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In the 1st Doctor Vein

What:Here There Be Monsters (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 30 November 2020
Rating:   6

This story follows the Companion Chronicles formula of having a character talking to someone who may or may not be in her head about an adventure she had long ago. The story itself is very much in the 1964 style of Doctor Who with limited locations and character interactions. In tone and general subject it reminds me quite a bit of the "The Sensorites." The descriptions are vivid enough that one can imagine what this would have looked like on TV. Therefore, it has a high nostalgia rating, but does not really hold up as a story.



Mixed Results

What:Instruments of Darkness (BBC Past Doctor novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 20 November 2020
Rating:   6

"Instruments of Darkness" is a sequel to two Gary Russell novels - "Scales of Injustice" and "Business: Unusual." If you have not read these two close to reading "Instruments of Darkness," then much of what happens will not make sense. Russell tries to make this one independent with bits of backstory cast in through dialogue, but this runs counter to his wish to get you to buy the other two books. The story is rather thin, but, without giving away too much, two aliens seem to dropping in on Earth at various times of history to recruit humans with ESP powers for something quasi-religious. One alien is an albino humanoid, a suave Bond-villain type, and another is a vaguely humanoid form hiding inside a blast of blue light. These both in some way have something to do with two secret organizations with vague ties to both UNIT and The Forge/C-19, one called The Magnate and another called The Network, although they might both be the same thing. Russell again exercises his penchant for scratching the Who fans' itches by bringing in Evelyn Smythe from Big Finish. Some other problems for me with this novel is that in the first fifty pages, the reader gets inundated with brief encounters of character after character, each given a detailed background that makes them seem terribly important to the story, but each of whom turns out not to be. The Doctor, Mel, and Evelyn are sidelined for about half of the story, with scene after scene devoted to pointless arguing between The Doctor and Evelyn, none of which moves the plot forward. When things finally do come to a head, Mel and Evelyn are again mainly sidelined, with their scenes having little effect on the total story. Mostly, they seem to be there so they can be attacked. There are numerous nods to the James Bond movies, with an elaborate underground complex for a nefarious secret organization, nearly indestructible assassins, and multiple international locations. The plot hinges on the idea of super-powerful mental abilities, the people having these abilities called ESPnets (just to get in an internet reference so it all seems up to date and techy). Mental powers of this kind are indistinguishable from magic, and when they are escalated to so much "power" that one being can destroy worlds and rewrite history with just a thought, then we are completely out of the realm of believability. To give him his due, Russell knows how to pace the story, and his dialogue for the main characters suits them fairly well.



Haunted House Makeover

What:No Place (Tenth Doctor Adventures audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 16 November 2020
Rating:   7

"No Place" is a decent enough addition to the Doctor 10 series. It hits all the familiar notes of the Doctor - Donna period and tells a fairly compact story. The Noble Family - Donna, mother, and grandfather - have bought an old house that apparently they used to visit when Donna was a child. The Doctor and Donna are pretending to be a married couple who bought the house and are now being featured on a home makeover program that specializes in makeovers of haunted houses. Just why they are acting out this preposterous plan is hidden until late in the story, but it does make sense. There is plenty of witty banter, some humorous bits as The Doctor often forgets his fake identity, and quite a bit of the usual haunted house tropes - ectoplasm, a secret dungeon, moving objects, skeletons in the garden, and so on. All in all, it's entertaining, but not challenging.



A Bit Long

What:UNIT: Dominion (UNIT audios)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 1 November 2020
Rating:   8

Here we have another Big Finish attempt at a Doctor Who epic. As these things go, Unit: Dominion is probably the best of them, far superior to Zagreus, for instance. The plot is that The Doctor, now travelling with Raine, gets called off into another dimension on a rescue mission. There, he meets his future self (maybe), who gives him a brief warning and then disappears. The Doctor's rescue of the Tollians (I guess that's how it is spelled) turns out to be a wrong idea when the Tollians for no particular reason turn out to be just another bunch of war mongers with a "conquer the universe" mentality. So, Doctor 7 and Raine are forced to leave behind the TARDIS and go through inter-dimensional holes to escape. Meanwhile, future Doctor suddenly pops up in the life of UNIT scientific advisor Elizabeth Klein. Here, he seemingly saves the day against various invasions by strange critters from other dimensions. Hmmm... what's the link to Doctor 7 I wonder? Once Doctor 7 arrives on Earth at the end of the string of dimensional gateways, the narrative becomes a two-Doctors story, with Doctor 7 not quite trusting future Doctor and Klein not trusting either. The story is broken into four 1-hour segments, so it is quite long. As such, there is some padding to justify the length. Thus, we get three invasions for UNIT to deal with, which gives both the characters and the audience a sense of "not another one." The plot is very episodic, with several almost standalone bits. Some of it seems silly just to be silly, such as the floating giant baby heads that can zip through the air at hypersonic speeds. A lesson for writers: Just slap the words "from another dimension" on something and you can get away with just about anything. Still, the story has enough linking parts and enough mysteries to be revealed along the way that it does not fall apart the way Zagreus or The Next Life did. The acting for the principal characters is first-rate. Tracey Childs really makes Klein complex and interesting. Alex Macqueen is marvellous as "future Doctor," extravagant, but not too much so, and subtle just where he needs to be. Overall, this epics works well enough by not treading water too long, and by keeping the plot moving.



