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Juvenile in Every Way

What:The Ultimate Evil (The Missing Episodes novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Thursday 2 January 2020
Rating:   2

This novelization of a script from the scrapped second Colin Baker series fails in many ways. The major problem is that Wally K. Daly seems to think that Doctor Who was a children's show, and so he comes up with a children's show plot with children's show dialogue. The story of two continents on one planet that remain absolutely isolated from each other so as to prevent war might have worked had Daly created logically functioning societies. Instead, we get people who can teleport just by thinking about it, cartoony villains, and "rays" that turn people murderous, hypnotized, or fearful. The writing style for this novelization is likewise aimed squarely at the eight-year-olds.



Tepid Novelization

What:Resurrection of the Daleks (BBC prestige novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 22 December 2019
Rating:   5

It took decades to get Eric Saward's two controversial Dalek scripts novelized. With this one, it was not worth the wait. Saward's novelization of his own script is worse than the original. The TV serial was pacey and action-packed enough to cover some fairly gaping holes in the logic of the script. Saward's novelization lacks this pace, mainly through dumbed-down prose. It may be that Saward was given the brief that he had to make the novel acceptable for pre-teens. Saward's answer to this is primarily to use ham-fisted foreshadowing of the "little did he know that..." variety. He occasionally breaks out of the juvenile novel mode with some equally ham-fisted side bars in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Mode." Some of the positive aspects are some deepening of the characters, some explanations of their motivations. This is especially important in giving a rationale for Tegan's departure. The book is a very quick read.



Tepid Novelization

What:Resurrection of the Daleks (New Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 22 December 2019
Rating:   5

It took decades to get Eric Saward's two controversial Dalek scripts novelized. With this one, it was not worth the wait. Saward's novelization of his own script is worse than the original. The TV serial was pacey and action-packed enough to cover some fairly gaping holes in the logic of the script. Saward's novelization lacks this pace, mainly through dumbed-down prose. It may be that Saward was given the brief that he had to make the novel acceptable for pre-teens. Saward's answer to this is primarily to use ham-fisted foreshadowing of the "little did he know that..." variety. He occasionally breaks out of the juvenile novel mode with some equally ham-fisted side bars in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Mode." Some of the positive aspects are some deepening of the characters, some explanations of their motivations. This is especially important in giving a rationale for Tegan's departure. The book is a very quick read.



Surprisingly Good

What:The Nightmare Fair (The Missing Episodes novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Thursday 12 December 2019
Rating:   7

This is a novelization of the sole Doctor Who script independently written by controversial former Doctor Who producer Graham Williams. Often criticized for an overly jokey style with too many "let's send up Doctor Who" moments, Williams' story is a welcome relief from these excesses. The script was scheduled to be part of the second season for Doctor Six, which was scrapped. Then producer John Nathan-Turner decided to go a different, and equally controversial, route once the show started up again with the ill-fated "Trial of a Timelord." Williams' "The Nightmare Fair" is evidence that Nathan-Turner should probably have stuck with his original commissions. "The Nightmare Fair" features the return of The Celestial Toymaker, who would have been played by Michael Gough reprising his 1966 role. This time, the Toymaker is making mischief at the fair grounds in Blackpool. It seems small consequences for the Toymaker, but Williams has supplied fairly good reasons for this. This novelization is very readable. Williams writes it as if it were intended to be a novel, and not as a reformatted script. He still uses a humorous approach to much of the writing, but not with too many jokes that stop the flow of the story, and with no out of place poking fun at the show. His writing for Peri is especially good compared to how she had been written in the TV series up to that point. Here, she is more active in the plot, and generally more intelligent, not merely the young woman who gets captured and rescued. There are a few places where the story could be tightened, especially at the beginning with the police, who get one scene and then appear no more, and with a few too many loose ends at the close. In total, however, this is a very entertaining read.



Fairly Standard

What:The Helliax Rift (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 3 December 2019
Rating:   7

Doctor 5 finds himself reuniting with UNIT, but now its commander really doesn't like him at all. The Doctor ends up getting teamed with the UNIT medical officer. All of this is to unravel why UFOs are crashing in one little wooded area next to a high-class rest home. The story is fairly straightforward UNIT fair. The only problem is the instant and constant dislike the commander has for The Doctor. The commander is just too narrow-minded and self-opinionated to be convincing.



