Doctor Who: Scratchman is almost impossible to believe. Or at least the story behind it is. After all it’s 40 years in the making! At some point in the mid or late 1970s Tom Baker and Ian Marter got talking. Ian Marter played companion Harry Sullivan in Doctor Who from 1974 to 1975 in Tom Baker’s first televised series. He later in life became a prominent writer for the Target Doctor Who novelisation range – which lasted from 1973 until about 1994 – having been somewhat recently resurrected last year to release ‘Target-style’ novelisations of some modern Doctor Who stories. This is probably why the story behind Scratchman goes as far as it does.
According to fan legend and rumour, Tom and Ian got talking about a potential Doctor Who film idea. Either they came up with similar ideas around the same time and combined the two or Tom came up with an idea and Ian helped him turn it into an actual film pitch. It became something of a pet project for the two and they worked on multiple versions until some time in the 1980s. Every time they suggested the idea they were kindly but firmly told it wouldn’t be practical – either because Tom was still working on the show or because of budget concerns – even when said budget was a film budget.
With a great deal of reluctance they abandoned the idea. At least until recently. Due to all the rumours and stories Tom told after Ian’s passing, people knew that manuscripts had once existed. A lot of people assumed they were long gone and so Scratchman became a semi-mythical story. Not quite the holy grail of Doctor Who but certainly the kind of story mentioned by the more curious types.
I say recently because starting in 2012 James Goss began to novelise the few televised Doctor Who stories that had no book equivalent. Once those were almost all dealt with he discussed some interest in Scratchman. Then someone did the impossible. They found one of the old manuscripts! At this point Tom Baker was approached for permission to turn it into a novel with some adjustments and additional material and Tom agreed so we have the audiobook co-written by Tom and James and narrated by Tom himself.
I apologise for the somewhat long-winded explanation of what Scratchman is. But I feel it’s important to help the listener and reader understand it. This was the Fourth Doctor and Harry Sullivan’s idea of what big-screen Doctor Who could be…before that became a somewhat disappointing reality in the 1990s.
The story is very interesting and also very Tom!I won’t give away too much though!
We start on a remote Scottish island. (There is no further indication as to whereabouts in Scotland this is other than a joke late in the book about catching a trout in Loch Lomond in the 6th century so it could be around there or the Peedie Sea for all they tell us.) The Doctor, Sarah and Harry try and relax by playing games and having a picnic. Except a scarecrow steals the ball and by the time they get back the picnic is destroyed. They find a small town nearby being menaced by more hideous approximations of scarecrows and bossed around by the world’s cruelest gossiping busybody. The Doctor does his best but Scratchman is coming for them all and he’s very very persistent.
The easiest way I can describe Scratchman as an audiobook is Doctor Who to the core. The story has a way of taking things that would be considered either normal or slightly off anyway and amping up the horror aspects. Despite Tom’s joviality as a narrator and the Doctor’s as a character it knows full well how to scare you or surprise you and when to do it. There’s a reason they’ve advertised it as a Doctor Who horror novel. If you aren’t careful it could sneak itself into your dreams at night.
Tom as a narrator is also excellent at changing tone. Joking about stuffy boardrooms and offices one moment and describing in gruesome detail as a living creature burns away limb from limb the next and making it flow as if he’s just offered sugar to go with your tea but you can sense something is wrong!
I won’t give away much of the plot or who/what/? Scratchman is as I hope my readers will give the story a chance and listen to the end. But I will say it’s a very entertaining story extremely well told. It takes quite a few unexpected turns, has a decent amount of surprise appearances and by the time I finished it I was genuinely sad it was done. I wished it had been longer. Not because the story was bad but because I was enjoying it that much!
Be careful when you begin the story though. Make sure you follow the Doctor. There are so many twists and turns along the road after all…
Link: Dr Who Scratchman