Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder – Novelization by Mark Morris & Audiobook read by Bonnie Langford (BBC Books)

First, a disclaimer: of the three 60th anniversary specials released in 2023, Wild Blue Yonder was my least favourite. The bizarre pre-credits sequence, complete with the mavity gag that appears to be dying no time soon, the Midnight-esque mimicry-monsters with the semi-comic long arms and the Lazarus Experiment-style CGI, all left Wild Blue Yonder feeling a little blech for me on first watch.

That said, there were plenty of interesting, spooky, demented things within the story on which a fan could hook their attention. Formless creatures from across the void of space, twitching to the call of our wars and our hatreds, and coming to be like us. The frankly glorious visuals. The idea of salvation through slowness, and a monster that rose to match you the faster you worked out how to defeat it. A countdown that only might be a countdown until you worked it out, and a slowly-moving, gently rusting robot on a very long journey.

There’s plenty there to get your teeth and your brain into – but for me, it would be necessary to move beyond the on-screen realisation of the monsters to really let the dark beats of the story shine, glistening and horrific, through the ultra-clean lines of the ship on which the Doctor and Donna find themselves when the coffee-drinking Tardis dumps them and swans off on its own adventure, away from the potential of hostile action.

What it would need, in fact, would be a writer steeped in bringing out the horror from between the cracks in the walls.

Enter, The Writer

Hello, Mark Morris.

If you’ve never read any of Mark Morris’ horror novels, bless you, sweet children, you’ve only half-lived. Go away now and start with Toady. Or alternatively, with The Wolves of London. You’ll thank your Uncle Tony in the long run.

If this feels like a free plug for Morris’ body of work… Yes. And? The point being he’s an uncannily appropriate choice to novelize this particular story, and he’s also no kind of newbie in the world of Who, so he gets the assignment. Scare the bejesus out of us, despite the super-clean world of the story, while still rendering fairly exactly what was shown on-screen, and delivering the combination of light and dark that is essentially Doctor Who.

That’s really what you get in the novelization of Wild Blue Yonder. In the first instance, you get a rendering of the story precise enough that you’d be able to point to any page and go “Oh yeah, I remember that bit from the episode.”

But you also get the writing of Mark Morris, which takes you both into the core ideas of the story, and beyond the sometimes comic ways in which the horror of the villains was realised on-screen. In his rendering of practically everything in the episode – the ultra-sleek design, the weird, slow, clunky robot, the frankly Hellraiser-style revolving architecture, the darker inner workings of the ship, and most intensely significantly, the nature and the rendering of the monsters, Morris finds the shiver and drips it right down your spine.

What Wild Blue Yonder on screen seemed to be going for was a kind of ultra-clean version of Aliens, but with a mental version the chestburster (a mindburster?), which is more insidious than the film version because it matches you, speed for speed, thought for thought, and eventually, like a parasitic wasp, eats you from the mind out, to take your place in the universe but with its own dark intent.

Morris’ writing is a better mechanism for delivering all that than any amount of special effects budget, so what you get in the novelization, while still, as we say, delivering note for note the journey and the setting and the comedy of the episode, is a version of the story stripped of some of its televisual constraints and the slightly dodgy sound balance. Morris squeezes a syringe-full of Wild Blue Yonder directly into your brain.

Which is precisely where it wants to be – and, as this novelization proves, perhaps where it best belongs.

Enter, The Reader

All of which said, who do you get to be the reader?

We’re betting if you had your pick of anyone who’d ever appeared in Doctor Who to read this story of body horror, mind horror, abandonment, desolation, parasitism, suicide, and the screaming blackness of the void, you’d be running out of picks by the time you got to Bonnie Langford. In fact, if you were matching a voice to the tone of the material, the already much-missed Michael Jayston might have been high on the list.

But yes – Bonnie Langford is the voice of Wild Blue Yonder.

People get unreasonably hung up about Bonnie Langford, both as a performer in her own right, and because her character of Mel was chronically underwritten in the Eighties. They tend to pigeonhole her as “the smiley, bouncy, singing, dancing, health-nut woman.”

Bonnie Langford the performer is way better than that. She’s been proving that in the Doctor Who arena at Big Finish for decades, and she would utterly redeem the character of Mel when she returned for The Giggle. But here, she delivers on both the premise of the on-screen story, and Morris’ interpretation of the script, with its extra sense of patient, oozing malevolence.

One of the great draws of the trailer for Wild Blue Yonder was hearing Catherine Tate swear to “kick its arse!” – whatever the “It” was that scared the Tardis away and left them stranded on the ship at the edge of everything.

It felt absolutely right in Donna’s mouth, and in Catherine Tate’s, and here, (because naturally, the line is still here), it feels additionally joyous in the mouth of Bonnie Langford, who rarely gets roles that let her rip like this.

She delivers the frightening nature of the architecture and the monsters without quailing unnecessarily, which makes the frightening stuff more intense, and the fun stuff on the nose, so it can sing with all its power to add light to all the shade.

Wild Blue Wonder

The upshot of all of,  is this. Would it have been extra-special to get either Tennant or Tate to read this tale? Absolutely, it would. In the absence of either of the pair, you might be surprised by just how effective a fist Bonnie Langford makes of the performance and the story.

Of the two options, our instinct on Wild Blue Yonder would be to go for the novelization in the first instance, and let Morris’ gift for chills and shiny things hidden in the skirting boards seep straight into your brain. But if you go for the audiobook, leave your Bonnie Langford preconceptions at the door, and let her take you by the hand into the world of fast terrors and slow solutions. Either way, you won’t be disappointed – whether or not you enjoyed Wild Blue Yonder on screen.

I’ve come entirely clean about the fact that I wasn’t that keen on the on-screen version. If you weren’t either, Mark Morris’ version will strip away some of the things you weren’t keen on and give you a version that makes both more sequential sense and more emotional impact on your brain. If you loved Wild Blue Yonder, you’ll still love it in Morris’ taut, chilly, creep-filled version that’s exactly what appeared on screen, and yet, somehow, even more so than the version you remember. Tony Fyler 

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