THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Scream of the Shalka
BBC Books
The Scream of the Shalka

Author Paul Cornell Cover image
Published 2004
ISBN 0 563 48619 8

Synopsis: When the Doctor lands his TARDIS in the Lancaster town of Lannet, in the present, he finds that somehing is terribly wrong. The people are scared. They don't like going out onto the streets at night, they don't like making too much noise, and they certainly don't like strangers asking questions. What alien force has invaded the town? Why is it watching barmaid Alison Cheney? And what plans does it have for the future of the planet Earth?


Reviews

Nine lives... by Joe Ford 7/2/04

Given my aversion to missing anything even remotely Doctor Who related it took a lot of strength to resist going anywhere near the BBCi webcast of this story. There were moments of weakness I'll grant you, every time I visited the BBC web site I took a peep at some of the pictures that were on offer but due to my preference to reading Doctor Who over listening to it I managed to stay spoiler free as far as the actual story was concerned. Given all the praise heaped upon the webcast I imagined the books was going to be something special.

I was not wrong. This is precisely what the TV movie should have been for Paul McGann, a fresh, invigorating alien invasion story with lots of modern touches and a baddie who could light up the screen with impressive effects. Paul Cornell knows precisely what Doctor Who fans want for an introductory story, nothing too taxing or experimenting, a good dose of action, some 'gosh wow' twists, lots of scary bits and a big dollop of eccentric humour. And he delivers, he more than delivers, this is a pilot for a new series in every way, I cannot see how Russell T Davies is going to top this story (although I'm certain he'll have a good stab at it) as it contains the right amount of imagination and innovation to feel like 'old' Doctor Who (you'll never hear me calling it the 'classic' series... except just then!) but with enough up to date twinges for a modern audience to feel at home.

It make me quite sad really to think that this story will be all but forgotten when the new series returns. I should imagine that the next logical step would be for the production team to use the 'ninth Doctor' and ignore this story, unless Davies collaborates with Cornell to bring Richard E Grant to the screen (which is implausible to say the least) then Scream of the Shalka will have to exist in its own bottle universe where REG was in fact the Doctor and continues to have adventures there. Doctor Who Unbound anyone? But then it calls into doubt the authenticity of the EDA's since Sometime Never... last month clearly set up links to this story (and rather ingeniously if I say so myself!) which ties them into the same Doctor Who universe. Will the EDA's be ignored now too? Will all non TV Doctor Who be wiped from existence to make way for the new series? If so you will be looking at one very unhappy fan that has found his niche in Doctor Who fiction and reaped the most pleasure from this media. It is unfortunate that I had these nagging doubts lingering in the back of my mind whilst I read this story but it is testament to Paul Cornell's talent that I was rarely bugged by it, such was my involvement with the story.

The only real hurdle I had to overcome were the words For Gary Russell in the dedication page at the beginning, Gary is undoubtedly a talented man who has gloriously brought many Doctor Who actors to the fold to produce their best ever work. However his own style of Doctor Who is atrociously poor and I was half expecting a laboured, continuity fest with weak characterisation and flat prose. Fortunately it was nothing of the kind and as a love letter from Paul to Gary this is surely a very flattering statement indeed.

Speaking of the prose this is a huge departure from the norm for Cornell and going back to Finn Clark's wonderful overview of the man's contributions to Doctor Who it appears that he was indeed listening when Finn made the comment that kids would be delighted if Cornell wrote a book specifically for them. Indeed he could be as big the largely talentless JK Rowling (and you Harry Potter fans out there should be ashamed of yourselves for wading through five huge tomes of lifeless prose!). Pauls has said in interviews that his idea was to emulate the style of the Target novels of the 70's and 80's, to not add more scenes to his webcast script but add more motivation to what was already there. Considering this book was rush-produced this was probably a sound idea and it is pulled off with great conviction especially when you take into consideration that Paul Cornell is ten times the better writer than Terrance Dicks (at least when it comes to original fiction) and even as he tries to write a traditional 'he said, she said' type of book the some of his own gorgeous prose will slip in the net.

