March 14th, 2008


March Books 21) Time and Relative

21) Time and Relative, by Kim Newman

This was the first of the run of Doctor Who novellas published by Telos, set immediately before the events of the first TV series, in London in early 1963. It's written in diary form, with Susan, the Doctor's granddaughter, as the narrator. She and her grandfather are exiles from their home planet, and can't quite remember why; as she tries to fit in at school, she comes top in Maths and Science, but loses out in Geography as she can't remember what the various cities and countries are called this century.

As typical with Telos there is an irritatingly self-congratulatory blurb (this time by Justin Richards) detailing just how wonderful this particular novella is. However, in this case it is close to being justified. For one thing, Newman gives Susan her own voice - in the series, she was rather the archetype of the screaming girl companion, to the dismay of Carole Anne Ford who had taken the role believing that she would have alien kung-fu type skills and whose favourite memory is when she turned violent in The Edge of Destruction. Newman's Susan isn't Buffy - apart from lacking physical fighting skills, she is less lucky in her choice of friends - but she is her own person, plaing not just at being grownup like her friends but also at being human - and it all makes sense.

Newman's other success is that his First Doctor comes closer than any other written version I have seen to capturing the essence of Hartnell's performance. This is helped by the first-person narrative from Susan's point of view: her grandfather is familiar but not central for most of the story. He catches the alienness of the Doctor's motivation and manner very well.

The actual story hardly matters in all of this, but the plot of a monster based on Cold, awakened by drilling experiments and taking over the earth starting with London, is true to many a Who story and also to the horror tradition which Newman is rooted in, so he does it pretty confidently. There are of course pleasing nods to continuity: Ian and Barbara are glimpsed on a date at the cinema, there is a hint that Susan's own people may be sending a man with a beard after her and her grandfather, and more subtly her friends at school are John and Gillian (probably most Telos readers are sufficiently up in obscure Who lore to get that particular in-joke).

Anyway, based on this, one would be encouraged to get the rest of the series of Telos novellas. Unfortunately, I have read two of the others and they don't come up to the same mark (one of them is definitely the worst Who fiction I have read in hard copy). Still, it was a good start.
doctor who

March Books 22) Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child

22) Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child, by Terrance Dicks

Why yes, I am planning to (re-)read all the Doctor Who novelisations. They are mostly such a quick read that they just about fill a leg of my daily commute.

This is the novel version of the very first Doctor Who story, as broadcast in 1963. But the novel was not published until shortly before the story was shown again as part of the 1981 repeat season of the Five Faces of Doctor Who, so it ties much more into the continuity of the publication of dozens of Target novelisations of Who stories by the early 80s than into the TV programme's internal chronology starting on 23 November 1963. In fact, we already had a hard-copy version of the origins of Who in the form of David Whitaker's Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure With the Daleks, so Dicks was in the peculiar position of writing the story over again, of making the weirdness and newness of the 1963 story both accessible and intriguing to the 1981 fan.

Anyway, he largely succeeds. We have a bit more background to fill out both the first quarter of the book, set in a contemporary London school, and the rest, set in a stone age environment; indeed, Dicks fills out both settings perfectly satisfactorily. If you are looking for a good entry point to the Doctor Who novelisations, this is entirely characteristic and appropriate. (Fans of Barbara will rightly assert that their heroine comes over rather girly, but this is a common Terrance Dicks problem with assertive female characters.)

Of course, the story's main importance is as a gateway for things to come, and Dicks does really well in his last couple of paragraphs, when the travellers have once again landed on an unfamiliar planet:
The Doctor was about to meet the creatures who were destined to become his greatest enemies.

Out there on Skaro, the Daleks were waiting for him.
That, if nothing else, would make you want to read the next books in the sequence.