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Depends Upon Taste

What:Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen (BBC prestige novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 18 September 2020
Rating:   7

This novel is based on a treatment for a script by Douglas Adams submitted before he became script editor for Doctor Who and before "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" made him famous. Large amounts of this treatment would later be reworked into the 3rd "Hitchhiker" novel "Life, the Universe, and Everything." Douglas Adams' treatment, reprinted in total as an appendix, is surprisingly thorough, outlining almost the entire plot. No one knows for sure why "Krikkitmen" was never made for Doctor Who, but probably it would have been deemed too expensive. "Krikkitmen" later became the closest thing to a Doctor Who movie since the 1960s, and again no one knows quite why it did not happen. So now, we have James Goss's novelization of the treatment. Many, many people will be so influenced by the Douglas Adams connection that they will simply respond to that and assume that "brilliance" is at hand. Goss sticks very closely to Adams' original treatment, incorporating some of its paragraphs into the final novel. Goss also tries very hard to write this novel as one would imagine Adams might have. This is where the novel loses some luster for me. Goss's sense of the Adams style is that every sentence has to be a punchline. Adams, however, did not write that way. Adams had a much better sense of pacing, and worked hard to set up the jokes so that they would land with just the right emphasis. Goss's endless joking gets a bit tiring and irritating after a while. Goss has also elected to make The Doctor pretty much a bumbling idiot for most of the story, while Romana is the competent genius who does all the real planet saving and has all the real insights. One may suppose that Goss drew inspiration for this from the Doctor 11 / River Song TV episodes, which operate on pretty much the same principle. What the novel does have going for it is some surprisingly economical plotting for what seems like a loosely episodic quest story - find the bits and restore them to create the magic talisman. Instead, what seems throwaway and nonsequitur turns out to be crucial for the actual plot that has been ticking along under the quest story the whole time. My verdict, therefore, is that this novel has a superb plot that gets undermined to some extent by the style.



Standard

What:Emissary of the Daleks (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 24 August 2020
Rating:   7

This is an old-fashioned Dalek story of the kind that most viewers probably wanted in the 1985 season. The story is half "Planet of the Daleks" and half "Day of the Daleks" mostly. So, it is entertaining for those who like those old-style Dalek stories, but there are few surprises.



Two Books in One

What:Millennial Rites (Missing Adventures novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 18 August 2020
Rating:   7

This may be Craig Hinton's best novel. It is more controlled than the others I have read. There are still problems with it that are common to his Doctor Who books, but these do not quite get in the way as much as they do in the others. The story is that Doctor 6 and Mel are in London for the Millennium change. Mel is meeting up with old college friends, while the Doctor looks up his old friend Anne Travers, now Dame Anne Travers, a powerful civil servant who was the person most responsible for funding UNIT. However, nefarious deeds are afoot involving Ashley Chapel from Gary Russell's novel System Shock, who once worked closely with Tobias Vaughn and has taken his mentor's idea of giving order to the world in a different direction. This first part of the novel, more than half, is mostly a techno-thriller. Chapel's plans go wrong, though, and he creates instead a pocket dimension out of a large part of London which is its own world ruled by magic, and all the major characters in the first part reappear here in different form in the second part. This second section is a mixed magic-tech / swords and sorcery story. What ties these all together is an attempt from Hinton to pull in Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. Generally, the novel is interesting enough. Hinton still indulges in many of the things I have found annoying in his other novels. One is the gods of the universe, super-powerful beings from "dark times." These are almost impossible to write well because they end up becoming too mundane and human. Another is to throw in too many winks and nods to previous Doctor Who to make a poor little ultrafan's heart go pitter-patter. We also get clumsy emotional scenes in the midst of violent chaos, presumably because Hinton could not think of where else to put them. Overall, though, this is an enjoyable read despite its flaws.



The 10th Anniversary~!

What:The Collection: Season 10 (The Collection Blu-ray box sets)
By:Trixie Fox, El Paso, United States
Date:Friday 14 August 2020
Rating:   10

A great season, all 5 stories are bangers.
Great extras too, wonderful.