It Exists

What:Scratchman (BBC prestige novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 1 November 2020
Rating:   7

Plenty of people are simply going to react to the fact that Tom Bake wrote this novel, and thereby declare it brilliant. I am assessing the actual novel, irrespective of who wrote it. The novel splits into two parts. In part 1, we get a standard kind of Doctor 4 Philip Hinchcliffe period story set on a remote British Isle slowly being taken over by a body-snatching menace. In part 2, we get a trip to fantasyland for which there are almost no rules. There is also a frame tale of The Doctor once again on trial on Gallifrey. This novel is written in first-person point of view, The Doctor narrating. The idea is that the story is The Doctor giving his testimony in the trial, so the trial is there mostly to justify the use of first-person narration. Part 1 makes a very good setup. Part 2 drags down part 1. The haunted island story works pretty well, with an intriguing mystery, scary Gothic moments, and decent characterization. Part 2 does not work for me because I just do not like stories set where "anything" can happen. The writer, as in this case, spends too much time trying to make everything weird for the sake of being weird, throws incongruous elements together just to add to the weird, and spends quite a bit of time reminding the reader of how weird it all is. Redeeming features of the novel do exist. The characterizations of the main trio - The Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry - are well handled. Baker captures the strong friendship between the characters very well. The novel has quite a bit of humor in it, but not so much as to overwhelm the narrative.



My favorite Story

What:The Day of the Daleks (BBC classic series laserdiscs)
By:Larry VanMersbergen, Aurora, United States
Date:Friday 30 October 2020
Rating:   10

This was my first Dalek story in 1975 in the US. I loved it. Even though the Dalek voices weren't very good, I had no idea of that until I saw Genesis of the Daleks. Still, this story has Jon Pertwee delivering the best Time Lord lines ever. "You did it yourselves!" And now I have to fix it.



My favorite Story

What:The Day of the Daleks (BBC classic series videos)
By:Larry VanMersbergen, Aurora, United States
Date:Friday 30 October 2020
Rating:   10

This was my first Dalek story in 1975 in the US. I loved it. Even though the Dalek voices weren't very good, I had no idea of that until I saw Genesis of the Daleks. Still, this story has Jon Pertwee delivering the best Time Lord lines ever. "You did it yourselves!" And now I have to fix it.



My favorite Story

What:The Day of the Daleks (BBC classic series laserdiscs)
By:Larry VanMersbergen, Aurora, United States
Date:Friday 30 October 2020
Rating:   10

This was my first Dalek story in 1975 in the US. I loved it. Even though the Dalek voices weren't very good, I had no idea of that until I saw Genesis of the Daleks. Still, this story has Jon Pertwee delivering the best Time Lord lines ever. "You did it yourselves!" And now I have to fix it.



Chapters??

What:Doctor Who and Warriors' Gate (Target novelisations)
By:The Keeper of Traken, Canberra , Australia
Date:Thursday 15 October 2020
Rating:   6

On television, Warriors Gate is a fantastic story. It is innovative, offbeat, and slightly bonkers. This novelisation, written by the writer of the original story under a pseudonym, should be good. Unfortunately, it makes only a little more sense than the original story, it fails to flesh out much of the characters or plot and most of all, it has no chapters. The 124 page long book is not split into any definable chunks larger than paragraphs. This has the effect of making the story hard to follow, and a rather unsatisfying read. Overall it is a fairly average novelisation, spoilt by the lack of chapters.



Very Victorian

What:All-Consuming Fire (Big Finish novel adaptations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 4 October 2020
Rating:   7

This adventure is what one would expect from Doctor Who meets Sherlock Holmes. We get Doctor 7 putting Berniece and Ace on assignment, so we are already halfway into a plot when the story itself actually starts. We get the usual Sherlock stuff with Dr. Watson narrating and what from their perspective seems to be a murder mystery. The story also involves the mysterious Library of St. John the Beheaded, which appears in several of the Virgin novels. What plays out, though, is Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes in a plot from William Hope Hodgson, involving quasi supernatural creatures and otherworldly dimensions. It is clever and cute, but there are not all that many surprises.



This is great

What:The Romance of Crime (Missing Adventures novels)
By:The Keeper of Traken, Canberra , Australia
Date:Friday 25 September 2020
Rating:   10

The Romance of Crime perfectly encapsulates Gareth Roberts’ amazing wit and humour. Feeling like it could have come straight out of season 17, this book keeps the pages turning. The only slight disappointment is that the shocking reveal of the Ogrons halfway through is spoiled by the fact that one of them is on the cover. Overall, however, this is a great book, and well worth a read.



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.



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