Thanks to the quirks of KTEH’s (a bastion of Doctor Who in the U.S. back in the day) scheduling of Colin Baker’s first season as the Doctor, I saw season 22 of classic Who a lot during my first decade or so as a fan. That kind of explains why it’s been a hot minute since I dusted off that particular season on either my VHS or DVD collection. It’s probably been at least a decade since I really dabbled in season 22 in a serious way — and boy, did revisiting Philip Martin’s adaptation of his script for “Vengeance on Varos” show that.
Martin takes a page from the master of the Doctor Who adaptation, Terrance Dicks, and gives us essentially the same story we get on-screen. Though to Martin’s credit (and Dicks in the early days before they chained him to a typewriter and he churned out eight novels in a year), he does at least try to make the story feel like it unfolds over a longer duration of time than what we got on-screen. Martin makes it feel like the Doctor, Peri, Jondar, and Arata spend a bit more time wandering around the punishment dome, trying to find a way out and escape. He even extends things out enough so it appears the Doctor has passed away for longer than five-minutes than we see on-screen.
There is an extended sequence where we pull back the curtain and see how the Governor truly lives when he’s not negotiating with Sil or being sprayed with death rays. And don’t forget that part where he has Sil fall into the vat of liquid that he’s constantly being sprayed with on-screen.
But despite all these flourishes, it’s the story of “Varos” that continues to shine through and where the success or failure of this particular story lies. Continue reading
Thanks to a myriad of media releases and repeats, “Genesis of the Daleks” is a story that’s never been very far from the zeitgeist of Doctor Who fans. Regarded as one of the finest installments in the series long run (classic or new), it’s one that many fans (including this one) can recite key moments from (especially those on the abridged LP released in the ’70s and re-released on every possible format since).
Knowing the key dialogue from these moments only makes the differences between what we saw on-screen and what Terrance Dicks adapts to the page stand out a bit more. It’s clear that Dicks is working from an earlier draft of the script since the cliffhangers are moved about and fall in different places than we see on-screen. (The lore has it that the cliffhanger to episode five was supposed to be the famous “Do I have the right?” speech and not the Dalek battling an uncased Dalek mutant). But while minor moments are different, Dicks is still able to do justice to this undisputed classic when it comes to translating it to the printed page.
Dicks is able to condense a bit of the running back and forth between the Kaled and Thal cities (it’s a six-parter, so there’s a lot of running about) and he even makes the three corridors sets that double as both cities on-screen seem more expansive than they are on-screen. And while Dicks can’t quite capture how great Michael Wisher is in creating Davros, Dicks is still able to convey the menace and tragedy of the character here.
While this script is Terry Nation’s finest hour for Doctor Who, it isn’t necessarily Terrance Dicks’ finest hour in the Target line. But you can still tell that Dicks has put some care and time into crafting this story for the printed page. It’s certainly miles better than many of the adaptations to come during the fourth Doctor’s tenure.
The audiobook of this one is quite good. Jon Culshaw does his usual great work at imitating Tom Baker. Wisely, Culshaw doesn’t try to sound exactly like the screen versions of each character and his performance here continues to cement him as one of the better readers in this range. And, of course, Nick Briggs is on-hand to give us authentic Dalek voices.
All-in-all, this is another solid audiobook in this range and I find myself beginning to become nostalgic as the end of the range looms nearer.
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.