scratchmanTom Baker
BBC Books
2019

‘Having friends is nothing to be afraid of,’ I reassured them. ‘They’re there for the small things in life — laughing at your jokes, drinking your tea, rescuing you from dungeons. Friends remember you how you’d like to be remembered, and forget the rest. Friends turn up at the last moment, friends tell you to keep running.’

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 travelers 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…

What’s all this, then? An all-new novelized Doctor Who adventure, featuring the Fourth Doctor and his companions, Sarah Jane and Harry? All written by the man who played the Fourth Doctor himself, Tom Baker?

I believe the phrase you’re groping for is, “Shut up and take my money.” At least, that was my immediate response when I read of this recent publication on the list of Science Fiction Books being published in February of 2019. Den Of Geek is such a wonderful resource, that.

So, I went and immediately bought the Kindle edition of Scratchman, and read through half of the novel in a handful of hours at work, when I made myself reign in things to keep from scarfing this all down in one setting. Take some time, enjoy it at a more leisure pace.

That’s why I waited until the next day to finish it. Totally worth it. Anyway…

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, I shouldn’t have to explain who Tom Baker is. His portrayal of the Doctor is the iconic version for many a Whovian, myself included. He was my first Doctor. He’s known mostly as an actor; he has written a couple of books: One autobiography, and one dark humor novel entitled The Boy Who Kicked Pigs.

Interestingly enough, Scratchman isn’t technically Baker’s first stab at writing for his character; the book actually started off as a rejected script he wrote with James Goss as a Doctor Who feature film. Forty years later, and we finally have that vision in book form. Which…let’s face it, this is probably the best way to present this story, using the reader’s imagination to come up with the special effects. They’re not as skinflint as the BBC would have let them back in the 70s.

The story of Scratchman is told in first person by the Fourth Doctor, who takes on the role of the Unreliable Narrator in this instance. He weaves a tale of how, beginning with standing trial in front of his fellow Time Lords (won’t be the last time that happens, sorry to say) to answer to the crime of…saving the universe. Again. His very existence is threatened to be wiped away permanently, lest he convinces the jury of peers that his actions have merit. So, he tells them a story of learning fear, of a time when he and his two companions — Sarah Jane and Harry — come across a village terrorized by living scarecrows, which leads to finding themselves in an alternate dimension where a powerful entity calling himself the Devil is wanting into our universe to feed off of. Mainly because his own cosmic all-you-can-eat buffet is nearly dry. Trust me, the Time Lords are a tough crowd. And it doesn’t help that the Doctor was late to his own trial, or that there was a literal Sword of Damocles dangling over him, waiting to wipe him from existence at the snap of the Time Lords’ fingers. In other words, it’s a typical day for the Doctor.

As to Tom Baker’s writing style, I described it to a friend as being like Terry Pratchett if he wrote for the Scholastic crowd. It’s in the same vein as Pratchett and Douglas Adams, but more whimsical, like a Roald Dahl after a couple of pints. As a matter of fact, the whole of Scratchman has that feel of a great-uncle (or what have you) spinning a spell-binding yarn; you can almost see the twinkle in Baker’s eye as he writes this all out for us.

So, yeah, Scratchman was a rather enjoyable Doctor Who story. It takes some interesting twists and turns, and satisfies that empty void that is always there while waiting for the next season series of Doctor Who to broadcast. Also, there’s a bit of a passing of the torch to Number Thirteen buried in there, somewhere. I’m not going to say where, you’ll have to read to see what happens. Which you should. Read it, I mean.

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