‘Beautiful Chaos’ (Book/Audio)


Please feel free to comment on my review.

Return to Chiswick with the Tenth Doctor, Donna, Wilfred and Sylvia

I’ve heard the audiobook version of this ‘Doctor Who’ story!

I greatly enjoyed ‘Beautiful Chaos’ by Gary Russell, read by Bernard Cribbins. I found it a pretty engaging and enjoyable ‘Doctor Who’ adventure with the Tenth Doctor and Donna. It’s an adventure that brought back happy memories for me when I was watching Series 4 of ‘Doctor Who’ back in 2008.

‘Beautiful Chaos’ definitely has that feel of Series 4 from 2008. It could’ve been a potential TV story with Donna, Wilf and Sylvia in it just as ‘The Feast of the Drowned’ and ‘The Stone Rose’ had Rose, Mickey and Jackie in them. I wonder why that wasn’t the case when Gary Russell wrote the adventure.

The ‘Beautiful Chaos’ audiobook is a 2-disc CD set based on the original ‘New Series Adventures’ novel by Gary Russell for ‘Doctor Who’. The audiobook is an abridged reading of the full-length novel. That makes it a 2 x 75 minute episode story, which is approximately 2 hours according to the CD back cover.

The audiobook isn’t an audio drama. It is basically a reading since it contains no sound design or music to accompany it. That a shame for such a compelling story here. Bernard Cribbins, who is the reader of the story, is pretty well-known to the ‘Doctor Who’ fans for playing Wilfred Mott, Donna’s granddad.

Bernard is also well-known as the narrator of ‘The Wombles’ TV series. He’s also appeared in the ‘Fawlty Towers’ episode called ‘The Hotel Inspectors’ and has starred in ‘Daleks’ Invasion: Earth 2150 A.D.’ with Peter Cushing as Dr. Who. Bernard Cribbins is a well-renowned legend both in TV and films.

I’ve met Bernard at the ‘Cardiff Film and Comic Con’ in March 2014 and have had a photo with him and Jacqueline King at the ‘London Comic Con Spring’ in March 2019. I haven’t had the chance to chat to him much, but I am glad he signed the CD cover of the ‘Beautiful Chaos’ audiobook for me in Cardiff.

I greatly enjoyed Bernard reading the audiobook version of this story. When hearing Bernard read and perform it, he’s so into the characters. He gives plenty of enthusiasm with what goes on in the story for the Doctor, Donna, Wilfred and Sylvia. I could easily imagine the actors playing their characters in this.

‘Beautiful Chaos’ as a story has the Doctor and Donna return to Chiswick, Earth in the present day. Donna reunites with her family including her mum Sylvia and her granddad Wilfred. This is on the anniversary of her dad’s death. But something mysterious is going on as stars are falling out from the sky.

Wilfred names one of these stars after himself and he invites the Doctor to the naming ceremony. The Doctor knows there is something wrong about one of these stars since an ancient force resurfaces and is about to bring mankind down in its progress. This is a force he’s faced before and knows pretty well.

Gary Russell is a huge contributor to the world of ‘Doctor Who’ in various forms. This includes being the editor of ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ once and he was one of the Big Finish supremos in terms of writing, producing and directing. I enjoyed ‘Beautiful Chaos’ as a story and how the characters get developed here.

Gary clearly captures the relationships between Donna and her family authentically well. This is same for the Doctor and Donna in their character relationships, especially when they sometimes wind each other up at times. There’s also an ‘EastEnders’-type of atmosphere occurring within the Donna Noble family.

As well as tackling the Tenth Doctor, Donna, Wilf and Sylvia, Gary also adds in his own ‘Doctor Who’ fandom to the story. He does this by making ‘Beautiful Chaos’ a sequel to the classic Fourth Doctor story ‘The Masque of Mandragora’. This is because the Mandragora Helix features in this. That excited me! 😀

Bernard Cribbins does a remarkable job in capturing the essences of the Tenth Doctor and Donna whilst reading the story. Since he’s worked with David Tennant and Catherine Tate in the TV series, he knows how they act and sound. I did like how Bernard captured David’s energy as the Doctor throughout this.

