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3.0 out of 5 stars Think of the Douglas Adams era WHO and you have it..!, 12 Mar 2012
This review is from: Doctor Who: Serpent Crest: Aladdin Time: Pt. 3 (Audio CD)
This is episode three in the (at time of writing) latest Tom Baker audio serial, DOCTOR WHO SERPENT CREST - ALADDIN TIME, written by Paul Magrs (the G is silent, fans) from AUDIOGO. I've listened to episode one (TSAR WARS) but missed episode two and so I come to this thing with a handicap but the virtue in reviewing this release almost as a standalone lies in just that: does the story work in its own right or is it a necessity to buy the previous realises? I think this is an approach worth taking because not everyone is blessed with a large budget for indulgencies and so some may be tempted to dip into a series rather than commit to buying a boxed set with a hefty price tag (which one would expect, given that this will eventually turn up as part of a five-CD set, remember). The added complication is that Tom is back in the saddle and so a lot of fans will probably want to sign on for at least a few of these tales even if coughing up £50 for a series may be out of the question.

The tone of episode one and three is pretty much the same. Think Douglas Adams era WHO. If you've like me and find pretty much everything Adams has done as a series of tired exercises in over-extended satire licensed by his Oxbridge connections then you should avoid this, period. The Doctor's scarf becomes a snake-like entity and this feels a lot like the Colin Baker period in the DOCTOR WHO MONTHLY magazine (remember the brilliant Rupert Bear parody? Yes, like that). But, again, if you're also like me and think Tom Baker is a genius, then you're pretty much stuck with the dilemma: it's Tom and so has to be worth hearing. And that's it. I opted to listen to this thing solely because Tom is bringing us NEW WHO from the best Doctor. And one cannot argue with that. Fans are going to pick up the Baker releases just to hear Tom: it would hardly matter if a duck had crapped out the script; if Tom agreed to read it, me, I'd want to hear what he made of it.

As for influences, think Troughton's Doctor in the Land of Fiction (see DOCTOR WHO - THE MIND ROBBER). No, Tom does not meet Gulliver but he does find himself re-enacting the story of Aladdin (not quite the panto) and meets Scherazade (Sophie Ward) who narrates the story. In this case, Tom and his Holmes-influenced companion, Mrs Wibbsey, are trapped in an egg that creates its own mini-universe and in this case stages the story of Aladdin, populating it with people from the outside (real) world for reasons not worth going into here.

Two of the characters we encountered previously, the boy Andrew and Mr Beaulieu, turn up respectively as Aladdin and the magician who forces him to investigate the cavern of the 40 thieves to recover the magic lamp; while Andrew struggles to remember who he really is, Mr Beaulieu realises that the environment is fake early on but plays along in order to reach the conclusion of the story and find a way out. The Doctor and Mrs Wibbsey turn up and they are entirely unaffected by the story-telling environment, which is convenient, and soon find themselves travelling through the caves with Aladdin/Andrew, pursued by the magician. That's pretty much it, no complications, as linear as linear narrative gets. Passing references to the fact that Andrew and Mr Bealieu are part- or entirely non-human will make no sense unless you've heard at least episode one, though.

Other quibbles? Well, I wondered why the Story so far was offered as a series of clips and then segued into Scherazade's narrative: why not have the character run through the recap as well? But despite feeling a sense of tiresome déjà vu throughout, Tom won me over as he always does. He's bluff, chatty and daft as ever. And new boy Matt seems to vanish into the ether in comparison. This is not a bad effort. It's just average, workmanlike: writing by numbers as it hits WHO-specific storytelling beats; but, with Tom driving it, it's like watching a Volkswagen with a Porsche engine. Nevertheless, if money is tight, give it a miss.

Rating: Thanks to Tom, 5/5 Take Tom out of the equation: 1/5
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