Doctor Who
Collected Stories

Authors: Jacqueline Rayner, Stephen Cole, Justin Richards, Mike Tucker and Colin Brake
Read by: David Tennant, Anthony Head, Don Warrington and Shaun Dingwall
BBC Audio
RRP: £50
ISBN: 978 1 405 67816 2
Available 01 October 2007

There’s danger and adventure aplenty for the Doctor and Rose Tyler as they become embroiled with: an ancient Roman mystery involving a missing boy, a clairvoyant girl and a 2000-year-old statue of Rose; a chilling secret surrounding a sunken naval cruiser and its ghostly crew, who return to haunt their loved ones; a renegade mining planet that could be home to vanished pirate treasure and the legendary key to eternal life; a village where the residents are being plagued by nightmares, monsters and an ancient evil; a struggle to save the world from an alien intelligence in a dormant volcano in 22nd-century Africa; and a once-perfect planet that has grown sick, a disease for which only the Doctor and Rose can find the cure...

This box set contains all six audio books featuring the Tenth Doctor and Rose, the first three of which are read by Doctor Ten himself, David Tennant.

Tennant is a talented voice artist, so he provides a wealth of different voices for the characters. For example, the aged Roman Gracilis in The Stone Rose sounds rather like Prince Charles, while the oafish “sculptor” Ursus reminds me of Russell Crowe. Tennant’s rendition of the wish-granting GENIE comes across as not unlike London Mayor Ken Livingstone or the Ferengi Grand Nagus Zek in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Naturally, his impersonation of the Tenth Doctor is perfect! And because he reads in his native Scots brogue, it’s easy to tell where the narration ends and the Doctor’s speech begins. He also uses his Scottish accent in The Feast of the Drowned, for the voice of the helpful Vida Swann, while the villainous Rear Admiral Crayshaw sounds remarkably like Baron Silas Greenback from Danger Mouse. Unfortunately, his attempts at black characters are less successful, being slightly comical, which is a particular shame because Feast has three major black characters: Mickey Smith, Rose’s friend Keisha and Keisha’s brother Jay. On the other hand, his imitation of Jackie Tyler is uncanny.

In The Stone Rose, Tennant and author Jacqueline Rayner successfully convey the fact that the Tenth Doctor is more a man of action than his predecessor. Here he battles with gladiators and ferocious animals in a Roman arena. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of an opportunity to explore the new Doctor’s relationship with his companion, because first Rose and then the Time Lord disappear for long sections of the story.

The narrative is reliant on circular logic and a few mind-boggling time paradoxes, while the presence of the reptilian GENIE, reminiscent of E Nesbit’s Psammead, means that the end result is somewhat on the silly side. However, in condensing her story for this two-and-a-half-hour audio presentation, the author has tightened up what had been a rather run-around (or perhaps that should be Rome-around) plot.

This is an enjoyable reading of an enjoyable book. If only Christopher Eccleston could have been persuaded to do the same for Rayner’s superior Winner Takes All.

Coincidentally, both The Stone Rose and The Feast of the Drowned, by Stephen Cole, are Earth-based tales featuring Mickey Smith and Jackie Tyler. These characters don’t usually appear in consecutive stories, so there is a danger that the series could be perceived as lacking variety. In both books, the Doctor and Rose have already arrived on the scene as the narrative commences. However, whereas the TARDIS crew spend relatively little time in present-day London during The Stone Rose, here the capital city is the primary location. It is possible, therefore, that the Doctor and Rose immediately returned to the present day following their trip to ancient Rome, perhaps to check up on the statue and to ensure that history has not been adversely affected.

Jackie and - in particular - Mickey play larger roles in The Feast than they do in The Stone Rose. In fact, Mickey seems well on his way to becoming a full-blown companion, as he eventually would do in the television series. Did Cole and Rayner know that Mickey was going to end up staying behind in a parallel universe? Is that why they make maximum use of the character in these two books?

Another major character is Keisha, who is introduced here as part of a once close-knit gang comprising Rose, Keisha and Shareen. Rose’s best mate Shareen has been mentioned several times on the television show, but presumably Cole chose to invent a new friend (or the BBC insisted) rather than use Shareen, in case the character should ever appear in a subsequent episode that might contradict this story.

Despite the higher than usual word count of Cole’s original novel, there are few noticeable omissions from this abridged reading. Rayner, who condensed all the stories in this collection, is seemingly more ruthless in editing her own book than she is with the others. Here the only notable excision is the revelation about Mickey and Keisha’s “affair”.

The audio version of The Feast of the Drowned remains substantial fodder for Who fans of all ages. Feast your ears.

Following two Earth-based stories, The Resurrection Casket, written by Justin Richards, takes us deep into space and far into the future - though the technology on Starfall seems more like that of an age gone by. This is because it lies in the midst of a zone of electromagnetic gravitation, which means that nothing electrical will function. There are machines, including spaceships, robots and even a cyborg barmaid, but they are all steam-powered.

Though this narrative is not true steampunk (a genre that Who has tackled before in BBC Books’ Imperial Moon and Big Finish’s A Storm of Angels), the effect is much the same. And a most enjoyable effect it is, too - though the concept of robots being forced to rely on low-tech power sources, including human flesh, coincides with similar developments in the television episode The Girl in the Fireplace.

