Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, by Tom Baker

versaillesqueen's review against another edition

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adventurous emotional funny lighthearted mysterious relaxing slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


andystehr's review

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So good! Tom Baker is a fantastic author. I listened to him read to book, and he's just a treasure.

thoroughlyme's review

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Doctor Who: Scratchman is a story that's been gestating for a long time. Beginning life as an idea for a film by the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, himself, Scratchman never resulted in an actual film, and the idea gathered a lot of dust as Baker moved onto other things. Until now, that is. Aided by prolific Doctor Who novelist, James Goss, Tom Baker returned to his Scratchman idea and turned it into the newest Doctor Who novel from BBC Books. So, is the novel worth the long wait? More or less, yeah.

I'll be blatantly honest, here. I can't imagine Scratchman as a film. Certainly not one that could have been made in the 1970s/1980s with the budget and technology that would have been available to it. There are just so many images in the novel that would require a great deal of special effects work - particularly in the second half of the story - and I just don't think it could have been believably accomplished in those days. I say that as a way of saying that I love this novel. It's brilliantly creative, often very spooky, and all around enjoyable. The story is split pretty neatly into two parts - similar to the way serials from the classic era of Doctor Who were split into distinct parts. This works very well as the first part focuses primarily on the setup while the second part delivers on the promised confrontation between the Doctor and Scratchman.

It's very unique for a Doctor Who novel, too, as it's primarily told in the first-person from the Doctor's point of view. Most Doctor Who novels are told in a third-person point of view, so it's always a lot of fun when we get to jump into the Doctor's mind like this and truly experience a story through his eyes. Scratchman uses a framing device much like the one used in The Trial of a Time Lord season; the Time Lords have called the Doctor back to Gallifrey in order to prosecute him for his actions taken during this adventure. The bulk of the story is the Doctor explaining all that happened to the Time Lords, and it works brilliantly. Occasionally, we cut back to the trial and hear from some of the Time Lords present at the trial, but it's mainly just an excuse for the story to be told from the Doctor's point of view. And, boy, does this novel capture the Fourth Doctor's voice perfectly. It surely helps that Tom Baker wrote the novel, and wrote it in his own voice, but it's just amazing how perfectly the narration sounds like it's coming from the Fourth Doctor. I listened to an excerpt of the audiobook - narrated by Baker, himself - and the prose flows so naturally from his voice.

The narrative of Scratchman - and its pacing - is also superb. The book starts out very strong, immediately building a very spooky and ominous atmosphere, and things quickly get kicked into gear as the Doctor, Harry, and Sarah Jane encounter these scarecrows that come to life. Spooky scarecrows aren't exactly an original idea for Doctor Who - nor is the twist related to who's behind the scarecrows, either - but they're still very effective here, and the design of them - or, at least, the description of their design - is perfectly nightmarish. It's the kind of design that would really upset some of those watchdog groups. The first half of the story introduces a lot of side characters, all of whom are very well written and feel well-defined and well-rounded. Some of them even reappear in the second part of the book, but to say any more than that would be too spoilery. The second part of the book trades in the nightmarish atmosphere for some truly hellish imagery - pun intended. Scratchman is definitely a formidable foe for the Doctor, and the entirety of the second half of the story - including Scratchman's ultimate defeat - is brilliant.

All in all, this is a very good Doctor Who novel. As weird as this might sound, I'm kind of glad the original film version of this story never got made because it allowed us to experience this story in a medium that works really well for it. Baker's writing is immensely enjoyable. He perfectly captures the sound of the Fourth Doctor - though, you'd expect nothing less from the actor who's played him all these years - as well as capturing the voices of Harry and Sarah Jane. The plot is well constructed, well-paced, and full of scares and excellent payoff. Scratchman is the kind of novel that you won't want to put down once you've started it. It's a brilliant addition to the Fourth Doctor's adventures and a book that any Doctor Who fan should read.

angharadmair's review

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this started out so well but the moment we found out who was behind the scarecrows, it all got boring as hell :/

mauvesoul's review

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4.5 stars
Now I really want to watch classic doctor who

shadow_and_books's review

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This book feels like two completely separate stories mashed together, which was quite unfortunate.
The first half felt like every bog standard Cybermen Story and the second part feels like "The Mind Robber", but worse.

The Doctor was not written as the Doctor, but as Tom Baker wearing a costume.
Having read his biography, you can see quite some similarities. And you can feel Tom Bakers religious upbringing in this, since the Doctor makes more than a few references to christian ikonography and imagery. Apparently the Doctor has fond memories of church services on christmas day?

Also, a little tease at the end: [Spoiler ahead!!]

He made himself meet his other selves in Scarecrow-form.... maybe someone regrets not appearing in "The Five Doctors"

ellierichards90's review

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Audiobook review)


I’d highly recommend listening to this rather than just reading it. Tom Baker really brings the story to life, and his characterisation of the fourth doctor is spot on (as you’d expect!)

The plot was very typical of a doctor who tv story, and a good mix of humour and creepy moments. I felt it did get a bit needlessly complex in the latter part of the book, but this was an enjoyable story nonetheless.

alba_marie's review

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[ 2.5 stars ]

Right so, I knew this wasn't going to be exceptional. I didn't go into it looking for a masterpiece. After going strong all year, I've been in a bit of a reading slump the last few weeks (my fault entirely - trying to read Dante's Inferno and The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan at the same time was a bad idea, too much serious writing all at once!). So I was looking for something light, quick and fun to get me out of this slump. And I thought this would fit the bill.

