Three Doctor Who tales

Tom Baker is back, with another series of five Fourth Doctor audios by Paul Magrs: the new Serpent’s Crest audios follow the Hornet’s Nest and Demon Quest sequences of 2009 and 2010. The first story has some promising elements: rather than narration by one of the main characters with occasional interjections from others, as in the previous audios, we have a proper full cast drama; and Richard Franklin’s Mike Yates is dropped from the story in the first scene, leaving us with the much more interesting Susan Jameson as the Doctor’s companion, Mrs Wibbsey. The story takes us to a distant cosmic empire where cyborg rulers are struggling to maintain control both of themselves and of their subjects: the Tsar is played by Michael “Valeyard” Jayston, and Tom Baker doubles up as the sinister Father Gregory, forty years after the two of them played Nicholas II and Rasputin respectively in Nicholas and Alexandra. Suzy Aitchison gets a slightly better deal here as the Tsarina than Janet Suzman did in 1971. It’s a surprisingly mainstream sfnal tale for all the Whovian trimmings – a little too pleased with itself, but could have been worse.

Reprinted from Doctor Who Magazine #88-#107, Voyager contains the adventures of the Sixth Doctor and his alien companion Frobisher, a shape-changing alien Whifferdill who prefers to look like a penguin, all illustrated by John Ridgway who gets a two-page interview at the start. The first half of the book has stories by Steve Parkhouse, which are visionary and surreal and take the Doctor to strange places in inner and outer space, swirling around the sinister magician Astralabus, but including of all things a Rupert Bear pastiche. The second half, by Alan McKenzie, is a little (though not much) closer to the TV series, even bringing in Peri for the last story, but is still rather better than the TV show was at the time. Ridgway’s art is superb as well. It is well established that I am not a Sixth Doctor fan but I recommend this volume.

I can’t be as enthusiastic, I’m afraid, about Blackout, a new audiobook by Oli Smith, read by Stuart Milligan (who played President Nixon in this season’s opening two-parter). It is a rather undemanding alien invasion romp which doesn’t make enough of its 1965 New York setting. Despite valiant efforts, Milligan does not quite succeed in capturing the accents and characterisations of Smith, Gillan and Darville; more seriously, he is white and the main viewpoint character is explicitly African-American. There’s an intriguing continuity reference to the Doctor’s knowledge of his impending death, but otherwise this really suffers from appearing in the middle of a run of TV episodes which are much better.

I couldn’t really recommend any of these to non-Who fans. For Whovians, Voyager turned out to be rather a gem.