(July 2 – 12)
If you were a Doctor Who fan in the 1970s or 1980s there’s a near 100% chance you’ll be familiar with the Target novelisations that were, back in the dark ages, the only way for fans to revisit older Doctor Who adventures. As a major Who fan I used to collect and read these pocket sized books endlessly, and some of them remain imprinted on my memory even now. When one of the series’ most prolific authors, Terrance Dicks, died a while back it’s not for nothing that many people talked about the impact he had on children’s literacy back in the day.
Cut ahead to 2016: the newly revived TV series has been going strong for more than a decade already and BBC Books make the awesome decision to revive the old Target brand and reissue a select handful of seven of these original novels complete, in an essential step with the original artwork. Several more reissues followed over ensuing years and we eventually started to see novelisations of some new series stories, which was tremendously exciting.
I have a modest collection of about 80 of the original novels, so naturally I’ve been adding these new releases to my collection as they emerge. However, it wasn’t until recently that I thought maybe, perhaps, I could consider reading some of these books that I keep buying. Radical idea, I know, but bear with me. To be honest it was more out of idle curiosity than a genuine commitment that I picked Dalek, by Robert Shearman, off the shelf. This one drew me on account of Robert Shearman being a writer that one of my good friends rates highly so it seemed a good place to start.
Obviously I’d already seen the episode that the novelisation is based on, so I was pretty impressed to find that the first chapter bore absolutely no relation whatsoever to anything I had seen on screen and, adding further intrigue, it wasn’t immediately clear how it would eventually tie into the story. I needed to read more!
In keeping with the original Target novels, Dalek was an enjoyably swift read. However, unlike those old novelisations which often skewed very close to the televised story (sometimes to a fault) Shearman makes a few changes here and there and, perhaps most impressively, gives a detailed backstory to almost every speaking character in the story.
I enjoyed Dalek so much I decided to pick another one to read right away and went with Stephen Moffatt’s novelisation of his own 50th anniversary story Day Of The Doctor. This was a chunkier book than Dalek, but it’s one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had in years. Moffatt does some incredibly clever and funny things with his story and gives it a whole new lease of life in written form. I could write about this one for reams, but rather than do that I will urge you to read it if you have even the vaguest interest in Doctor Who. It’s like reading a Douglas Adams novel, but one with an actual plot.
For my final reading choice (because things always have to come in threes) I went with Russell T Davies’ novelisation of his triumphant first episode for New Who, Rose. Of all the books this one is closest to the original Target style, but still adds depth and backstory that you would rarely find in those old novelisations. Released 15 years after the episode first aired (15 years!! What even is time???) one of the most entertaining features about this book is how Russell T Davies manages to include all sorts of callbacks (call forwards?) to events and characters that would appear much, much later in the series. It’s a lovely way of tying this (re)introductory story into the glorious future that Davies would shepherd the revived series towards.
So this section is a bit backwards this time given that the books themselves are adaptations of the original TV episodes. However, in keeping with the house style I still feel obliged to include brief mentions of the televisual counterparts here.
Clearly Dalek was one of the more exciting debut episodes of the new series (new Doctor, new series, and the Daleks were back!). It’s a solid episode. I remember at the time thinking how strange it was hearing a Dalek that was more than a monosyllabic monster but, of course, it didn’t take long for them to fall back into their old ways.
Even more hyped was Day Of The Doctor. At the time I was a little underwhelmed; perhaps I was expecting more fan service. Over subsequent rewatches I’ve come away thinking it’s easily among the best episodes that New Who has delivered.
Finally, Rose. Could there possibly have ever been a more anticipated episode of Doctor Who. Rose, in my view, absolutely nailed it. It’s a vision of Doctor Who that never could have happened in the original run, but was absolutely what the show needed to bring it up to date and make it work for both new and old audiences. I have my gripes with some of Davies’ later episodes, but I will forever bring him credit for bringing Who back and making it work.
Not a whole lot to add here. I read Dalek over two nights. Day Of The Doctor took a bit longer (perhaps four nights) but was one of those books I only reluctantly put down when sleep beckoned. Rose, I think, was a three-nighter.
And all were thoroughly enjoyable!