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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus by Phillip Hinchcliffe

Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus: 1st Doctor Novelisation

Arriving on the island of Marinus, the first Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan are reluctantly enlisted to seek out four of the five computer keys of Marinus that will restore the Conscience of Marinus.

In the lore of classic Doctor Who, The Keys of Marinus is a story that worked better when the episodes were produced each week instead of in filming blocks for an entire serial. Each episode features a different location and adventure as the TARDIS crew transports across the planet, looking for the keys.

The script feels like writer Terry Nation is trying out a few of the tropes that he will revisit time and again over the course of his career. We’ve got hostile plant life, a well-placed chasm, and even more of Nation’s favorite things to include in a script. As a quest storyline, it holds up well enough with the team not spending too much time in each location, thus allowing the story to gather and keep some momentum.

That’s not to say it’s necessarily a classic of its era. “Marinus” is good and it certainly as a few moments. But overall, this one isn’t the strongest of the first season of Doctor Who.

What’s odd about this novelization is that it comes from fourth Doctor era producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. Hinchcliffe has little or no connection to the era and while he does a nice job of adapting the original scripts to the printed page, the novel doesn’t go much beyond that. There are little hints about Sabetha and Altos falling in love and Hinchcliffe tries to make the Voord a bit more threatening and scary.

This is another one that I skipped in my initial collection of Target novels, probably due to it having one of the more generic covers in the range. Or it could be my younger self found this one a tad on the dull side, even with the quest throughline driving the story.

The audiobook is up to the usual standards I’ve come to expect from the BBC audio range. I won’t say this is the best sample of the audio range, but it works well enough. Narrator Jamie Glover’s work is good though it’s not quite the stand-out of the range. There were moments I kept wishing William Russell had found time to be lured from retirement to perform one last Target book for our listening pleasure.

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#20BooksofSummer: Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Power of Kroll by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Power of Kroll: 4th Doctor Novelisation

Back in my early days of Doctor Who fandom, some friends caught a few moments of “The Power of Kroll” and incredulously mocked me because the Doctor somehow defeated a giant squid creature using a tiny stick. Of course, I tried to explain to them exactly what was happening in the scene and how it wasn’t really a tiny stick, but my pleas fell upon deaf ears and taunts about the budgetary limitations of my favorite show.

Years later, removed of the mocking jabs of my youth, I’ve come to see that “The Power of Kroll” is a rough draft for Robert Holmes’ triumphant “Caves of Androzani.” And while most fans will be quick to cry that its the scripts that make classic Who so special, the comparisons between “Androzani” and “Kroll” show sometimes there are other elements involved as well.

Pursuing the fifth segment of the Key to Time, the Doctor and Romana arrive on a moon of Delta Manga. A revolutionary station is processing protein from the swamp and sending it home to feed the greater population. One obstacle is a group of natives, who were displaced from Delta Magna originally and now stand in the way of full development of the small moon’s resources. Lurking in the swamp is a large creature, worshiped by the natives and known as Kroll. After some time being dormant, Kroll is on the move again — and is hungry. Continue reading

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#20BooksofSummer Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Face of Evil by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Face of Evil: 4th Doctor Novelisation

Featuring one of the best covers in the Target range, The Face of Evil is a solid adaptation of a classic serial from an era when Doctor Who could seemingly do no wrong.

Originally titled “The Day God Went Mad” (at least according to fan legend), The Face of Evil is a tight, taut, confident four-part story from Tom Baker’s third season in the role of the Doctor. Fresh off his adventures on Gallifrey, the Doctor arrives on a jungle planet that he’s visited before and had a huge impact upon. However, the Doctor has no memory of his previous adventure there nor the damage he’s inflicted on the societies there.

Terrance Dicks fills in the gap of the Doctor’s previous adventure with a deft, concise backstory that places the original visit during a slight gap in the fourth Doctor’s first story, Robot. It’s hard not to wish that Dicks had a bit more time adapting this one and an expanded page count because a chapter detailing the Doctor’s first visit might have been welcome.

