Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review: Recent Doctor Who Books

There's been a few Doctor Who titles released of late ... so a quick round up of thoughts.

With the 13th Doctor now on television (and me not having time to watch and review the episodes at the moment ...) there's been a few titles released tieing into the series. But it's interesting to look back a few months to when a new crop of 'Target' branded novelisations hit the shops, to try and gain something of an appreciation as to what has happened here.

First off is City of Death, novelised by James Goss. In fact, abridged might be the best word to use here as Goss had already written a much longer version of Douglas Adams' City of Death a year or so earlier. This is a shorter version for the Target novelisation market, and reading it through, Goss is certainly channeling Adams bigtime, with much which reads and 'sounds' like something out of Adams' popular The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. There are some lovely moments, like a short sequence where Professor Kerensky is aged to death - but seen from Kerensky's point of view, and overall the book reads well. As a fairly traditional novelisation, this works well, giving the story and characters a little time to breathe (though not as much as in the full length version) while staying pretty faithful to the televised scripts.

Next up is a ninth Doctor story, Rose, novelised by Russell T Davies from his own script. This again feels very much like a traditional novelisation, There is some expansion of the characters, but overall it feels very much like a 'script to screen' adaptation, not much added in, and not much taken away. It's another strong book, reading well, and making a great addition to the Target range.

Tenth Doctor next, and Jenny T Colgan novelises The Christmas Invasion from Russell T Davies' script. This is perhaps the weakest of this batch of novelisations, being again pretty much a straight retelling of the story with not much added or taken away.

The Eleventh Doctor is represented by Steven Moffat novelising his own script for The Day of the Doctor. This is something of a revelation. Moffat makes the best use of the novelisation format and presents something unique and fascinating, a book which manages to follow the events of the televised story, while at the same time, putting a very personal and unique spin on it. Even the book plays games with the reader, promising a chapter which then doesn't appear to exist (but at the back there are marks which show how many times you have read - and forgotten - it). It's a clever book and stands rereading. In fact, it's pretty typical of Moffat's television Doctor Who ... complex and bewildering, but when he gets it right ... supremely satisfying.

The final book in the Target novelisations is by Paul Cornell, having a go at novelising Steven Moffat's Twice Upon A Time. Unfortunately this suffers as the original teleplay also suffered - from not having very much in the way of substance. Cornell has apparently reinstated around 30 minutes of material which was cut from the final episode, and as with Colgan's book, is a perfectly acceptable, straightforward novelisation of the story ...

What makes these books notable is that although they are branded as a continuation of the Target line, they are written for adults. There is no talking down or oversimplificaton of the text - they are readable and enjoyable in the same way that the television episodes were, and the original novelisation range was ...

And that brings me to the new original novels which have been released for the thirteenth Doctor. There are three in the initial batch: The Good Doctor by Juno Dawson, Molten Heart by Una McCormack, and Combat Magicks by Steve Cole.

So far I've only had a chance to read  The Good Doctor, and ... well ... it's a kid's book. When I (re-)read the Target novelisations, I often note if there is a lack of description as to which Doctor is at the controls of the TARDIS, or what people are wearing and so on ... and here there is next to nothing. The Doctor is the Doctor almost by name only, and I even read a part of the book considering the character to be played by Peter Davison in my head, and it worked just fine ...

Maybe this is because the books were commissioned and written before any information about how Jody Whittaker would play the character had been released, but after the aforementioned Target books, this is something of a disappointment.

It's also got a similar plot to the television story The Ark  - albeit that this is one which most readers and viewers will never have heard of let alone seen. The central conceit being that the Doctor and co visit a planet where there is a war, put things right, and then leave, returning 'moments' later (because Ryan forgot his phone) to find it's actually years in the future ... and thus seeing the results of their actions. There's also a hefty nod to Douglas Adams in the narrative, as one of the things they are faced with is a giant statue of the Tardis - and a stained glass window of Graham who is worshipped as 'The Good Doctor' ... definite shades of Arthur Dent there.

Reading the book, there are a lot of characters, but I didn't get any sense of what they looked like or who they were ... everything seemed simplified. Furthermore, it read like a story written by someone who doesn't really 'get' Doctor Who ... I have been considering this a lot watching the television episodes this season ... it feels like a show being written by people who grew up loving the TV Comic or Doctor Who Magazine comic strips ... and there is a similar level of story telling and ideas which you used to find in the comic strips, and which (I at least thought) had no place on television ... With giant cute fluffy monsters, 'Sinister Sponge' creatures, and so on all vying for attention against a Doctor who often acted out of character ...

Maybe this is the essence of the show these days ... that the years of original fiction and comic stories have given birth to a Doctor Who variant which seems at odds with the show which I grew up with and loved. I often felt that the comic stories were a little 'silly', and this feeling has been played out in several of the television episodes this season.

Maybe the books by Una McCormack and Steve Cole will be better (I have no previous knowledge of Juno Dawson's work, so she might be the one out of kilter here) ... I'll report back when I have read them.

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