Interesting

What:The Many Deaths of Jo Grant (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 3 December 2019
Rating:   7

Katy Manning narrates this story of Jo Grant undergoing multiple scenarios in which she sacrifices herself for The Doctor's sake. There is a certain predictability about the reason for this. Manning does a pretty good imitation Jon Pertwee, though not such a good imitation Nicholas Courtney. This one is entertaining.



Muddled

What:The Time of the Daleks (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 3 December 2019
Rating:   6

Another stage in this Doctor's "season 2" story arc, the story explains why Charlie can't remember Shakespeare. It has to do with a group of Daleks stranded in time trying to rectify the mistake that got them there. It somehow involves the use of mirrors as time machines, as done in The Evil of the Daleks on TV. In the future, Britain is a dictatorship and the dictator is a woman obsessed with being the only person with access to Shakespeare's works. The Daleks oblige her so that they can use the society's time experiment to solve their own problem. Learman, the dictator, is too bizarrely obsessed to be believable. Other elements also do not quite work.



Intriguing

What:The Lure of the Nomad (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 15 November 2019
Rating:   8

If this site used halves, I'd give it a 7 1/2, mostly for what the bad guys turn out to be. The main story itself is very interesting and quite well constructed. Doctor 6 and his new companion Mathew Sharpe are on their way to return Mathew to his proper place in time, but get diverted by a distress call. But wait, there is a little preview bit before hand about an old professor on a colony planet who runs across an artifact that does something to her. How does it relate? We don't find out for a very long time, but when we do, it fits seemlessly into place. The story is another of the kind in which some project, in this case an interplanetary hotel built from a derelict spaceship, gets hijacked by persons unknown for reasons unknown, and now everyone is both in danger and a suspect. The script manages to hold onto its surprises, which are many and startling, until late. The one problem area for me is that the evil race behind it all have a rather daft motivation. If it were not for that, this story would rate much higher with me.



Essentially Part 3 & 4 of a 4 Parter

What:War Against the Laan (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 15 November 2019
Rating:   7

The War against the Laan picks up right where The Sands of Life left off. The Doctor and Romana try to prevent a catastrophe, basically either genocide of the Laan or genocide of humanity. The catastrophe is brought about through a mixture of misunderstanding and stubbornness. The story also adds some mystery about the character of Cuthbert (David Warner), so you know he will definitely be back.



Keeping in Touch with the Old Days

What:The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume Three (Third Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 15 November 2019
Rating:   7

The third set of Doctor 3 adventures follows very much the form of the previous two. We get two stories, one in space and one on Earth. The first one, The Conquest of Far, follows right after Planet of the Daleks and has The Doctor and Jo heading off to Earth, but getting side tracked to the planet Far, where the Daleks have conquered the planet and housed another Dalek army. It is very well done, but a bit too similar to Planet of the Daleks. The second story, Storm of the Horofax, gets Doctor 3 and Jo back in touch with the Navy. The pacing of both stories is very similar to mid 1970s Doctor Who, which in a way is a welcome release. Jo gets to do quite a bit in these stories. It is quite entertaining if perhaps a bit too derivative of the TV adventures.



Growly Big Guy

What:The Movellan Grave (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 15 November 2019
Rating:   7

The Movellans return, even if it is only two of them and they are stranded in time on Earth. It's London, 1980, and The Doctor and Romana II are hanging out in The Doctor's Baker St. flat when they learn that an archaeologist has unknowingly dug up a Movellan power pack in an iron age battle site. A Movellan spaceship had dug its way into the ground 2000 years ago. It's task was to test the new Movellan super weapon. I'll avoid spoilers, but I will just say it involves much deep voiced growling. It is all played with panache, but the premise is lacking a little.



