Jackanory directness

Books After the subtle disappointments of the previous instalment, I’m pleased to report Paul Magrs and the gang are right back on form with the third Doctor Who’s Serpent Crest story, Aladdin Time. After being absorbed by the secret magical Tzistari egg (how do we spell Shistari? Kichetary? Chichester?) the Doctor and Wibbs find themselves in an Arabian Nights inspired land of fiction conjured by Robotov heir Alex’s imagination. Aided by a familiar sounding Aladdin, they face all manner of perils and obstacles while searching out the magic lamp who's powers might allow them to escape.

When the older Doctor says to River in Flesh and Stone “The Pandorica, That’s just a fairy tale” and she replies “Aren’t we all?” I’ve always wonder if it was partly a nod to Magrs who more than most writers has glimpsed at the franchise through the looking glass of fables. The primary evocation is The Scarlet Empress in which the Eighth Doctor even employs Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale to escape some captors, but most of his best stories have developed the notion of the unfolding text of Doctor Who as the greatest myth of all.

Aladdin Time could almost be seen as the synecdoche of these previous stories, featuring as it does a reference to the planet on which The Scarlett Empress is set, the Doctor’s scarf contracting anthroporphism like the furniture in his Tenth Doctor novel Sick Building and a taradiddle that metafictionally comments on classic Who’s own episodic, cliffhanger-based format. The story is even narrated by the unreliable storyteller of the Arabian Nights attempting to keep her mortality amid her master’s threats, a part read with Jackanory directness by Sophie Ward.

All of which makes Aladdin Time sound like the academic exercise it really isn’t. There’s a lightness of touch to the scripting which gallops along like Lewis Carroll, the Time Lord and his housekeeper encountering all manner of environments and strange beasts.  It's The Mind Robber with GCSEs. But the language is the real star as Magrs takes the opportunity to return to some of the florid poetry which made Hornet’s Nest so listenable. My particular favourite is “the treachery of knitwear” (which left me giggling on the bus home Bootle this lunch time).

As you can imagine, Tom’s in his element amongst all this whimsy and a world in which his idea that his companion should be a parrot might actually work. Andrew Sachs plays his scarf with the malevolently that suits the above description.  Mrs Wibbsey is the realistic centre of this story, and there are some rather moving moments which Susan Jameson seizes on.  This is magnificent stuff altogether really though I imagine it wouldn’t be for everybody, especially fans who prefer a straight up alien invasion. Good job episode four’s called The Hexford Invasion, isn’t it?

Doctor Who: Serpent Crest: Aladdin Time by Paul Magrs is out now from AudioGo.  Review copy supplied.

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