THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Time Warrior
The Horror of Fang Rock
Shakedown: The Return of the Sontarons
Lords of the Storm
Mean Streets
Virgin Books
Shakedown

Author Terrance Dicks Cover taken from the excellent Broadsword home page
ISBN# 0 426 20459 X
Published 1995
Cover Peter Elson

Synopsis: The Doctor discovers a plot by the Sontarans to defeat the Rutans. Meanwhile, Benny finds herself doing some very unusual research...


Reviews

A Review by Joseph Nunweek 2/7/98

Terrance Dicks has been unfortunate in the NA field. He has had to fight his way out of the stereotype that he is a hack writer after 15 years of often sub-standard novelisations, and The Eight Doctors has left him needing to make a fresh start with Mean Streets and Catastrophea, after hundreds of loyal fans expressed deep loathing for the innocent little landmark story.

But Shakedown has somehow avoided the loyal worship of Timewyrm: Exodus, or the polite cries of "what a load of @#$%" that The Eight Doctors received. Because some fans believe it to be another 5-minute Dicks noveliation, it has never been given much thought.

But something like 40 pages squeezed in the centre forms the novelisation. It is a shallow but faithful adaptation, and from the adapted segment, buying the video itself probably isn't worth it. Other than Steg, Lisa and Kurt the story within the story doesen't appeal to me. Characters like Mari, Nikos and Zorelle are dull and cliched.

The rest of the novel is very fun though. The early stages of the book, with Roz and Chris's experiences in Megacity, are clearly inspired by Star Wars' scum-ridden crowded cities. The Doctor is absent for the first parts of the book. This is a worrying tendency I notice in some of the later NA's: The Doctor tends to be virtually non-existent for many parts of Shakedown and So Vile A Sin.

Niggles: I enjoyed the essentially irrelevent Benny subplot on Sentarion, but it seemed like a quick attempt to fill in the book (which was already unusually short).

Still, as a sequel to the Sontaran and Rutan stories, this book is great. Both races are further developed and Steg proves that the Sontarans are not just another evil alien menace. Terrance Dicks can finally say he has written a good novelisation.


A Review by Brenda Sulley 17/8/99

I did the smart thing... I read the book before I watched the video. That way, I wouldn't be as disappointed; I'm always disheartened when I do things the other way around.

Shakedown is another tome from the pen of Terrance Dicks. You remember Uncle Terrance... the so-called "Elder Statesman" of Doctor Who (it even says so on the back cover!) He's the one who wrote all those pedantic and dull Who novelizations for so many years, then turned around and hammered out the remarkable Timewyrm: Exodus New Adventure. I wasn't all that impressed with Blood Harvest except for the Capone bits, though, but we still know he can write. Uncle Terrance has penned this latest book, a novelization of sorts of the teleplay he wrote for the video produced by Dreamwatch... which actually turns out (the novelization, I mean) to be about 40 pages somewhere in the middle.

The novel is, quite simply, a terrific read. The Doctor, Bernice, Chris and Roz are on the trail of a Rutan spy who's been masquerading as a Sontaran for many years (I won't tell you who, but it's a character who was revealed in Lords of the Storm, this month's Missing Adventure). The spy has been doing rather nasty things all over the place like blowing some people up and killing others. The trail leads the Doctor to a space station, where a racing yacht has just left on its maiden voyage (see below). Meanwhile, Bernice is trapped on a library planet where the religious inhabitants have just accused her of heresy and plan to kill her if she leaves the temple; while Chris and Roz are on an industrial planet doing what they do best... asking a lot of questions and hoping nobody thinks about killing them.

Let's just get it out in the open: I couldn't put this book down. It wasn't the most interesting story, certainly not the most well written, but the fun started on page 1 and lasted until the end. I was pleasantly surprised by the way Dicks blended what I assumed at the time was the video production into the larger story, and how that story panned out. There was plenty of action, plenty of drama... and certainly, plenty of humor (especially when it comes to Roz Forrester, whose sense of humor is so dry it's almost appalling). I would recommend this book to anyone... not only does it feature those evil nasties the Sontarans, but it does so with style.


A Review by Finn Clark 23/5/02

Not quite Terrance's best novel, but by far his most original one. There's more creativity in these 233 pages than in all his other Who books put together.

Terrance Dicks is normally... well, let's call him ecologically friendly. He recycles stuff. Timewyrm: Exodus, Blood Harvest, Players and Endgame are set partly or entirely in real historical settings, complete with historical big-wigs. Everything he's written since 1983 has made extensive use of existing Doctor Who inventions, usually his own - though in more recent books like Mean Streets and Endgame he revisited his previous novels rather than TV stories.