Don't get me wrong this isn't a challenging book by any means, you could get through it in a couple of hours without difficulty. But it doesn't feel as though he is simply filling out a script but he gets the opportunity to give the characters some depth, to gave the scale of the attack some real scope and to write some absurdly amusing scenes from the Doctor's point of view. There are some wonderful pieces of writing, when the world begins to succumb to Shalka weather control Paul is too good at expressing the chaos and natural disasters in progress. Plus the dialogue is excellent, genuinely humorous and engaging, that little knowing wink at the audience that Doctor Who always managed on the telly.

The story works in some startling innovations to the series. For one, who would have imagined Paul would capitalise on the TV movie? with the Master's ensnarement in the Eye of Harmony and have the audacity to suggest that he is now a part of the TARDIS and that the Doctor travels about with his oldest enemy as his companion. I was blown away when I heard, just the sort of revision the shows needs in order to survive. I mean the Master as a companion? It's unthinkable isn't it? But it works and leads to some glorious bickering between the two as the Master comments wryly on the action (think of Benny but a thousand times nastier). All this is shadowed beautifully in Sometime Never... that brings Shalka into the novel fold with ingenious ease.

And what of this new Doctor then, having the audacity to make me wait another three months for then next eighth Doctor adventure (the eighth being my all time favourite bar the sixth)? Bloody marvellous would just about sum it up! It has Cornell stamped all over it that the Doctor should be angst ridden and still reeling from the loss of a companion, that he should start the story snappy, selfish and consumed with his own vanity. That throughout the course of the adventure he would mellow, find further ties on Earth (in this instance the lovely Alison) and gradually grow to respect the military he initially brutally insults. This is another definite and memorable take on the Doctor and one that definitely deserves further exploration, there is just too much potential here to waste. I loved his early scenes with Major Kennet where he says in no uncertain terms that he is hanging around to retrieve his TARDIS and then he'll be off, leaving them to sort out their own mess. That felt very Doctor-ish to me and the way Kennet and the Doctor manipulate each other throughout the story, a well-placed insult here, a slap on the hand there... this is the beginning of a beautiful Brig/Doctor relationship.

Ingeniously the ninth Doctor carries a mobile phone, what better way to penetrate the kids of today? And for those 'old school' fans who object to such fancies there are some brilliantly timed jokes at the phone's expense, a low battery in a crucial moment proves the story's comedic highlight. His relationship with Alison is quite sweet really, straight off she screams 'new companion' but it is her defiance in the face of death and resourcefulness that attracts him to her and before the end he is begging for her not to be harmed. Their decision in the last chapter to travel together has just the right dose of maudlin to be perfect, it leaves things hanging for whoever might want to continue their story.

The Shalka are the sort of ultra cool aliens that would get kids at school talking in the playground... it would be "Did you see it when that snake burst out of the floor and drove the army truck off the road... how cool was that?" I was so in love with their scary Tremors-like ability to burrow through the Earth and punch into any scene with unexpected drama it didn't take me long to warm to the book. You know Cornell will give you a sound motivation and this being Doctor Who it is nice to see a race of baddies who conquer just for the sake of another planet in their collection. It gives the Doctor a perfect opportunity for some well-timed ribbing, taking the piss of their diabolical reshaping of worlds as though they haven't achieved ANYTHING.

There are some terrific bits that I have to mention. Joe and Alison losing their house in the hardware store explosion... only for the Doctor to clap his hands together triumphantly at beating the Shalka then mentioning as an aside "Sorry about the house." The Doctor's experiment on Greaves proves wonderfully tense, when you realise he is using the military idiot as a test subject it becomes all too clear this is the same man who used to have a Scots accent and manipulate the universe. Especially brilliant however is how the Doctor tumbles into the TARDIS and expels the Shalka into a black hole as though he is making a cup of tea; more of these cool moments of sleight of hand, please.

Yes I was impressed with this book even though its page count is slightly shorter than the average Doctor Who book. It is a quick, snappy read, one I suggest you consume in one gulp and marvel at the excellent addition Paul has made to the Who universe. Kids will love it, if only for the climatic Earth destroying and scary aliens, adults will thrill at having such a callous and yet endearing protagonist and the story's wonderful ability to take you back to a time when the world was in danger every week and only one man could save the day...

