Fiction Reviews

Doctor Who: Scratchman

(2019) Tom Baker with James Goss, BBC Books, £16.99, hrdbk, ISBN 978-1-785-94390-4


A Doctor Who story written by the Doctor himself! Well, almost. The actor Tom Baker played the fourth incarnation of the Doctor from 1974 to 1981 (the longest tenure so far) and naturally this tale features his Doctor, with companions Sarah Jane Smith (as played by Elizabeth Sladen) and Harry Sullivan (as played by Ian Marter).

The story started off as a script written back in the ‘70s by Baker and Marter (who was also a writer and went on to write several Doctor Who novelisations from the TV series), in collaboration with director James Hill. It was provisionally titled Doctor Who Meets Scratchman and they hoped it would be made into a feature-length film, though ultimately the funding never materialised. Ian Marter died in 1986 and the project would not again have seen the light of day had not Tom Baker decided to revive and update it as a novel. He did so with the assistance of James Goss, who himself has written several novelisations from the TV series. Baker’s name looms large on the cover though Goss is also credited on the title page; in addition the copyright page acknowledges that the storyline was by Baker and Marter. In short, the book is the work of all three. Between them they have woven a very satisfying story; the whole thing feels right and I could easily picture Sarah Jane and Harry as the pages turned.

The story opens as the TARDIS lands on a remote island somewhere off the coast of Scotland. I will repeat the quote on the dust jacket as it sums it up nicely. ‘We're not really here for a picnic, are we, Doctor?’ asked Sarah. ‘No,’ I agreed. ‘Something's brought the TARDIS here.’ ‘Something good? Something evil?’ She paused, and sighed. ‘It's going to be something evil, isn't it?’

Well of course it is! It does not take them long to discover that the eerie-looking scarecrows on the nearby farm used to be people, the farmer’s family, and that something nasty is intent on turning everyone into scarecrows. They rush to the nearby village to warn the inhabitants but, despite gallant efforts to protect them, ultimately discover they have already been infected. When Cybermen walked out of the sea I was dejected - was this really just another Cybermen story? Well, no - they were victims too! All too soon the Doctor and his companions find themselves in another universe, unwilling ‘guests’ of Scratchman. The entity has all but devoured its entire universe, and perhaps other universes before it, and now, forever hungry, it wants a way into our universe. How can the Doctor possibly stop such a powerful entity in its own universe, a universe where it sets all the rules?

Unusually, the story is written in the first person. You might excuse Baker for being that familiar with the character, after all he played the role for so many episodes, but there is a reason - the Doctor has been summoned to Gallifrey to explain his actions and this is the story he tells to the Convocation of Oblivion. He takes advantage of the opportunity to remind them of some home truths, that ultimately even Time Lords must fight for the survival of the universe. Because Scratchman feeds on fear, the deeper the fear the better, the Doctor has had to face his greatest fears, his deepest feelings, his worst worries, and acknowledge all of his failures - he has had to admit to them all. He is now determined that the Time Lords must also understand the importance of facing their truths.

I really enjoyed the story and found it well written. The pace was nice and even, the plot worked well, the descriptions were effective, and the characters were as I remembered them. We even got to reminisce a little with shades of his predecessors, plus a brief visit from a Doctor-yet-to-come, and it was a joy to spend a little more time with them all. And there were jelly babies!

Will there be more novels of the Doctor from Mr. Baker? He says not; this was some forty years in the making and was a project that needed to be finished, a tale that needed telling.  I am so glad that he did.

Peter Tyers


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