Definitely Graham Williams Material

What:The English Way of Death (Big Finish novel adaptations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Tuesday 11 August 2020
Rating:   7

This is a pretty straightforward adaptation of Gareth Roberts' novel. Roberts, one suspects, really, really wanted to write for Graham Williams. The story here would fit in with that era. It is rather light, slightly weird, and full of nonsense. Roberts never takes the threat or the situations or the characters all that seriously, so much of it has a just for fun feel. Those who adore the Williams-era Doctor Who will undoubtedly adore this.



Decent Novelization

What:Revelation of the Daleks (BBC prestige novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 25 July 2020
Rating:   7

I can't say I like the cover on this book. The color is wrong, for a start. As for the book itself, ... Eric Saward has, thankfully, exorcised his Douglas Adams demon and this time a straightforward novelization of his TV script. Pretty much all the dialogue from the script is here. There are some explanatory bits added to flesh out characters, and most importantly to explain how funeral floral arrangers can also be rather brutal security managers. Saward has made only one major deviation from the plot of his original serial, adding a character and revising how Tranquil Repose collapses. This novel is a brisk read, which helps one ignore some of the plot holes until after one has finished the novel.



Decent Novelization

What:Revelation of the Daleks (New Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 25 July 2020
Rating:   7

I can't say I like the cover on this book. The color is wrong, for a start. As for the book itself, ... Eric Saward has, thankfully, exorcised his Douglas Adams demon and this time a straightforward novelization of his TV script. Pretty much all the dialogue from the script is here. There are some explanatory bits added to flesh out characters, and most importantly to explain how funeral floral arrangers can also be rather brutal security managers. Saward has made only one major deviation from the plot of his original serial, adding a character and revising how Tranquil Repose collapses. This novel is a brisk read, which helps one ignore some of the plot holes until after one has finished the novel.



Epic

What:Philip Hinchcliffe Presents: The Genesis Chamber (Philip Hinchcliffe Presents audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Thursday 23 July 2020
Rating:   8

The Hinchcliffe era of "Doctor Who" did not have many outer space epics. "Genesis of the Daleks" is probably the only one. "The Genesis Chamber" adds another. The Doctor and Leela arrive on a human colony world split into two rival communes - the city, in which the computer Inscape controls nearly all aspects of life, including birth, and the settlers, who have forsworn technology and live the simple village life of hunting and herding. Unknown to them, however, a third force has now arrived to destroy both communities. It's a bit "Brave New World," a bit "Romeo and Juliet" and a bit "Face of Evil." There is some excellent dialogue and many great performances. Although the story is fairly predictable in a number of ways, it is still well done and quite enjoyable.



Still Searching

What:Killing Ground (Missing Adventures novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 5 July 2020
Rating:   7

With his second or third novel, Steve Lyons still has not quite found what works for him. "Killing Ground" stays pretty close to Eric Saward - style Doctor Who. It's limited to a few tight locations, and plotted around various battles with linking scenes mostly meant to get the reader to the next battle. The Doctor spends most of the novel chained up and out of action. The main idea is not fully dealt with. Doctor 6 has decided rather off-handedly to take his new companion Grant Markham, from Lyons' previous novel "Time of Your Life," to his home world, which Grant had left when he was a small child. Agora, it turns out, has been made into a Cyberman breeding ground, with the natives forced to reproduce to provide material for Cyber conversion. There's a ragtag and hopeless kind of resistance movement using stolen Cyber technology to create a fighting force they are calling Bronze Knights. Also, this particular period in Cyber history is the subject of investigation for a pair of time-travelling historians, the elder of whom secretly wants to become a Cyberman (or woman, as it were). In typical Saward fashion, the story is quite violent and bloody, with the heroes continuously trapped and about to be killed when some kind of miraculous thing manages to get them saved. The incidents become increasingly frequent until in the last 40 or so pages that is all that is happening. Some questions remain at the end, such as why The Doctor chose to take Grant to Agora. Grant keeps wondering, but no answer is given. At the end, it seems that Grant will continue travelling in the TARDIS, though this turns out to be the last novel with him in it. Lyons does a very good job of writing a Saward-style story, very much in the spirit of 1983-4 Doctor Who.