The additional pages recounting the story of Shalka, from initial meetings, to script revisions, casting and publicising is a fascinating look at the story's evolution and one thing becomes blatant, a lot of hard work as has gone into the story. This sort of behind the scenes look is welcome and I don't see why we can't have these sorts of extras with just the books, twenty pages or so from the author telling us of plot changes, things asked to be omitted, what he/she thought of the end result, etc. But maybe that would be asking too much.

So it's 2 for 2 in the BBC range so far this year, two absolute dazzlers. Let's see what David Bishop can offer us as the fifth Doctor and Nyssa travel back to Victorian times...


A Review by Finn Clark 9/2/04

Well, that was an odd experience. It's been a while since I last read a novelisation, but the strengths of a Paul Cornell novel and a Cosgrove Hall animated webcast are so different that at times it was like discovering a completely new story. It's very faithful to the original script, but anyone who's watched a few Shakespeare plays will know that there's more to a production than its words.

None of the characters here feel much like the versions I watched. Alison Cheney, Joe Latham and Major Thomas Kennet have been expanded beyond the simplistic types they'd been, gaining additional depth, motivation and points of view. Suddenly they're people! I missed Jim Norton's dry sense of fun as Kennet, but on the other hand his relationship with Sergeant Greaves is wonderful here. In the webcast, I could see where they were going with Greaves, but for me he never quite worked. However here the character gets to breathe, becoming more than his random "permission to [insert random action]" one-liners. I thought he was great.

Alison and Joe are less unlike the characters I watched, but that's possibly because the webcast versions didn't do much to distinguish themselves. Here they're simply deeper and better.

However the big revelation is the Doctor. I was unimpressed with Richard E. Grant's performance in the webcast, though Paul Cornell's "Making of" section at the back of the book paints a charming picture of a talented, versatile actor throwing everything into his work. Someone made choices that didn't work for me in the final production, but I now wonder if that was actually whoever chose between the various line readings Richard recorded. I'm still not wild about the whole idea of the new Doctor, but here it's passable. Chapter 2 has an offputting start ("this is a TARDIS, this is the Doctor") and from there descends into outright badness, the proofreading included, but for the rest of the book the Doctor's pretty good. He has greater emotional range than the webcast version, even managing to pull off the flippant asides.

There are lots of scenes from the Doctor's point of view, which we don't normally get but here works just fine. As for the Master... well, the less said the better. Sir Derek Jacobi was the best thing about the webcast, but shorn of his performance the Master becomes rather sad really. He cares about the Doctor. Eurgggh. Buckets at the ready, please.

The lovely visuals are absent, obviously, but otherwise I think the first half of Shalka works better as a novel. The Kennet-Doctor introduction scene, for instance, becomes less annoyingly formulaic by being seen through Major Kennet's eyes. The scene now works! Still more amazingly, the line "While you get to be superior and eccentric" gets a dramatic justification. Manifesto lines like that, which in the webcast really drew attention to themselves, get softened here. Largely the writing and character work of these early chapters really impressed me.

Unfortunately things later fall apart. Suddenly the Doctor gets over his self-pity and the story stops being about him (or any other characters) and instead starts waffling on about India, Russia and New Jersey. This is "traditional" Doctor Who, whatever that means, so naturally everything interesting about the story gets thrown out of the window for alien invasion nonsense and a looming apocalypse that just drags on and on. (I wouldn't normally go so far as to call the Shalka Doctor interesting, but at least when he's onstage the story is about a person instead of atmospheric transmogrification.)

I also have some specific nitpicks.

  1. I have trouble believing that Shalka live inside 80% of all planets in the universe, as Prime claims on p159. An empire of a billion worlds - yup, fine. [Note: are we supposed to believe that the universe contains only 1.25 billion planets?!] But to my mind a universe that was 80% Shalka-infested would have long ago been cleansed of carbon-based life. There's a claim that they only attack sick and dying worlds, but if 21st century Earth counts as a dying civilisation (on the brink of galactic exploration and Empire) then how many worlds wouldn't be at risk? [Apart from anything else, many planets are gas giants that would presumably be unsuitable for colonising by Shalka.]

