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The Doctor Who novelisations

OK, now that I have read all 161 Doctor Who novelisations, and since I am jetlagged and awake, I am going to favour you with my personal top picks (and then a rough ranking of the others). You will find my reviews of each of the novelisations (plus also other spinoff literature and audio plays) here.

The first ever Doctor Who book published was Doctor Who In An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks, by David Whitaker and featuring Ian, Barbara and Susan, and it is still the best of the novelisations. Whitaker takes much greater liberty with Terry Nation's TV script than almost any other novelisation (John Lucarotti's treatment of The Massacre differs even more from the story as broadcast, but he was reverting back to his own original script). And the result is quite possibly the best of the novelisations, judged as a novel. The opening of the story is comprehensively rewritten, Ian being an unemployed research scientist who accidentally encounters Barbara, who has been tutoring the mysterious Susan, and gets involved with the Doctor and his Tardis. So much time is invested - wisely - in setting the scene that we are a third of the way through the book before we reach the equivalent point to the end of the TV story's first episode (out of seven).

The biggest novelty, for those of us who have read almost any of the subsequent hundreds of Who books, is that the whole story is told in the first person, from Ian's point of view. (It's not unknown in later Who literature, but it is very unusual.) This does require a certain amount of narrative juggling, but Whitaker gets away with it.

Today's generation of fans will squee at the pronounced sexual tension in the Ian/Barbara relationship here - the TV story has Barbara close to flirting with Ganatus, one of the Thals, but he barely gets to look at her on the printed page. Poor Susan rather fades into the background as well after she has done her mercy run to the forest. The characterisation of the Doctor is much more harsh and edgy than Hartnell's depiction; since Whitaker was the story editor, perhaps this was what he had originally in mind? (A possibility supported by the surviving first cut of the first ever episode.)

And the Daleks themselves are pretty memorable here, though Whitaker seems a bit confused about their size - three feet high at one point, four foot six at another, though the illustrations are of our "normal" sized pepperpots. However, this confusion is compensated for by the glorious description of the mutants within the metal casings, and their glass-enclosed leader. The TV show has never managed such memorable presentations of the creatures inside, though it has occasionally tried. (The versions encountered by the Ninth Doctor come closest.)

Anyway, this is an excellent read.

In Doctor Who and the Romans, Donald Cotton has recast the narrative of Dennis Spooner's TV script into epistolary/diary form: letters from Ian Chesterton to his headmaster, the Doctor's own diary, letters from Ascalis the assassin and Locusta the poisoner, and contributions also from Barbara, the Emperor Nero, and Nero's wife Poppæa (but not Vicki); the whole thing framed in a covering note by Tacitus (obviously written several decades later). Eye of Heaven, the best of the spinoff novels featuring Leela, also featured multiple first-person viewpoints, and I've read first-person narratives in other First Doctor stories, but this is the only case of the whole thing being ostensibly done from written records (the Doctor having compiled everything and then left it behind in the villa for the archivists to discover).

Admittedly, as an actual story it's no great shakes, and purists will be disappointed that we lose a lot of the funny lines and one of the major comic elements from the TV story (the two pairs of time travellers not actually meeting each other in their wanderings). But the whole thing is done for language and laughs; it's meant to be fun, and it is fun, and that's all you can really ask.

Ian Marter's last and best book, Doctor Who - The Rescue, introduces the first new companion to join the show since its beginning, Vicki - one of two survivors of a spaceship crash on an apparently hostile planet. I thought after watching the TV original that this was a plot which could manage a great deal of filling out of back-story; the Doctor's past relations with the natives of Dido, the story of what had actually happened to the human settlers. In fact Marter delivers much more than that. For once, the printed page is superior to the screen. The twenty-something Maureen O'Brien could never really pass as the young teenager that Vicki was meant to be; Marter is not restricted by the actor's appearance. The monsters of the planet were among the least compelling aspects of the original TV story; again Marter can just make them up and does indeed bring in at least one more. We get loads more banter between the Doctor and Ian, with Marter for once putting comic dialogue in rather than taking it out. And the entire story is topped and tailed by the rescue ship which is supposed to be coming for Vicki and her fellow-survivor, so that one feels that this planet is one that fits into a wider history. A rather rare book, but well worth seeking out.

The only novel by Barry Letts, the producer of Pertwee-era Who, Doctor Who and the Dæmons is funny, witty, adds bags of backstory to both minor and major characters (the account of the Doctor and the Master growing up together on Gallifrey ought to be canon for all interested fanfic writers), substitutes far better special effects on the page for the end-of-budget ones we got on-screen, and is generally a good read. My favourite Third Doctor book so far.

Ian Briggs does a masterful job with Doctor Who - The Curse of Fenric, perhaps the most adult of any of the Who novelisations (in the sense of talking about sex). The most striking change from the TV original is that the vicar, Mr Wainwright, is explictly young (rather than septuagenarian Nicholas Parsons). Apart from that, the whole narrative feels very soundly rooted both in itself and in Who - particularly with Ace's introduction in Dragonfire (which of course Briggs also wrote). For once, the Doctor's-hidden-past motif actually seems to make sense rather than feeling like a bolted-on idea (the only other story that achieves this is The Face of Evil). An excellent read.

