave Martin scripts. And that probably helped things a good bit because, quite frankly, Dicks seems a bit more invested in this fourth Doctor story than he is in many of the others he adapted. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Time-Flight by Peter Grimwade

Doctor Who: Time-Flight: 5th Doctor Novelisation

Nostalgically, “Time-Flight” holds a special place in my heart as the first Doctor Who serial I watched one warm summer evening on San Jose’s KTEH. The story of a Concorde vanishing into pre-historical times hooked me on Doctor Who for life. And since I didn’t have much to compare it to, I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever seen.

It didn’t take me long to realize that “Time-Flight” wasn’t necessarily the best offering for not just the Peter Davison era but also Doctor Who as a whole. That’s probably why I skipped the Target book during my teenage years.

Forty years later, I’ve finally experienced the Target version of the story in audiobook form. And it was about as disappointing as I thought it might be forty or so years ago.

Freed of the limitations of an overstretched budget, I’d hoped that author Peter Grimwade might use the printed page to enhance and expand the story a bit. Instead, Grimwade seems to follow the Terrance Dicks of the Tom Baker era model and just translate the script to the page with a few descriptions of items, sets, and characters thrown in for good measure. The story of a Concorde being stolen down a time corridor in order to help out the Master’s latest nefarious scheme doesn’t even come close to making one lick more of sense on the printed page. It really does make one yearn for the days of Roger Delgado as the Master when the villain’s schemes felt like they had a bit more planning behind them.

The audio version of this one tries its best with Peter Davison in there giving it his all and the story full of sound effects that try their darnedest to make it all a bit more palatable. Alas, it never quite all gels and I can’t help but feel that this one was a bit of a disappointment.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The Caves of Androzani by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Caves of Androzani: 5th Doctor Novelisation

Regarded as one of the best stories in the Doctor Who canon (classic or new), “The Caves of Androzani” gets a rather disappointing Target adaptation from Terrance Dicks.

Listening to the audiobook, ably read by Peter Davison, I couldn’t help but wish that the Dicks who adapted “Spearhead From Space” into “The Auton Invasion” was on-hand and could work that same magic on another solid script from Robert Holmes. Maybe Dicks didn’t have the time or the inclination to do that here and it’s a shame because there is so much that could or should be expanded upon on the printed page.

Imagine expanding or delving into the history of Morgus and Jek a bit deeper or giving a deeper dive into Chelak’s career before being saddled with this losing campaign on Androzani minor. I’m not talking about expanding “Caves” to three-hundred plus pages like we’ve seen with recent adaptations of “City of Death” or “The Pirate Planet.” But there’s just so much more lurking beneath the surface of this story that it’s a huge disappointment that the Target novel isn’t any more than a standard retelling of the televised story.

This tragic story to end the fifth Doctor’s era is one of the most unique and compelling in the Doctor Who canon — one of those perfect coming together of acting, directing, and scripting to create something that transcends the genre and material. The only letdown is the forced inclusion of the Magma creature, which stands out a bit like a sore thumb on the screen. I will give Dicks some credit that he tries to make the creature a bit more threatening than the budget allowed for on our screens.

Alas, this is still a big missed opportunity for a Target novel to take one of the undisputed classics of Doctor Who and make it into one of the undisputed classics of the Target range.

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Review: Oona Out of Order

Oona Out of OrderTime-travel isn’t a new trope in fiction, but Oona Out of Order‘s take on how time travel could work is one of the more interesting storytelling devices I’ve come across in time.

Each year on her birthday (which happens to be January 1), Oona Lockhart leaps forward or backward in time. Externally, she’s whatever age she would be in the year she’s arrived, but internally, she’s only aged one year. Each time she leaps (I couldn’t help but have visions of Quantum Leap while reading this novel), Oona equips herself with knowledge for the year, a secret binder containing information on investments that can be made to support her independently wealthy lifestyle, and a letter from her previous self to help get her up to speed on where she is in time and her various relationships.