    [p199 in the "Making of" section describes the Shalka as a 'limiting factor' of the cosmos, but personally I don't see any such concept as necessary. The biggest threat to interstellar civilisation in Doctor Who is other interstellar civilisations. The Sontaran-Rutan war alone could have flattened entire galaxies many times over almost since the universe began.]

  2. The "Get Out Of Jail Free" card of the Doctor's mobile phone isn't quite so one-use as the "Making of" section seems to think on p214. Firstly the text never spells it out that the phone can't do this again... and even if that were true, surely the Doctor could just make another phone?
  3. We have a new winner for the "Worst Science in a Doctor Who story" award! In 1998 The Janus Conjunction wrested the title from The Twin Dilemma (or maybe Planet of Evil), but even Baxendale never wrote anything this goofy. This is not how black holes work! They're not placid, innocuous environments that only become dangerous when you hit the singularity. On the contrary, they're gravity wells so intense that the laws of physics have effectively broken down and you're experiencing gravitational forces a million times greater than anything you might have known before. A human crossing a black hole's event horizon would weigh approximately fifty thousand tons, as much as some ocean liners. Your own weight (and the gravity gradient from your feet to your head) would tear you to spaghetti.

    CORRECTION: after I'd written this paragraph, it was pointed out to me that it's an oversimplification. I forgot that if the black hole is massive enough then its event horizon might be so far away that the gravity there need not be stupendous at all. To quote a chap called Kip Thorne: "Calculations show that the larger the hole, the weaker the rocket blast you need to support yourself, hovering, at 1.0001 horizon circumferences. For a painful but bearable 10-Earth-gravity blast, the hole must be 15 trillion solar masses." Unfortunately such a hole would be far, far bigger than the one being harnessed by the Shalka. To give you an idea of scale, the supermassive black hole candidate Sagittarius A* at the centre of the Milky Way weighs a mere ten million solar masses. [With thanks to William December Starr.]

On the upside, certain details became clearer in the book. That mid-coital answerphone message apparently involved the Doctor and "her", rather than the Doctor and the Master as we'd all assumed. (So it's tedious instead of "ewww!", then.) The Brainy Shalka are kinda cool. And most interestingly, there's a grandfather clock in the TARDIS! (Remember The Deadly Assassin?) I didn't remember that from the webcast, though maybe I'm just being thick.

Silly observation: this is almost the anti-matter twin of Fury From The Deep. In that 1968 adventure, the Doctor's companion's screams helped to destroy the monsters, but here the boot is on the other foot.

At the end of the day I'd recommend this book. (The adaptation doesn't quite reach page 200, so for added value there's an article on the making of the webcast and the first-draft outline Paul Cornell submitted to BBCi.) It's a fast-paced story, but it also has more depth and characterisation than many regular Doctor Who books. As an Unbound sidestep to be filed alongside Death Comes To Time and the Cushing movies, it's mostly well written and enjoyable. It has one bad chapter, but several outstanding ones. Let's just hope no one does anything dumb like shoehorning it in as an alternate universe...


Mr Lava Man Episode II by Andrew Wixon 18/3/04

It's possibly the absence of the cast that makes Cornell's novelisation of the story seem somehow less satisfying, for all that it inevitably adds depth to the 'toon scenario. Cornell is a bit older than me but we're still from roughly the same generation of fans, the generation whose videos and DVDs were the Target books of Terrance Dicks (another fine analogy, that one from Finn Clark (I think)). Most fan-turned-pro writers have far surpassed El Tel in terms of the depth and sophistication of their prose, but it seems that deep inside all of them lurks the desire to copy the great man. Gary Russell (did I mention deep and sophisticated prose? Oh well, never mind) did it when he novelised the TVM and now Cornell has a crack at story-Tel-ling himself. It's as if the mere word 'novelisation' hits some deeply buried trigger and the effective IQ of the writing halves.

Because the novelisation of Scream is a long way from prime Cornell. The most glaring problem is the frequently clumsy prose - there's some very unwieldy sentence construction on display. All the Cornell-isms inherent in the script come racing to the fore (and, while I'm on the subject, he doesn't seem to be aware of exactly how much money GPs make or how old you have to be to qualify as one!). It isn't actually a bad book, just a fairly shallow one - but the intention may have been to write something very accessible for people whose first exposure to DW was the Shalka webcast, in which case some of this is forgiveable.

