(Sorry if this is drivel – I’m not very well and having a great deal of difficulty writing coherent sentences. Pretty much every sentence here started out as “it’s like that thing, oh you know, the one with the thing”).
Obligatory disclaimer-cum-explanation as to why I’ve bought this book. I’ve vaguely known Lawrence Burton as one of the more intelligent posters on the Doctor Who forum Outpost Gallifrey and on the Faction Paradox forum for a year or two. We’ve recently become Facebook/Twitter friends, and he wrote a very flattering review of my most recent book. So I may be biased here.
On the other hand, I don’t know him well enough that I think I’m biased – and if you read through that thread (Lawrence reviewing several hundred science fiction books) it’s obvious both that he can actually write, and also that he shares a number of my tastes – of the books we’ve both read, I’d say I agree with at least 80% of his reviews, and especially the stuff he’s most glowing about (Philip K Dick, Lawrence Miles, David Louis Edelman) and his tastes in individual works by writers (preferring The End Of Eternity and The Gods Themselves to Asimov’s Robot stuff).
So when I saw he’d self-published a couple of books himself, I bought this one without even reading the description.
It turns out to be an unofficial Doctor Who novel. I’d hesitate to call it fanfic, partly because it was intended for BBC Books (and quite why it was rejected I can’t understand) and partly because fanfic tends to suggest something of poor quality, and this is anything but. It’s a Doctor Who novel that happens not to have been licensed by the BBC, that’s all. (Lawrence is selling the book at cost price and not making a penny from it, I hasten to add).
Given that it’s self-published, there are surprisingly few criticisms I can make of it. The review thread linked above is called “Crappy 70s paperbacks with airbrushed spaceships on cover”, and the cover design is a perfect imitation of those, the typography on the back being spookily reminiscent of some of them (the closest comparison I can find is the Granada paperback copies of The End Of Eternity and The Zap Gun, but I know I’ve seen something even closer). However, the typography in the book itself is less wonderful, being in Times New Roman (or a facsimile thereof) and eight- or ten-point type. Having a legally-blind wife, I know from experience that ideally one should print things in at least twelve-point, and wherever possible use a sans-serif font, for readability.
Other than that, the only really jarring thing about the book is a moment of lampshade hanging, when the Doctor is on a collect-the-plot-tokens quest and thinks about how he hates this kind of thing when it happens in books. It’s not done quite well enough to overcome the problems.
One other problem I have – and one that’s my problem rather than the book’s – is that the book is set in pre-Columbian Mexico, and so the characters’ names are all phonetically unlike anything I’m accustomed to. This gave me some difficulty in keeping track of the characters, but that can hardly be helped, given the subject.
The plot is a pretty good one – why has the universe shrunk, so that it now consists of only a small area of Central America and a few centuries? Why are the Gods walking among the humans? – but the plot is less important than the writing. Lawrence obviously has a huge love for the Mexica culture and mythology, and this comes across in every word. Before I read this, all I knew of the Mexica culture was that some of their sculptures in the British Museum look like they’d been made by Jack Kirby, if Kirby had had an obsession with skulls (which is a good thing). But Lawrence manages both to make this seem like a sympathetic culture (putting even the human sacrifice into a context where it seems entirely reasonable) and to bring out the utter strangeness of the culture’s myths.
A lot of individual scenes will stay with me for a long time – the Doctor getting an inkling that problems are starting when Carl Sagan starts talking about how the Earth is a few thousand years old, the god at the centre of the TARDIS, the journey through Mictlan – this is a book as much about the journey as the destination, and Lawrence isn’t afraid of devoting time to his interests, whether that be retelling old myths or explaining Mexica social structure or making asides about old sitcoms.
In fact, after the obvious in-joke that the Third Doctor used to watch Dad’s Army (which starred Bill Pertwee) I started wondering about the other references – what does the confirmation of a Doctor-Who-universe Wilfred Brambell and Tony Hancock mean for the careers of the ‘Whoniverse’ Ron Grainer and Terry Nation? – but that’s just the 60s-TV fan in me coming out.
