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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who
Shroud of Sorrow


Author: Tommy Donbavand
Read by: Frances Barber
Publisher: AudioGO
RRP: £15.99, US $29.95
ISBN: 978 1 4713 2988 3
Release Date: 04 July 2013

23 November, 1963. It is the day after President John F Kennedy’s assassination – and the faces of the dead are everywhere. PC Reg Cranfield sees his deceased father in the mists along Totter’s Lane. Reporter Mae Callon sees her late grandmother in a coffee stain on her desk. FBI Special Agent Warren Skeet finds his long-dead partner staring back at him from raindrops on a window pane. Then the faces begin to talk… and scream… and push through into our world. As the alien Shroud begins to feast on the grief of a world in mourning, can the Doctor dig deep enough into his own sorrow to save mankind…?

Compared to its companion volumes, Plague of the Cybermen and The Dalek Generation, Shroud of Sorrow is at something of a disadvantage. For a start, it doesn’t have any Cybermen or Daleks to draw its readers in. However, it does have the nostalgic period setting of 1963 – when Doctor Who began fifty years ago – and it does have Clara Oswald. 

The book’s opening tells us the name of the policeman we saw at the start of the show’s very first episode… and the nostalgia doesn’t end there. However, the setting does more than merely allow us to wallow in the past during this anniversary year. The date, one day after the shooting of JFK, a time when most of the Western World was still reeling with shock and grief, proves to be important to the plot.

Shroud of Sorrow is the first novel to feature Clara (though the theme music used on this unabridged audio edition is the version that accompanied Amy and Rory’s travels with the Eleventh Doctor). Unfortunately, author Tommy Donbavand is not entirely successful in depicting the companion, conveying little of her characteristic cheekiness. Indeed, the bickering that goes on during the first TARDIS scene has more in common with Peri’s spats with the Sixth Doctor.

He makes better use of the five stages of grief identified by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. The victims of the alien Shroud go through the same phases – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and it’s a race against time to prevent the final stage, because that would mean the total subjugation of the Earth. There are some believable depictions of grief, in particular the numbness and sense of detachment that I can attest to.

There are signs that the narrative has been extended beyond its natural length. The appearances of the ghostly faces get rather repetitive – there are three different sightings before the Doctor and Clara get involved in the thick of the action, by which point the audience may well be thinking, “Yeah, all right, we get it.” Later on, a side step to another world (borrowing story elements from The Horns of Nimon and Planet of the Dead) occupies the whole of the fifth of six CDs. This effectively puts the Earthbound plot on hold, though it does also help to illustrate our planet’s potential fate, a la Inferno.

Things pick up during the final disc, when the Doctor lures the Shroud with some poignant memories of his own. This is similar to the climax of The Rings of Akhaten, but I’m prepared to overlook that, because the author was probably not privy to the contents of that episode at the time of writing, and anyway his version is better. There are some genuinely moving moments here, for the Doctor and other characters. However, was the death of Astrid Peth really the most painful loss during the whole of the Time Lord’s tenth incarnation? Not his separation from Rose? Really?

The reading by Frances Barber, who played Madame Kovarian during Series 6, is not the most subtle narration ever, being full of raised voices and broad American accents (in fact, one wonders why an American actor, such as Stuart Milligan, was not chosen). However, there is no denying that Barber throws herself wholeheartedly into the project, vocalising sound effects such as “Flash!”, “Bang!” and “Putter, putter, chuff!” as well as providing decent imitations of Susan, the Second Doctor and Jo during flashbacks.

It is with some sorrow that I deem this the weakest of the three books in this batch, but be assured that it’s not all doom and gloom.


Richard McGinlay

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