Where some of Malcolm Hulke's other books are rather irritatingly written down for a younger readership, Doctor Who and the Green Death is written much more maturely - at one point Jo offers to pose topless for Professor Jones, which is rather prophetic in view of later developments in Katy Manning's career. (In fairness, their romance is one of the best constructed narratives of romantic companion departure in the whole of Who; perhaps the only serious rival is Vicki/Troilus in The Myth Makers.) For once, Hulke's political themes are well-judged and match the tone of the narrative, and although we lose the full mania of the screen version of the mad computer, BOSS, we also (as so often from this era) lose the dodgy special effects. A particularly good effort.

Honorable mentions - all of these are worth getting if you can:
Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child by Terrance Dicks (First Doctor)
Doctor Who - Marco Polo by John Lucarotti
Doctor Who - The Reign of Terror by Ian Marter
Doctor Who and the Crusaders by David Whitaker
Doctor Who - The Time Meddler by Nigel Robinson
Doctor Who - Galaxy Four by William Emm
Doctor Who - The Myth Makers by Donald Cotton
Doctor Who - Mission to the Unknown by John Peel
Doctor Who - The Mutation of Time by John Peel
Doctor Who - The Gunfighters by Donald Cotton
Doctor Who - The War Machines by Ian Stuart Black
Doctor Who - The Power of the Daleks by John Peel (Second Doctor)
Doctor Who and the Web of Fear by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - The Mind Robber by Peter Ling
Doctor Who - The Invasion by Ian Marter
Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters by Malcolm Hulke (Third Doctor)
Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Three Doctors by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Space War by Malcolm Hulke
Doctor Who and the Planet of the Spiders by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Ark in Space by Ian Marter (Fourth Doctor)
Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Sunmakers by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit by David Fisher
Doctor Who and the City of Death by David Lawrence
Doctor Who and the Leisure Hive by David Fisher
Doctor Who and Warriors' Gate by John Lydecker
Doctor Who - Castrovalva by Christopher H. Bidmead (Fifth Doctor)
Doctor Who - Black Orchid by Terence Dudley
Doctor Who - Terminus by John Lydecker
Doctor Who - The Two Doctors by Robert Holmes (Sixth Doctor)
Doctor Who - Dragonfire by Ian Briggs (Seventh Doctor)
Doctor Who - Battlefield by Marc Platt
Doctor Who - Remembrance of the Daleks by Ben Aaronovitch

There is an interesting concentration of quality in the First and Third (and to a lesser extent Fourth) Doctor eras, not really correlating with the quality of the TV stories of the time!

Good Efforts - worth picking up if you see them second-hand:
Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus by Philip Hinchcliffe (First Doctor)
Doctor Who and the Planet of Giants by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Zarbi by Bill Strutton
Doctor Who - The Chase by John Peel
Doctor Who - The Massacre by John Lucarotti
Doctor Who - The Ark by Paul Erickson
Doctor Who - The Savages by Ian Stuart Black
Doctor Who - The Smugglers by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - The Macra Terror by Ian Stuart Black (Second Doctor)
Doctor Who - The Evil of the Daleks by John Peel
Doctor Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen by Gerry Davis
Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Ice Warriors by Brian Hayles
Doctor Who - The Seeds of Death by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the War Games by Malcolm Hulke
Doctor Who - Inferno by Terrance Dicks (Third Doctor)
Doctor Who and the Mutants by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion by Malcolm Hulke
Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment by Ian Marter (Fourth Doctor)
Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Seeds of Doom by Philip Hinchcliffe
Doctor Who and the Masque of Mandragora by Philip Hinchcliffe
Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Power of Kroll by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Nightmare of Eden by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - Logopolis by Christopher H. Bidmead
Doctor Who and the Visitation by Eric Saward (Fifth Doctor)
Doctor Who - Mawdryn Undead by Peter Grimwade
Doctor Who - Frontios by Christopher H. Bidmead
Doctor Who - Mindwarp by Philip Martin (Sixth Doctor)
Doctor Who - Terror of the Vervoids by Pip and Jane Baker
Doctor Who - The Happiness Patrol by Graham Curry (Seventh Doctor)
Doctor Who - Paradise Towers by Stephen Wyatt
Doctor Who - Survival by Rona Munro
Doctor Who by Gary Russell (Eighth Doctor)