However Shakedown was built around a video drama of the same name, commissioned from scratch by Jason Haigh-Ellery and Gary Leigh. When it came to expanding that into a novel, not even Uncle Terrance could shoehorn in Gallifrey, the War Lords or an early 20th century historical setting. Thus he did what he's never done before or since - he filled the book with brand-new, original material.

And to my slight surprise, he has a good imagination! There's Megacity, which is admittedly Chicago from Blood Harvest turned up to eleven, but still has surprises for the reader. Garshak is a delicious reversal of expectations. There's the Jekkari and their forest world, and Sentarion and its homicidal academics. This is a narrative of huge scope, sweeping from world to world and taking in artificial religions and millennia-old secrets along the way. It's written in Terrance's patented kiddie style, but that doesn't change the fact that this is a big story being told here.

Then comes the middle section, a Target novelisation of the Shakedown video. And I do mean Target novelisation; the equivalent of a full Doctor Who episode rattles past in a mere 43 pages. Here again Terrance surprised me. This section is grim. With no TARDIS regulars present, we're uncomfortably aware that any or all of the crew of the Tiger Moth might die. The body count rises and Terrance proves adept at wringing tension from his characters. Perhaps scriptwriting disciplined him into going for actual drama, in which case I wish he'd do that more often in his regular prose writing.

First time I read this, Shakedown's middle section felt like meat sandwiched between candyfloss. This time around I was less worried. Admittedly Roz and Chris's adventures in Megacity are a silly romp and about as threatening as Coco the Clown, but the third section's dramatic denoument is actually good. Steg and Lisa get a nice irony at the end, and all in all I thought Shakedown hung together as a complete story.

It's no Timewyrm: Exodus, but it's not a million miles away. With the possible exception of the underrated Endgame, this might be Terrance's second-best book.


A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 4/10/03

I like Terrance Dicks' prose. I can't help it; I grew up reading Terrance Dicks novelisations. My Target collection and I were inseparable. I took those books to school; I took them on holiday with me; if I had been a member of the child slave trade, you can be sure that I would have brought a grubby copy of Inferno down the salt mines with me.

Good heavens, I don't think I meant to say exactly all that. Yet, I must point out that I am predisposed towards liking Terrance Dicks books. It can't be helped; it's now hardwired into my brain. But it's not something I'm ashamed about, even now, as the world of original Doctor Who novels has moved beyond Uncle Terry's monthly churn-out. For every Terry failure, there's a wonderful Terry success. For every regurgitated Endgame, there's a fantastic Timewyrm: Exodus. For every boring Benny chapter in Blood Harvest, there's a fun Chicago chapter in, er, Blood Harvest. Well, you get the idea. In any case, I found Shakedown to be very much in the style of previous Terrance Dicks books (which is what everyone said about every Terrance Dicks book, except, of course, for the first one). And what I mean by that is that it combines the fun and adventure of a solid, uncomplicated story with a breezy, entertaining style.

Well, before I get utterly carried away (quiet, you), I should at least make an attempt at describing this novel. It's a Sontaran/Rutan story. It separates the Doctor and companions in true Terry-style, and places them each in their own subplot. Chris and Roz are on the trail of a Rutan spy, tracking it from planet to planet, as it endeavors to stay one step ahead while on a secret mission of its own. Benny is dropped off on a university world, where her task is to study the history of the Sontaran/Rutan War. The Doctor's subplot involves him not being in the story very much, but don't mind about that because this is a Dicks novel and it moves too fast for anyone to notice or care about that.

As the introduction, back cover, inside pages, back page advertisement and photo inserts (including a wonderful shot right up Michael Wisher's nose -- thanks, lads) tell us, this is partially the novelisation of a direct-to-video story written by (who else?) Terrance Dicks. So, Terrance Dicks is novelizing a script by Terrance Dicks; did the 70s never end? Truthfully, the novelisation only takes up about sixty pages in the middle, and doesn't have a huge impact on the rest of the book (although a handful of characters do filter through). The sections before and after the novelisation are quite entertaining -- much more so than the novelisation itself.

Terrance Dicks has written so many adaptations of Doctor Who and related stories that I imagine that he must be able to do them in his sleep by now (and he probably does -- poor Mrs. Uncle Terry). But strangely enough, it's the novelisation portion of this book that drags the most. The middle sixty or so pages add absolutely nothing to the rest. Nothing, zilch, nada. It's padding, and it's not even interesting padding. The solution to the Sontaran's problem is blindingly obvious, yet they never solve it, because the story can't let them solve it. It's formulaic and boring; it utterly fails to fill me with the desire to see the original straight-to-video production. There are also two strange places where the middle section makes an oblique and Benny Adventures-like reference to the Doctor. Possibly this came from the original screenplay that had to sidestep various copyrights, but the jokes seem very much out of place inside what is now a genuine Doctor Who story.

