Book Review: Doctor Who – Scratchman

by @edent | # #

The Doctor stands beneath a ragged sign saying Scratchman.

In his first-ever Doctor Who novel, Tom Baker’s incredible imagination is given free rein. A story so epic it was originally intended for the big screen, Scratchman is a gripping, white-knuckle thriller almost forty years in the making.
The Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane Smith arrive at a remote Scottish island, when their holiday is cut short by the appearance of strange creatures – hideous scarecrows, who are preying on the local population. The islanders are living in fear, and the Doctor vows to save them all. But it doesn’t go to plan – the time travellers have fallen into a trap, and Scratchman is coming for them.
With the fate of the universe hanging in the balance, the Doctor must battle an ancient force from another dimension, one who claims to be the Devil. Scratchman wants to know what the Doctor is most afraid of. And the Doctor’s worst nightmares are coming out to play…

Oh! But this is a weird book. I can’t remember when I last read a novelisation of a Dr Who story. They were all we had before expensive VHS tapes and DVD box sets. This is a reasonable facsimile of an early 4th Doctor story. At least, to begin with.

It’s slightly weird having the story narrated in the first person – but it works in context; giving a good insight into the whirring mind of the madman in his box. The first half is a fairly stereotypical plot – demonic scarecrows on a Scottish island. You can almost hear the theme tune crashing in for the cliff-hanger. It’s the sort of story which would be fondly remembered as being far too scary for kids – but would never bother anyone’s top-ten list.

The second half is… wow…! Completely unfilmable – even on a modern budget – it’s a psychedelic journey through the terrors which haunt immortals. A bleak and twisted horror show which twists and turns in its madness. Almost Lovecraftian in its use of mental torture.

But it never quite hits the mark. There are a few lovely Doctor-Whoisms – and some great cameos – but its downright weirdness doesn’t feel like Doctor Who.

Many of the plot points have been recycled into New-Who stories. “The Family of Blood” and “The Satan Pit” mixed with “Trial of a Timelord”. But it is a bit of a jumble.

I think this quote from the book sums it up:

‘Preposterous!’ thundered Lord Bardakajak, echoed by some young wags from Temporal Incursions. ‘This is all preposterous!’ he repeated, pleased to be getting a bit of attention.

‘How so?’ I asked.

The Zero Nun came forward once more, sanctimony dripping from her wimple. ‘Surely you can see my colleagues’ point?’ she simpered. ‘When we started, your story was all scarecrows and so on, and that was harmless enough if you like that sort of thing.’ She favoured the room with a beneficent mien that showed that naturally, she did not include any of them in that group. They beamed back. ‘But now here we are, plunged into this fantasy universe of yours, woven from the nightmares of you and your companions, with all those monsters, and explosions, and endless jeopardy … Come now, Doctor, surely you can agree it’s a bit much to take in?’

One for the dedicated fan, I think.

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