Monday, 18 March 2013

More 'Dr Who' novels read, this year now, Part 3

Yet more Dr Who books I have been reading.  So far it looks like this year will be the year of me reading nothing but Dr Who novels and Tudor history.  What a strange combination it is, too…I decided after the hysterical blather of my last post on 'The Tudors', you might be needing my more measured tones on something much more fantastical, just to be contrary.  And to show you I've calmed down a little.

There are less books in this post than the last Dr Who one, but I did waffle about length at some of them, so I stopped now and posted, before carrying on.

As before, the BBC 8th Doctor Novels are read in order.  The original Targets are read in order by the Doctor I am doing.  I am doing several at once.  So each Patrick Troughton, say, will follow in the correct order; you might just get other Doctors also in order, in between.  I don’t stick to one Doctor at a time.  I move about. 

I haven’t read any Virgin New Adventures for Sylvester this year yet; or any Virgin Missing Adventures (or should I say, I’m reading one, but I’ve not finished it yet).  In fact, I have read more Targets than anything else so far this year – and not because they are small and quick; just because I am quite enjoying them at the mo.


  1. Doctor Who and the Cybermen, by Gerry Davis (Target original)
    (Well, hmm, hello again Patrick Troughton.  This had a good plot.  But it was all over the place in terms of pacing.  This must be one of the most nearly there but not quite books I’ve read in ages.  I just kept losing interest, despite the interesting possibilities of a Gravitron, despite Polly actually being instrumental in manufacturing a clever weapon to defeat lots of the cybermen; and despite the Doctor being clever and scientific.  I liked the virus element a lot, at the beginning; but like most uber-villians, the cybermen themselves bore me.  So I got bored, and the episodic structure did not translate well in terms of believable cliff-hangers in the book; either they weren’t emphasized or just weren’t there.  So the book dragged along, despite its good premise.  Hmmmmmm.)
  2. Dr Who: Black Orchid, by Terence Dudley (Target original)
    (Again, much more readable than it was watchable – and this was one of the Peter Davison’s I enjoyed more than the others.  The extra book length because of the 2 episodes meant the story could be fleshed out a bit more than Target space usually allows for.  However, all that extra space was used a little bit poorly: a lot of cricket terminology – I did feel interested, but would have preferred more character and story development.  There was also a lot of focus on the Indian character but in a very repetitive way: I didn’t feel, despite the continual emphasis on him, that I was learning anything about him beyond his words, at all.  And his words were always the same.  It was all very surface.  A tale I think, based on atmosphere and ambience rather than substance.  But still I enjoyed it.)
  3. Dr Who: The Underwater Menace, by Nigel Robinson (Target original)
    (I hated the one episode I saw of this, hence I left it out in my reading of Troughton’s era.  Then I felt anal and OCD at having missed any [it was itching at my sense of orderliness] and went back for it.  Surprised to find I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed its Atlantean setting – stupid though it undoubtedly was.  I enjoyed the ridiculous characters: Lolem, the superstitious priest of Amdo  the Fish Goddess; Zaroff, the archetypal Flash Gordon in black and white style mad scientist [though in my head I was actually seeing him as Zarkov, from the extremely brill colour Flash Gordon, because Topol would have owned this role with such flair, I reckoned].  I enjoyed the stupid running about and hiding and getting lost.  I enjoyed a society being brought down by a strike!!  Yay, socialism!  It was fun.  Considering everything about it was unbelievable and stupid, and it’s not like I was in a great mood reading it, I can only assume this great fun-ness is all down to Nigel Robinson, the writer.  I will look out as I go through, for more of his, and see if they are all so enjoyable.)
  4. Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child, by Terrance Dicks (Target Original)
    (Beginning of the William Hartnell era.  A bit confused, and always have been, by the title of this one.  I mean, I know Susan is the unearthly child, the hook to get Barbara and Ian involved in the story, but its as if the whole story should be about her, and it isn’t…Its about Kal, and Za and Hur, and other people speaking in strange pidgin English about ‘Fire!  Fire!’  I did quite enjoy this, though I don’t remember from watching it Barbara being quite so hysterical, running about the place and calling things ‘evil’…always a word prone to overuse and misuse.  William Hartnell’s doctor, in this one, is rather a ruthless nasty supercilious git.  Quite enjoyed reading his strangeness.  His almost being about to kill Za at one stage – why?  Just to get the situation out of the way so he could carry on getting going back to the Tardis?  Or…?  Because he regarded Za as no more or better than an animal, and therefore lower, less important than himself?  The Doctor of this story in particular is nothing if not a really arrogant arse.  Most interesting.)
  5. Doctor Who and the Daleks, by David Whittaker (Target original)