It's always easy to tell when Dicks is getting bored by certain parts of the story. He seems to have enjoyed writing the Mega City portions (very similar to the Chicago sequences in Blood Harvest). The Shakedown novelisation parts aren't given nearly the same amount of care, and, as a result, they tend to fall rather on the flat side. A few other portions are also breezed over, as if Dicks knew they were needed in order for the plot to advance, but simply couldn't be bothered fleshing them out. I can easily imagine the following occurring during a typical novel writing session: "Ah, yes, now for chapter seven. Hmmmmm, this part of the outline isn't going to be any fun to write. Really dull, in fact. Oh, I know. I'll just highlight these bits of the outline. Yeah, click on 'cut'. Now to open the novel document. Yes, I click on 'paste' now. Yes. Excellent. Well, that was an easy chapter to write. Now, what have I got cooked up in eight?"

The above paragraph may sound like a criticism, but it isn't. Terrance Dicks knows what makes a boring section, and (in Shakedown at least) he's quite skillful at happily skipping over the boring (but necessary) sections in order to get back to the fun and games. Hooray!

From a technical standpoint, the book seems lazy and almost amateurish. There are pieces that are sloppy and not having been fully thought through. Benny disappears for just about a hundred pages (the book is only two hundred thirty three pages long) because Dicks can't figure out what to do with her. But, hey, it's a hell of a lot of fun, so who cares about those minor details? I wouldn't want to read a hundred of these books, but once in a while this sort of adventure is very appealing.


A Review by Brian May 14/11/05

I've never seen the Dreamwatch production of Shakedown, so I'm not sure if that's an advantage or a disadvantage when reviewing the novel. At the time the video would have been a welcome treat for viewers, especially so being filled with a cast of Who and Blake's 7 actors. However, while for me it remains sight unseen, the inclusion of stills in the centre of the book contributes a great deal to my appreciation of it. Seeing Sophie Aldred, Carole Ann Ford and Michael Wisher makes it easy to give voice and mannerisms to the characters and thus establish an emotional link to the then defunct programme. The photographs of Jan Chappell and Brian Croucher also benefit the characterisations of Lisa and Kurt - they're the story's principals and accordingly carry the weight of the narrative, and the actors seem to fit the roles wonderfully.

The adaptation of the video, which comprises the middle section, is easily the best part of the novel. According to the notes in the foreword the video was scripted in just two weeks. It shows, but that's not intended as a criticism - for what the story is, a fortnight is a reasonable timeframe and, if the written part is a faithful rendition, Terrance Dicks has done a decent enough job. It's well paced, although it has a simple prose style that wouldn't be out of place in a Target novelisation (not surprising given the author). At just over 40 pages, it feels like it belongs in a Short Trips or Decalog compilation. And perhaps that's the way it should have been; the slightness of the story means it doesn't have the substance to be stretched into a novel. This isn't helped by the fact that the prequel and sequel sections don't really make spectacular reading.

There's a fairly dull prologue, followed by the first section. It's not what you would call awful, but it's lifeless and uninspired. It kicks off in a standard New Adventures way, with a TARDIS crew having being sent on separate missions by a secretive Doctor. However none of the companions come across as anything remarkable. Granted, Benny is a sarcastic, wisecracking borderline alcoholic, insecure about her fake academic qualifications. Roz and Chris are the mismatched cop duo, the latter's geniality and naivety offset by the world-weary cynicism of the former. But these are merely their character templates - Dicks has written them at their most basic levels, failing to include any personality or warmth. They're just ciphers who go through the motions of investigation, discovery and basically informing the reader of how the plot is developing. The Megacity, and Roz and Chris's involvement in this location, is practically the same as the Overcity from Original Sin. I do find the idea of an educated Ogron interesting, but there's not much else here that enthrals - it's just an overlong game of cat and mouse. The same applies to Benny's adventures on Sentarion. The various scholarly insects are quite a novel idea, but once again that's about it. Overall this first part, titled "Beginnings" (oh, how imaginative!) is stale and static.

The adaptation of the video follows, although the continuity feels disjointed. The final section, "Aftermath" (Uncle Terry, where do you think up these names from?!?) incorporates the elements from the video just as awkwardly. Once again, it's one long chase, as the Rutan disguised as Karne hides, kills someone, assumes their appearance, and escapes from its pursuers a few too many times (it actually starts in the first instalment but goes on overload here). The showdown, revelations and resolution are all a letdown. The Doctor fiddles with a few controls and announces he's put things to right, all within a few short paragraphs. Then there's a post-script crisis involving Steg, the Sontaran who never seems to die, and a shameful word-by-word repetition of Derrane putting her crew through the Tiger Moth race simulation, which first happened in the Shakedown section and was actually quite interesting.

