The Prime Minister’s Brain by Gillian Cross (Oxford University Press, 1987) A worthy sequel to The Demon Headmaster. The subverting of free will looms once again as a terrifying middle-grade threat, to be countered by a group of (argumentative, bickering) friends all of whom bring different attributes and foibles to bear. Addictive reading.
The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne (Methuen, 1922); audiobook read by Bill Wallis (Bolinda, 2015) Wodehouse without the humour. Milne takes some time to work his way into this murder mystery, almost as if he’s envisaging it as a play rather than a novel. A good read once it gets going, especially as performed by Bill Wallis. …
Star Quest: Terrorsaur! by Terrance Dicks (W. H. Allen, 1981) Dicks concludes his Star Quest trilogy with a fast-moving but inconsequential adventure. The young protagonists are reunited with their friends from the first book and defeat the same enemies—hapless space supremacists—thanks to some guff about a possibly sentient planet-wide ecology.
Doctor Who: Illegal Alien by Mike Tucker & Robert Perry (BBC, 1997); audiobook read by Sophie Aldred (Bolinda, 2016) Blandly written and at least twice as long as it needed to be. Great chunks of the story involve treading water, running around pointlessly, and building up characters (both major and minor) that turn out to be nothing more than gross…
The Ragamuffin Mystery by Enid Blyton; ill. Gilbert Dunlop (Collins, 1959) The final ‘Barney’ mystery is a fast, pleasant read, set in Wales and introducing another memorable animal (a goose named Waddle). Although there’s a sense of adventure, the children trip along rather than detect, and have too much access to adult help.
Doctor Who: Planet of Evil by Louis Marks; dir. David Maloney (BBC, 1975) The overlooked classic of the Tom Baker years. Planet of Evil makes the most of its premise, combining a nuanced script with tight direction and some seriously good acting (particularly from its leads). Roger Murray-Leach’s alien jungle set constitutes a series highpoint.
Invader on my Back by Phililp E. High (Hale, 1968) When it came to SF ideas, High supped from the horn of plenty. Yet his prose here is amateurish, his grammar appalling, and his depiction of women beyond cringeworthy (even for the time). An alien invasion narrative in dire need of editing.
The Peanuts Gang by Charles M. Schulz (Hodder & Stoughton, 1979) A slim volume showcasing one Sunday comic per A4 page. While Peanuts has more life in colour (the characters’ stock outfits evince a surprising number of variations!) the selection of strips is narrow and over-magnification leads to a dotty sort of pixilation.
Protocol by Timothy Zahn (Analog, September 2002) [Novelette] A seemingly effortless piece of SF world-building. Colonists cut off on a frontier settlement must comport themselves by unfathomable alien rules… at pain of death. But what happens if the rituals stop working? Unsatisfyingly, the story poses but doesn’t answer this question.
The Fagin File by Terrance Dicks (Blackie & Son, 1978) A slight, rather hurried volume, even by Dicks’s standards. The narrative chops about more than it did in the first Baker Street Irregulars mystery, and the investigation is something of a doddle. For a middle-grade adventure, though, the stakes are surprisingly adult.