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Good Setup, Mediocre Ending

What:Paradise Towers (Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Thursday 14 January 2021
Rating:   6

Stephen Wyatt's two "Doctor Who" adventures both have the same problem. The premise is quite intriguing and the mystery behind what is happening keeps the story going. The answer to the mystery, though, is rather silly, and the ending slapdash. This in a nutshell is "Paradise Towers." The Doctor and Mel are trying to find a nice, relaxing pool, so go to the architectural marvel called Paradise Towers. When they arrive, however, the Towers are dirty and half-abandoned, occupied by gangs of teenage girls, old women "residents," some of whom practice cannibalism, and inept, rule-bound Caretakers. Something is killing people one by one, and that something might just be the dark secret kept in the basement. Wyatt's novelization keeps most of the original dialogue and follows the original plot precisely. Wyatt's novelistic touches make it a pleasant read, giving the novel the feeling of a story rather than just a cleaned-up version of the script.



Decent Historical

What:The Transit of Venus (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 11 January 2021
Rating:   7

This story would have fit well into Doctor Who 1964. It is a historical, taking place during Cook's voyage through the South Pacific. William Russell does very well telling the tale, and his impression of Hartnell's Doctor is spot on. The story won't knock your socks off, but it will give you that little nostalgic tingle.



Would Have Been Better If Longer

What:Prisoner of the Sun (Eighth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Sunday 3 January 2021
Rating:   7

"Prisoner of the Sun" is an interesting exercise of The Doctor being The Doctor. In this story, The Doctor is a willing prisoner of a kind, so he can do what is necessary to protect a planetary system. Meanwhile, political forces behind the scenes are cooking up other ideas. It is good enough as it goes, but because of the 2-part limitation, much of the backstory is given in exposition dialogue. It would have been better to have this all work and unfold through dramatic action.



Typically Childish

What:Time and the Rani (Target novelisations)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 1 January 2021
Rating:   3

Pip and Jane Baker clearly saw "Doctor Who" as a show for children, young children especially. "Time and the Rani," happily their last script for the show, amply proves this point. The novelization is in the Terrance Dicks mold of novelizations, basically the script with almost all the dialogue as aired on TV plus a few bits of narrative commentary to make it read like a story. The plot is rather lame. The Rani hijacks The Doctor's TARDIS from a distance (how did she know he was there?) to use The Doctor to fix her equipment so she can complete her grand scheme of biologically reprogramming the universe. It all plays out on the simplest good vs. evil level. The Bakers never miss an opportunity to praise their evil Time Lord creation and manage to take a swipe at The Master one more time (see their prior Rani + Master story "The Mark of the Rani" for multiple examples of "The Rani is brilliant, The Master is an idiot" remarks), just to say again, "See, our evil Time Lord is better." This novelization fixes none of the major defects of the original script.



Return of a Classic Villain?

What:Wave of Destruction (Fourth Doctor Audio Adventures)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 14 December 2020
Rating:   7

"Wave of Destruction" surprisingly does not make many waves. It is by-the-numbers Doctor Who. Doctor 4, Romana 2, and K-9 (I guess that's 15-love for the good guys) thwart another invasion of Earth, this time in the mid 1960s. There are some funny bits with pirate radio. The villains for this are a race that made one appearance in a less than beloved Doctor 4 serial from TV. In the "making of" bonus tracks, author Justin Richards mentions an original idea he had for the story that, frankly, probably would have been more interesting than what we ended up with.



Good Historical

What:The Glorious Revolution (The Companion Chronicles audiobooks)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Saturday 12 December 2020
Rating:   7

There were not many purely historicals in the 2nd Doctor period, so this story makes a nice gap filler. It has the usual Companion Chronicles structure of a companion character telling a story of his/her time with The Doctor to another character. In this case, a Time Lord from a certain agency is trying to track down a historical anomaly involving Jamie, and so temporarily restores old Jamie's (he's a grandfather now) memories. Jamie recounts his time in the days of The Glorious Revolution that installed William and Mary on the British throne. It turns out that a certain decision Jamie makes based on his emotional loyalty to Bonnie Prince Charlie may have changed history. It's a decent historical romp that does not really stretch the genre or Doctor Who overall.



Good Try

What:Spiral Scratch (BBC Past Doctor novels)
By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Monday 7 December 2020
Rating:   7

It's not the universe this time; it's the whole multiverse. That is the premise on which hangs Gary Russell's story of how the 6th Doctor ends. There is no doubt that Russell spent years in various media trying to revitalize and rewrite the reputation of Doctor 6. I agree with him that Colin Baker's Doctor was underserved in his time on TV, and that the TV writers never figured out how to write to Colin Baker's strengths as an actor. Russell goes all out to try to rectify that problem. Russell's Doctor 6 is still tetchy, but not just as a personality quirk, but as a defense against his own tendency of caring too much. Russell's Doctor 6 is much more perceptive, too. And, as Russell writes him, Doctor 6 will make the grand self-sacrifice that other Doctors likely wouldn't. So, Russell writes a story that would highlight these characteristics and justify the regeneration that we never properly got to see on TV. Russell also attempts to justify the various media spinoffs (comics, cd audios, fan films, etc.) as alternate universes rather than tie them into a secure, single timeline. The idea to accomplish this is that something has happened to cause ruptures across the multiverse and allowed a hideous time-eating lamprey to turn the multiverse into chaos soup. The justification for this seems to be the existence of a Human-Lamprey hybrid (never mind the impossibility of species from different worlds or realities breeding), and the accidental discovery by an Earth scientist of a special chemical reaction that will open the pathways for the evil lamprey to travel. Or something like that. It's not entirely clear. Instead of trying to follow all the various alternative Doctors and their attempts to track down the problem, Russell concentrates on three, with three versions of Mel quite different from each other (which makes one alternate Doctor mistaking the wrong Mel something of a plot hole). At the heart of this is rather standard Doctor Who fare, though. An evil creature from another dimension with god-like powers that "eats" time has got loose and must be put back into its cage. One can give it a new body, but it's still pretty much the same thing as in dozens of other Doctor Who stories across the media. The villain, therefore, is not particularly compelling, since its motivation is basically nutrition. In the end, "Spiral Scratch" is a noble effort, but deeply flawed.



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.



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