As with the same author’s The Clockwise Man, one of his main characters is a young boy, in this case a wannabe space explorer called Jimm. The major twist surrounding this character isn’t hard to guess, but other revelations will hopefully surprise listeners who haven’t read the original book.

The plot is an homage to Treasure Island, though the notion of pirates (both space-bound and Earth-bound) and the search for their hidden treasure will also evoke nostalgic memories of old Who serials such as The Smugglers, The Space Pirates and The Pirate Planet. Tying in with the Smugglers angle and the overall tone of the narrative, Tennant gives several of his characters Cornish accents.

The Resurrection Casket is easily Richards’s most agreeable book based on the new version of Who to date. It’s a veritable treasure trove.

The remaining three stories are read by other performers. The Nightmare of Black Island is narrated by Anthony Head, while Don Warrington reads The Art of Destruction and Shaun Dingwall brings The Price of Paradise to life. These are all actors with good Who pedigrees. Head (better known as Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) now has three Who roles to his name: a bit part in Death Comes to Time and the main villains in both School Reunion and The Infinite Quest (though the latter part came about after these audio books had been recorded). Even before his appearance as the British President on the alternate Earth in Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel, Warrington (alias Philip in Rising Damp) had already chalked up several appearances as a decidedly sinister Rassilon in Big Finish’s Eighth Doctor audio dramas. Dingwall made an indelible mark as Rose’s father Peter Alan Tyler and his parallel-universe counterpart in no fewer than four episodes of Series 1 and 2.

Another difference with these three stories is that I haven’t read the print versions of them, so I’m not in a position to compare the audio books with their prose originals.

Not to worry, though - the audio version of The Nightmare of Black Island comes across very well in its own right. The suave and silky tones of Anthony Head work well with author Mike Tucker’s spooky tale of an ancient evil and the bad dreams of young children. Kicking off with a thrilling encounter between an ill-fated fisherman and a hideous monster, Tucker (the author and co-author of several Seventh Doctor novels and audio adventures, turning his attention to another incarnation for the first time) provides scary chases through dark woods, hidden passages and an eerie disused lighthouse.

The lighthouse element naturally brings to mind the Tom Baker serial Horror of Fang Rock, though in fact the lighthouse and Black Island itself play surprisingly minor roles in the narrative as a whole. Other influences upon the text appear to be The Island of Doctor Moreau and Forbidden Planet, though of course Who has a long history of paying homage to literary and screen greats.

There is a sense that, in describing his various misshapen monsters, the author is attempting to tell a story that even an effects wizard such as himself could never hope to realise on a television budget. Nevertheless, listening to this audio book does feel very much like experiencing a Tenth Doctor episode of the television show. As though to emphasise this feeling, the Welsh setting is of course a location that the Cardiff-based production team might have chosen, for obvious logistical reasons.

All in all, Tucker’s Nightmare goes like a dream.

Perhaps in an effort to compensate for the relatively adult tone of his Feast of the Drowned (which has, for instance, Vida giving another character a two-fingered salute and lurid descriptions of bloated, reanimated victims of drowning), Stephen Cole’s next book, The Art of Destruction, is a decidedly silly affair.

Though the futuristic African setting makes a nice change, and there’s a serious message about agricultural exploitation in Third World countries, older readers might find the plot rather too tongue-in-cheek. The human characters are dull and samey compared with the bizarre array of alien creatures that Cole trots out for the Doctor and Rose to face, including the avian Valnaxi, the unfortunately phallic Wurms, and the cactus-eyelashed, many-tongued art thief Jazamillian Faltato, who wouldn’t have been out of place in an episode of Lost in Space.

A good narrator might have brought this romp to life, but unfortunately Don Warrington, talented though he is as an actor, is not a good narrator. His monotonous tones bring little distinction to the various characters, with the exception of Faltato, who sounds like Warrington being strangled. And any narrator would struggle to pronounce the term “data-get” without it sounding like an insult directed at the android from Star Trek: The Next Generation!

The Art of Destruction may drive you to distraction, but not in a good way.

When BBC Books initially launched its range of novels based on the new series, only the most established and high-ranking Who authors were permitted to play: specifically, Justin Richards, Stephen Cole and Jacqueline Rayner, all of whom have executive editor or producer roles on their CVs. Gradually, other writers - Gareth Roberts, Steve Lyons, Mike Tucker - were allowed to join in. Prior to the publication of The Price of Paradise, Colin Brake had only written the (disappointing) Eighth Doctor novel Escape Velocity and the Past Doctor Adventure The Colony of Lies (though he was briefly considered as Eric Saward’s replacement as script editor on the television show during the late ’80s). Nevertheless, he makes a worthy contribution to the range with this Tenth Doctor book.

Though the premise of a planet attacking alien intruders like a living organism combating infection may be familiar to older readers (see, for example, the Blake’s 7 episode Trial and Marvel Comics’ Ego the Living Planet), the story is well told. The characters are made all the more appealing and interesting thanks to a sympathetic reading by Shaun Dingwall.

Each of the tales is accompanied by a discussion with its respective author. For the first three books, the writers are interviewed by David Darlington of Doctor Who Magazine. For the final three tales, the authors discuss their work with the performers who read them. This makes for interesting listening, as the writers exclaim satisfaction and/or surprise at how the narrators have chosen to vocalise their characters.

At an RRP of £50 for the entire box set, The Price of Paradise - and indeed the other five stories in this collection - is quite affordable.

Richard McGinlay

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