Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Shadow People: A Review

Originally posted by Nabu San:

Writer Scott Handcock, at the mere age of 24, has built up an impressive resume of experience in the three short years since he graduated from university with a degree in Classical Literature and Civilisations.

His current accomplishments range from scripting some epic Doctor Who audios for Big Finish, to contributing features and interviews to Doctor Who Magazine! The man has his finger in every piece of the Who pie. And indeed, it was probably through his time as a production runner on the second series of The Sarah Jane Adventures that lead to Handcock securing a contract to pen one of two new SJA audiobooks due to be released on October 8th, 2009.

BBC Audiobooks were kind enough to send me an advance copy of his story last Friday! =D So taking my 'censorship of uber spoilers' stance into consideration, here followeth my exclusive online review of The Shadow People!

[Video no longer available]

Read in the silky tones of our favourite sonic lipstick-wielding heroine, The Shadow People tells a chilling tale of a class camping trip gone awry...

That doesn't mean to say this audiobook is Friday the 13th-level terrifying. But with a fast-paced narrative, creepily enhanced vocal work and whispery sound effects around every corner - a spare change of pants may be well-advised! Sound is a crucial asset to SJA episodes on the tellybox, and it's great to see the SJA audio's taking advantage of the medium to not only set the scene, but compliment Lis' reading style, to boot. The introduction of music to the stories this year is another inspired touch. The short compositions used aren't as intricately layered as some of the Watts brothers' fine work, but it's enough to give a story that extra oomph-factor to really engage young listeners.

But, o'course - nothing packs more oomph than the plot itself, eh? So how well does The Shadow People fair against SJA audiobooks of Autumns past?

I was rather happy to see the story attempt to differentiate itself from The Thirteenth Stone, by having Sarah Jane merely tag along on the class field trip as opposed to chaperoning it like before. Acting as a figure of authority kinda dampens her character's relateability for me, but as a stray she comes across as far more vunerable when stalkery crimson-eyed dopplegangers whisper sweet-nothings into her terrified ears in the middle of the night.

The fanservice in The Shadow People is clearly indicative of a writer familiar with the source material, with Carla's upgraded satnav from Mark of the Berserker playing a prominent role in the story, as well as a minor reference to Luke's favourite dinosaur t-shirt from The Lost Boy! Sarah Jane even talks about her spooky experiences from Ghost Town, a pre-SJA Big Finish audio recorded yonks ago, which came up as a scary story around the camp fire! The audiobook's packed with humour, too - with Clyde getting some of the best material. Funnier still is Lis' impression of Clyde! Yes folks, the street accent is back with a vengeance. Even Luke, surprisingly, comes out with a few quips.

Speaking of whom, there's a rather significant plothole involving Luke that wasn't really explained away in the story. It involves him running off to a cave to investigate all the strange goings-on in the middle of the night, and he doesn't tell Sarah Jane where he's headed and for what reason. His behaviour's very out-of-character. There's no reference to any cave or clues leading up to its discovery at all. It pretty much got dropped into the story out of nowhere!

That's the only fault I could find, though - 'cause once Clyde and Sarah Jane joined Luke at the cave [not much Rani!], the action progressed onto a deeply moving climax that, I confess, gave me a lump in my throat. Despite all my empathy for the situation, I have an inkling Handcock's audiobook may be the weaker of the two released this year. That plothole's just too darn big to ignore.

Favourite Line: 'I felt them die...'

Nabu's Rating: 4/5
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