on 20 March 2013
There's a business phrase that is apposite in reviewing AUDIOGO's release of Gerry Davis' novelisation recording of DOCTOR WHO AND THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN; "...bringing your A-Game..." In effect, an attempt to complete an activity to your best ability given all your experience, resources available and ambition, and that, for this release, is exactly what has been done.
Thoroughly absorbing - even more so than the frequently vacuous NEW SERIES broadcast episodes - and combining the enviable talents of Michael Kilgarrif, the post-production of MEON SOUNDS and vocal interpretations of the Cybermen by Nicholas Briggs, this four-disc issue is as perfect as both a novel and an audiobook interpretation can be. It's a rare achievement.
(Description of the Second Doctor) "...his green cat's eyes still on her face..."
It's September 1969 - Season Five - and THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN premieres a set of stories that collectively have, quite rightly, become known as "the monster era" (Cybermen [twice], Yeti [twice] along with the Great Intelligence, Ice Warriors, and Seaweed creature) that has become a cornerstone in the series' 50-year history and, certainly, never surpassed by the 2005-2013 re-imagineered series with its digital technology and finances.
Like RONSEAL varnish's iconic marketing slogan, this on-screen collaboration between Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler does exactly as its title say. The Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon and, new companion, Victoria become embroiled - through the Time Lord's own curiosity - with an archaeological expedition to uncover the centuries lost titular resting place of the part-mechanical part-organic aliens.
In his novelisation, Davis retains the character-led formatting of the original four-part broadcast, focussing upon the internal paranoia and power-struggle of the humans as each faction seemingly undermine each other in the feint hearted & misguided attempt to secure the ignominy of discovering the actual Tombs. In effect, bravely, it is story of two halves; the first (represented on television as the first two episodes) is the study of conflicting human interaction
Unsurprisingly, Kilgarrif's reading reinforces the tensions within that build toward the faltering first awakening steps of the silver metal giants from their hibernation (whether this is accidental or self-impose, as a form of `genetic gene bank', it is not wholly clear). Whilst the clarity of his voice has diminished with age - as it will with all of us; "...taxes and death...."), it remains as arresting and spellbinding as he sympathetically delivers (there is no attempt, thankfully, to re-create the original actor's performances) Davis' written text with a relish and verve that draws you into the machinations on Telos (or, as it is pronounced, "...Tealos..."). Diligent in his accent choice, vocal gesture and clinical examination of the combination of pitch, stress & time, each character is crafted without pastiche or undermining comedic element, and if you had not watched the original (or DVD release) television broadcast then from his reading then every single player can be visualised.
From the caustically irritating, paranoid and persistently perspiring John Viner, to the `by-the-book' North American Captain Hopper, to the reptilian-like guile of Kaftan, and to the calming ethereal presence of the Second Doctor, Kilgarrif's degree of energy is captivatingly precise skipping from subdued to vehement within a heart-beat, as is his application of rhythmus and melody lifting the printed word into a digital realm.
The author's description of the murder of Peter Haydon is horrifically realised by Kilgarrif that will cascade cutis anserina across your increasingly clammy skin. (Disc 2 Chapter six).
However, there is another contribution within DOCTOR WHO AND THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN that matches Michael Kilgarrif's contribution, and in what seems to have been a `labour of love, Simon Power (as MEON SOUNDS) has created an aural canvas upon which its reader deftly colours with vocal brushstrokes.
Overall, the music `cues' are suitably atmospheric, coated with an enigmatic hard frost that uncompromisingly chills to the bone and then penetrates further to a chromosome level within you. Occasionally, a low-rumbling, akin to lying flat with your ear pressed to an Underground Station platform listening to an approaching train, ominously resonates - almost psychedelically hypnotic - as the threat from the silver-metal bionic alien becomes apparent.
Equally, incidental sound effects are invincibly disturbing whether they are the hydraulically-driven biomechanical joints of the waking giants, or the accurately observed footfalls on frozen metalwork, or the purely science fiction elements of the Cybermen weapon testing area, or the more substantive validity of the Tomb Hatch (the new sound effect gives a credible mass-weight and multi-locking [perhaps, even deadlock seals] format that the television version failed to achieve back in the days when the series was fiscally challenged and realised by hardboard and cooking aluminum foil).
"... now you belong to us..."
It's not easy but ensuring that a sound effect actually sounds like what it is supposed to be is an art, and in this release we witness a Masterpiece being painted within our ears (as opposed beneath our eyes); vast blocks & sheets cracking ice sounds like cracking ice, whilst nefarious footfalls on frosted floors sound suitably treacherous.
Additionally, the sound treatment for the Cybermen voice is genius. Probably, the best rationalisation of these aliens ever, with annunciation crystal-clear and vocal articulation enviously pure courtesy of BIG FINISH's Nicholas Briggs that removes the mildly comical twang of the television versions (past and present) that made them sound like a something from The Buggles' 1976 song, "Video killed the radio star".
If I haven't persuaded to buy - or borrow from a library - DOCTOR WHO AND THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN already then I can do no more.
Remarkably astute in its vision, gloriously crafted by AUDIOGO, an intelligent and thrilling novel, this release will stand head and shoulders and ear-pieces above the rest, setting a benchmark for future unabridged TARGET novelisations.
Truly, it is aspirational.