Average stuff - the completist will probably enjoy reading these and can just about risk lending them out to friends:
Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth by Terrance Dicks (First Doctor)
Doctor Who - The Celestial Toymaker by Gerry Davis
Doctor Who - The Highlanders by Gerry Davis (Second Doctor)
Doctor Who - The Faceless Ones by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - Fury from the Deep by Victor Pemberton
Doctor Who - The Wheel in Space by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - The Krotons by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - The Space Pirates by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion by Terrance Dicks (Third Doctor)
Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Curse of Peladon by Brian Hayles
Doctor Who - The Time Monster by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Carnival of Monsters by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Planet of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Time Warrior by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - Death to the Daleks by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Giant Robot by Terrance Dicks (Fourth Doctor)
Doctor Who and the Planet of Evil by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Face of Evil by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Robots of Death by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Invisible Enemy by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Underworld by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Invasion of Time by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and Shada by Paul Scoones
Doctor Who - Meglos by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the State of Decay by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Keeper of Traken by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - The Awakening by Eric Pringle (Fifth Doctor)
Doctor Who - Warriors of the Deep by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - Enlightenment by Barbara Clegg
Doctor Who - Resurrection of the Daleks by Paul Scoones
Doctor Who - Planet of Fire by Peter Grimwade
Doctor Who - Caves of Androzani by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - Vengeance on Varos by Philip Martin (Sixth Doctor)
Doctor Who - Revelation of the Daleks by John Preddle
Doctor Who - Time Lash by Glen McCoy
Doctor Who - Greatest Show in the Galaxy by Stephen Wyatt (Seventh Doctor)
Doctor Who - Ghost Light by Marc Platt

Less good - for completists only
Doctor Who and the Tenth Planet by Gerry Davis (First Doctor)
Doctor Who and the Cybermen by Gerry Davis (Second Doctor)
Doctor Who and the Enemy of the World by Ian Marter
Doctor Who - The Dominators by Ian Marter
Doctor Who-The Ambassadors of Death by Terrance Dicks (Third Doctor)
Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon by Malcolm Hulke
Doctor Who - the Mind of Evil by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Sea Devils by Malcolm Hulke
Doctor Who and the Monster of Peladon by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Android Invasion by Terrance Dicks (Fourth Doctor)
Doctor Who and the Image of the Fendahl by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Destiny of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation by Ian Marter
Doctor Who and the Pirate Planet by David Bishop
Doctor Who and the Armageddon Factor by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who and the Horns of Nimon by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - Full Circle by Andrew Smith
Doctor Who - Four to Doomsday by Terrance Dicks (Fifth Doctor)
Doctor Who - Kinda by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - Earthshock by Ian Marter
Doctor Who - Arc of Infinity by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - Snake Dance by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - Attack of the Cybermen by Eric Saward
Doctor Who - Mark of the Rani by Pip and Jane Baker (Sixth Doctor)
Doctor Who - The Mysterious Planet by Terrance Dicks
Doctor Who - Delta and the Bannermen by Malcolm Kohll (Seventh Doctor)
Doctor Who - Silver Nemesis by Kevin Clarke

Poor efforts - even completists need to ask themselves if these are worth bothering with:
Doctor Who - The Edge of Destruction by Nigel Robinson (First Doctor)
Doctor Who - The Aztecs by John Lucarotti
Doctor Who - The Sensorites by Nigel Robinson
Doctor Who - The Space Museum by Glyn Jones
Doctor Who - The Underwater Menace by Nigel Robinson (Second Doctor)

Doctor Who - The King's Demons by Terence Dudley (Fifth Doctor)
Doctor Who - The Ultimate Foe by Pip and Jane Baker (Sixth Doctor)
Doctor Who - Time and the Rani by Pip and Jane Baker Seventh Doctor)

Dire:
Doctor Who - Time Flight
by Peter Grimwade (Fifth Doctor)

The worst:
Doctor Who - The Twin Dilemma
by Eric Saward (Sixth Doctor)

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
londonkds
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:18 am (UTC)
Yeah, Saward's desperate attempts to imitate Douglas Adams with digressions aren't very good but at least show an attempt to salvage the story. I still remember the one about the enormous bottle of Voxnic.
seawasp
Nov. 7th, 2008 11:34 pm (UTC)
I would put "Evil of the Daleks" up at the top, myself.
bluetyson
Nov. 8th, 2008 01:57 am (UTC)
Wow, nice work! :)

Do you happen to have a publishing order list? I know roughly when I stopped reading them.
nwhyte
Nov. 8th, 2008 08:41 am (UTC)
The complete chronological list can be found here.
bluetyson
Nov. 8th, 2008 11:06 am (UTC)
Cheers. :)

You going to read the new series books, too?
nwhyte
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:28 pm (UTC)
I've started, but they are not novelisations - except the Sarah Jane Smith ones!
badgerbag
Nov. 8th, 2008 02:31 am (UTC)
Oh, wonderful. I can look for the cream of the crop, now!
guidoeekhaut
Nov. 8th, 2008 04:08 pm (UTC)
Reading . . .
Where do you find the time to do all this reading? I can barely read four or five books a month.
nwhyte
Nov. 8th, 2008 10:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Reading . . .
It's called a train, Guido. Especially living where I do - I have a good hour or so commuting each way every day!
prof_pangaea
Nov. 8th, 2008 09:08 pm (UTC)
*bookmarks*

zdover
Nov. 9th, 2008 03:45 pm (UTC)
Well done, sir.

This is so big, and so synoptic, that I doubt you'll ever meet anyone who can argue with it, for want of time to cover the ground you've already covered.
lucife
Feb. 22nd, 2009 12:06 pm (UTC)
The Twin Dilemma lost me on the square root of negative numbers. Have no one ever told him about complex numbers? If you're writing a book about mathematical geniuses, you have to know your stuff.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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