For years, I’ve been hoping for Nightshade to be adapted into a two-parter to bring what was probably my favourite of the New Adventures novels to a new audience. It may not have come to TV, but BF have brought Mark Gatiss’ first novel into a range of adaptations that has been fantastic so far – can they continue the pattern and do it justice?
Nightshade takes us to the little village of Crook Marsham in 1968, where undercurrents of lost dreams and past glories are joined by a sullen Seventh Doctor lost in thoughts of hanging up his umbrella. But the undercurrents don’t stop with the people – something is shifting out of sight, and is retired actor Edmund Trevithick really imagining those monsters from his old show?
Adapted by newcomer to BF Kyle C Szikora, it’s clear from the outset that this has been done with respect and a deep understanding of the source novel. It’s not just in what has stayed the same, and the broad strokes are there – it’s in the subtle changes and tweaks to fashion to the format and running time without losing the themes or atmosphere, and it’s impressively done. Not all the changes are small, and one in particular could be controversial, but the way the flow has been set it doesn’t feel out of place even if you are familiar with the story.
The Doctor in Nightshade is in introspective mood, and Sylvester McCoy handles it fantastically as the weight of his machinations from his last televised season (and beyond!) are weighing down on his mind. Ace too has matured nicely – to my taste in a better way than was often portrayed in the New Adventures in novel form – and Sophie Aldred still inhabits the character wonderfully. That isn’t to say that the rest of the cast fade into the background, and the ensemble work well together with believability throughout. There’s a stunning cameo that still took my breath away despite my familiarity with the story, and a rather familiar sounding policeman too 😉
The only thing that left me slightly confused is quite how this fits in with the Novel Adaptations as a loose “series”; the novel was directly followed by Love and War which was the first adaptation released but there isn’t any clear ordering here. It’s never been advertised as a series in the sense of having any contiguous theme (beyond that of Doctor Who of course!), so it’s just as likely I’m trying to put a template where there is none, though December’s 11th Novel Adaptation is currently being kept schtum and Big Finish do have form for brilliantly clever twists…
One of the very best of the books released during that barren time without Who on TV, Nightshade manages the impressive feat of doing justice to its source while encouraging the listener to revisit it. A superb entry in an already excellent series of Novel Adaptations!
Nightshade is available now from BigFinish.com