Please feel free to comment on my review.
Tom Baker Writes and Reads ‘Scratchman’
This ‘Doctor Who’ book ended up completely different to what was on the movie poster!
I’ve read/heard ‘Scratchman’, the ‘Doctor Who’ book by Tom Baker! I previously enjoyed the bumper ‘Doctor Who’ books by Douglas Adams with Gareth Roberts and James Goss writing them including ‘Shada’, ‘City of Death’, ‘The Pirate Planet’ and ‘Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen’. They are pretty good!
Whilst ‘Scratchman’ isn’t a Douglas Adams story, it’s still ‘Doctor Who’ and it’s by Tom Baker – with James Goss ‘ghost-writing’ the tale of course. So, I figured it’d be great to check out this one too. I was looking forward to finding out what this ‘Doctor Who’ story would be like from the mind of Tom Baker.
‘Scratchman’ started life as a movie script by Tom Baker, Ian Marter and James Hill. It was produced during the making of Tom Baker’s first season of ‘Doctor Who’. The movie was to have been directed by James Hill and starred Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter as the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry.
The movie was also to feature Vincent Price and Twiggy as guest stars. The original movie title was ‘Doctor Who Meets Scratchman’ and featured the villain who turned out to be the Devil alongside other monsters such as scarecrows; Daleks and Cybermen. It was also to have a big pinball table finale.
Sadly ‘Doctor Who Meets Scratchman’ never saw the light of day as a movie and survived as a synopsis for the film in ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ as well as a movie poster. Fortunately, 44 years later, the BBC decided for Tom Baker with James Goss to novelize the ‘Scratchman’ story which must be a ‘godsend’.
I knew nothing about ‘Scratchman’ before I went into reading it. I knew it had the Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry in it, but beyond that I didn’t know much about the story and the supporting characters. I was looking forward to how Tom Baker delivered what I thought to be a gothic adventure.
‘Scratchman’ as a book is divided into two parts. They’re ‘Book One’ and ‘Book Two’; but can easily be considered two bumper-length episodes for TV. The story is divided into 31 chapters with 11 ‘fear’ linking chapters; an epilogue; a PS from the Doctor; acknowledgements a note from Sarah Jane Smith.
I’ll explain what goes on in the story with the ‘fear’ linking chapters; the epilogue; the PS from the Doctor and the note from Sarah Jane Smith and such. Simply put, Tom Baker’s presence shines throughout this story both in book and audio forms and he never shies from loving playing the Doctor.
First things first, let’s talk about the story. It takes place on a remote Scottish island where the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry have a picnic. But their holiday gets cut short when strange creatures – hideous scracrows – begin attacking the local village. Naturally, the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry help out here.
But as the Doctor and his friends become determined to save the villages, things don’t go to play as they fall into a trap. Soon the Doctor has to find his friends, forgetting who he is for a bit, as he comes to confront the Devil-like Scratchman, who plays on the fears of everybody. Will Scratch get defeated?
Incidentally, I purchased the audiobook for ‘Scratchman’ as a download via Audible. The audiobook is read by Tom Baker himself. I’ve enjoyed Tom Baker’s reading of the story, and he’s clearly into playing the Doctor for this adventure, providing his own adlibs and laughter that don’t match to what’s in the text.
I don’t think Tom to be one for providing voices to characters. He doesn’t provide good voices for Sarah Jane and Harry’s characters and it’s sometimes a struggle to hear Lis Sladen and Ian Marter as their characters when Tom’s voice comes through first. This is not the first time I’ve encountered that.
On the contrary, I’ve heard Tom Baker read a ‘Doctor Who’ audiobook before with the novelization of his first TV story ‘Robot’ by Terrance Dicks. With that said, it doesn’t matter as Tom is clearly having a good time reading ‘Scratchman’. You’re allowed to enjoy him having a good time as he reads the story to you.
