At the end of 2023 we had the enjoyment of seeing four new Doctor Who adventures on telly ... three with the Doctor in the form of David Tennant (again) and one with the brand new Doctor in the form of Ncuti Gatwa ... and sure as salt, the novelisations of the adventures appeared. First on Kindle, and then in paperback and hardback (for the Gatwa one only).
I have a long association with the Target Doctor Who novelisation line. First as a reader, then as a collector, then as a chronicler (researching and writing The Target Book (www.telos.co.uk or Amazon where you live), and now penning the liner notes for the audio readings of the old novelisations. So turning my attention to some new fare was exciting indeed.
First off is The Star Beast. On TV this was a bit of a run-around with aliens and explosions and franticness as the Doctor and Donna become reacquainted, meet Beep the Meep, and figure out what's going on all in the space of an hour. The story is based on a comic adventure from way back, and Russell T Davies has reinvented it for the small screen. It seems that Gary Russell has then sort of backwards finessed it and included more from the original comic ...
But the book is a nice read, if a little unadventurous. The characters are all there, and, as in the CD liner notes I tend to look at what has been added/changed for each book, there's some nice new material about a character called Stew Ferguson which adds interest and humanity to the proceedings.
I also like to see how the Doctor is described ... and here we have 'a tall, thin guy in a long blue coat ... his brown hair blowing slightly in the breeze' which is an excellent thumbnail of the 14th Doctor.
Overall it's enjoyable and rattles through the breathless adventure with aplomb ... good job.
The middle of the three 14th Doctor adventures, and a slight change of tone and pace as the Doctor and Donna find themselves on a vast spacecraft at the edge of the universe ... with a mystery to be solved.
Mark Morris follows the TV story pretty closely here (and I note he has mentioned online that this was indeed the brief) and he does a superb job of bringing this slightly atypical story to the page. There are only two characters in it (the Doctor and Donna), and they find themselves being mimicked by an alien entity/two entities while a stumpy robot walks, one step at a time, very slowly, down a long corridor ...
I enjoyed the prose here and there's some smashing descriptions which really bring the visuals to life. The prologue with Isaac Newton is included, and I still find it odd - not having anything to do with anything else in the story - but having more prose is not a problem!
I do feel that there's perhaps an element of foreshadowing missing, in that the final story, The Giggle, alludes back to actions taken here ... and it might have been nice to have teased a little ... but the story stands up nicely. I liked the idea of numbering the chapters using the alien words as well.
And the Doctor? We get 'a skinny man in an oddly patterned, tight fitting suit whose hair stuck up at odd angles.' Very nice.
Overall I found it more satisfying than The Star Beast. Mark Morris' writing flows and provides an enjoyable experience as we explore the mystery with the characters ... and not giving anything away must have been challenging to achieve in prose.
The final book of the 14th Doctor's stories is The Giggle, and this is in a different realm. What's perhaps most interesting is that Morris was apparently told he couldn't embellish the story over what was on TV, whereas Goss does nothing but. And the book is far better and richer for it.
So the third adventure sees the return of the Toymaker from a Doctor Who story from 1965, played by Neil Patrick Harris, and is another change of tone as the character is set on challenging the Doctor to more games to try and even the score ... and it's the Doctor's liberal use of salt at the end of the universe in Wild Blue Yonder which allowed this to happen.
The novelisation opens with a recap from the end of Wild Blue Yonder and it was interesting to see the slight variation of text between Morris and Goss in this regard, but from there we launch into the story as seen on TV ... the Toymaker with his cod Germanic accent, Stooky Bill, the chaos on Earth, UNIT Tower and so on ... but the text is peppered with odd phrases ... something is afoot. And that something is the Toymaker, who has actually invaded the book, and eventually he emerges to take over the tale himself ... and the book is crazed fun.
There are word puzzles and mazes along the way. On TV when Donna is separated from the Doctor in the corridors of doors, in the book it becomes a 'make your own adventure' with 'To try the first door, go to move xxx' or whatever (the text echoing the Doctor playing the Trilogic Game in the original sixties story) ... great fun. I read through the book consecutively, so arrived at the little piece which you don't get to if you play the game properly ... another nice conceit.
The section where the Toymaker dances in UNIT HQ to The Spice Girls singing 'Spice Up Your Life' is interesting ... rather than as on TV, we have here a discussion with a copyright lawyer as to why the lyrics cannot be used, followed by a manic sequence where the words are omitted and replaced with Las instead ... a neat way of getting around the vast expense of reproducing lyrics in print ...
Overall the book is joyous fun ... it oozes from every page ... and makes the most of the prose form to deliver the adventure to the reader. In the audio reading of the novelisation, Goss has changed it again, and the puzzles which work in the book in printed form are changed to audio equivalents ... clever and nicely done.
And the 14th Doctor: there's not much description at all. Skinny. Hair ready to run for the hills. But no general description.
For the 15th Doctor: He's young. Handsome. Dark skin. That's it. But then this is from the Toymaker's point of view, so maybe that accounts for it. (As on TV Mel thinks he's beautiful and Donna asks if he comes in a range of colours.)
Overall this is a great example of a book which takes the translation of a story into prose and runs with it. It's frantic, exciting and so much fun! Easily the best of the four novelisations.
And so to the last of the four, and the only one in hardback. While this says it's a Target book on the inside flap, there is no logo and no other indication that this is what it is ... maybe the eventual paperback will follow the more accepted format.
Anyway, this seems to be the second book from the author (this came out on Jan 25 whereas her 'debut' novel, The Principal of Moments, came out on Jan 18, but her PR suggests she's 'the Sunday Times Bestselling author of the The Order of Legends trilogy' ... which I can't find any reference to ... unless Principal is perhaps the first volume in this trilogy?) and it's good to see someone new writing for the Doctor Who range.
It's another novelisation which sticks close to the screenplay, but here the author has a lightness of touch to the prose which is very pleasing. By telling it (mostly) through the viewpoint of Ruby Sunday, we get a sense that she is a real person thrust into unreal situations, and it all works nicely, feeling warm and fluffy when you need it to. The descriptions are good, with some effective material around the goblin ship and its inhabitants, and although the book seems slight, it does cover all the ground. There's even a nice back-reference to The Giggle and the Toymaker to explain the goblins as being part of his legacy.
In terms of the Doctor ... well sadly it seems that Jikiemi-Pearson forgot to describe him. He has brown eyes, a long brown coat, 'a galaxy lived on his skin' (love this description by the way), strong arms ... but otherwise he's just 'the man' in the early parts before he's called the Doctor. I guess you could easily read the book with the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) in your mind if you wanted to and it wouldn't make much difference as the same 'teeth flashing white' note applies there as well.
Overall I enjoyed the book, but compared with The Giggle, it's not nearly as much fun (but then not much would be). As a proper introduction to the 15th Doctor it also falls a little flat as there's nothing really here to make him stand out. But the writing is eloquent, and there's a deftness to it all. Enjoyable.
And one more thing: the final words from the mysterious Mrs Flood (no clues here) are clearly spoken to herself and not to Abdul or the audience ...