Alas even these lowered expectations didn't really suit. The writing (attributed to Tom Baker but really ghost written by someone else) wasn't great, the plot was all over the place, the story was routinely interrupted for the Time Lords to jeer at the Doctor, and I didn't feel like the Doctor felt like the Doctor. Plus, it was all from his perspective - which is the exact opposite of the series. It felt disjointed and not even that fun/silly (which was what 'd expected). Overall, quite meh.

markyon's review

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So, here’s an unusual arrival for Doctor Who fans.

Scratchman is a novel that, forty years ago, was the outline for a proposed movie when the television series Doctor Who was arguably at its most popular. Written by the Doctor of the time, Tom Baker, with Ian Marter (who played assistant Harry Sullivan at the same time) it sadly never came to be.

Now, Tom Baker (recently 85 years old, unbelievably), with the assistance of Doctor Who novelist James Goss (whose Timelord poetry I reviewed a while back) we can read what once could have been.

As you might expect, the story is set in the era of the Fourth Doctor, with Tom Baker naturally as the Doctor (wearing his iconic scarf on the cover) and companions Harry and Sarah-Jane. They arrive in a quaint isolated Scottish village in contemporary times (well, contemporary for what I assumed was the 1970s) to find the local populace terrified by living scarecrows that appear and kill the population. Obviously, the Doctor gets involved to try and uncover the who’s, why’s and wherefores of their appearance.

The Doctor discovers that the scarecrows are part of a bigger scheme, created by an enemy known as Scratchman, whose purpose in life, as any villain’s should be, is to take over planets and bend them to their will. Having used the Scottish village as a testing ground, Scratchman is determined to take over the Earth and then the Universe, obviously.

This results in the second part of the book being more nightmarish. The Doctor and his friends are put through a series of challenges from Scratchman, based upon what they fear, with Scratchman’s hope that by doing so he will discover the Time Lord’s greatest fear and so gain an advantage.


This book is being publicised as by Tom Baker (see the cover). And as a result, the story takes the somewhat unusual task of telling a Doctor Who story as if told by Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor.

The framing story is that, rather like The Trials of a Time Lord, the Doctor is once again held for trial by his peers, the Time Lords of Gallifrey. There the Doctor is told to explain himself and tell what he knows of this attempt to discover what the Time Lord’s greatest fear is.  The Doctor then begins his tale as if he is narrating what happened to him and his companions.

Some may like this approach, which is quite different from the usual third-person narrative of the traditional stories (such as those in the fondly remembered Target paperbacks or the more recent writings.) For me it was less successful, although undeniably whilst reading the story it felt like Tom Baker was saying it. (An audio book would work wonderfully well, perhaps.*)


The writing echoes the tone and feel of those Seventies stories, jaunty and fast paced with more one-liners than is usual, and the text does read as a logical extension of the Fourth Doctor’s characterisation, if not Tom Baker himself (which was also the case by the end of his television tenure as well, I think.) I found this quite enjoyable, but by the end a little wearying and rather overdone. Less is sometimes more, and, for as good as it is, would have worked better if it did not seem to be every line. But some readers will like it.

I liked the fact that many of the key elements of the Fourth Doctor’s time are present. There’s stiff-upper-lip doctor Harry Sullivan, loyal and true, and enthusiastically energetic Sarah-Jane, determined to find out the truth, who supports the enigmatic Doctor in this mystery. Also throughout there’s the iconography of Britishness that the Doctor was amused by and appreciated – there’s mention of cakes, sandwiches, picnics, cricket and tea, for example – which means that we are clearly reading recognisable signs of the Doctor in his fourth incarnation, for good or ill.

Unfortunately, this attempt to show things in a different way also created difficulties for me. The disparate styles between the Doctor’s own thoughts and the rest of the story lead to the novel struggling to mesh the parts of the story together evenly. Whilst writing the story as if told by the Doctor is a different take to the Doctor Who canon, such a perspective also limits things in that events have to be linked by having “Sarah Jane later told me” rather than the story told naturalistically from an objective third-person perspective.

One of the things I am reminded of whilst reading this is that although Doctor Who is widely recognised for its science-fictional content, it could do horror really well. The creepy bits – part Wicker Man, part Dante’s Inferno – do sometimes work here, especially at the beginning. Scarecrows have appeared in Doctor Who since (see David Tennant’s episodes Human Nature/Family of Blood) but this one I prefer. As with the best books, the pictures created in your head by this novel are better than anything you could see on the television or a movie screen.

The later part, based around the stuff of dreams, is all rather reminiscent of The Celestial Toymaker episodes for me. They are less convincing.

Which leads me to the question – could it have made a good movie? It is sometimes difficult to tell what parts remain from the original script and which parts have been added in this write-up, but I think that the wider concepts might have been a tad difficult to portray on a movie screen with 1970’s effects. I also rather suspect it might have been too scary for children and perhaps too similar, at least at first, to other stories such as The Wicker Man for adults. But as a post-modern novel, where the imagination is unbounded, the cost of the effects are minimal and you can read it in the safety of your own home, it works fine.

Scratchman is, in summary, an oddity, an interesting attempt to bring something unusual to the legend of the Fourth Doctor, from a slightly different direction. It didn’t always work for me, but there will be many who will find this a worthwhile read.

For many of us who are older followers of the series, reading this will generate the thrill of reading an old Tom Baker story that you have never seen before – like the old Target paperbacks, but not based on a television episode!  For relative newcomers it will show them what older incarnations of the Doctor were all about – scary and yet also good fun.

*Update: I have been told that an audio book version, read by Tom Baker, will be available.

kryten4k's review

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adventurous dark funny mysterious medium-paced