Going back to the ‘fear’ linking chapters, there’s a framing plot going on where the Doctor is being put on trial by the Time Lords for his actions in the story. I feel sorry for the Doctor being put on trial. This has happened to him a lot in the series and it’s not just in the TV stories that we’ve seen him put on trial.
As well as ‘The War Games’ with Patrick Troughton and later on in ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ with Colin Baker, the Doctor has also been put on trial by Time Lords in the novelization of ‘The Massacre’, the TV story ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and the comic story ‘The Stockbridge Horror’. It’s very unfair of the Time Lords to do that.
It’s interesting how the Doctor tries to teach the Time Lords why he was doing what he did in order to defeat Scratchman and also teaches to them the meaning of fear. The Zero Nun and the other Time Lords of course don’t get the Doctor’s message and he soon walks out, leaving them to debate further.
In terms of the story’s placement, ‘Scratchman’ takes place between ‘The Android Invasion’ and ‘The Brian of Morbius’. Yeah, I was surprised by that as I wondered ‘shouldn’t this story take place during Harry’s travels with the Doctor and Sarah Jane?’ This is like after Harry journeyed with the Doctor, right?
But the story does mention the Doctor and Sarah Jane having battled shapeshifters; robot mummies and androids, so it must mean it takes place after those Season 13 stories. I suppose Harry was invited to join the Doctor and Sarah Jane for a bit when he got bored working for U.N.I.T. It’s likely to happen. 🙂
I love how the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry’s relationships are played out in the story. It matches to what’s in the TV series with Sarah Jane and Harry sometimes bickering and loving each other at the same time as well as Sarah Jane knowing what the Doctor’s like when they go and adventure together.
Tom clearly loved his first era of ‘Doctor Who’ with producer Philip Hinchcliffe as well as working with Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter. He clearly expresses that through the reading of the story as well as in terms of the writing when he was consulting James Goss during the ‘ghost-writing’ of this adventure.
Incidentally, Tom has written books before including his autobiography ‘Who on Earth is Tom Baker?’ and his dark comedy novel ‘The Boy Who Kicked Pigs’. So, his experience as an author is well-justified and he clearly comes across as inventive when relaying ideas to James Goss in the completed book form.
I could taste the wittiness of Tom’s storytelling in this adventure when giving character development to the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry as well as the gothic atmosphere. Yeah, even I could feel this being a gothic tale of the Philip Hinchliffe era despite this based on a movie script. Could be Hammer Horror! 😀
There were also some eccentric characters to be found in this ‘Doctor Who’ book by Tom Baker. This includes a rather rude old woman in the village as well as a nice lady named Sophonisba. Sophonisba is like one of those ladies Tom’s Doctor would get on with well like Amelia Rumford in ‘The Stones of Blood’.
The monsters were quite interesting and enjoyable to read and hear. The main ones were the scarecrows. I couldn’t help think of the scarecrows from ‘Human Nature’/’The Family of Blood’. They’re controlled by Scratchman and are scary, especially when humans get turned into scarecrows. 😮
It was nice to see the Cybermen appear in this story, voiced by Nicholas Briggs apparently. I don’t think the Cybermen have a very active role in the story and are just there for fan service. But it was nice the Cybermen had their moments, especially when the Cyber Leader rescued Sarah Jane and Harry by the end.
I was disappointed the Daleks didn’t make an appearance in this story as they were clearly meant to according to the original movie poster and script. Why didn’t the Daleks make an appearance in this adventure? Was it a rights issue or something when Tom Baker and James Goss couldn’t feature them?
Scratchman as the main villain is intriguing. I imagine Vincent Prince would’ve been cast to play the villain in the movie just as Twiggy was meant to be cast as Sophonisba. Scratchman plays on the Doctor’s and everyone else’s fears. He comes across as charming and menacing when Tom voices him. 🙂
Apparently Scratchman is meant to be the Devil according to Tom Baker’s Doctor. This I can’t go with as I thought the Beast from ‘The Impossible Planet’/’The Satan Pit’ was the Devil. Mind you, the Devil can appear in many forms, so who am I to judge? It’s an intriguing take on the Devil by Tom Baker here.
