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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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Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius

960-Doctor-Who-The-Brain-of-Morbius-UK-edited-VHSWhen the BBC began releasing Doctor Who on video in the mid-8o’s, they made the (mistaken) assumption that fans wouldn’t mind a few revisions in the stories. And so it was that the first releases in the range were omnibus versions of the stories, removing the cliffhangers and only featuring the opening and closing credits once per story. The BBC eventually figured out that what fans wanted was each serial as complete as possible, including sitting through the opening and closing credits for each episode of the story.

Possibly the worst victim of the early range of VHS releases when it came to editing was “The Brain of Morbius.” Not only was it released in the omnibus format but the initial release had thirty minutes of the story excised.

I’ll admit that I never purchased the original release of the story on VHS because of these edits. But I can’t help but wonder what the edited version of this story might have looked like. With the BluRay releases of the seventh Doctor’s era including expanded versions that were released on VHS as an extra for the story they’re associated with, I can’t help but wonder if the eventual release of season thirteen won’t include the edited version of “The Brain of Morbius” so I can finally see it. Continue reading

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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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Review: A Christmas Carol Written by Charles Dickens, Performed by Tom Baker

A Christmas Carol

Along with trimming the tree, making cookies and enjoying the lights, there are certain traditions that I look forward to each Christmas. One of them is enjoying stories of the season in various forms of pop culture media — movies, television shows (if the second season episode of Happy Days where Fonzie comes over to the Cunningham’s for Christmas dinner doesn’t make your heart grow three sizes with Christmas spirit, I don’t know what will) and literary ones.

One of the familiar stories that makes its way into my rotation every few years is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I’ll still admit I’ve got a soft spot for the Disney records adaptation that my parents gave me years ago on vinyl with Scrooge McDuck as Scrooge and a lot of catchy songs that will get stuck in your head for days, but I still enjoy visiting the story of Scrooge and the spirits in the original Dickens. I’ve listened to a couple of audio versions of the story, performed by various actors from Patrick Stewart to Tim Curry, but this year’s visit was performed by the man best known for his role as the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker.

I’ll admit I’ve got a certain fondness for Mr. Baker, so it’s hard to set aside that bias here. But his performance of this classic story is among the more satisfying and enjoyable I’ve heard. And given that I’m not generally a huge fan of his readings of classic Doctor Who Target novels, that really surprised me. Baker is restrained at times and completely over the top at times, but it all works. He brings an infectious joy to the transformed Scrooge that works so well that he cast aside memories of the previous audio version I’d listened to with Tim Curry. (He won’t necessarily make you forget Patrick Stewart, but then again few actors will make you forget Patrick Stewart).

As always, when it comes to re-reading a familiar story, I’m struck by the nuances that are included in Dickens’ original telling and those that don’t generally make it into the pop culture adaptations. One thing that struck me this time is that the ghost of Christmas past takes Scrooge back to his childhood and establishes a bit more of his relationship with his sister and tells us her fate. It’s helps to establish one more reason that Scrooge becomes as hard-hearted as he is when we meet him in this story. I also find it intriguing to see what his nephew’s wife thinks of Scrooge during the ghost of Christmas present segment. Too often, I think adaptations in pop culture emphasize the Cratchett family and Tiny Tim and overlook some of the other connections that Scrooge has.

It’s one good reason to be a literary snob and pick up the original source material every once in a while — whether on the printed page or as an audio book. And this audio book is one of the more engaging and spirited (pun fully intended) versions I’ve experienced and one that I highly recommend if you’re looking for a good way to enjoy a classic and get into the holiday spirit.

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Big Finish Thoughts: The Fourth Doctor Adventures

Doctor Who: Destroy the Infinite (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures 3.06)Doctor Who: Destroy the Infinite by Nicholas Briggs

While I don’t begrudge Big Finish creating their own little pocket of continuity within the Doctor Who universe, I still find it a bit frustrating when the script assumed you’ve listened to not only every release from one particular range, but also every release from the entire range of stories. Or that you’ve got an encyclopedic knowledge of that range of stories that you can easily call upon in order to understand the current story.

I’m doing well enough to keep my encyclopedia knowledge of televised stories up to date, much less that based on audio and literary adventures.

And so it is that I probably didn’t enjoy Destroy the Infinite as much as others who are more familiar with the range probably did. I came to find out from the extras on the disc that this story is a prequel to a previously released sixth Doctor story, Spaceport Fear. It seems that the alien race known as the Eminence made their first appearance there and that events in this story help set up that one. On the one hand, I’ll give Nicholas Briggs and Big Finish props for using the nature of time travel in a similar way to what the television series has tried to do. But on other hand, when I got to the end of this story, I was expecting it to be touched upon in the next several fourth Doctor stories and it never was.

It all led to my being more frustrated than entertained by this story — and curious to see out Spaceport Fear and see what happens there.

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