Instead, we get an adaptation of the solid script, complete with a bit of character work for some of the supporting cast. In many ways, this is Doctor Who‘s take on the original Star Trek trope of a mad computer holding a society hostage. However, there’s no Captain Kirk around to “Gracie Allen” logic said computer into submission. Instead, the Doctor has to find a way to undo an error he made in a post-regenerative haze.

In a season full of classic serials, The Face of Evil is another outstanding outing. The audiobook is full of the usual highlights from the Target audio range from sound effects to dramatic music. Louise Jameson turns in a solid performance for this one, though I will still argue her interpretation of Tom Baker’s Doctor doesn’t always necessarily ring true.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen: 4th Doctor Novelisation

“Revenge of the Cybermen” was never intended to be the season finale for Doctor Who’s twelfth season. It became the “de facto” end to the season when the BBC decided to hold over the already produced “Terror of the Zygons” for the next season in the fall.

So, if you’re expecting an epic, spine-tingling end to Tom Baker’s first season as the Doctor, you may be a bit disappointed. I’ve detailed my disappointments with the serial itself elsewhere, so I won’t rehash those here. Instead, I will attempt to review the Target novel version of this one.

Early on in my Doctor Who watching days, I checked the adaptation of “Revenge of the Cybermen” out of the library a lot. It was one of a dozen Target books reprinted in the United States under the Pinnacle banner — and to my mind, that meant it had to be one of the best the series and range had to offer.

Alas, “Revenge of the Cybermen” isn’t one of the best, but I wouldn’t say this adaptation is one of the worst that Terrance Dicks ever gave us. It does its best to translate the televised story faithfully to the printed page, though at times you can feel Dicks’ frustration at trying to make the (supposedly) emotionless Cybermen interesting on the printed page. This comes across a good bit when various Cybermen speak or when Dicks is forced to try and explain away why they’re acting emotionally when (technically) they shouldn’t have any emotional reaction to things.

Dicks does a bit better in translating the epic Vogan conflict to the printed page –or at least he helped this fan identify who was who in the conflict a bit better than the televised version did. Dicks seems to understand when to minimize certain aspects of the story (the gaping loopholes in the Cybermen’s plan) and when and what to expand and play up. He even tries to find an explanation for why Voya is able to toodle about the galaxy, though there is little explanation of why it comes so close to the Nerva Beacon.

All in all, it’s a good job with a script that was full of gaping holes to begin with. There isn’t a lot of depth given to the supporting cast, but this is far from the later fourth Doctor adventures when it feels like Dicks is only being given enough time to translate a shooting script to the printed page.

As an audiobook, this one works fairly well, though the nitpicky fan in me found it hard to hear Cybermen speaking in mechanical voices as opposed to what we saw in the original version. It’s an interesting choice and one that creates a consistent feel to the Cybermen audiobooks, even if it doesn’t line up with the televised version. Nicholas Briggs does solid work, even trying to give us his own take on the fourth Doctor, which is good but he’s no Jon Culshaw.

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The Robert Holmes Doctor Who Rewatch: “Pyramids of Mars”

downloadWhile his name doesn’t appear in the opening titles, Robert Holmes heavily rewrote “The Pyramids of Mars” enough that it I can count it as one of his stories for the purposes of my rewatch. (And if you doubt me, Steven Moffatt cited Holmes as the writer when this serial was chosen as the representative of the fourth Doctor’s era for the fiftieth anniversary, saying that Holmes was teaching everyone how to write for Doctor Who).

For a while, “Pyramids of Mars” was my favorite Doctor Who story. The years have reordered my list a bit and it’s still in the top ten.

I clearly recall the first time I saw it on KTEH in San Jose, being utterly mesmerized by part one. It aired on a Friday night and by the time we got the “I bring Sutekh’s gift of death to all humanity” cliffhanger to end part one, I was hooked. We had a VCR at the time and I was allowed to collect favorite stories on video-tape. I found myself wishing I’d recorded part one that night and vowing I would have it as part of my collection.

Pyramids_of_Mars_1988_VHS_USThe story was one of the first wave of VHS releases and came to the United States in the omnibus format. I plunked down by twenty dollars (mail order through the PBS catalog) and couldn’t wait to watch this one over and over again.

Which may be the reason that before my rewatch, it had been seven or eight years since I’d dusted off this one and watched.