And there’s a very sitcom feel about parts of this book, but in a good way. It’s a funny book, but the humour all flows from the situations, whether it be the Doctor’s other console rooms (I want to see the McConsole Room ™ now) or the TARDIS translation circuit malfunction that renders speech more… idiomatically than before. The one funny bit that doesn’t quite fit in is the bit with three priests (trying not to spoil anything here). But that is so funny – and so incongruous – that it works, even though it could easily have fallen into the too-common trap of mistaking a reference for an actual joke.
The characterisation is spot-on as well. Lawrence catches Peri’s voice perfectly, and his Sixth Doctor is definitely Colin Baker (although the character here is closer to the TV series than to the more nuanced portrayal in the audio stories – understandably, as this was written in 2002, when the audios hadn’t been going that long). At times the Doctor seems almost *too* verbose, but then this is a Doctor whose defining writers were Pip & Jane Baker, and the fact that nobody else talks like that shows it as a stylistic choice rather than a tin ear.
It’s a first novel, with all that that entails, and Lawrence’s influences are clear (and he thanks Philip Purser-Hallard and Simon Bucher-Jones in the acknowledgements, if it hadn’t been obvious) – I’m sure the use of Mictlan here is at least in part a reference to its use in the Faction Paradox books – but while this doesn’t rise to the level of the very best Doctor Who books, it’s funny, clever, well-written and written by someone with an obvious love for his subjects – both Doctor Who and pre-Columbian Mexica culture – and is certainly better than a good 90% of the Doctor Who books I’ve read.
Now if only Air France hadn’t lost my bag with my DVD of The Aztecs in, I could do a compare/contrast here. Oh well…
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to a non-fan of Doctor Who, but it’s an excellent self-contained story which requires a minimum of continuity knowledge, so if you’re even a casual fan – especially if you’re a fan of the Sixth Doctor, who’s otherwise even worse-served in print than on TV – this is well worth a read. I’ll definitely be buying Lawrence’s book of short stories.
Smoking Mirror is published by Ce Acatl/Lulu and is available here.
Big Finish’s output has been very, very variable recently. In the last couple of years, since they started doing ‘trilogies’ rather than stand-alone stories, they’ve become increasingly likely to do complicated continuity-twisting stories – the Sixth Doctor travelling with the Second Doctor’s companion, the Sixth Doctor travelling with the *Eighth* Doctor’s companion, three Celestial Toymaker stories in a year… this month’s story involves the Sixth Doctor and Evelyn teaming up with DI Menzies (a character from the Sixth Doctor’s future who has to pretend she doesn’t know him) against Thomas Brewster (a character from a Fifth Doctor trilogy from a couple of years ago).
But then you get stuff like A Death In The Family, the recent story by Steven Hall (the writer of The Raw Shark Texts), which manages to play with continuity lightly and tell a story about the nature of reality, the nature of fiction, the power of words, and the sacrifices people will make for each other. The gimmick – the Seventh Doctor and Evelyn – and the continuity references (it ties up threads from at least eight different stories going back nearly a decade) don’t matter. A Death In The Family is as good as anything Big Finish have done in the last five years, and was far and away the best thing they put out last year.
It’s only the 23rd of January, but I already know what the best thing they’ll put out this year is.
Peri and the Piscon Paradox is part of the Companion Chronicles range – a range of stories closer to audiobooks than the full-cast dramas Big Finish usually do, where an actor playing one of the Doctor’s companions tells a story over the course of a single CD, with one other actor usually taking part to play a character they’re narrating to or something.
This one, by Nev Fountain, is a little different in that it’s two CDs long, and the second actor is actually Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor. It’s also the single best multi-Doctor story ever. This post, like all my reviews, may contain spoilers from here on in, but be assured I’m not actually spoiling anything.
The first disc tells a story of Peri and the Fifth Doctor fighting a fish-monster-thing in LA in 2009, with the assistance of Peri’s ‘forty-several’ year old self, an agent for a secret government agency who Peri quickly grows to despise. It ends with Peri vowing never to become like her older self.
The second disc tells the story of Doctor Perpugilliam Brown, presenter of a ‘celebrity relationship counselling’ TV show, and how she gets dragged into a complicated plot by a man claiming to be someone she once met in Lanzarotte, more than twenty years ago, even though he looks nothing like him, and how that plot involves tricking a past self she can’t remember.