Whilst he doesn’t do an exact voice impersonation of the Tenth Doctor, you can definitely feel the Doctor’s presence in the room with you. I also like how Bernard captures Donna’s voice from working with Catherine Tate since he gets the rough mannerisms right as well as the compassionate sides to her.

I like how Bernard reads Donna’s story of coming back to Chiswick and finding it difficult to cope with her mum on the anniversary of her dad’s death. This is something that didn’t get properly explored in the TV series apart from a few mentions. I do like how it gets covered in a story like this via prose/audio form.

I like how Donna’s dad’s death gets touched upon. The actor Howard Attfield who played Geoff Noble in ‘The Runaway Bride’ passed away before Series 4 began. He was meant to appear before Bernard Cribbins took over. Reflecting on her dad’s death adds plenty of depth to Donna’s family relationships.

Bernard also gets the chance to shine again as Wilfred Mott, who has become a reoccurring member of the Donna Noble family, following his debut in ‘Voyage of the Damned’. I like Wilfred in this adventure and ‘Beautiful Chaos’ does feel more like a Wilfred story as well as a Donna story throughout.

After all, Wilfred named one of the stars that fell out of the sky after himself and he’s also managed to find a new lady friend in a woman called Nettie. I like how Wilfred’s grandfatherly relationship with Donna gets touched upon as well as his relationship with the Doctor, echoing many of the TV episodes.

Sylvia Noble, Donna’s mum, appears in this story too. I could easily visualise Jacqueline King as Sylvia. She’s pretty mean to Donna in this story as she would normally be in the TV series. As I’ve already indicated, Gary has done a great job in capturing the soap opera-like atmosphere between the Nobles.

I was delighted to find that the Mandragora Helix was the villain of this story. I recall seeing ‘The Masque of Mandragora’ on DVD before I listened to the audiobook version of this story. I like some of the references to the TV story in this sequel, especially since it ties everything up altogether in the end.

The Mandragora Helix is a malevolent entity of energy that came from a dimension where the laws of physics depended on astrology and the movement of the stars. The Mandragora Helix tried to stop mankind’s progress in ‘The Masque of Mandragora’. It was interesting how that gets depicted in this tale.

In this story, the Mandragora Helix attempts to use the technology of 21st century Earth to manipulate the minds of people and to do something far worse which only the Doctor can prevent. It was exciting to hear how a classic ‘Doctor Who’ foe gets tackled in a new series adventure, albeit in prose/audio form.

The ‘Beautiful Chaos’ audiobook is lovely to listen to with it being read by Bernard Cribbins. I’m glad I’ve had the CD cover of the story signed by Bernard. I enjoyed him reading the tale with the Doctor and Donna returning to Chiswick and having Donna’s family getting involved, including Wilfred and Sylvia.

It was also great to hear the Mandragora Helix add more to the story. It made a nice fan gesture. Gary Russell must’ve made Russell T. Davies proud in writing this story for prose/audio. It captures the feel of Series 4 in its glory and it’s no surprise the original book got reprinted in 2013 for the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’!

‘Beautiful Chaos’ (Audio) rating – 8/10



Please feel free to comment on my review.

Revisiting Chiswick with the Mandragora Helix

Tim Bradley reading ‘Beautiful Chaos’ at the ‘Doctor Who Experience’, November 2016

I wish I could say I read ‘Beautiful Chaos’ all in one go at the ‘Doctor Who Experience’ in 2016. 😀

I enjoyed reading the ‘Doctor Who’ book ‘Beautiful Chaos’ by Gary Russell in 2019! Years ago, I heard the abridged audio version of this story read by Bernard Cribbins. I listened to the audiobook again to get an idea of what the story was about before reading it in full book form. I am pleased that I did that.

‘Beautiful Chaos’ was the book chosen to represent the Tenth Doctor era of ‘Doctor Who’ when it was reprinted for the 50th anniversary collection in 2013. After reading the book, I can see why that is. Gary Russell has done a splendid job recreating that special era featuring the Tenth Doctor and Donna.