My enthusiasm for it hasn’t changed. Despite feeling like I know large passages of this one by heart, the story still enthralled and entertained the heck out of me this time. It’s easily one of the top ten greatest stories in the Doctor Who canon and it’s Robert Holmes having a marvellous time rewriting. Continue reading

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The Robert Holmes Doctor Who Re-Watch: “The Ark in Space”

ark1Cited by modern Doctor Who showrunners, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat as the best story of the classic era, “The Ark in Space” is also a great entry point for fans who want to see what all the fuss classic Who is about.

Robert Holmes had just taken on the reigns as script-editor when he had to do a full page-one rewrite of a script by John Lucarotti. Holmes kept the setting of a space station because the sets were already under construction (a cost-cutting measure for the first fourth Doctor season had the sets used here and later in “Revenge of the Cybermen.”) In place of the original story, Holmes gave us a four-part serial with an utterly chilling monster and a high stakes as the Doctor and a group of humans fight for the survival of humanity.

In many ways, this is Holmes taking the base-under-siege stories of the Patrick Troughton era and upping the stakes dramatically. Yes, we’re concerned with the fate of the group of newly revived humans as they battle the Wirrin. But also at stake is the future of humanity and whether or not humanity will survive or become Wirrin food. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Dalek by Rob Shearman

51rkR2wzh0LOn television, “Dalek” is a masterpiece and possibly the best hour of the revived Doctor Who has yet produced. I’ve loved it since it first enthralled me upon first airing and it’s probably the new Who episode I’ve revisited the most.

So, when news broke that Rob Shearman was adapting the story for the second set of new Who Target novels, I was very excited. And a bit nervous, fearing the novel might not live up to my lofty expectations. Expectations only grew when the four new Target novels were pushed back a year in the early days of the pandemic and lockdown.*

* On a positive note, this gave me a chance to explore some of Shearman’s other writings, including his collection of non-Who short stories. This, as it turns out, was a very good thing.

And so it was, at last, that the four new Target novels hit my download queue and I could finally take a listen to “Dalek.” And I’m happy to report that Shearman has hit out of the park with this one. He’s taken one of the quintessential episodes of Doctor Who and turned it into a quintessential Target adaptation. I’m not sure I could have enjoyed this one more. Continue reading

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Robert Holmes Doctor Who Rewatch: “The Time Warrior”

imagesDoctor Who was originally intended as an education program for families — one that would see the TARDIS crew traveling backward to various eras and imparting a bit of knowledge about history to the viewing audience of the day.

But by the time the series celebrated its first decade on the air, journeys to historical settings had become a thing of the past. That is until producer Berry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks decided to bring back the historical story for the show’s eleventh season debut. Dicks jokingly says that he dragged Robert Holmes “kicking and screaming” into the Middle Ages with the debut story of Jon Pertwee’s final season, “The Time Warrior.”

“The Time Warrior” is a story of a lot of firsts. First appearance of the Sontarans, first appearance of Sarah Jane Smith, the debut of the diamond logo and new opening credits (I can’t tell you how much this surprised on my first viewing of season eleven), and the first time Gallifrey was used as the name for the Time Lord’s home world. Given all these firsts, it feels like a no-brainer that Letts and Dicks would go to Holmes for the story. Continue reading

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Big Finish Thoughts: Ravagers

Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures - Ravagers

Big Finish made headlines when they finally convinced Christopher Eccleston that returning to his role as the ninth Doctor was something that could and should happen. The result is a couple of box-sets of stories with Eccleston in the role — which is probably as close to him playing the Doctor again as we’ll ever get.

The first box-set is out now and I finally got around to listening to it. I reviewed each installment after listening. So, if you notice some kind of horrible error or oversight in my thoughts on part one or two, please know I had no idea what was coming….

1. Sphere of Freedom
Christopher Eccleston effortlessly steps back into his role as the ninth Doctor in this introduction to the series. The first installment is all about setting up things for what’s to come, including establishing a new character called Nova, who serves as a de-facto companion. Give the drama a bit of credit for having Nova call out the Doctor for issuing forth technobabble for his own sake and not because she understands a word of it. Continue reading

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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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