Those who remember Nev Fountain’s earlier Big Finish work, especially The Kingmaker, will recognise a number of his regular motifs as the story goes on. Not only are there multiple Doctors interacting without being fully aware of each other’s actions, and time paradoxes, there are many, many jokes set up in the first half that only pay off in the second. The first three-quarters of this story, in fact, is pretty much laugh-out-loud funny throughout. I know it’s hard to believe, given that Fountain also wrote for Dead Ringers, but it is a good piece of comedy.
And Nicola Bryant is excellent. Despite the fact that she’s hampered by having to do the accent and characterisation she lumbered herself with as a much younger actor, she manages to play the two Peris remarkably well, and it’s an astonishingly subtle, nuanced performance. Colin Baker is, of course, as excellent as ever, and is in it more than you might think.
But it’s only at the end, when the full story is revealed, that what Fountain is doing really falls into place and you realise just how good this actually is. In a couple of lines of dialogue, Fountain clears up a continuity problem that avid fans reading this have already spotted. At the same time, he also manages to make the story about things – about growing up, about betraying our youthful ideals, about our youthful ideals betraying us, and about how we harden with age and with compromise. It’s a very sad, very political story, in the end. He gives the story a bittersweet ending that fits in with my own preferred ‘all stories are true’ Doctor Who ‘canon’, and he manages to make the same scene seen from two different angles mean two totally different things. It turns what was already one of the best stories Big Finish have done in a long time into one of the best they’ve ever done.
A Death In The Family is better, but that requires you to have listened to more stories and to have an attachment to the characters. This is a wonderful comedy that suddenly punches you in the gut, and will do so no matter who you are.
All the praise that people have been giving Moffat’s A Christmas Carol should really be going to this story – it does the same things (and indeed some of the same things that this month’s main-range Big Finish story does) so much better that the TV story looks like a sad parody of this one. It’s a story that anyone at all could listen to and get a *lot* out of, and it’s something that could only have been done as Doctor Who. I’ve only listened to it once, but it may be in my all-time favourite Doctor Who stories. It’s certainly in my favourite Big Finishes (along with Davros, The Kingmaker, Jubilee, A Death In The Family, Doctor Who And The Pirates, The Holy Terror and Spare Parts) and is one I would urge anyone to listen to.
Even many Big Finish fans don’t buy the Companion Chronicles, because they’re seen as cheap filler things This one really, really isn’t. It’s as good as anything they’ve done. Buy it, if you like funny, intelligent, thought provoking science fiction, whether or not it’s labelled Doctor Who. It’s only a tenner as a download, and it’s worth every penny.
I do have one proviso though, that I feel obliged to mention even though it may be slightly more of a spoiler than the other things I’ve said
and that is that the ending may be triggering for those who have experienced spousal abuse. It’s dealt with sensitively, and in a way that’s necessary to the plot, but be aware that it’s there.
A few weeks back, the Daily Torygraph had a week of giveaways of Doctor Who CDs. I didn’t get them because I refuse to buy that wretched snotrag of a paper, but they have recently announced an offer to get rid of their back stock, and are selling all seven CDs for ‘P&P only’ – although thirteen quid seems a lot for P&P.
However, less than two quid per CD is a great deal, and so I picked these up.
Mission To The Unknown (by Terry Nation, narrated by Peter Purves ) is a Dalek story from the first Doctor’s era. I won’t go into great detail about it here, as I plan to review the story in full when I get to it in a few months, but this was a single-episode story which was the only Doctor Who story not to feature the Doctor – though it set up a later story, The Daleks’ Master Plan.
As the story was burned, the only way to experience it is to listen to off-air audio-tape recordings made at the time, with linking narration by Peter Purves, who does a decent job. The story itself, intended by Nation as a backdoor pilot for a Dalek spin-off series, is genial hokum about Agent Marc Cory of the Special Space Service fighting deadly Varga plants. Taken for what it is – 45-year-old children’s adventure TV – it’s fun, though hardly at the same level as the first couple of Dalek stories. But before listening, forget everything you know about astronomy, as neither Nation nor David Whittaker (the script editor) knew the difference between a galaxy, a solar system and a constellation, so at one point you get several galaxies teaming up to try to take over the Earth.