The book was originally published in 2008 and it was the last book of the ‘New Series Adventures’ range to be released that year after Series 4 was transmitted on TV. So people who read this book at the time would’ve seen Series 4 already as well as what happened to Donna with her very sad tragedy.

And the book itself makes reference to that in the opening and closing ‘One Day’ segments. That’s something the audiobook version didn’t do which was interesting. I suppose it would’ve slowed things down if they had included the ‘One Day’ scenes set after ‘Journey’s End’ for the audiobook of the tale.

It was pretty surreal reading the book after hearing the audiobook read by Bernard Cribbins. I suppose because a lot of what was read by Bernard Cribbins felt and sounded familiar as I read the book, except with it being extended as it included additional dialogue between characters and featured new scenes.

It would be easy to say that I treated the ‘Beautiful Chaos’ book as a novelization of the audiobook version. But that wouldn’t be true since ‘Beautiful Chaos’ came out first as a book instead of an audiobook. I also would’ve preferred an unbridged audiobook instead of an abridged one for this tale.

Had ‘Beautiful Chaos’ been made as an audio drama of two episodes by Big Finish with David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Bernard Cribbins and Jacqueline King saying the dialogue as their characters, I would’ve treated the book as a novelization in this review. But reading the book wasn’t less enjoyable.

On the contrary, I enjoyed reading how Gary Russell depicted the characters like the Doctor, Donna, Wilfred, Sylvia, Netty, etc. Gary writes very well with clear descriptions and straight-forward character drama like how Terrance Dicks writes his stories. He isn’t complicated when it comes to writing a story.

The book was interesting to read in terms of how it was divided up into sections. For you see, the story isn’t divided into chapters. It’s divided into days. As well as the ‘One Day’ sections acting as a prologue and an epilogue set after ‘Journey’s End’, there are also the days for the very special weekend in the tale.

It starts from ‘Friday’ into ‘Saturday’ into ‘Sunday’ into ‘Monday’ and then a few days later into next ‘Friday’. The ‘Friday’, ‘Saturday’, ‘Sunday’ and ‘Monday’ sections are very chunky and need more time to be focused upon for reading. The next ‘Friday’ section is rather short as it concludes the overall story.

It took me a week to finish this ‘Doctor Who’ adventure in book form compared to other original books I’ve read/listened to. But it was very enjoyable to read, since I knew what was coming after hearing the audiobook and getting into these characters of the Doctor, Donna, Wilfred and Sylvia throughout.

The domestic scenes between Donna and her family were very gripping to read in book form as much as they were gripping to hear in audio form. From reading the book, I could pick up more details about why things were between Donna and her mum Sylvia when they argued with each other a lot of times.

It was also great to read more on why Wilfred was encouraging Donna to keep travelling with the Doctor and how he kept reminding the Doctor that he’ll have him to answer to should anything happen to Donna. The love and respect that Wilfred has for the Doctor still shines throughout in this adventure.

One of the themes that Gary Russell wanted to address in this story was dementia. This was something in connection to the character of Netty whom Wilfred forms an attachment with in the story. It was intriguing to read as well as hear since Netty is someone who’d never appeared in the TV series before.

In fact, Gary Russell had worked with executive producers Russell T. Davies and Julie Gardner to get a flavour of the Tenth Doctor, Donna, Wilfred and Sylvia during the making of Series 4. It’s great RTD gave his blessing to Gary to write Nettie with the Noble family when she hadn’t been given a TV debut.

With Nettie included in this ‘New Series Adventure’ book with the Tenth Doctor, Donna, Wilfred and Sylvia, you could almost feel as if she was always a part of the ‘Doctor Who’ family on TV. I wish that was the case and she came back for another story. But of course, her dementia prevents that happening.

It was interesting how Gary Russell addressed the dementia issues in this story with Nettie’s character. I’m not sure I fully understand how it works, but the emotional impact it has on Wilfred when he’s with her was pretty effective and it allows us to care for him and Nettie once they consider a relationship.