The Doctor in Another 1600s Witch Scare

What:The Witch from the Well (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 2 November 2019
Rating:   7

The second of the Mary Shelley trilogy is typical of such things in that one of its main purposes is to justify the companion. Thus, much of the story is devoted to showing how smart and resourceful Mary is. The story is that an archaeological dig uncovers some kind of monster that rampages the local area. The Doctor and Mary and a couple of very suspicious teenagers end up tracing the problem back to the mid 1600s and a village deeply in the midst of a witch frenzy. The Doctor and Mary get split 400 years apart in time, and the two narrative strands, 1600s and 2000s, gradually converge. It's a decent enough adventure that moves along at a rapid, but not uncomfortable pace. Not much stands out in this one, but the story is serviceable and entertaining.



Science Fiction Historical

What:Mother Russia (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 2 November 2019
Rating:   6

Mother Russia finds Steven Taylor recounting an adventure he had with the Doctor in Russia at the time of Napoleon's conquest. The circumstance of the interview producing this recounting never becomes quite clear. The story itself is typical Doctor 1. The Doctor, Steven, and Dodo land somewhere unknown, decide to stay for a while (as in The Romans) and after some uneventful months get embroiled both in history and in an alien encounter. And history ain't nice. I have long thought that Peter Purves is under-rated as an actor and that Steven was one of the best companions. His stalwart sense of right and wrong contrasts well against The Doctor's subtle consequentialism, a conflict that plays out well in this story. What brings this story down for me is that not enough thought has gone into why and where Steven is recounting this adventure and why he is having trouble remembering.



Fairly Typical Doctor 2 Story

What:Helicon Prime (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 2 November 2019
Rating:   6

Frazer Hines reads this adventure of a dazed and confused Jamie (because of a lightning strike) suddenly recalling one of his adventures with The Doctor. He and The Doctor have left Victoria behind and have arrived on a leisure center world, where almost at once someone is murdered. There is a very obvious bad guy and a pretty obvious hidden villain. So, what might be a surprise ending really isn't one, mainly because the Companion Chronicles all use the same formula of one character recounting an adventure to someone else who does not really have that character's interests in mind.



Decent Adaptation

What:Damaged Goods (Big Finish novel adaptations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 2 November 2019
Rating:   7

The original novel from which this adventure is adapted was written by the hugely popular Russel T. Davies, so it is likely to get high ratings just for that. As it is, the story is rather standard Doctor 7 material with the addition of a gay couple. We see The Doctor and companions actively seeking to right wrongs rather than accidentally coming upon a problem. The Doctor stumbles into a plan he has already made and spends his time trying to work out what he's already done. There's the obligatory bit where he knows what's going on, sends his friends into danger while not telling them what's going on, and then puts up weak justifications for this when confronted. It's the Doctor 7 formula that I never really liked much. The story itself is well acted, and the writers have managed to unobtrusively introduce exposition through having the characters describe what is happening to each other via communicator.



End of the Line for Nyssa (Apparently)

What:The Entropy Plague (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 22 October 2019
Rating:   7

The ending of the second e-Space trilogy had to involve entropy and collapsing universes. There really was no other option. The Doctor, Nyssa, and Turlough are tracking Tegan, kidnapped by space pirates, and wind up on the last world in the universe. Everything is collapsing, the stars are going out, food rots before one's eyes, and the remaining denizens of the universe are gathered to bargain for a passage out to another universe. At the control is a semi-mad scientist. The story is mainly a setup for The Doctor and Nyssa to argue at several points for who gets to sacrifice themself to save everyone remaining. Basically, then, the plot is a matter of continually closing off options, until one choice remains. The several good ideas in this story are marred by several bad ones. For instance, the opening of the dimensional portal can be powered only by tearing apart living beings? In terms of energy, living beings are no better source of energy than any other matter. Likewise, one gets touched by entropy and turns into a skulking monster that wants to suck the energy out of anything living? The space pirates are absurdly pirate-y. The good and the bad are moderately balanced. It is enjoyable, but I feel as if there were several missed opportunities to take a more daring path.



