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THERE can be few Doctor Who stories as beloved as this 1977 tale of giant rats, Chinese Tongs and murderous manikins stalking the streets of Victorian London, so perfectly does it embody all that is remarkable and entertaining about the series.

A mishmash of melodrama concocted by legendary Who scribe Robert Holmes, it draws on influences from the likes of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, the Ripper murders, the Phantom of the Opera and any number of Victorian penny fiction tales.

Garbed in a deerstalker and cape instead of his usual hat and scarf, the Fourth Doctor takes futuristic savage Leela to meet her ancestors in 1889 Whitechapel, only to find themselves caught up in a malevolent plot by the hideously deformed 51st century war criminal Magnus Greel, who has been posing as the Chinese god Weng-Chiang in order to reclaim his lost time cabinet.

Allied with theatre owner Henry Gordon Jago and pathologist George Litefoot, they discover Greel has disguised the cyborg assassin known as the Peking Homunculus as a ventriloquist’s dummy called Mr Sin, and that his experiments with the unstable zigma energy have not only bred rats the size of tigers, but threaten to destroy the whole of London...

Christopher Benjamin, who played Jago in the original TV episodes and has since returned to the role for a series of audio adventures, lends his distinctive tones to the reading of the novelisation by Terrance Dicks, the latest in the Target Books range from AudioGo.

The original release of this book came at a time when Dicks was churning out dozens of adaptations of TV scripts with little in the way of expansion or development from the stories as broadcast, and as such it’s quite a lightweight telling of a story which has so much to offer visually as well. It would have been nice to see some of the fleshing out of television stories which characterises other novelisations, rather than a straight-forward retelling of a story easily available on DVD.

That said, you really can’t fault Holmes’ ability to tell a ripping yarn, and his script and dialogue more than makes up for any of Dicks’ shortcomings in novelising what is unquestionably one of the all-time classic Who stories.

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