Review by Jacob Licklider
The Audio Novels range is the newest Doctor Who range from Big Finish Productions, essentially taking over from their original printed short story collections which ran until 2009 when they lost the license to print Doctor Who books. Several of the short stories would find their way as Subscriber Short Trips, four released a year, but with the ending of The Monthly Range and the normal Short Trips range being moved to box sets 2021 saw the introduction of The Audio Novels with Scourge of the Cybermen, essentially released every six months in January and July. The second installment is also an interesting contribution as it isn’t from an established writer, but an actor. Matthew Waterhouse wrote Watchers, a seven-hour audiobook set after The Keeper of Traken and exploring the final days of the Fourth Doctor, in universe, bridging the gap to Logopolis. It is an interesting look at the end of the Tom Baker era from a meta-textual standpoint as Waterhouse uses it to ultimately comment on how each of the three producers during the run produced the show, and especially how stark a contrast Season 18 was in respect to the end of the Graham Williams era. Gone was the previous era’s characteristic humour, brought into stark contract as Season 17 was script edited by Douglas Adams and was an out and out comedy.
Watchers through much of the first half straddles the line between comedy and serious hard science fiction. Adric’s storyline in the early parts of the novel in particular are comedic with comedic space pirates capturing Adric, who at this point thinks the Doctor might be dead. There’s also a Time Lord of the eponymous Watchers, tasked with watching history and preserving it without interfering. They are the ones who take people away from their predetermined timelines at the points of their deaths and helping other Time Lords through traumatic regenerations. The Watcher of Watchers picks up a Frenchman from the beginning of The Dalek Invasion of Earth who begins as at least partially depressed with his lot and connects with Adric when they eventually meet in the second half. The two plots actually remain fairly separate, the Doctor and Adric actually taking quite a long time to appear in the narrative with the idea being the TARDIS is stuck in the Time Vortex, but Waterhouse uses this to great effect in allowing the mood of the novel to set in throughout. There’s a great Adams-esque scene early on which helps bring to life things after the greys of 22nd century Paris and of course the initial Dalek attack. Developing a mood is something Waterhouse does throughout managing to avoid several instances of potential tonal whiplash which could have broken the story.
There is something almost lyrical in his prose which comes as unexpected, never quite getting towards camp, but still making the humour shine through while balancing darker moments. Waterhouse’s Wikipedia page mentions three novels, a memoir, and a short story collection between 2006 and 2016, as well as having a standout Doctor Who short story in The Target Storybook. This experience helps make Watchers feel like a novel with its own distinct style which has clearly developed and unlike some of the in print novels by Doctor Who stars, there is no co-author here to help develop this. Waterhouse’s story is all on his own merits which only elevates the success of Watchers. If there was a flaw it was adding in the Daleks into the novel which aren’t used horrendously, but they feel superfluous to requirements. It seems from the interviews at the end of the release that their inclusion was suggested and not in the original commission. They end up as a piece of background scenery in the early portions of Watchers and when they eventually do have a purpose in the plot, they feel like they could be swapped in and out with any other alien threat. Waterhouse does some interesting pieces with Dalek hierarchy, giving several interestingly coloured Daleks time to shine with different colours indicating different roles in Dalek society, but they don’t actually amount to much.
Overall, Watchers is a fascinating second installment in the Audio Novels as a range, telling a story that feels necessary to be told in this format. What is genuinely disappointing is that the range is limited to audio novels as this is an in-print novel. It flows from scene to scene incredibly well and is narrated wonderfully by Waterhouse who surprises when it comes to his prose and characters, all of which are excellent. Nearly perfect. 9/10.
You can get it on download from Big Finish.
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