    (More William Hartnell.  This was a most interesting one.  Stanley didn’t tell me this was the first Dr Who book ever published, and was not projected to be part of a series, but a standalone.  I was therefore very surprised indeed, when it re-wrote the beginning of the story entirely, having Barbara and Ian not know each other and meet due to a car crash on Barnes Common.  Ian came across as a very angry young man, and Barbara as significantly more hysterical female than the actual series – indeed, she spent most of the book in an emotional funk caused by trying not to show that she was falling in love with Ian and thinking her feelings were unrequited, it appeared at the end.  Also at the end, he seemed to be falling in love with her.  Absolutely NONE of all that is in the TV version – neither the meeting, as of course that was dealt with in An Unearthly Child, nor the love interest angle, that just never cropped up at all.  So I was rather frustrated to feel I was reading both a rewrite and rehash of the first story all stuffed up in the second one here.  However, the story had a number of good things going for it.  Ian’s characterization is the focal point of the story, which is told in first person.  It gives it a detached sort of immediacy [that’s the confusing 1960s characterization for you].  The presentation of the thoroughly peaceful mutated Thals and their eventual conversion to the idea of Life as Struggle, and therefore the need to fight to progress, fight to protect, and fight to simply EXIST rather than be ‘exterminated’ was quite fascinating.  There was a very good speech at one point, about the need to fight for things, for principles.  I read it very late at night and suspect it may have been full of logical flaws, but it made sense to my tired brain as I read it.  It even contained some new thoughts I hadn’t quite had in that format myself before.  I will copy it here when I get a minute.  I enjoyed this very much and was sorry to see it end.  The Daleks weren’t too irritating. And Davis Whittaker is a higher standard of writer than the age group the book was aimed at.  It read simple, but very adult. )
  6. Doctor Who: Alien Bodies, by Lawrence Miles (BBC 8th Doctor Series)
    Stupidly, I have left it a little while after reading before reviewing this one.  This was for a good reason.  It was so bristling with characters – so many and so well painted – that I felt I had to mention them all in the review and knew even as the book ended that I was going to forget the ones that engaged me least.  So let me do it simply, another way: The idea of the Faction Paradox was brilliant – a sort of voodoo-hoodoo time-travel, with Tardis’s that ran on blood sacrifices. The idea of Tardis’s so advanced that they were the shape of and as organic as people, hence a Tardis called  Marie, that was badly damaged but mending by the end of the book.  The idea of auctioning off the Doctor’s body; and that he invalidated his treaty with the Celestis by not handing himself over to them, even though when he did that little act of treachery he hadn’t actually made the deal yet in terms of time line…all this was brilliant, and written very well.  On the downside, if I never hear the word ‘biomass’ again it will be too soon.  There was something immensely precocious about this book.  I enjoyed it a lot, but also felt that the author was determined to show me how clever and far reaching his imagination was, all the way through.  This is something that afflicts a lot of the non-TV Dr Who books.  I get the idea they are written by people who are incredibly clever, but who have no subtlety: they want to be very much admired for their playful futuristic brilliance, thankyou very much.  This can cause the style and delivery of their books to be a bit off-putting and/or overwhelming at times.  But saying that, I still enjoyed this book very much!)
  7. Dr Who and the Claws of Axos, by Terrance Dicks (Target Original)
    The Doctor’s ambivalent attitude was an odd thing in this story.  It grated at times, in that you need to trust the Doctor’s moral sense for these books to work.  On the other hand, it created a sense of jeopardy that these stories rarely have.  I found the concept of Axos an interesting one, and reading about it enabled me to forget that on TV I think of this one as ‘the Parsnip Monster’ story; all those tentacles look like bits growing on a parsnip when it’s getting old…I enjoyed the Brigadier, Yates and Benton, as ever, in this story.)
  8. Dr Who: Robot, by Terrance Dicks (Target Original)
    (I almost didn’t read this one, as its one of the one’s Fluffhead watches a lot, so unless there were massive changes in tone from TV to book, I felt as though I would be repeating myself.  I want to get on to the other Tom Baker’s I don’t remember so well because Fluffhead doesn’t watch them all the time.  But then my sense of order kicked in, and said – woman: read from the first one.  So.  The first Tom Baker.  I think the whole robot story is a very odd one to pick for Tom Baker’s first go at being not Jon Pertwee.  Maybe I just think that as I’m not fascinated with robots? The Brigadier [yay!], Benton etc are all about, so the earthbound nature of the story still feels very Jon Pertwee-ish.  But from the beginning, whilst Tom Baker comes out with some lines that you could equally well imagine Jon Pertwee saying [mostly lots of turns of phrase that sound very posh and quite patronising: ‘Do get on with it Brigadier, there’s a good chap’ for example], he sounds different, moves differently, and has a sense of feyness about him that marks him as different straightaway.  Quite a feat, considering how magnetic and solid a presence Jon Pertwee was.  This change comes across in the book just as well as the TV story.  This book also gives a lot more interior thought to Sarah, so you get to feel her frustration and irritation with the ThinkTank people; her bewilderment and fear first for and then of, the Robot.  Kettlewell’s embryonic Professor Kronotis routine [I couldn’t help but see the similarities] is described well too.  Terence Dicks has done a solid here.)

And that’s as far as I’ve got so far, with finished ones, anyway.  More to come later this year, I’m sure.

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