The Doctor has promised Tegan that they will visit her grandfather in the English village of Little Hodcombe, in the year 1984. But evil lurks in the village's ancient church, and a historical re-enactment soon takes on a dangerous dimension for the Doctor and his friends...
COMMENT 1 (MATTHEW WALTER) - SPOILERS
It's Monday evening, and on Friday morning BBC AUDIO's DOCTOR WHO - THE AWAKENING had unceremoniously thudded down onto the coir doormat and I'm on my third listening.
And that is unheard of.
For eyeofhorus.org.uk , I have virtually reviewed all of the unabridged versions of the TARGET novels and in Eric Pringle's singular story I have become addicted to. And I'm scared. I might have to listen to it for a fourth time.
But why is it so "addictive"?
Simply put, it is the reassuringly relaxed yet poignant reading of Nerys Hughes (from the 1982 CLASSIC SERIES story, KINDA). Hughes' a hidden gem, delivering a gloriously subtle yet inspiringly dramatic reading complimented by expressionistic music score and atmospheric special sound effects (credit to Meon productions once again), and I truly hope that she is engaged (by BBC AUDIO) to read Christopher Bailey's Mara "dualogy" (the aforementioned KINDA and SNAKEDANCE).
Surprisingly, her reading of the Fifth Doctor's two-parter novel exceeds the expectations set by the televised drama as, whilst is mirrors more or less the scene-by-scene action, it fleshes out the relationships & history between the residents of the troubled village of Little Hodcombe.
Refreshingly, it takes six unhurried chapters of DOCTOR WHO - THE AWAKENING for the Doctor and his travelling companions to make an appearance, and in those opening chapters you should be warned that if you are of a nervous disposition then listening behind the sofa might help. The hunting of a disbelieving schoolteacher by unyielding armed horsemen is superbly described, and chillingly re-enacted by Hughes.
In his development of characters, Pringle allows the reader to credit the misguided & coerced Colonel Ben Wolsey with greater sympathy, whilst his "commander-in-chief", Sir George Hutchinson is blighted with a blind lust for power (courtesy of the psychic Malus creation), whilst Jan Hampden is more grounded and rationale than, at times, Polly James portrayed on television.
However, and in some way it is refreshing, it is the TARDIS secondary-crew that served poorly by the author, relegated to "But why, Doctor?" and "Run, Tegan!", whilst the alien genetically-engineered machine (Malus) is genuinely threatening, reaching out to the malleable (oh; the tinclavic metal - where did the "squashy-metal" come from if the Malus had been encased within the fabric of the church?) Hutchinson.
Hughes' delineates each character with care & consideration, creating not an impersonation of the televised character but an empathic representation envisioned by the author.
This unabridged release continues to skilfully utilise appropriately atmospheric additional sound effects; whether the persistent pounding of the approaching equine threat, or the subtle high-pitched annoyance of the droning summer wasp banking around the barn's rafters, or destructive force ripping through the Norman Church as the Malus' self-destruct protocol is engaged.
DOCTOR WHO - THE AWAKENING represents the very best from BBC AUDIO - adroit & charismatic reading from Hughes, complimented by a superb sound treatment of music and effects. It simply doesn't get any better than this.
With 156 stories from the CLASSIC SERIES of DOCTOR WHO, BBC AUDIO has a enviable library to exploit, and exploit I hope that they do if they can repeat the success of this 2010 release.
And Nerys Hughes must the reading DOCTOR WHO - KINDA, isn't she? It would be pure commercial madness for he not.
COMMENT 2 (SIMON CUNNINGTON) - SPOILERS
DOCTOR WHO - THE AWAKENING, the two-parter by Eric Pringle made during John Nathan-Turners run as Series Producer for the Davison era (aka DOCTOR WHO – THE GREY YEARS), broadcast in January 1984, has the bouffant haired ones trade marks of work done with the left hand, eyes closed (e.g. compare Pringle's atmospheric description of the gloomy church interior in his novel with its practical realisation on screen).
However, this was the story that followed WARRIORS OF THE DEEP and so it perhaps stands safely in the towering shadow of the pinnacle of embarrassment that was WARRIORS pantomime horse (bad, i.e. too much, lighting crippled that story from the get-go as well, remember). The telly version appeared on VHS video in 1999, and the DVD is due in June this year. Surprisingly, Pringle’s novelisation of his work (published in 1985 and reprinted in 1992) works well as an audio production, blending music and sound FX behind a deceptively mild narrator.
This unabridged 4-CD release from AUDIOGO narrated by Nerys Hughes is rather splendid in its way because it confounds low expectations. Hughes adopts a slightly arch tone which makes the enterprise resemble an Enid Blyton reading but it still works because she is so likeable and the story is so lightweight; in fairness to Hughes and Pringle, its worth pointing out that the WHO story adaptations were aimed at a pre-teen audience. Her selection as reader is a droll choice: not only did Hughes make a good impression in the Davison classic Kinda but her co-star from her days in the classic 1960s sit-com THE LIVER BIRDS, Polly James, appeared in DOCTOR WHO - THE AWAKENING as the teacher, Jane Hampden. More important, she offers a range of voices that work.
On paper, it feels like a Pertwee era tale written by PJ Hammond albeit in easy-reader language. Set in a contemporary (1984) small (“quiet, remote”) English village with a doom-laden atmosphere, one can easily envisage the silver-haired wonder striding down quiet leafy lanes, bantering with cavaliers and roundheads. The story is not complex. The Doctor, Tegan and Turlough agree to visit Tegan’s grandfather, Andrew Verney. Her relative lives in a small Dorset village, Little Hodcombe which, when the novel begins, is re-enacting an English Civil War battle (vintage 1643) with rather to much enthusiasm for the liking of the village schoolteacher, Jane Hampden. Hampden confronts the village kingpin, Sir George Hutchinson, who is commanding the cavaliers but is rebuffed for taking things far too seriously; Hutchinson is the stooge for the driving force of the story, an evil entity called the Malus. The Malus in the novel works pretty well as a force for chaos, driving the villagers towards destruction; onscreen, it looked like a ventriloquist’s dummy, and the crack in the wall of the church nave, where the Malus breaks out, is going to impress a lot of younger viewers of the upcoming DVD (see our preview) as resembling an element of the debut of Amy Pond more than anything else, I suspect.
The Doctor and his crew fall into the middle of this mess – materialising in a church crypt, literally underneath the monster (the Malus breaks through a wall in the nave above the crypt) which was a tired Who cliché even then – and events move very quickly to the inevitable conclusion: a big explosion. The only character who makes a strong impression is the lad dragged through time from the 17th Century by the Malus, Will Chandler, which is appropriate because Keith Jayne (who played Chandler in the telly version) was arguably the best performer in the TV version.
The narrative suffers from a little too much wandering around despite its brief length and the division of the companions seems contrived even by WHO’s then-low standards. The writing seems sloppy at times, as if rushed: switches are “pounded” and “hammered” but surely one can only do that to buttons? What exactly is the “acrid smell of destruction”? And how many city dwellers (the majority of the audience) are going to give a flying bottom burp for a ‘quiet village under siege’ story these days, given that most modern villagers are multi-millionaire media folk?
No matter. Overall, I found myself drawn in by Hughes performance and Pringle’s obvious desire to tell his story in his way.
And when Sir George asked the Doctor “Are you a member of the theatrical profession?” I laughed out loud.