Definitely a Part 1

What:The Burning Prince (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 22 October 2019
Rating:   7

Here we have the first part of a trilogy. This trio reminds me quite a bit of the misguided Excelis trilogy, with different Doctors visiting the same place at different points in its history and encountering the same character or two and basically unable to save much of anyone or rescue the empire (in Excelis it was a planet) from destroying itself. Doctor 5, trying to reach Amsterdam, gets pulled off course and finds himself on a spaceship supposedly on a rescue mission and a mission of mercy. Their job, find the missing princess so she can marry the prince of a rival family and save the Drashani Empire from tearing itself apart in civil war. If only it were that easy. This story is the roller coaster without brakes variety. It gets up to running speed within 3 minutes and keeps racing at high velocity with nearly neck-breaking twists and turns every 10 minutes or so. Thus, writer John Dorney gives the listener little time to think of how unlikely all of this is. Be forewarned. This is another of the Doctor makes rash promises and ends up severely disappointed kind of story.



Muddled

What:The Acheron Pulse (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 22 October 2019
Rating:   6

The second installment of the sort-of-Excelis trilogy is The Acheron Pulse, a title that demands an explanation that never arrives. We get the pulse alright. Just why is it called the "Acheron" pulse, though? It is now 30 years after the events of "The Burning Prince" and Cheni, daughter of Tuvold and cousin of the evil Aliona is now its Empress. The empire is threatened, though, by mask-wearing, deep-breathing Tenebris and his Wrath warriors. If one has listened to "The Burning Prince" it is not hard to guess who Tenebris and the Wrath really are. One thing author Rick Briggs has done is to take the science-fictional origin of the Igriss and turn it into magic, so they are not genetically manufactured beings (which makes sense), but humans who have had their intellect sucked out to some dark dimension and their bodies regressed by a mysterious power called for no particular reason an Acheron Pulse (which does not make sense). There are throw-away references to Macbeth, Star Wars, and half a dozen other stories. Doctor 6 does get some good lines and comes across quite well.



Weak Novelization of Weak Script

What:Timelash (Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 20 October 2019
Rating:   2

Glen McCoy's only contribution to Doctor Who was this story. It was the weakest of Colin Baker's maiden voyage season in the TARDIS. Basically, this is story is a victim of too many ideas. We have a time corridor, a dictator-scientist, a planet that The Doctor has visited before, human / wild beast amalgamations, an impending interplanetary war, and so on. To top it off, McCoy has to get young H.G. Wells into the thing so that whatever happens becomes the "inspiration" for his most famous science-fiction works. The thing does not really hang together very well. The novelization doesn't help. Most writers of DW scripts who novelize them take the opportunity to clarify and embellish. McCoy's novelization is the laziest I have read of the Target series. He skips over large amounts of dialogue, replacing it with short, unilluminating, and boring exposition. The writing is dry and factual, with little regard for creating the scene in the reader's mind. It is really an opportunity missed to rescue the original TV serial.



Welcome Returns

What:The Third Doctor Adventures: Primord / The Scream of Ghosts (Third Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 16 October 2019
Rating:   8

For the fifth of the revived Third Doctor series, Big Finish took a big risk in bringing back some more characters from that time. In two adventures, along with Jo Grant, we get The Brigadier, while in the first one we get Liz Shaw and in the second we get Sergeant Benton. Katy Manning and John Levene reprise their roles. To voice Liz Shaw, Big Finish used Caroline John's daughter, Daisy Ashford, and for The Brigadier they used John Culshaw. Both choices are excellent. Daisy Ashford sounds a bit like Caroline John, but rather than go for outright impersonation, she has gone with recreating the rhythm and tone of the character. John Culshaw, perhaps England's greatest living impressionist, does an outstanding job of recreating The Brigadier. At points the likeness to Nicholas Courtney is uncanny. Mostly, though, as with any impersonation, it is mainly about getting the tone and rhythm right. The stories themselves recreate the the early 70s manner very well. "Primord" is a sequel to "Inferno," but not one that simply repeats the elements of the original. The story moves on to the next phase, with some upper class characters motivated by potential power and fame hijacking research into the green goo from Stallman's drill. Somehow Liz Shaw is involved in this, but how and why are deftly deferred until the right moment in the script. "The Scream of Ghosts" is not as convincing as "Primord," but still enjoyable. A sound of many voices screaming is blasting its way across broadcast frequencies and stealing people from a village in the English countryside. There's a mystery here, related to secret research into mobile telephony that is not going according to plan. Big Finish have made the right choice to expand The Third Doctor series so that it is not just Jo and the Doc.



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