Like Quantum Leap, Oona has her own version of Al — in this case, it’s her mother and her mysterious assistant Kenzi, both of whom are there to try and help her transition from one year to the next. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood

It Sounded Better in My HeadEighteen-year-old Natalie’s life is in a bit of turmoil. Waiting on her final exam scores that will determine her future collegiate and possibly professional choices, her parents pick Christmas Day to inform her they’re divorcing. Meanwhile, her best friends Zach and Lucy are dating and Natalie finds herself suddenly attracted to Zach’s “bad boy” older brother, Alex.

Natalie suffers from self-esteem issues from severe acne that has left scars — both physical and emotional.

But as she continues to be drawn to Alex, could it be that he’s drawn to her as well?

Nina Kenwood’s It Sounded Better in My Head is a refreshing entry in the young adult genre. As Natalie tries to come to terms with the vast changes taking place in her life, the first-person narration is always authentic. Natatlie’s confusion and concerns at this crossroads in her life ring true on each page (or in my case, in each minute of the audiobook). As Natalie struggles with her feelings about Alex and her changing world, I found myself rooting for her. And not necessarily for a perfect ending to everything, but one that rings true and works for Natalie.

It Sounded Better in My Head doesn’t find an insta-fix for all of Natalie’s concerns by the final pages. But it find a nice conclusion to the journey she takes over the course of this book. And while I was completely satisfied with where Natalie’s story ends in this novel, I wouldn’t be opposed to future books checking in on her and giving us a bit more of her journey.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Robots of Death by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Robots of Death: 4th Doctor Novelisation\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

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The Five Doctors by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who: The Five Doctors: 5th Doctor NovelisationThe 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

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The Time Meddler by Nigel Robinson

Doctor Who: The Time Meddler: 1st Doctor NovelisationI’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

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Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of UnrequitedWhile Molly Pescan-Suso has experienced 26 crushes in her life, she’s rarely acted on them. Entering the summer before her senior year, Molly yearns to find the right person to share a first kiss with and possibly take things from being a crush to actually being her significant other.

Now, Molly has two possible new crushes on her radar — the popular guy Wil and the fantasy t-shirt wearing, Reed. Which one, if either, will Molly chose makes up most of the drama and teen angst of The Upside of Unrequited.

Becky Albertalli caught my attention last year with the funny, entertaining and thought-provoking Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And while Simon has an Easter egg cameo in this book, overall Upside ranks as one of the more disappointing stories I’ve read lately. Much of my frustration with the novel comes from its first-person narrator, Molly. Albertalli tries her best to make Molly self-deprecating about her lack of romantic experience, chalking a lot of it up to a lack of confidence because of her body type. Molly’s own self-image isn’t necessarily the most positive as she repeatedly refuses to believe that anyone else would find her attractive, despite there being signs from that two potential crushes might be interested in more than just being an unrequited object of her affection.

I get what Albertalli is trying to do with Molly and giving us the perspective of someone who is an outsider, looking in at what the “popular” kids (including her own twin sister) are doing. But it felt like Unrequited was getting a bit redundant and hitting all the expected romantic comedy touchstones for Molly instead of giving us an authentic journey for her. In the end, it feels only like Molly comes out of her shell because a boy likes her and not because she realizes that she has inherent worth as a person regardless of her external appearance.

Albertalli fills Upside with a diverse group of characters, many of whom feel one-dimensional. Too many of them feel like they’re summed up by one or two characteristics instead of being fully realized characters.

It all adds up to a disappointing sophomore effort by Albertalli. Maybe my expectations were too high for this one. But I can’t help but feel like this one had potential that it never quite lived up to.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks: 3rd Doctor NovelisationIf there has been one glaring omission from the classic Doctor Who Target novels audiobooks line, it’s “The Day of the Daleks.” One of the first serials adapted by Terrance Dicks, “Day of the Daleks” was one of the first Target novels I read (though it was under the U.S. Pinnacle reprint, including the fantastically, ranting introduction by Harlan Ellison) and it’s easily one of the strongest adaptations the line ever produced.

And while I was delighted that the story was finally getting the audio treatment, part of me was still a bit nervous about visiting this old friend from my Target-obsessed days. Could it live up to the greatness associated with it in my memory?

The good news is that it not only lived up to my fond memories of it, it may have even exceeded them. Continue reading

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