It became tense when Tom’s Doctor and Scratchman confronted each other in the finale whilst Sarah Jane and Harry were in trouble. As ever, Tom’s Doctor manages to overcome Scratchman by letting him know of his fears. Something Scratchman can’t handle, which was very intriguing to read and hear.
There were quite a number of nice surprises to be found whilst reading this book. There were quite a number of references to Sarah Jane’s past and future including ones in ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’. This is when she’s inside the TARDIS, getting chased by a scarecrow that converts the time/space ship.
These references include her Aunt Lavina; being aboard the Ark; being on Skaro; facing a robot mummy and facing her android duplicate as well as running away from an exploding school and seeing her future son Luke. Interesting how those past and future images get presented to Sarah Jane in this.
There’s also an appearances of the First, Second and Third Doctors in this story, albeit in scarecrow forms. Tom doesn’t do voices for William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee’s Doctors, but the writing for them matches well to their characters. It’s intriguing how they help the Doctor at the end.
The story also features a surprise appearance of Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor. And not just a cameo! She appears twice! First during the story and at the end in the epilogue. It was nice to see Jodie’s Doctor interacting with Tom’s Doctor and it seems Tom’s given his approval of a female Doctor. 🙂
I took a step further with my story ‘The Prime Factor’ by having all of the past and future Doctors as well as many companions meeting and helping the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Billy. I took that inspiration when discovering the Thirteenth Doctor made an appearance in ‘Scratchman’ with the Fourth Doctor.
There is meant to be a cameo appearance of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor in the story, but it’s a blink and you’ll miss it cameo. I believe it occurred when Sarah Jane was seeing her past and future in the TARDIS. I wouldn’t have registered that as a cameo. More as stock footage from an episode in this story.
I like how the book concludes with a heartfelt PS from the Doctor by Tom Baker as well as an acknowledgement to Ian Marter whom Tom called a ‘good egg’. In the audio, Tom makes the point of Lis Sladen sadly not being with us before he reads a Note from Sarah Jane Smith, which was very touching.
I’m sure Lis Sladen would’ve loved to have read Sarah Jane’s note at the end of the book, which features a scene taking place before ‘The Masque of Mandragora’. It clearly emphasises how much Tom Baker loved working with Lis Sladen. It is a good gift to us fans who loved her as Sarah Jane Smith.
‘Scratchman’ has been a nice book to read and listen to. I took my time with reading and listening to it from November to December 2019. Tom doesn’t do voices for characters like Sarah Jane and Harry as well as the other Doctors, but he’s clearly into playing the Doctor and he did love reading the story. 🙂
If you’re a Tom Baker ‘Doctor Who’ fan as well as a fan of the gothic Philip Hinchcliffe era, then ‘Scratchman’ is the book/audio for you. I’m glad I’ve read and heard it. Hopefully I’ll get to read and hear it again, possibly for one of the future ‘Doctor Who’ stories I’ll get to write for my ‘Bradley’s Basement’ blog.
It certainly helped me with writing ‘The Dimension Serpents’ featuring the Fourth Doctor and Private James Darby. 😀
‘Scratchman’ rating – 8/10
|The previous story
For the Fourth Doctor was
For Sarah Jane was
For Harry was
For the Thirteenth Doctor was
|The next story
For the Fourth Doctor is
For Sarah Jane is
For Harry is
For the Thirteenth Doctor is
|Return to The Fourth Doctor’s Timeline|
|Return to Sarah Jane’s Timeline|
|Return to Harry’s Timeline|
|Return to The Thirteenth Doctor’s Timeline|
|Return to The Doctors’ Timelines Index|
|Return to The Companions’ Timelines Index|
|Return to Doctor Who Timelines|
|Return to Doctor Who|
|Return to Sci-Fi|