Nightshade stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace with Carole Ann Ford as Susan. It was written by Mark Gatiss, adapted for audio by Kyle C Szikora, directed by Scott Handcock and released in April 2016 by Big Finish Productions.
Adapting Mark Gatiss’s Nightshade and doing it justice was always going to be a hard job for quite a few reasons and my apprehension only grew as we led up to the release. First the novel is written very much like a novel with a lot of visual descriptions of what is going on in the story which of course is difficult to translate to audio without making be something along the lines of “Look at that thing!” which is very rocky on the ears. Second is just how dark the original novel actually got with creatures out of your darkest nightmares. These include a giant praying mantis, a creature made out of mud, zombies, shark zombies and that isn’t all as the novel was just there to get Mark Gatiss to go very dark for a time. Third was the romance between Ace and Robin which is very adult for a novel and the first time we got something so intimate with the Virgin New Adventures. Fourth, it was a very long novel so cutting it down to two hours was going to be hard. Fifth and finally the person Big Finish had adapt the novel is Kyle C. Szikora and he is a first time author which is weird to be done for a novel adaptation. Luckily I was proven wrong with these apprehensions as this may be one of the best adapted stories for the range.
Let’s look at how Szikora decided to adapt this story which was to get down the main plot of the story while chopping off any of the unnecessary fat of the already long novel. The plot is mainly the same with the Doctor and Ace arriving in Crook Marsham with the Doctor reminiscing about Susan and wanting to retire while Edmund Trevithick is reminiscing on his time as Professor Nightshade and a creature from the dawn of time called the Sentience is killing people by feeding on their emotions. The details is where things are changed and they are all for the better. The opening scenes with the Doctor and Ace finding Susan’s uniform and the Doctor having his crabby fit and the tertiary console room is cut so it feels like this has happened over a period of time instead of immediately. A lot of Ace’s romance is cut out which is alright considering this has to be for all audiences and a lot of the supporting characters are cut out with some of the more gruesome imagery going with it as it wasn’t required. The two best changes that were my main flaws with the novel when I reviewed it back in November. First the flashback scenes to the time of the English Civil War are cut out and in its place is an exposition dump which works much better in context than you would think. The ending of the novel was also changed and here are large SPOILERS, instead of tricking Ace into getting back into the TARDIS and not going back the Doctor does the things to explain the Sentience as seen in Chapter 11 and 12 of the novel, but brings her back so she can make her decision.
Nightshade is a story that relies heavily on the Seventh Doctor, Ace, Trevithick and the apparition of Susan. The other characters in the audio are great but I do not have the time to go into them all. Sylvester McCoy matches his persona from the novel so well and makes it even better with the writing cutting out some of the worse parts of the novel. He doesn’t go to the monastery but wanders around the town instead which I feel like works better as he gets to see other people while he makes his decision. His actions near the end as he has to face his fear and the apparition of his granddaughter is better than it could be in the novel as it has McCoy echoing the famous farewell from The Dalek Invasion of Earth as a lead in which I honestly love. Sophie Aldred is also great as she is thinking about going with Robin, but here she doesn’t have sex with him like it is suggested in the novel. This helps make her relationship with Jan in Love and War feel more realistic as that is the next novel in the sequence which makes things feel more realistic. Aldred is just plain great as Ace as here she is a much younger version of the character and she does her best here. Carole Ann Ford also gets a cameo here as Susan’s apparition and she just makes the story feel more emotional as her voice is so nostalgic that what she says to the Doctor just hits you in the feels. John Castle however steals the show as Edmund Trevithick. Now when the audio started with him having an opening scene, I was a bit apprehensive plainly because when I read the novel I read Trevithick’s dialogue in the voice of William Hartnell, but Castle grew on me almost immediately. His sacrifice is also more emotional here as we can hear his death being performed.
Finally I’m going to talk about the aesthetics of the audio starting with the pre-credits warning which is basically a continuity reading from before an old BBC TV show warning us this program is not for the faint of heart. It just feels like it fits the idea of television coming to life because that is a theme here. Heck that’s why I subtitled my original review “Roll Up and See the Monster Show” as this story is a monster show. The music was also a treat for anyone who likes period pieces as it feels like something out of the William Hartnell stories of Doctor Who. It was done by Blair Mowat who I really hope does some other Doctor Who stories as this works really well. Scott Handcock also continues to be great at directing these adaptations with Nightshade being his fourth and one of his best. He knows how to send chills down the spine which is great.
To summarize, as it has been with a lot of my reviews lately, the adaptation of Nightshade is perfectly done plain and simple, leaving out enough and correcting the flaws of the original novel. Bring on Original Sin. 100/100