The issues that Sylvia has with her family including her dad Wilfred dating Nettie and her daughter Donna travelling with the Doctor are tackled well in the book. The fact that the events of this story occur on the anniversary of Geoff Noble’s death helps to enhance the sadness and bitterness of Sylvia.

They’re not played for laughs as you can understand why Sylvia feels bitter about her daughter going off on jaunts with the Doctor and why she’s uneasy about her dad seeing another woman. It also gets addressed how Sylvia does become a different, better person in meeting the Doctor by the tale’s end.

I like how the Mandragora Helix gets tackled in book form as well as audio form for this adventure. Gary Russell utilises the 21st century aspects of modern technology and houses the Mandragora Helix to become a supercomputer with a female voice called Madam Delphi. This is actually really ingenious.

It also echoes how classic ‘Doctor Who’ stories included supercomputers as main villains such as ‘The Green Death’ and ‘Underworld’. It was also interesting how Madam Delphi has this cool, calculating female voice before the Mandragora Helix escapes and takes possession of Nettie’s body before the climax.

It was tense when the Doctor forced the Mandragora Helix out of Nettie’s body by using her dementia as a weapon. Wilfred’s reaction to this is natural as he’s upset the Doctor and Donna are saying words to weaken the alien inside Nettie that causes her pain. Wilfred momentarily hates them for doing that.

I also like how Dara Morgan’s character gets unveiled and how he ended up working for Madam Delphi with Caitlin in tow. Dara Morgan turns out not to be his real name and he once fell in love with Caitlin who rejected him. Dara Morgan became surplus to requirements by the end. This was quite unnerving.

I did like how the story concluded in the last ‘Friday’ section with the Doctor, Donna, Wilfred, Sylvia and Nettie gathered together as a family. The Doctor and Donna are in the kitchen together watching Sylvia and Nettie together in the back garden before Wilfred enters and have this nice scene with him.

I also like how in the epilogue ‘One Day (Reprise)’ section that Wilfred reads a letter to Sylvia sent by Donna before he had her mind wiped by the Doctor at the end of ‘Journey’s End’. It’s a touching letter as Donna explains to her mum why she wanted to keep travelling with the Doctor before her sad fate.

Wilfred is out on his allotments, wishing for the Doctor to come back and pop in for a cuppa as the story comes to a close. It’s ironic that this story was published before ‘The End of Time’ happened. RTD must have taken note of this adventure by Gary Russell as he wrote David Tennant’s TV swansong.

I would like Big Finish to adapt ‘Beautiful Chaos’ as an audio drama with David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Bernard Cribbins and Jacqueline King someday. Whether that’ll happen is an entirely different matter. They would need to get an agreement by the BBC to do that I guess. But it’d be nice to happen.

‘Beautiful Chaos’ has been a great ‘Doctor Who’ book to read and it’s a fitting one to celebrate the Tenth Doctor era for the 50th anniversary. I’m glad I purchased the 2013 reprint when I did at the ‘Doctor Who Experience’ in November 2016. Gary Russell does write well for the Tenth Doctor era. 😀

‘Beautiful Chaos’ (Book) rating – 8/10

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2 thoughts on “‘Beautiful Chaos’ (Book/Audio)

  1. Timelord 007

    This is one story I’d like Big Finish to adapt into a full cast audio drama, Bernard Cribbins is a good narrator but this story deserves a bigger scale adaptation with sound effects, music & a full cast to do it justice as it’s such a fabulous Tenth Doctor novel.

    Fantastic review Tim, i love the photo of you reading the novel as one great writer reads another great writers story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tim Bradley Post author

      Hi Simon.

      Glad you enjoyed my reviews on ‘Beautiful Chaos’. It would be fantastic if BF adapted this story into an audio drama. This story is well-written and David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Jacqueline King and Bernard Cribbins would delivet great performances as their characters.

      Glad you like the photo of me reading the book back then at the ‘Doctor Who Experience’ in 2016. I just had to get it taken. 😀

      Tim. 🙂



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