Genesis Of The Daleks (by Terry Nation, starring Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter, Michael Wisher, Peter Miles et al)
This was the first Doctor Who story to get any kind of repeatable home release. In the days before videos, this, an album containing a one-hour abridgement of the two-and-a-half-hour TV story’s soundtrack, with linking narration by Tom Baker, was the first time people could buy a Doctor Who story that had been on TV.
It’s obviously less necessary now that you can buy the whole thing on a double-DVD set with documentaries, commentaries, outtakes and so on, but it still has a nostalgic appeal to many Who fans, which is why it’s still available on CD.
Listening to the abridgement, a few things become clear.
Firstly, the TV show depended hugely on David Maloney’s visual sense. Without his Bergman rip-offs and the sense of oppression his visuals give, the story is much more the Typical Terry Nation script than it appears when watching it. And the abridgement does the plot few favours. It cuts out all the nonsense ‘perils’ that Nation stuck in more or less at random – the landmines, the giant clams and so on – but without those distractions, you can see that the plot makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
But everything changes whenever Michael Wisher and Tom Baker get to do their thing (either together or separately). There’s a rumour that Baker and Wisher substantially rewrote their dialogue together in rehearsals, recasting some of it into iambic pentameter to make it more Shakespearean . Certainly, at crucial moments, this is *NOT* Terry Nation dialogue – this is a script that has been worked on by diverse hands, including Terrance Dicks and, most crucially, Robert Holmes.
Even in this cut-down form, then, the set pieces (“to hold in my hand…” , “Have I the right?”) still have an immense power, and this is still a fantastic story. In what should have been a fairly conventional Dalek story, someone (presumably Holmes) managed to sneak in a morality play straight out of Dostoevsky, but written for eight year-olds. And even without the Bergmanisms and gas masks, that’s pretty special.
Exploration Earth (by Bernard Venables, starring Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and John Westbrook)
This is a trifle, a little over twenty minutes long, that doesn’t really deserve its own CD. Originally broadcast for schools’ radio, it’s an educational programme trying to tell the story of the Earth’s creation, using the Doctor Who characters to provide a dramatic framework. Sarah Jane is completely out of chaacter as Generic Companion (“Doctor, I’m scared”) though Lis Sladen still does wonders with some awful dialogue. A historical curio, not really made for repeat listening.
Slipback (by Eric Saward, starring Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant)
Or the Blitch-Blikers Buide to the Balaxy. During the show’s ‘gap year’ in 1985, BBC Radio4 commissioned a serial in six fifteen-minute parts for their children’s strand, Pirate Radio 4, starring the then-current Doctor/companion team and written by the show’s then-script editor Eric Saward.
While in his scripts for TV Saward seems obsessed with trying to be like Robert Holmes but with more violence, when writing for the radio he seems instinctively to have turned to another former Who writer/script-editor, Douglas Adams, and as a result you could play any of the scenes in this that don’t feature the Doctor to anyone and they’d think it was a bit they’d forgotten from the second Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy radio series.
Saward’s attempts at humour aren’t great – he’s someone who’s clearly more at home writing action-movie wisecracking than actual wit – but the cast is fantastic, featuring voices that anyone who has ever listened to Radio 4 will recognise instantly, like Valentine Dyall and Nick Revell. And while the plot makes no sense, the fifteen-minute-episode format means it keeps moving quickly.
Incidentally, the computer voice in this, which is supposed to sound like an ‘airheaded bimbo’, sounds suspiciously like an impersonation of Sandra Dickinson, who played Trillian in the TV (but not the radio) version of Hitch-Hiker’s. Dickinson was then married to Peter Davison, and had apparently not been hugely popular among the production staff of Doctor Who. I wonder if this was a slight dig at her…
Pest Control (by Peter Anghelides, read by David Tennant)
This is a two-disc audiobook (as opposed to radio play), and is *much* better than I expected. I loathe Tennant’s Doctor, but here, reading in his own accent, he gives a masterful performance. I still find his Doctor irritating (and from the voice and characterisation of Donna Noble I was very correct to not watch the fourth RTD series, or I would have smashed whatever I was watching it on), but he does more and better acting in the two-and-a-half hours of this audiobook than in the entirety of his TV career as the Doctor, providing a range of distinctively-voiced, subtly-characterised characters.