It's not quite the case that Cornell's production notes at the back of the book are the most interesting bit of it - but it's not far off, either. It's a mildly engaging insight into the crafting of the tale with some interesting thoughts on characterisation and storytelling from Cornell, very-nearly-gushing testimonials for everyone else involved, and the original story outline. Apparently it was going to be called Scream of the Shalakor, which would obviously have been a bad idea as that's dangerously close to the title of a rotten Sean Connery spaghetti western.

As I said in my review of the webcast, it's hard to be objective about Scream - if we didn't have a brand-spanking-new series just over the horizon I suspect we'd be a lot more willing to focus on its good points (which are numerous) and a bit less inclined to toss it aside as an interesting but flawed attempt at DW in a new media (which it arguably is). Not entirely surprisingly, in both 'toon and novelisation it's the lovingly crafted neologisms of the story - angsty Doctor, friendly Master, and the artfully hinted-at back-story responsible for them - that get in the way of a fairly good story, fairly well told.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 28/3/04

Having internet access is not all it's cracked up to be, especially when your download time is monumental, and the speakers don't work. Suddenly this wonder of modern technology is a liability, and extremely irritating. I have the internet, therefore can sample reviews to my heart's content, but I couldn't watch the webcast. I could watch the pictures of course (after a massive wait), but with no sound is there really any point! Thus I await the DVD release for Scream of the Shalka.

When BBC announced therefore, that they were to release a book based on the webcast I was pleased. With no announcement with regard to the DVD, this would be how I came to the 9th Doctor. I hoped it would be like a target book, and with the main story coming in at under 200 pages, it just about succeeds.

I cannot comment on how faithful the book is the webcast, but reliable informers say it is so - so I will take their word for it, for now! Having not seen the webcast, Shalka was very new to me in this book - an original story - and as such I thorough enjoyed it.

The setting of Lannet, Lancashire felt familiar (but then I was born in Lancashire, so I suppose it would). The streets that were taken up by the creatures, the pub that Alison worked in - I had very familiar reference points. The inhabitants of Lannet were also familiar. Alison and Joe I felt I knew - a very modern relationship shown well. The armys involvement is something far from my experience, but it very much tied in with the DW view of the armed forces - UNIT and all that - and I liked that.

The threat of the Shalka was a fine invasion story. Taking over this world, and their hosts, the Shalka really are a strong monster foe for the Doctor. The monsters (which I have seen animated representations of) are staple Doctor Who fare - and as such rather good. It's the Doctor that initially formed the greatest interest for me. I've seen Richard E Grant in plenty of productions, and I really did imagine him saying the quotes as I read them. I didn't really think he was too much a Sherlock Holmes in space, but his whole mannerisms and personality are essentially Doctorish.

Paul Cornell is an author that I have had highs and lows with in the past. He's written some of the best books under the Doctor Who banner, but some of his stuff is rather disappointing too. On this showing (viewing the webcast as a pilot to a new direction for Doctor Who) he would be an ideal candidate to help Russell T Davies with the new series - and that's the best compliment I can give him. He has written screenplays for other shows, and this shows he has the adaptibility with most mediums. Books, audios, now webcast - he must be one of the favourites to write for the new TV Series, to complete the set.

But back to Scream of the Shalka. It's a wonderful, straightforward alien invasion, adventure story. Thoroughly easy to read, page-turning even, totally in keeping with the past of Who, and pointing the way forward. In the 9th Doctor we have a wonderfully prickly character, a Doctor that I hope we will see more of in whatever format they care to put him.

In Alison and Kennet we have marvelous supporting characters, worthy of their inclusion in any story. If we do see the 9th Doctor again, I hope they come along with him.

It isn't all a bed of roses though. I did find the Master robot a bit strange admittedly. Alison much more fulfilled the companion role, but then I am very traditional in my likes. Seeing as the Master robot wasn't in the story that much, it didn't really affect the whole too badly, and we got no backstory about him at all.

