Thursday, 29 March 2018

WHO REVIEW: The Thing from the Sea

BBC Books are now adding to their prodigious range of novelisation readings with some original audiobooks for classic series Doctors. We're long past the days of Missing Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures so new releases for the original seven are a rare treat. We have Big Finish, of course, with their huge library of adventures, but there's a different quality to an audiobook than there is for an audioplay. Then there are the hybrid versions, with limited casts and a mix of narrative reading and character acting, such as the Companion Chronicles.

Another series that began with this strange hybrid style was the Nest Cottage series, written by Paul Magrs and starring Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor. Indeed, it was the initial run, Hornet's Nest, that coaxed Baker back to the fold, and without this BBC commission, it's unlikely he'd be performing as the Doctor for Big Finish today. The following series, Demon Quest and Serpent Crest moved back towards a full-cast play approach, but there was something about the narrative style that suited the fourth Doctor, particularly with Paul's eccentric and lyrical prose style.

The first of the BBC's new past Doctor range is this new follow-up to the Nest Cottage adventures, The Thing From the Sea. It's read by Susan Jameson, from the point of view of her character Fenella Wibbsey, the Doctor's out-of-time housekeeper. There's a little exposition at the beginning to bring listeners up to speed with the events of her previous appearances in the above sets, but it's actually easy enough to just drop in and begin here (although I would recommend listening to the Nest Cottage series - they're often broadcast by BBC Radio 4Extra). Poor old Wibbs has been left tending to the cottage, while the Doctor has returned to his adventures in time and space. The Doctor returns with more pomp than warning, dressed in his burgundy ensemble (suggesting a late adventure in his fourth lifetime).

The Doctor whips Wibbsey into a gothic adventure in an historical Italian settlement, with a mysterious, charming count ruling a sickly populace. The perfect set-up for a Doctor Who adventure, and that's before the Thing from the Sea washes up on the beach. At just over an hour long (which seems to be the standard for these new audiobooks), this is a brisk, entertaining experience with a nice mix of the fantastic and the science fictional, all tied up with Paul's trademark weirdness. No one else creates worlds quite like him, and his turn of phrase makes it all the more enjoyable. The only slightly clunky moments come from scenes that are from the Doctor's point of view, which requires Wibbsey to recount what the Doctor apparently filled her in on later, but overall having the story told from her point of view works well. Paul Magrs has a special affinity for uncanny old ladies.

On that note, I also recommend listening to this new podcast from Bafflegab Productions, Grandma Guignol. These podcasts are making available for free the audio series The Brenda and Effie Mysteries, formerly the stars of Paul's successful novel range. Despite getting rave reviews and picking up awards, the audio series didn't get the popular attention it deserved. So Bafflegab have made it available this way. You can listen to it on iTunes, and be sure to subscribe to avoid missing any installments. I'll look at reviewing it once the series is complete.

The Thing from the Sea is available from BBC Worldwide, Audible and all audio and book stockists. Adventures for the first and third Doctors are set to follow.

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