The story itself is a fairly standard Doctor Who plot – in fact as a plot it’s far more the kind of thing one would expect from Saward than Saward’s own story is – about a war between the Earth and a bunch of aliens, but then the Earth soldiers are being turned into giant insects, and then a killer robot turns up… you know the kind of thing.
It’s a routine, formula story, but it’s an *extremely well executed* routine, formula story, and as such would fit far better with the Moffat series than the Davies series to which it is a coda. And I’ll give it a lot more leeway for being formulaic than the TV series, because as an audiobook the production costs of this consist of little more than the cost of a microphone and a cup of tea, while the TV series cost several million quid. The expectations are correspondingly lower.
This was actually the big surprise for me, and easily the most enjoyable of these as a pure listening experience, and that’s coming from someone who loathes Tennant as the Doctor.
And I will love Anghelides forever, because unlike the people at Big Finish, he uses the word DISORIENT! NOT DISORIENTATE! DISORIENT! THE PROPER ACTUAL WORD! NOT THE ILLITERATE NEOLOGISM. I know disorientate is now in dictionaries, and I hate linguistic prescriptivism as much as anyone, but that’s always been one of my bugbears. Mr Anghelides repeatedly using the proper word made me very happy.
The Runaway Train by Oli Smith, read by Matt Smith
I only listened to this today, and I remember nearly nothing about it, except that Matt Smith can’t do American or Scottish accents, and Smith’s voice is a lot less tolerable than Tennant’s when doing a dramatic reading. There’s some stuff about the future-Doctor setting things up in the past to happen to him in the present, but other than that I couldn’t tell you anything about it. It all just turned into “bleh bleh bleh bleh” between the headphones and my eardrums.
Overall, this is a very mixed bag, but for thirteen quid it’s worth it for Genesis and Pest Control alone. Then you’ve got a couple of fun-but-silly children’s programmes (Slipback and Mission) and a couple of duds, but everything is at least worth a listen. Possibly even The Runaway Train…
Apologies for the continued lack of posts – unfortunately I’ve had to work a lot of long days this week, as we’re preparing for a release. I’m going to try to get a few posts up this weekend, and while I’m away next week (on holiday with my family, with no net access) I’ll try to write a *lot* of stuff, so when I get back I’ll have a backlog to post.
The biggest problem with Paul Sutton’s Thicker Than Water is also its greatest strength, which is that it is explicitly part of a larger continuity, and the end of a ‘story arc’. As (in story terms) the last story to feature Dr Evelyn Smythe, it ties up details of her relationship with the Doctor. It’s a sequel to the earlier story Arrangements For War, where Evelyn’s reactions were based on the events of Project: Lazarus, which was in turn a sequel to Project: Twilight. Meanwhile, the emotional turning point of the last episode (which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t yet heard it) is a revelation about the events in a completely different set of stories – the Cyberman trilogy The Reaping, The Gathering and The Harvest, which were in themselves a series of stories involving three different Doctors in reverse-chronological order and…
You see what I mean?
Rather miraculously, the story still works as a decent adventure story without having heard these stories, and for the most part you can pick up what you need to know, but there are a few scenes in the last episode that pack a real punch when you’ve heard them but would just be confusing without it.
Overall, however, the story is extremely effective. Doing the ‘new companion meets an old one’ story a good few months before it happened in the nuWho episode School Reunion, and in a significantly more adult manner, one of the two main plots of this story involves the Doctor taking Melanie Knownasmel off to meet Evelyn, who he credits with having mellowed him and made him a more decent person, but who (it is revealed) he left in a somewhat petulant manner when she decided to marry.