A great listen

What:The Flight of the Sun God (Classic series audio originals)
By:Xavier Downey, Ipswich, United Kingdom
Date:Friday 19 June 2020
Rating:   9

This is the only original Doctor Who audiobook in my possession and I found the story to be an intriguing listen with Nicola's narration providing really great life to it.



Little Did He Know That...

What:The Ultimate Foe (Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 10 June 2020
Rating:   3

This book has more clumsy foreshadowing than any other book I have read. Every other page has some statement like "at that moment was walking into danger." Perhaps it is the only way that Pip and Jane Baker could think of generating any kind of excitement. This novel proves to me that they were, indeed, the worst writers for "Doctor Who." The fundamental problem, it seems to me, is that they viewed "Doctor Who" as a children's program, and wrote for it at that level, whether it was a script or a novelization. To make it worse, their idea of writing for children is to write down to them; that is, they assume that children are stupid and need constant handholding through the story and that all forms of danger must be contained within some cartoonish foolery to make it less traumatic for children.



Doctor Who by the Numbers

What:The Twilight Kingdom (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 5 June 2020
Rating:   7

My title for this review pretty much says it all. The first two parts are quite interesting, providing the listener with several mysteries and a "Heart of Darkness" vibe with much potential. Unfortunately, the payout is pretty much standard "Doctor Who" with a mix of "The Face of Evil" and "Claws of Axos" about the villain and an unrealistic self-sacrifice to resolve the problem.



Silly in All the Wrong Ways

What:Terror of the Vervoids (Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Wednesday 3 June 2020
Rating:   2

Pip and Jane Baker's novelization of their first script for Doctor Who shows in abundance why they were a wrong choice. It's a lame who-dunnit in which the who is obvious, the characters are all one-dimensional types, the dialogue is stilted, and the plot more riddled with holes than the golf course next to no man's land in WWI. A huge problem are the Vervoids themselves. Giant mobile plants born out of seed pods, how can they speak English, know what a space ship's "bridge" is, have eyes, and voluntarily spray poison gas from their mouths? The novelization has much ham-fisted foreshadowing, such as "For Rudge there was to be no escape." Not much more needs to be said.



Fantastic!

What:The Complete Twelfth Series (BBC new series DVDs/Blu-rays)
By:Trevor Smith, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Date:Thursday 28 May 2020
Rating:   10

A really cracking series of stories that leads to a fantastic, mind blowing climax. Top, top stuff.



The series that finally killed Doctor Wh

What:The Complete Twelfth Series (BBC new series DVDs/Blu-rays)
By:John Miller, Cape Town, South Africa
Date:Thursday 28 May 2020
Rating:   1

It's not just that the stories here are preachy, badly written, badly directed and have hammy acting.
It's not just that the 'Doctor'(Jodie Whittaker) has absolutely no personality. Or that the companions are utterly one-dimensional.
This is the series with "The Timeless Child" and "Ruth Dictor".
Yes. The Doctor isn't just "a madman with a box". He's not even just "The Other". No. The Doctor is a little girl with godlike powers from another universe. And the source of all Time Lord Power. And (s)he can go on regenerating forever. In fact, Hartnell is only Doctor #621311251521, at the earliest. Ugh!
Oh, and plastic's bad. So don't buy the DVD or Blu-Ray. And, unless you change, Earth will become a wasteland, and your descendants will be mutants with no apparent foodsource. And Yazz fancies someone, but it could be awkward. And Gallifrey was destroyed AGAIN. And Muslim physicians were known for their enlightened views. The one positive is that the Master wasn't trying to shag the Doctor, but that's probably because he would have been shamed for sexual harassment. See, it's funny if it's a woman doing it, but not if it's a man.



