From one intergalactic adventure to another! Peter Capaldi teams up with Frank Cottrell Boyce to narrate the audiobook for Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth.
Boyce is best known to Doctor Who fans for his 2014 and 2017 episodes, In the Forest of the Night and Smile. But outside of the Whoniverse, he is a very prolific writer in his own right. As well as plenty of film and television credits, he penned the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony and has also written a number of novels. Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth, originally released in 2016, is his latest work as an author. Now, thanks to the wonders of audio, it’s been brought to life by The Twelfth Doctor himself – and whatever your opinion on Boyce’s Doctor Who stories, this is a release worth opening your ears to.
Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth tells the story of Prez, a ‘temporary kid’ living on a Scottish dairy farm with the Blythe family. Prez isn’t one to cause a fuss – he’s a quiet lad who hardly ever speaks. But his world turns upside down when Sputnik comes a-knocking on the door. To Prez, Sputnik is “a wee alien with a kilt and goggles” who says he’s come to help him out. But to everyone else, Sputnik looks and sounds like a dog. As you’d expect, there is plenty of humour unearthed from this premise. If you’ve ever wanted to hear about a dog doing the most extraordinary things, well, you’re in the right place.
Peter’s Scot Talent
My first thought when listening to this audiobook was: wow, Peter Capaldi sounds really Scottish! A strange reaction considering Peter Capaldi is Scottish, but his voice sounded noticeably… Scottish-er. It soon sinks in that this is because Capaldi spends most of the story in character as Prez, the narrator. A little jarring at first, but perfectly fine after you adjust. Once other characters are introduced, it’s clear just how big a difference Capaldi’s input has made. He puts real oomph and vigour into every character (using different voices and speech styles), bringing Sputnik to life with infectious energy. Even the most mundane of words sound captivating coming out of Capaldi’s mouth. He’s one heck of a storyteller, and thankfully the material he’s reading matches him strength for strength.
On the surface, Sputnik looks and sounds like a children’s story. And it is, there’s no doubt about that. But, much like Doctor Who, it’s the kind of kid’s story with different layers that can appeal to everybody. For younger readers, there is the statutory (albeit decidedly clever) toilet humour: “I don’t speak pee!” (it’s how dogs communicate, after all!). For Disney fans, there are movie references aplenty, including mentions of Frozen, The Lion King, and Pirates of the Caribbean. There’s even a particularly memorable scene involving a Star Wars lightsaber at a children’s birthday party.
Ten Wonders of the World
But then, as the story goes on, the deeper layers start to unravel. Sputnik may appear to be an even more irresponsible Doctor (if you can imagine such a thing!), but he’s actually here with a purpose. The world is going to be destroyed in an interplanetary clear-out, and he needs Prez to write a list of 10 things that make the Earth special. Expect some bizarre and sometimes even thought-provoking choices as Prez experiences our world through Sputnik’s eyes. Let’s just say the seven wonders of the world don’t quite cut the mustard here.
There’s also an ongoing subplot involving Prez’s Grandad, whose influence weighs heavily on Prez’s mind. To the adult listener, it’s evidently clear that the poor man is suffering dementia. But to the child narrator, Grandad is just old and forgetful. There are some truly emotional moments, especially in the story’s second half, where the relationship between the two is explored in greater depth. And when it’s being performed by an actor with the astonishing range of Peter Capaldi, it’s all the easier to find yourself invested.
To say any more about the story would spoil the fun. A lot of the joy in Sputnik comes from the unexpected absurdity of the situations Prez finds himself in. It’s weird, it’s funny, and above all, it’s very, very clever. Even without Peter Capaldi’s contribution, the story stands strong – and indeed does, if you decide to read the paperback instead! But, especially for any Whovians out there, this audio version is by far the definitive edition. If nothing else, this is the closest we’re getting to Capaldi doing Big Finish in the near future – though if this is anything to go by, we really hope that changes soon!
If you’re looking for something to listen to on the way to school or work, or just want to experience another dose of Peter Capaldi magic, then Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is more than worth your attention. Offering around five hours of content, it’ll keep you going for quite a while – and you’ll be thoroughly engrossed all the way through. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s novel is out of this world entertainment, and one that comes highly recommend for Capaldi fans young or old.