The scenes between the Doctor and Evelyn are some of the best acting you’ll hear – especially at the end when Evelyn tells the Doctor (for the only time) “I love you”. It’s clear in context that she means it in a fatherly way – it’s also clear that he may have loved her in a somewhat different way. But the performances here are a world away from the mopey teenage angsting of the new show – these are very *grown-up* performances, Colin Baker’s Doctor clearly embarrassed by any kind of display of real emotion, his bumptiousness and bluster all shown as cover for a very restrained, repressed person who cares more than he ever dare let show. At their best (and they are at their best here) Colin Baker and Maggie Stables have a rapport completely unlike anything in TV Who – a genuinely adult, *real* relationship between characters who are real people. It’s very unfortunate that it was decided after this to reduce the number of stories featuring Evelyn (and the scripts for those with her in have been noticeably worse since this than the ones before it), as they’re really the only ones in which the Doctor has a truly adult relationship with his companion, and they’re all the better for it.
The main ‘adventure’ plot, on the other hand, is fairly easy to follow for even someone who knows little or nothing of Doctor Who. Doctor Who (the original show and spin-offs, but not the new series) was always about … well, ‘always’ is a big word… one of the most enduring themes of Doctor Who, from the very second story up until the last series, was the fight between small-l liberalism and fascism, specifically Nazism. Almost all the memorable stories in Doctor Who have been about this in some way , from the what-if-the-Nazis-won of The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, through the whole of Tom Baker’s first series, through Curse Of Fenric, with villains like the Sontarans being caricature German officers, only missing a monocle.
The audios have returned to this theme a few times – sometimes rather clumsily just having the Doctor fight some Nazis, as in Colditz, but often looking more at the moral issues involved. Davros, for example, is ‘about’ Holocaust denial. This story, in so far as it is ‘about’ anything (and for the most part it’s actually about the human relationships involved, rather than about the subject of the plot) is about the morality of using data from Nazi ‘experiments’ to save lives (see this link if you’re unaware of the debate about this, but be warned – some of the stuff described there would turn anyone’s stomach). Actually, the debate is twisted a couple of times in this for plot purposes – it’s not a straightforward morality tale – but it at least nods to the issues, which is more than many supposedly more thoughtful stories do.
So while by no means the best of the Baker Big Finish stories, this is a good, solid story, raised above what it should have been by the performances of the two leads (and despite Bonnie Langford’s equal billing here, it really is a Sixth Doctor and Evelyn story). The only real annoyance (at least if you’re familiar with the rest of the stories referenced) is that the science at the end is so poor – I for one would like to see a ban on the use of the term ‘DNA’ from all SF/fantasy/superhero stories. DNA DOES NOT DO WHAT YOU THINK IT DOES, SF WRITERS! Today alone, I have ingested chicken DNA, potato DNA, corn DNA, wheat DNA, cow DNA and probably the DNA of a few other species as well. I have not yet turned into a horrible chickpocowheacow , and nor would I have had I injected same directly into my veins. See also black holes (I’m looking at *you*, new Star Trek film).
In general, it’s far better to just use made-up nonsense terms if you’re doing made-up nonsense science – using the real terms won’t make any difference to anyone who doesn’t understand them, and will only remove any suspension of disbelief from those who do.
But that apart, this is definitely worth a listen for Baker and Stables’ performances, and I only hope Big Finish will soon start giving this pairing some more solid stories together.
Well, I know it’s been a little more than a week… in fact some pedants might say it’s been closer to a month… since I did one of these (just as some might say that I still owe a proper Final Crisis summing up) but to make up for that I am going to review (albeit in less detail than usual) three newish Big Finish adventures.
Last year, Big Finish decided to produce audio adaptations of the three official Dalek stage plays that had been produced over the years, sticking as closely to the original scripts as possible and, where possible, using original cast members. As two of these were by Terrance DIcks, and the third by Terry Nation and David Whittaker, you would be forgiven for not going in with the highest expectations. But as you can currently download all three for twenty pounds, I thought I’d give them a go.
The first to be released, and by far the worst, is Dicks’ The Ultimate Adventure from 1989. This was originally staged with Jon Pertwee in the lead, with Colin Baker taking over in the later versions, and here Baker reprises the part, along with a companion with a rrreedeeculuz Frrrainch eczent. Unfortunately, the part doesn’t seem to sit right with him here – possibly because the show was originally written for Pertwee’s very different Doctor, or possibly because Dicks had never written for Baker (the sixth Doctor was the first one never to have a TV story written by Dicks (he never wrote for Hartnell, either, but did write the First Doctor in The Five Doctors)).