The Sontarans' return is welcome - they're one of my favourite monsters, and it's about time they were brought back in Doctor Who fiction - long overdue in my opinion, seeing the NA series was four years old at the time. Although they're not as poorly underused as they were in The Two Doctors, they still come across very blandly - although Steg's respect for Lisa that evolves through the course of the story is developed well. The hypocrisy evident in them (the convenient code of honour which deems it fine to break pledges to "lesser species") is also of interest, but overall there's not much spark when reading the majority of their scenes. The Rutans fare a bit better. Their meeting with the Doctor at the beginning is another of the book's more intriguing moments. They have their own code of honour, and it's much more admirable than that of the Sontarans, evidenced when they spare the Doctor and cancel out the events of Fang Rock after he informs them of their enemies' actions.

But in the long run it's all rather lukewarm. I've already referred to the dull climax, which includes all the business about the Rutans' role on Sentarion, the wormhole scenario and the Doctor's very sudden saving of the day, which all bring the book to an abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion. The writing is never terrible - it's readable enough and passes the time, but there''s little substance or pace. With the exception of Kurt and Lisa (the latter especially so), the characterisations are fairly poor. The whole book relies on a gimmick - the extension of a popular and well-received video, but perhaps some things are best left alone. 4/10


A Review by Jamie Beckwith 29/3/14

Shakedown: Return of the Sontarans was one of a series of unofficial independent direct-to-video mini-movies made in the 1990s which existed in the Doctor Who universe, even if, due to the infernal nemesis of copyright, it couldn't reference the Doctor or other BBC-owned concepts directly. As you'll have no doubt guessed from the name, it features the Sontarans and boasts a script by bona fide Who writer Terrance Dicks.

A year later, the story was novelized, titled simply Shakedown, as part of the New Adventures range. Rather than a simple script-to-page transfer, which Dicks can accomplish in his sleep, the action of the video is confined to the middle section of the novel, with a brand new beginning and end section forming respectively both a prequel and a sequel to the events seen in the movie. It also ties in with the Missing Adventures novel Lords of the Storm.

As was common in many of the New Adventures, the Doctor has a secret mission and he sends his companions off on different side missions to help him. For once his goal isn't a fiendishly complex chess game across 11 dimensions; here he is pragmatically indulging in realpolitik and trying to ensure that the Sontarans don't get the upper hand in their ongoing war with the Rutans. (As long as the two are deadlocked, neither can turn their aggression on to the rest of the galaxy.)

Bernice is sent on a mission to the university planet of Sentarion to investigate the history of the Sontaran/Rutan war. This lets her indulge in her fantasy of being taken seriously as an academic (even if she still can't hide her guilt at the assumed title of Professor) but, due to religious mania of some of the locals (intelligent insectoids, think Zarbi with an Oxbridge makeover), alcohol is prohibited, forcing her to forego her other favourite indulgence. Meanwhile, Chris and Roz are on the trail of a serial killer on a corrupt mining planet Megerra. This forms the most interesting part of the novel, as Chris and Roz get to investigate crime (which they do best), but also because it introduces the character of Garshak, an Ogron who has been augmented with super intelligence. Garshak, as Chief of Police, is a beguiling character who loves tea and fancy cakes but an even bigger love of envelopes stuffed with credits for the "police benevolent fund." Much humour comes from the juxtaposition of the expectations of the primitive brutality of the Ogrons that we know from the series with the cultured reasoning of Garshak and the implied (entirely chivalrous) crush he seems to have for Roz.

The Sontarans are one of my favorite aliens in Doctor Who even if they don't always attract the best stories or live up to their potential. Aliens are always more interesting when they have individual personalities or aren't a homogeneous bunch (hence my other favourites being the Silurians) so you may think it somewhat ironic that I like the Sontarans so much. However, it is clear from day one that, whilst they may be a cloned species, they are still individuals, and some of the better stories have played the tension between uniformity which the Sontarans obviously love and the need for individual thinking in military strategy. Commander Steg and Admiral Sarg are considered mavericks by the Sontaran High Command but are tolerated because their original thinking wins battles. Whilst I think the concept of the 'honorable' Sontaran hadn't been too explicit until the appearance of Strax (the Doctor's challenge to Group Marshal Stike's honour in The Two Doctors is more about his physical prowess and Stike recognises that it is an obvious bait to get him to untie him), its roots can be traced here to Steg. Although Sontarans consider that promises to aliens have no validity (what do you expect, this is Terrance Dicks!), Steg nonetheless saves the day not once but twice and each time for what would chime with the Doctor's notion of the 'greater good' than with the typical Sontarans.

All in all, this is one of my favourite New Adventures. It's a brisk read (I got through it in an afternoon) and an entertaining one that largely avoids the trap Terrance Dicks later fell into of simply recycling his ideas over and over again.