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Audio Book Review
Twelve stories of excitement and adventure in distant times and places! Various incarnations of the Doctor encounter numerous foes and friends, including Ice Warriors, the Mara, Lytton, Cybermen, the Master, a Krynoid, the Master (again), Skagra’s imprisoned minds and Iris Wildthyme...
The audio books in this collection (three novelisations and two anthologies of short stories) were originally released separately during the mid- to late 1990s, and then again in 2004 on a single MP3-CD entitled Tales from the TARDIS: Volume One. That was over a decade ago, so it must be time for a re-release! This time the content is being made available on standard CDs.
A lot has changed in the meantime. The novelisations in here are abridged readings, whereas nowadays Doctor Who audiophiles are used getting unabridged presentations, thanks to an ever-growing range of new readings from AudioGO and BBC Audio. Indeed, one of the adventures in this volume, The Curse of Peladon, was released unabridged (read by David Troughton) in 2013. On the plus side, there are a lot of readings here by actors who played the Doctor (including the late Jon Pertwee), whereas many of the more recent unabridged productions have tended to feature companions or guest artists from the original television serials.
Each of the narrators brings his or her own unique vocal qualities to the reading. For example, the various alien delegates in The Curse of Peladon (based on Brian Hayles’ novelisation of his own script) allow Jon Pertwee to exercise his talents as a voice artist, as he renders the squeaky Alpha Centauri and a pair of hissing Ice Warriors. Only his guttural Arcturus is less than entirely successful, sounding like a cross between Ken Livingstone and Harry Enfield’s Old Gits.
With the best speaking voice of the bunch, Peter Davison does sterling work with his performance of Kinda. Terrance Dicks’ bland novelisation of Christopher Bailey’s script was one of the author’s weaker efforts, but Bailey’s superb dialogue shines through. Davison well and truly brings this to life, sounding uncannily like actor Richard Todd in the role of the gruff Sanders and capturing Simon Rouse’s breathlessly unhinged Hindle. Additionally, we are spared the awful rubber snake that ruined the climax of an otherwise classic serial. However, Davison’s attempt at Tegan’s Australian accent is a bit over-the-top.
Of the three novelisations in this volume, Eric Saward’s adaptation of Paula Moore’s Attack of the Cybermen differs most noticeably from its television counterpart. The structure of the narrative is rearranged considerably, with many of Lytton’s scenes grouped together during the first quarter of the story, while many of the Doctor and Peri’s scenes are reserved for the second quarter. Much of the dialogue is also markedly different from the televised version.
Colin Baker provides an impressive range of tough-sounding voices for the various heavies and dodgy geezers – Lytton, Griffiths, Russell, Payne, Stratton and Bates – and does a remarkably accurate lilting Cryon voice. However, his American accent for Peri is even more laughable than Davison’s Aussie Tegan. He also manages to mispronounce the Cryon name Threst as “thrust” (oo-er, missus).
Out of the Darkness and Short Trips are collections of short stories that are mostly derived from BBC Books’ first two Short Trips anthologies – before Big Finish took over the range. Here we see (or rather hear) BBC Audio augmenting its output in response to the more ambitious productions that were emerging from Big Finish and others. In contrast to the novelisations, many of these stories are bolstered by sound effects, voice modulation and original music. Some, such as “Moon Graffiti”, read by Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, and “Freedom”, read by Nicholas Courtney and Sophie Aldred, allow their two readers to interact like performers in a full-cast drama.
The stories range from the quiet and touching, such as Jonathan Blum’s “Model Train Set”, to the downright madcap – with its potent combination of time distortions, the Master, a Krynoid and a talking bird, Robert Perry and Mike Tucker’s “Stop the Pigeon” seems even sillier here than it did on the printed page!
Another bad accent crops up in “Stop the Pigeon”, courtesy of Sophie Aldred’s over-the-top attempt at Sylvester McCoy’s Scots brogue. To her credit, though, she does a good regional accent in Tara Samms’ “Glass,” as does Nicola Bryant in Michael Collier’s “Vigil”. For his part, Nicholas Courtney succeeds in conveying the speech patterns of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker in “Freedom” (by Steve Lyons), “Degrees of Truth” (by David A McIntee) and “Old Flames” (by Paul Magrs).
Presenting old readings on an old format, Tales from the TARDIS: Volume One could seem to some as though it’s living in the past. Nevertheless, with several Doctors and nine and a half hours of Who for your money, you may well be tempted to take a trip or twelve back in time…