The story itself is a pantomime rather than a serious story, with several terrible songs (“Business Is Business” being the least-worst, but it should have been cut to roughly a fifth of its present length), a plot involving Daleks and Cybermen teaming up with mercenaries to take over the earth for what I’m sure must be good and adequate reasons, and the Doctor working for Mrs Thatcher. I imagine it must have been great fun for any young children in the audience at the time, but it’s inessential at best. Baker does his best, but this is quite weak stuff.
Doctor Who And The Daleks In Seven Keys To Doomsday, another DIcks story, this time from 1974, is much better. Written at a time when Dicks was the script editor for the show, it very much has the feel of late Pertwee about it (the original stage show was on during the gap between Pertwee’s last episode and Tom Baker’s first, and starts with a regeneration sequence), though both stage show and audio release starred Trevor Martin as the Doctor. If you listen to this and The Ultimate Adventure back-to-back you may get a sense of deja vu, as a couple of plot points (notably a companion getting into a Dalek travel-machine and using a handy ‘make your voice sound Dalekky’ machine that the Doctor just happens to have on him) are reused. But the difference is that here there *is* a plot. Not a hugely interesting or original one – the Doctor and his companions turn up on an alien world where they have to recover the Seven MacGuffins Of Doom before the Daleks can, aided by some locals (one of whom is a traitor!) and hindered by some spiderlike creatures called Clawrentulars.
It’s a thin plot, and its not helped by one of the companions (Jimmy, the other being called Jenny) being absolutely insufferable. Some of this is intentional – the Doctor gets exasperated at him on a regular basis – but some of it is down to actor Joe Thompson’s utterly horrible Mockney (it may be his real accent, in which case I feel sorry for the poor man, but I doubt it…). However, the plot suffices, and the play is made enjoyable by Trevor Martin’s frankly wonderful performance. At times he sounds scarily like Patrick Troughton, and while his Doctor is written like Pertwee’s, Martin plays it much more like the first two Doctors. He inhabits the role in a way that few others have (I’d put him behind Hartnell, Troughton and the Bakers, but ahead of Pertwee, Davison, McCoy and McGann). I’d be very interested in hearing more of Martin as the Doctor – maybe in Big Finish’s Unbound series?
The final one, though the first to be staged, is 1965′s Curse Of The Daleks by Terry Nation and David Whittaker. As you would expect from those writers at that date, the science is wrong, it’s laughably sexist, it makes no sense if you examine it for a moment – and it’s absolutely great. Even though this story doesn’t feature the Doctor at all, being the first of Nation’s increasingly desperate attempts to cash in on Dalekmania separately from the show, it has much of the feeling of the early series.
This is possibly explainable by the fact that while Terrance Dicks said he had to learn to write for the stage after having written for the TV, early-60s Doctor Who was essentially done as live, at a time when the medium was essentially broadcast theatre rather than the miniature cinema it later attempted to be (and Dicks’ vision of the Doctor was always more cinematic than his predecessors and successors on the original series). Nation in particular had started out as a writer of stage shows, and the character of Rocket Smith (a name which now makes me think of Computer Jones or Synthesiser Patel) has a lot of the speech rhythms of Tony Hancock, for whose stage show Nation was a writer before writing The Daleks.
Curse of the Daleks is also helped by the fact that, due to its writers’ deaths, it has not been updated for the audio release, so Nicholas Briggs reads the stage directions for purely visual events. This gives it the feel of a partly-dramatised audiobook of a Target novelisation, which again makes it feel more like ‘proper Doctor Who’ to me than the other stories which actually have the Doctor in them. As a return trip to Skaro, it’s well worth a listen, even though it’s just good pulpy adventure in an early-60′s Eagle manner.
None of these are up to even Big Finish’s slightly diminished recent standards, let alone their best work, but given that you can download all three for not much more than the cost of a single download of one of their other audios, they’re definitely worth a shot – even the worst has fun moments in it.