I suspect this webcast was designed to steer the Doctor Who ship into a new direction, which after 8 years of the 8th Doctor was probably a good idea. All the planning for this new direction, if there was any, has now been superseded with the announcement of a new TV Series. Unless Richard E Grant plays the TV Doctor (which I doubt) the 9th Doctor will join the ranks of all the other alternative Doctors in 2003. It was a bold experiment, which works very well.

I really hope some bright spark resurrects this 9th Doctor, whether in books or audio format. There's a huge amount of potential here. I am looking forward to finally seeing the Webcast, but for now I am happy with this book. So many times in the past I had read the novelization before seeing the TV production. There's never a burning desire to rush out and buy the video/DVD - maybe that's another reason why I liked it so much. Great story, fine book, and the making of section at the end - splendid. 9/10


Thoughts on Scream of the Shalka by John Seavey 18/4/04

Now here's a piece of nostalgia that only a Doctor Who fan can really understand: My first experience of Scream of the Shalka was reading the novelization. For some reason, the bloody thing hasn't loaded properly on any of the computers I've tried, so until the DVD comes out, I'm reading the book version -- which is the way Doctor Who fans remember many episodes of the TV series, in those days before VHS and DVD.

But, having finished it, what do I think of it? First, the bad news. It labors under two terrible burdens that weigh down the book pretty seriously. First, it's very self-consciously attempting to be a "mission statement" for Doctor Who. Second, it's very self-consciously a "future Doctor" story.

Someone with a few Doctor Who credits to his name once said, "Doctor Who often works best when it's pretending to be something else." (I can't prove it's Paul Cornell, but there's only two other suspects.) There's a certain wisdom to this statement that can only really be appreciated when you're reading Doctor Who that's trying to be Doctor Who. All too frequently, Paul Cornell is trying for this to be Doctor Who. Several of the Doctor's lines feel like he's chiseling them into stone as statements of who he is: "I never carry guns," for example. It's pretty much true, don't get me wrong, but the scene just seems to be there so that he can establish that The Doctor Never Carries Guns. Other scenes establish other things that Cornell feels are fundamentally Doctor-ish, like his Britishness, his monster-opposition, et cetera, et cetera. We also get characters introduced with that same sense of portentiousness -- Major Kennet, for example, stops just short of getting a neon sign over his head saying "I'm The New Brigadier!"

(As an aside, it's interesting that I've heard that Paul hates the Pertwee era -- can't say if it's true, but I'm sure it'll be confirmed or denied soon enough -- but that his new Doctor Who feels a lot like Pertwee. We've got a military group he calls on for help, with a leader who's an admirable man, even though the Doctor makes it clear that he doesn't like the military ethos. We've got the Time Lords -- albeit unnamed -- sending the Doctor on missions against his will and controlling the TARDIS. We've got name-dropping, a version of the Master who he's oddly chummy with, and even a gadget in the form of the TARDIS mobile phone. In fact, there's some strong parallels to Spearhead From Space in the way the Doctor develops his character from "just wanting to get away and not get too close to these humans" to "acceptance of them and of his role as protector of the human race." And, of course, they both involve evil alien group minds coming to Earth in meteors. But I digress.)

The second burden is that this doesn't feel like a ninth Doctor story, it feels like a Ninth Doctor story. That is to say, it feels like a story about a future Doctor, not a present one. I've never been a fan of "future Doctor" stories; to me, they always feel vaguely contrived. The change between the First Doctor and the Seventh Doctor never feels as drastic as the change between the Seventh and the Ninth. (Of course, part of this is that we've seen the change in each stage -- but that's my point, really, is that the writer is usually just asking us to accept a vast and drastic change in the Doctor's character, setting, and mythos, but doesn't ground us in the events needed to make it a reality.) Scream has all the trappings of a "future Doctor" story -- weird companion that's nothing like one the Doctor's had before? Check. Total emotional make-over, based on some event we've never seen before? Check. Deliberate twisting of mythos in very fannish way, like him and the Master being friends now? Check. New companion who joins him, wanting to learn more about this strange and exotic hunk of man? Check. (OK, so that last one's not there in all "future Doctor" stories, but there does seem to be a general implication in Doctor Who fan-fiction that starting with his "next" incarnation, the Doctor plans to start shagging like there's no tomorrow.)

