Doctor Who
Tales from the TARDIS Volume One (MP3-CD)

Narrators: Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Nicholas Courtney and Sophie Aldred
BBC Radio Collection
RRP 19.99
ISBN 0 563 52372 7
Available 05 July 2004

In twelve tales from the TARDIS, various Doctors 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...

Such is the storage capacity of MP3-CDs that BBC Worldwide has managed to cram its entire Doctor Who talking book output on to two of them. Admittedly, this range was relatively short-lived, but nevertheless this volume runs to a whopping nine and a half hours, while Volume Two is even longer.

The reason why the Beeb only ever released ten such talking books is largely due to the increasing appeal of full-cast original audio dramas, particularly those produced by Big Finish. Why listen to a single performer reading a third-hand account of a TV story (third hand because these tend to be abridged readings of Virgin Publishing novelisations based on TV scripts) when there are so many full-cast dramas on the market? It's true that talking books are of particular interest to the visually impaired, but recordings of TV programmes and movies are now becoming available with audio descriptions that cater for such customers.

Having said that, there's still plenty to enjoy in this collection.

Each of the readers brings his or her 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 reading of Kinda. Terrance Dicks' bland novelisation of Christopher Bailey's script was one of the author's weaker efforts, but Bailey's superb dialogue remains intact. 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 read in this volume, Eric Saward's adaptation of Paula Moore's Attack of the Cybermen differs most noticeably from its TV 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.

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".

In Out of the Darkness and Short Trips, collections of short stories that are mostly derived from BBC Books' first two Short Trips anthologies, we see the publisher responding to the appeal of those full-cast audio dramas. Many of these stories are augmented 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 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).

The readings of the novelisations are accompanied by images from the original TV serials, though they rarely tally with the actual events being described at any one time. The stories from Out of the Darkness and Short Trips are not illustrated in any such way. Surely the producers could have used some generic shots of the relevant Doctors, companions and other recurring characters? To add insult to injury, Dave Stone is erroneously credited on screen for all three Out of the Darkness stories, when in fact he only wrote Moon Graffiti.

Despite my reservations about certain aspects of these readings, more than nine hours of Who for less than twenty quid has to be a bargain in anyone's (talking) book.

Richard McGinlay

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