What a marvellous addition to the thoroughly excellent BBC Doctor Who Classic Novels audiobook series this is.
Of course, it's based on top-drawer source material: the 1971 Jon Pertwee TV serial is fondly remembered as the finest example of that golden era, and producer Barry Letts later developed his own script into the much-loved, Alan Willow-illustrated Target novelisation (1974) this is based on. Now Letts is able to add another dimension, drawing on his past life as a jobbing actor to add colour and dimension to a thrilling retelling of the third Doctor's battle with the Master and forces of black magic - or is it dark science? - in the English village of Devil's End.
Letts' abiding faith in humanity informs a tale that is at turns spooky, electrifying and laugh-out-loud funny, and there're five discs worth, too (though the five-plus hours fly by all too soon). Long-term fans will delight at the way Letts, after a slightly-hesitant start, quickly finds the voices of characters he helped shape: the first, and best, suave incarnation of the Master; the blustering-but-human Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, never a mere blimp or cipher; and of the course, the dashing, dandy, heroic high-and-mighty third Doctor (though no one in this series has quite captured the quicksilver magic of Pertwee's delivery... but then, who could?).
The extended running time allows plenty of time for quiet character moments amid the action, and Letts' compassionate view of human nature (and others) means there's sympathy and understanding for the minor characters - even the bad 'uns. The regulars get fleshed out, too (Sergeant Benton is revealed as a twinkle-toed ballroom dancer, for example), but if you don't know this era don't worry: outside the DVDs (and The Daemons in still on the wish list) this is the perfect place to start. And you should!
The highpoint of a brilliant series so far then, though there are no real clunkers; the Tom Baker readings of his early adventures are delightful (start with Brain of Morbius, perhaps) and the Malcolm Hulke authored Pertwee-era readings are winners, too, ...Space War perhaps the slowest going. In some cases - Dinosaur Invasion, Black Orchid - these sets arguably even supplant the telly stories as definitive versions, though that is a debate for another day.
Recommended, then: shop carefully, bide your time, get 'em for under a tenner all-in and you'll certainly never regret it... in fact the only thing you'll be sorry about is the sudden shortness of the daily commute... but then there are about 150 of these titles to go at. Can't wait.