Superb Icelandic Outing for Old Sixie

What:The Hunting Ground (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:Matthew David Rabjohns, Bridgend, United Kingdom
Date:Tuesday 26 May 2020
Rating:   10

Every now and then with Big Finish, after a run of already absolutely superb stories, you get one that is even that extra bit special. For me The Hunting Ground by AK Benedict is one of those stories. Colin Baker to begin with is on the top of his game here, its lovely in the bonus interviews at the end of the story to hear the writer herself show such warmth and love for this most undervalued and underrated Doctor. So good to hear that the writers love his oh so colourful and sparkly Doctor. And it aint hard to see why AK says what she does about Colin's sublime take on the role.

Colin gets to spar magnificently with the delightful Amy Beth Hayes as Yrsa Kristjansdottir. And one for certain can yet again that Amy should absolutely be a companion for his Doctor, oh boy yes she should. She's a great cop, with a firm and logical head on her shoulders and takes care of herself well within this superb tale. She also gets to act some touching and stirring moments of pathos whilst trying to discover why her Dad was murdered, and whom committed the murder. In fact I would go as far as to say that Amy has given one of my favourite performances of a character for a very long time in a Big Finish audio. Yes, I kid you not her strength of character yet her caring nature make her one heck of a character. Oh Big Finish when you restart the Doctors in their own box sets in 2022 please please please dont let Amy Beth pass you by again. It would be absolutely incredible hearing her be yet another new companion for Old Sixie.

I always love stories that are set in bleak and harsh landscapes too. And the sound and the score for this story work very very well indeed. The feel of this being set in Iceland feels totally authentic, but then again one has come to expect no less from the great Big Finish productions. The Hunter is a rather unpleasant and vulgar creation too, played with zeal and aplomb by Michael Griffiths. That he turns out to be not a wholly black hearted psychopath in the end though does make his final scenes in the play saddening and stirring. Its good that some writers seem to grasp the point that the best villains are written in shades of grey sometimes, and not just black and white. Yes his ending is actually saddening in the end and gives yet another added touch of emotional impact to an already emotionally rich story.

You can tell that AK knows her stuff about crime writing too. This tale flows along superbly well. A succinct and tight plot which never has any overtly distracting humour to ruin the tone of the story. It does though have a vein of light relief, this time in the amusing form of the two headed alien being Marfick. Both heads are brilliantly portrayed by Will Hislop and Joe Jameson. Both of these guys never verge on stupid either, and they make a memorable and decent and even lovable character indeed whose obsessed with all things administration!

Michael Griffiths also gets to portray Yrsa's father and its great to hear an actor being given two such polar opposite roles within a story. And Michael delivers fantastically for both roles. The story of her father's death is one that is extremely well portrayed. Malcolm James as the slimy creep Sigdor too really impresses with his performance. And we also get a very commendable performer in Harriet Colling's Frida too.

This story brings its twists and turns well, and has some moments I genuinely found quite surprising and brilliant to listen to. Margaret Ashley particularly as the DCi comes over very well as a character who isn't wholly ripe but at least still has a firm grip on her humanity, and throughout the story this comes over extremely well again indeed. The story has some great cliffhangers and the resolutions of those cliffhangers too are brilliant and inventive and all come together to make one of the most enjoyable and lovely stories I've heard in a while from Big Finish. In fact this may even be my favourite Big Finish outing for quite some time, and that truly is saying something with the fantastic array of stories we've been getting from Big Finish for the last few years in all their ranges.

A story rich with strong characters, highly charged performances and some sublime scoring and sound design, The Hunting Ground truly is a total winner of a tale and I please hope that Big Finish have the sense not to let the chance of Amy Beth's Yrsa pass them by. I for one definitely want her to be a new companion. Honestly I must even admit that shes made an even bigger impression on me than even Constance or Flip did in their debuts, and I adore both those characters to pieces. Sorry but I dont care if Im gushing. Its only due to the simple fact that AK has written a first class Old Sixie adventure where her writing of his character is absolutely spot on and Colin sinks his teeth into the role yet again and runs with it with the lovely Yrsa at his side. Honestly the vein of brilliant characters Big Finish create never cease to amaze me.

