August Books 18) Doctor Who - Time and the Rani, by Pip and Jane Baker
The Sixth Doctor gets a bit more of a send-off at the start of this book than he did on TV, but that is not hard. However, the writing is still naff and there are way, way too many exclamation marks. After my third consecutive novel by the Bakers, my brain was in danger of exploding. (I'd seen the original a few months back.) It also fails the Bechdel test - on the rare occasions that female characters actually talk to each other, it is about the Doctor or another male character.
I actually loved Paradise Towers, apart from the music and one ill-inspired character. The whole concept of the abandoned tower block with its feral inhabitants is done, not fantastically well I admit, but at least with the courage of its convictions. Richard Briers as guest star clicks with the show in a way that Paul Darrow utterly failed to do in Timelash. The Kang chants and warping of familiar phrases are also great, and Mel actually gets something to do. This is more like Doctor Who than anything broadcast since The Caves of Androzani. (The two flies in the ointment are the awful music and the character of Pex - some blame Howard Cooke for his performance, but basically Pex doesn't fit awfully well with the setting.)
August Books 19) Doctor Who - Paradise Towers, by Stephen Wyatt
Wyatt has the courage of his convictions here: a reasonably strong story in the first place, and the opportunity to overcome the weaknesses of the production (the Kangs on paper can be teenagers, and we don't get the awful music, though Pex as a character is still an anomaly). An easy pass for the Bechdel test, with the scene where the old ladies are about to eat Mel a particular delight.
I am afraid that Delta and the Bannermen failed to grab me. The one thing it did well was the 1950s setting, which looks credibly of its time in the way that Remembrance of the Daleks so totally doesn't. Oh yeah, and the Ken Dodd cameo is fun rather than embarrassing. But the plot seemed to me to lack much internal coherence, with the added insult of the Stubby Kaye storyline obviously bolted on. I really never quite grasped what the Bannermen were trying to do, or why we should care.
August Books 20) Doctor Who - Delta and the Bannermen, by Malcolm Kohll
Alas, Kohll doesn't really augment what is already a weak story in his adaptation. The writing style is too childish, the Stubby Kaye plotlkine appears even more irrelevant (despite his attempts to give it more background) and one is left feeling that while the author thinks it's funny the rest of us don't really get the joke. Indeed the whole setting - and this is something I'll return to at the end of the post - just doesn't seem Whovian.
However it does pass the Bechdel test reasonably well, with Mel, Ray and Delta conversing about numerous things other than the Doctor or the Bannermen.
I felt that Dragonfire came very close to working well. There is a certain unevenness of tone between slapstick and serious, and, alas, the production values are characteristic of the era, but it is all at least interesting to watch, especially new girl Ace, the return of Glitz, and of course Patricia Quinn. But it doesn't quite hang together.
August Books 21) Doctor Who - Dragonfire, by Ian Briggs
Briggs is able to overcome a number of the problems of the story as televised - in particular, the dodgy special effects and patching some of the more peculiar plot holes - to produce the best of the four novels from this season. There are even hints of various characters getting it on with each other - Tat Wood points to Glitz and Ace, but I would add that the Mel/Ace relationship in the book is very affectionate. (An easy pass for the Bechdel test here.)
It struck me as worthy of note that the stories in this season, particularly the last three, all share the background of a human-dominated space-opera-type future. Indeed, once I worked this out, I felt I detected a run of this going some way back, to the last Fifth Doctor season. In this universe, humans are generally in control though other species are running around too; rebel Time Lords like Azrael and the Rani may casually take over planets; the 1950s are an exotic environment compared to the daily routine of spaceship maintenance; now that we have moved off Gallifrey, the Doctor is a player in other people's histories, rather than his own (compare the run of twenty consecutive stories from The Invasion of Time to Castrovalva which all feature at least one extra Gallifreyan). It has got more coherence than I had realised, and reading these four novels made me feel that while this is not the Whoniverse I know, it none the less has a certain gutsy consistency. (Shame that this then gets lost with the next season.)