You don’t get many books about Scream of the Shalka. In fact, up until now, you pretty much get Scream of the Shalka; the novelisation of the webcast both written by Paul Cornell. It might get some references in books like Downtime and Who’s Next and Richard E. Grant’s Shalka Doctor might turn up in cameos in books like The Tomorrow Windows, but you don’t get whole books. Certainly my own project, Loose Canon will have a chapter about the webcast; indeed, it’s the sample chapter I’ve been sending out to publishers for Loose Canon. Which in itself is annoying as with the release of The Black Archive #10 – Scream of the Shalka, I find myself presented with new material, some of which will almost certainly be integrated into the sample chapter.
To be fair, it’s hard to put together a whole book on a webcast that sadly only lasted for six short episodes, yet Jon Arnold has managed exactly that. Not only has he created a whole book, but the footnotes alone provide a wealth of information and suggest that a longer book could have been written on the topic. My only complaint about the extensive footnotes was that they occasionally pulled me a little too far off the point and moving back to the main body the text could be jarring on occasion. However, they did allow me to pick up new information about Shalka whilst scanning through them
In-depth (or as in-depth as you can manage given the lack of available material) character studies manages to bulk the book out considerably and I particularly enjoyed his chapter on the Master. A lot of comparisons are drawn to New Who and you can’t help but get a feeling of ‘what might have been’ while reading through this particular guide. A lot of the Master’s analysis benefits greatly from being able to compare it to the direction that Russell T. Davies and John Simm chose to take him. For what it’s worth (and as much as I really enjoyed Simm’s portrayal), the Shalka Master remains far and away my favourite version.
It’s all very well put together; however, the author quite often leaves you with the impression that he’s not a fan of Scream of the Shalka and would much rather be watching New Who. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, incidentally: my fiancee voiced EXACTLY the same same sentiment the other night when I tried to introduce her and my son to Scream of the Shalka. It’s quite simply not for everyone.
But what elevates this book from being fairly interesting to an absolute must-have is the work Arnold has done in uncovering old pitches and scripts for what would have become the rest of the season, had it been allowed to progress. Arnold has clearly gone to great depths to find out more about Simon Clark’s Blood of the Robots – in fact, you can read about how he discovered as much as he did on the DWC – which only got to its first draft, and the inclusion of said first draft is an absolute delight to read. By Clark’s own admission, he wasn’t a screenwriter, and the script reads almost like a short story, one that I very much enjoyed reading.
Overall, I found this guide to be an informative read which expanded the Shalka universe that wee bit further than it had previously. It’s rare these days for a Whovian reference book to have something new to say and I loved being surprised by that.
If you’re a fan of Scream of the Shalka, or even just curious about the state of Doctor Who just prior to the 2005 relaunch, then you really should read this book.
The Black Archive #10 – Scream of the Shalka is out now from Obverse Books, priced between £3.99 and £7.99; the paperback copy, for just £4.99, is a real bargain!