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Audio Book Review
Seven stories of excitement and adventure in distant times and places! Four different incarnations of the Doctor bump into Daleks, Thals, invisible Spiridons, reptilian Silurians and Sea Devils, violent Varosians, Sil, the Master, an alien bounty hunter and some bloodthirsty Neolithic humans…
The audio books in this collection (four novelisations and an anthology of three short stories) were originally released individually during the mid- to late 1990s, and then again in 2004 on a single MP3-CD entitled Tales from the TARDIS: Volume Two. That was over a decade ago… but now they’re back – and it’s about time! This time the content is being made available on standard CDs.
Much has changed in the interim. The novelisations in here are abridged readings, whereas nowadays we are used getting unabridged presentations, thanks to the ever-expanding range of new readings from AudioGO and BBC Audio. Indeed, one of the adventures in this very volume, Planet of the Daleks, was released unabridged (read by Mark Gatiss and augmented by Dalek voices by Nicholas Briggs) in 2013. On the plus side, all of the readings here are by actors who played the Doctor (including Paul McGann), whereas many of the more recent unabridged productions have tended to feature companions or guest artists from the television show.
Kicking off the collection is Jon Pertwee’s reading of Terrance Dicks’ novelisation of Terry Nation’s script for Planet of the Daleks. This doesn’t work as well as the last volume’s The Curse of Peladon, because instead of the diverse voices of the alien delegates, Pertwee has to impersonate the Daleks, monsters he never even liked! His nasal vocalisation fails to emulate the creatures’ squawking modulated voices and undermines their essential menace. He also mispronounces several names, including Thal, Spiridon and Latep. Nevertheless, Nation’s tale contains plenty of pulpy appeal, including deadly plants, invisible aliens, ticking time bombs and Dalek disguises, even though most of these ideas had already been used in his previous Dalek serials.
Similarly, Peter Davison’s performance of Warriors of the Deep, from Dicks’ novelisation of Johnny Byrne’s script, isn’t as enjoyable as the previous collection’s Kinda, because the original script isn’t nearly as good. The narrator doesn’t even try to capture the voices of the Silurians or Sea Devils. However, we are at least spared the appalling visuals that let this story down so badly on the box: the Samurai Sea Devil costumes, the foam-rubber bulkhead door and the dreadful pantomime-horse Myrka. And thankfully Davison has toned down the Aussie twang of his Tegan voice since last time.
For his part, Colin Baker has a field day with Vengeance on Varos, conveying the story’s satirical aspects with a splendidly sarcastic tone of voice. He also imbues the population of Varos with a rich array of regional accents. The character of Bax stands out in particular. On screen, the actor Graham Cull possessed a rather droning voice, but Baker gives Bax a boyish enthusiasm for his sadistic line of work. As with Attack of the Cybermen, the Sixth Doctor story from Volume One, Philip Martin’s novelisation of his own script differs substantially from its television counterpart. In particular, there are several new scenes towards the end of the story concerning events outside Varos’s protective domes, while Sil’s superior, Lord Kiv, who appeared in The Trial of a Time Lord, is given a name check.
The talking-book version of the Paul McGann TV movie is even farther removed from its source material. Whereas the other novelisations were based on previously televised serials, The Novel of the Film, owing to the print edition’s release in the month of transmission (indeed, it came out prior to the UK transmission), was based on a less than final draft of Matthew Jacobs’s script. As a result, there are a number of differences from the screen version, including the Master’s final form, and the companions Chang Lee and Grace Holloway are not killed and then brought back to life. The latter change is definitely for the better, because the temporal resurrection that took place on screen was terribly corny and went against the usual ethos of the series.
In my review of Volume One, I commented on the quality of Peter Davison’s speaking voice. Well, Paul McGann’s is even better, as he demonstrated in the voice-over that opened the TV movie. He proves it again here in his readings of The Novel of the Film and Earth and Beyond, the latter of which is based on short stories from BBC Books’ Short Trips collections. Though he has since reprised his role as the Eighth Doctor many times in full-cast audio dramas from Big Finish, when Earth and Beyond was originally released on cassette in 1998, many fans, myself included, relished these tales as a rare and exciting opportunity to hear McGann giving voice to the character.
His reading brings to life what are, to be frank, not the most original or engaging stories ever told: the aliens’ Achilles heel in Peter Anghelides’s “Bounty” owes too much to Alien Nation, while the plot of Andrew Miller’s “Dead Time” is unfortunately similar to the Doctor Who Weekly comic strip “Timeslip”. However, there is some unintentional humour in Paul Leonard’s “The People’s Temple”, as the Neolithic tribal name Bear Men sounds on audio like “bare men”!
Presenting old readings on an old format, Tales from the TARDIS: Volume Two might seem as though it’s living in the Stone Age. Nevertheless, with four Doctors and almost ten hours of Who for your money, you may well be tempted to take a long trip back in time…