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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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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 and the Enemy of the World by Ian Marter

Doctor Who and the Enemy of the World: 2nd Doctor Novelisation

Until five missing episodes miraculously turned up in time for the series’ fiftieth anniversary, the only thing most Doctor Who fans had to judge “The Enemy of the World” on was an orphaned middle-episode that didn’t really highlight the story’s strengths and Ian Marter’s Target adaptation. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that once we had the complete serial back in the archives and available to view that the collective fan assessment might rise over the last half-dozen or so years.

It’s hard to blame Marter for the failings of this Target novelization. Clocking in at a mere 127 pages, Marter is hard-pressed to compress six episodes. He does try nobly to do so, but in the end, it never quite works. Scenes are dropped and while the outline of the story is still there, it never quite feels as solid as the David Whitacker scripts were on-screen. There are some interesting choices of what to leave out and what to include by Marter over the course of the novel.

But it’s not like Marter hasn’t shown he can compress a large number of episodes into a smaller amount of pages. He will later do it with the Patrick Troughton era serial, “The Invasion.” Of course, having emotionless adversaries at the heart of that one may have helped a bit.

As with all of Marter’s novelizations, there is a darker streak running through this story with all the on-screen deaths being just a bit more gruesome on the printed page.

At least the audio version of this story has Patrick Troughton’s son David performing the story. His interpretations of his father and the other actors in this story are spot-on and well done. I’m just glad the serial is back now so we can compare his take with what the actors did on-screen.

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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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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks by Eric Saward

Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks: 5th Doctor Novelisation“Resurrection of the Daleks” has a history of delays. Initially commissioned to celebrate Doctor Who‘s twentieth anniversary, the serial was delayed until season twenty-one. Then the Target adaptation of the serial was long-delayed over rights issues.

Finally after thirty-plus years, “Resurrection of the Daleks” has finally hit shelves. And now, the biggest question facing us is, was it worth the wait?

Yes and no.

If you’re a completist, finally hoping to fill in a gap in your Target book collection, you’re one step closer to having the full set. But if you were hoping for a novelization worthy of a thirty-plus year wait, odds are you’re going to be a bit disappointed.

In an interview, Saward said that he had a difficult time dusting off his Target novel writing skills for this one — and it shows. The serial already boasts the highest body count of any classic Doctor Who story and that fact is only underlined. On-screen, many of the characters marching off to be exterminated at the hands of various factions were nameless victims. Here, Saward is able to give them names and a bit of backstory, making the story even more grim as you realize just how high the body count really is. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who: The Mind of EvilMany Whovians consider “The Daemons” to be the Pertwee-ist story of the Third Doctor’s era.

I tend to disagree and point instead to “The Mind of Evil” as the story that brings together most of the elements required for a “essential” Pertwee-era adventure. Featuring UNIT, the Master, and multiple threats to Earth, “The Mind of Evil” has long been one of my favorite stories from this era — and even the entire run of classic Doctor Who.

Which is why it’s a darn shame that Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the story doesn’t even begin to do it justice. If there were ever a story crying out for the rounding out of things that Dicks was able to do with “The Auton Invasion” or “Day of the Daleks,” it’s “The Mind of Evil.” Instead, we get Uncle Terrance late in his run of adapting the original version for the printed page. Continue reading

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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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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Four to Doomsday by Terrance Dicks

 

fourtodoomsdayThere 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.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric by Ian Briggs

Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric: A 7th Doctor NovelisationSince 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

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Review: Doctor Who: Full Circle by Andrew Smith (Audiobook)

Doctor Who: Full Circle: A 4th Doctor novelisation

After a two year hiatus, the Target audio range returned earlier this year and I couldn’t have been more delighted at the selection of titles headed to audiobook. Among them was the fondly remembered adaptation of what I consider to be one of the better fourth Doctor stories, Full Circle.

Andrew Smith (a fan of the show) wrote the script for the story and went on to adapt his story from the printed page. I remembered reading this one on a weekend retreat with my family during quiet times and devouring every last page — even though I was already fairly familiar with the story. Smith’s novelization came in an era when the Target novels were beginning to be more than just straight forward adaptations of what we saw on screen. And while Smith’s re-telling of the story is fairly faithful to what we saw on screen, he includes a couple of items and scenes that didn’t make it into the broadcast version — either for time or because Doctor Who couldn’t necessarily make these sequences come alive on its budget.

Answering a summons to Gallifrey, the TARDIS passes through a mysterious distortion in space. To the scanner, it appears the Doctor and Romana have arrived in the outer wilderness of Gallifrey. Stepping outside the time and space machine, it appears they’ve arrived somewhere entirely different.

The world is Alazarius — and it’s one that is about to undergo a change. But instead of the usual political revolution or stopping an evil force, this time around the Doctor and Romana will battle the forces of evolution and stagnation. The two come into conflict during mistfall, a time when the planet Alazarius and its lifeforms begin to undergo a change.

I have to admit when I heard that Full Circle was getting the audiobook treatment, I was fairly delighted. Smith makes the most of the standard Target book page count, inserting in background scenes and character moments that enhance the story and give you a new appreciation of this four-part serial. Smith does a nice job of keeping things moving and I found myself getting lost in the story again as I listened to it.

Part of this credit goes to narrator Matthew Waterhouse, who was introduced to the Doctor Who canon as Adric in this story. Waterhouse has shown himself to be a solid narrator in the past with his reading of The Visitation. If that one was good, this one is better, partially because the novel is a richer one that the fairly straight-forward adaptation of The Visitation.

Full Circle was a delight to hear again. It made me want to dust off the DVD of the original story and watch it again, mentally inserting some of the scenes from the novel into the televised version. It’s releases like this one that remind me just how much I enjoyed the Target novels back in the day and just how much fun these audiobooks can be as a journey down memory lane.

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