Unlike the CLASSIC SERIES novelisation audiobooks released AUDIOGO, the NEW SERIES tie-in releases have been a wild hit-and-miss affair over recent months, ranging from mildly distracting (with irritating readings) to electrifyingly absorbing. With that said, it is difficult how to categorise the product; are they a valuable spin-off from the television series, or a contractual oddity written into an actor's obligation as part of filming for their televised episode, or a vanity project by BBC WALES?
So, where does James Goss' DOCTOR WHO - THE ART OF DEATH single-disc release squeeze into that `hit-and-miss' analysis?
Simply, an unalloyed `hit'.
With the Doctor dipping through a crack in time - no, a different one to THE ELEVENTH HOUR - occasionally materialising in the HORIZON GALLERY, home to an universal anomaly, the Paradox, and it's undervalued gallery attendant, Penelope. Resolving, "Don't blink" into "Don't stare", the Paradox is an impossibility that terminally entrances humanity with its inherent beauty but what entity within it is hungry for death.
In effect THE ART OF DEATH is a `Doctor-lite' story that has literary construct links with BLINK that allows the Penelope to carry the narrative forward, punctuated by timely appearances by the Time Lord, Amy and hapless Rory. This approach works as the character is belongs to our `real world'; her frailties are accurately captured, as are her thoughts. Lonely thoughts. Desperate thoughts. Thoughts that would not be out of kilter for a potential TARDIS travelling companion it would seem.
Goss' writing is, to be honest, a revelation; authentic, clear, charmingly witty with a strength of reality that is often errant in the audiobooks aimed at children. "His breath was bad. Ever so bad. Strong coffee, old milk and dead fish" is gloriously pure and defines the despotic HORIZON GALLERY owner, Mr. Silver.
Along with James Goss' diamond-standard plot & script, it is Rachel Cassidy's reading lifts this audiobook infinitely beyond mediocrity. Her performance is unhurried permitting the chilling events within the Horizon Gallery to be savoured like Fava beans and a nice Chianti. However, if there was a minor `direction fault' to highlight, whilst her narration `voice' is reassuring it is her performance of the garrulous Time Lord that is at fault. Frequently, it's too broad, too comic to be believable; a hybrid of HI DE HI's Peggy Ollerenshaw and a constipated squealing baboon attempting to `pass a solid'.
It's a minor point but, regrettably, reassigns the release from faultless to accomplished.
This is a semi-psychological adventure that unfurls like the Great Reaper's cloak billowing through the corridors the art gallery, and with touches of death as subtle as that of a brushstroke across a masterpiece's canvas the terror of the Paradox is finally revealed. And, unlike other NEW SERIES audiobook's denouement, the revelation of that `terror' will impress and satisfy in equal measure.
With no set piece explosions, no alien invasions and devoid of flimflam, DOCTOR WHO - THE ART OF DEATH is generous, intelligent and siren.