Wolves, Hunters, murderous intrigue and even some superb moments of intense pathos. Honestly what more could one ask from a story? Oh boy am I glad Big Finish gave us a jewel of an adventure such as this. This is one of those very rare cases where every single element of a story works perfectly and comes together to make a belter of a story.



A Strong Set of 4 Stories

What:Forty-Five (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:Jared Harr, St. Marys, United States
Date:Saturday 16 May 2020
Rating:   8

False Gods - 8/10 Had an interesting plot once I figured out what it was trying to do and the ending was pretty powerful. However, Sophie didn’t seem to put in her best and I feel Benedict Cumberbach was given too small a part to play. Essentially, you have one of Britain’s finest actors (next to Derek Jacobi and John Hurt), but you use him in 1/4 of a monthly episode and that’s it? I was super excited to hear him in this story, but he did come off as a bit dull thanks to the dull character he played.

Order of Simplicity - 7/10 It’s an interesting mesh of futuristic concepts and an archaic setting tied together in a neat little plot. It reminds me of the old intellectual episodes in Colin Baker’s early Big Finish works. Nothing too special though, just a nice bit of light entertainment. Also, Benedict played a neanderthal for 2 minutes in this one too... Really??

Casualties of War - 8.5/10 Cool emotional narrative that hits so many places so well. The family itself is neat and it doesn’t try to overdo anything. It’s mostly about the characters. I don’t know what else to say except that it’s good.

The Word Lord - 9/10 Started off very strongly with a twist on the structure of a classic story (and a neat locked room mystery where every suspect is locked in one room together). Then things ramped up towards the end. I’m not sure how to feel about it, as it takes an incredibly corny concept similar to the Carrionites from “The Shakespeare Code,” but is very clever with it and just about gets away with it. I had fun with this one and the acting was stellar from the entire cast. Overall, great production!



A Good Intellectual Piece

What:Medicinal Purposes (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:Jared Harr, St. Marys, United States
Date:Saturday 16 May 2020
Rating:   9

Was a pretty good intellectual story for the most part. It doesn’t completely go overboard on the intellectual stuff like “Ish” or “Year of the Pig,” but it does have a decent amount of it in there.
You are subjected to an intriguing mystery once you get past the waffley first part which describes in the vaguest way possible the important historical characters of the episode: Burke and Hare.
There were also some neat twists positioned at some of the low points that made me excited to keep listening. Also, I loved Davis Tennant’s character. He was very well done! Plus the denouement is beautiful here.



A Fun Western Conspiracy

What:A Town Called Fortune (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:Jared Harr, St. Marys, United States
Date:Saturday 16 May 2020
Rating:   9

I had an immense amount of fun with this story!

The beginning is probably the strongest part of the entire story, but the rest still holds it own very well. The pace as slowed down a little bit too much in the second half of part 1, I will admit. However, said pace picked up again quickly during the second part.

The story is a bit complex, but not in a science fiction way. The writer of this particular story (Paul Sutton) managed to create an engaging conspiracy plot set in a small western town. The villain is a bit on the nose, but is very functional in his role.

The music is also astounding. Simple, yet effective and has all the twangs in just the right places to make it feel old, yet exciting! I feel the actual sound effects (such as the rifle and horse hooves) could have been a lot better, but that’s a minor thing on the whole.

Maggie doesn't have the best Colin Baker impression, but her female characters were very nuanced and on point. The guest actor did a phenomenal job in his role, and all the characters themselves were so well written.

In short: This is a fun adventure set in an old western town. Plot is great and the characters are equally so.



Interesting Concept, poor execution

What:The Stones of Venice (Big Finish: The Monthly Adventures)
By:Jared Harr, St. Marys, United States
Date:Saturday 16 May 2020
Rating:   3

This story has a crazy concept that just screams "Doctor Who." However, the rest of it falls flat. The plot itself is a mess and the dialogue is super clunky (especially in the beginning of part 3). The story just seems to sit there and doesn't bother adding any action into it's convoluted mess of a script. By part three, key ideas in the script stop cold turkey and everything just feels like a train wreck of story concepts that go absolutely nowhere.

If you're looking for a cool story with good pace... Well, you get half of that here.



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