So, now that I've pretty much savaged the book with the bad news, howabout the good news?

The good news is, once you struggle past those burdens, this is a great story. Cornell delivers some of his best villains ever in the Shalka; their scheme is neat, their plans and motives deliciously creepy, and their scope every bit as breath-taking as the Hoothi (his previous best). The Doctor, for all that he's a bit self-consciously "The Doctor", is still great, ripping off brilliantly charming dialogue, sparkling taunts at the villains, and generally acting greatly heroic. (I'll even forgive Paul for re-using a bit from No Future to get the Doctor out of the black hole.) The story moves at a great pace, there's some wonderful set-pieces (like the Doctor trying to let Alison die in the lava, and failing), and in general, the whole thing's really quite fun once it relaxes and stops trying so hard. At the beginning, I was consciously aware of the burdens I mentioned at the start... but by the end, I was just reading some great Doctor Who. And I'll never get tired of that.


A Review by Terrence Keenan 5/8/04

I'm the first person to admit that I am not the biggest Paul Cornell fan. There's just something about his writing style that sets my teeth on edge, that makes me point at his books and start jabbering and screaming irrationally and questioning his ancestry and his progeny.

But, my local Barnes and Noble is carrying Who books again, so when I saw this sitting next to Sometimes Never... I had to pick it up and give it a go.

Um, my immediate impression was that Cornell had rediscovered the Pertwee era and managed to keep the setup of that era while giving it a modern twist. A variation of Last of the Gadarene, but with one of the butlers from Gosford Park playing the Doctor.

Cornell's big thing was deep characterization. One character in his books would always be given a super-deep arc, usually involving angst and misery, but leading toward redemption. Plot was a sloppy afterthought. Villainy was on a kick the dog level. And there was always an issue, a BIG ISSUE to rail about, with all the subtlety of Godzilla stomping through downtown Tokyo.

Scream is different. The plot is well-developed and straightforward. The main characters are each given balanced accountings. The villains are decent enough, if relatively conventional green aliens hell-bent on conquering Earth. There is that BIG ISSUE, but it's environmentalism, an issue all over Who since the Barry Letts era and done with the same subtlety.

This Ninth Doctor comes across as an amalgamation of the most recent incarnations, with a generous dose of Pertwee -- name dropping, arrogance, compassion, arguing with THEM -- a decent enough introduction for a new Doctor. Double bonus points for no regeneration scene in the opening. Alison comes across as a personality type of the Sarah/Jo variety of companion. She's all right in the page, but its easy to imagine what a decent actress could do with the part. As for the Master, well, I was surprised how much I dug him, probably because Cornell must have watched his Delgado vids. The Shalka don't speak all that much, which is a good thing. They come off better as evil force. By default, the Shalka become Cornell's best villains since the Hoothi.

Methinks the biggest surprise was that Cornell kept his novelization tight. The story itself comes in under 200 pages, supplemented with a making of article and outline of the original concept. He didn't try to expand on things. So, Scream comes off with a Target book vibe, albeit a better than average one.

I liked Scream of the Shalka. I shouldn't have, but I did. Nuff said.


Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 25/9/04

A wise man once said "This reads just like a Target novelisation." You know what, he was right? This is written from the point of view of introducing the characters and the ideas of the Doctor Who universe to the new reader. We are treated to almost expositional essays on the nature of the TARDIS, the Doctor and the Master. Makes for a change, but I'm not sure how many new readers will be starting with this book.

That point made, it can't be said that this is a nice Target book. Paul Cornell gets nasty as the story goes on, and the death count takes an exponential rise. This story starts small (in fact, starts with evidence of how Paul Cornell was very impressed by his trip to New Zealand), and introduces a town under siege from the Shalka. However, events increase as the entire planet is in danger. So much so that the entire planet will be destroyed in an hour! ...even though the events from that point on take about a day or so, and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of consequences.

And speaking of the Shalka, I'm ever more convinced by the theory I had when I was watching the animation: replace screaming with gravity, and the Shalka are the Tractators! (From Frontios.) They have pretty much the same powers and similar motivations. But that's just me.

As I had seen the animation, I kept hearing Richard E. Grant's performance of the Doctor (and seeing the jerky Cosgrove animation my low band connection presented me with). It's very evident that there's a large backstory behind why the Doctor is how he currently is, which is rather annoying compared with the introductory nature of other sections of the book. The Master is a little different from his on-screen appearance, and little of Sir Derek Jacobi's brilliant portrayal is captured here.

I'm a little surprised that Alison didn't make it onto the front cover, seeing as how she is the second most important character in this book! She's also the most likeable, especially compared with her rather, let's be honest here, twat of a boyfriend. The military characters are meant to be likeable also, I think, but I also think that Paul Cornell felt more in touch with those characters than we do. The Shalka, as I said, remind me of the Tractators, and are about as exciting.

But the story isn't the end of the story. Which is good, as the story ends before even 200 pages are up! We are treated to the inside scoop from Paul Cornell about how he got the job, and the development of the script (and the effort he went through to send the script in whilst he was on holiday in New Zealand!). We also hear from other people who developed the show, and it's an interesting look behind this one-off web-cast (BBCi recently announced that there will be no more of these web-casts). Perhaps a little more could be given about the recording itself (which Paul Cornell wasn't involved with too much), but it's all good.

Also, we are given a read of the original eight part story outline of Servants of the Shalakor. There are a lot of differences between this and the final outcome, and I have to say the changes that obviously got made weren't necessarily for the worse.

Scream of the Shalka isn't your normal Paul Cornell book, and neither is it a Target novelisation, but you can easily pretend it is.


The Last Novelization By Matthew Kresal 18/5/11

The Scream Of The Shalka webcast was intended to be the debut of the ninth Doctor played by Richard E Grant. Unfortunately for that Doctor, but fortunate for fans, this would turn out to be the Grant ninth Doctor's only appearance due to the announcement of the return of the TV series. In the meantime, there was a novelization of that webcast was published. Written by the script's writer Paul Cornell, the novelization reads as an homage to the Target novelizations of years past in the form of the last Doctor Who novelization to date.

Fans of the original series of Doctor Who might know that almost every story was novelized by Target Books between the 1970s and the early 1990s. Keeping that in mind, it is perhaps best to read this book as an homage to that series of books. From the first page to the Doctor's introduction a few pages later, the entire opening of the book plays out an opening right out of a classic Target novelization. Throughout the entire book, there are little moments like that, including the Master's appearances, the chapter titles and even the final couple of lines of the novelization itself. The result is that it reads like a blast from the past.

The book has some nice additions to it as well, another hallmark of the best Target novelizations. It is in these additions that Cornell's writing shines brightly. We learn some of the back-stories of various characters such as Alison Cheney and her boyfriend Joe for example. The book also fills in some of the gaps of the original webcast, including why UNIT doesn't appear as one might expect or just who the various groups around the world who play a large role in the finale are. The latter in particular is well done by Cornell, who turns supporting characters with no names from the original webcast into flesh and blood human beings in a matter of pages. There aspects of the webcast that Cornell doesn't expand on such as why the Master is in the condition he is in or what the mysterious event affecting the Doctor throughout the story is, but that is perhaps because, at the time, there was the possibility of more stories where those things might have been revealed. The result overall is a pleasing expansion of the webcast.

The novelization though is literally only part of the book. Unlike Marc Platt's novelization of the fan video Downtime where the story had to be padded out to fill the novel, Cornell's novelization only takes up only three-quarters of the book's length. The rest of the book is taken up by two items. The first is an essay by Cornell about the making of the webcast from the commissioning process to the challenges of writing it (including Cornell having someone break into his house to send the scripts to the BBC while he was in New Zealand), right up to the recording of the audio for the webcast with some sections written by others involved in the production. The second item is the original storyline for the webcast. Originally titled Servants Of The Shalakor, the storyline is similar yet very different which makes this section perhaps the most intriguing part of the book.

Scream Of The Shalka is in book form exactly what it was in webcast form. It is a traditional alien invasion of Earth story told with a new Doctor and in modern style. The novelization expands that story with additional details while playing out as an homage to the Target novelizations of the past. Combined with a making-of essay and the original storyline, the result is a satisfying read. It also marks the last Doctor Who novelization to date and a proud one to go out on.