Posted in Book Reviews, Classic Series, News, Reviews

Towel Day Book Review: Shada by Gareth Roberts

Inside this book is another book – the strangest, most important and most dangerous book in the entire universe. The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey is one of the Artefacts, dating from dark days of Rassilon. It wields enormous power, and it must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. Skagra – who believes he should be God and permits himself only two smiles per day – most definitely has the wrong hands. Beware Skagra. Beware the Sphere. Beware Shada.

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The Hardback edition of Shada, released March 2012.

Shada has been elusive since it failed to show up on our screens in early 1980. It needs little introduction, if you’re reading this site you already know it was a six part story by Douglas Adams that fell foul of BBC industrial action about a third of its way through production, and for many years represented one of Doctor Who’s great unknowns….we’ll never know for sure how the other two thirds of it would have looked and sounded.

Even what we can see, the raw footage shot before the studio doors were bolted represents part of a puzzle. It eluded John Nathan-Turner’s attempts to remount it in 1980. It eluded novelisation as Douglas Adams had bigger fish to fry, and didn’t want anyone else adapting his work, despite his own low regard for the story.

The bootleg video copy that did the rounds in the 80’s with the blanks filled in by text from an archaic computer was succeeded in 1992 by JNT’s no-budget attempt at reconstructing it for home video, even that took twenty years to eventually crawl onto DVD in the same form. Big Finish’s audio adaptation is impressive but is missing something due to being retooled and recast for a different Doctor, not to mention the obvious lack of visuals. More recently, Ian Levine produced an animated version that eludes us for copyright reasons.

Shada was a watershed for the 1970s that never came, the Doctor saw off Soldeed and the Nimon, then the season abruptly ended. There was also a change of production team, this was supposed to be the swan song for both Douglas Adams and producer Graham Williams. Imagine if you reached the end of term and it ended early, but there was no party. It’s a shame, from what we can see of Shada Tom Baker was clearly having a whale of a time. When our hero returned in Autumn, it was with a foul mood, a new costume, star field titles, and a po-faced obsession with ‘entropy’.

Gareth Roberts’ wonderful novelisation of Shada managed to elude me for a couple of years, until curiosity finally got the better of me in Waterstones, and I marched out with it in paperback form. (I resisted wearing a silver hat and cape and saying “Give me. The book.”, but only just.) I’m glad curiosity won out, as this is the most fully realised Shada we could have hoped for.

The original scripts for Shada were knocked off in a panic by a genius writer with an insane Hitch-Hikers Guide related workload on his plate, and his not inconsiderable Doctor Who commitments piled up precariously on a similarly-sized side plate.

Consequently in amongst brilliant dialogue and ideas there are threads set up that aren’t seen through to the end, and elements which suffer from Douglas, a man never on the best terms with a deadline, rushing it desperately through to completion just to get it made.

It’s perhaps telling, given the writer’s history with fraughtness and writer’s block that the macguffin of the story is a book that people read and can’t understand.

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The paperback edition of Shada, released January 2013.

It’s still worth pointing out though, that despite his low opinion of his Who work compared to his own I.P, the scripts still sparkle and knock a lot of Who’s 80’s output into a cocked hat, possibly a silver one at that. He clearly couldn’t help himself. A story by an exhausted, rushed Douglas Adams that he isn’t that interested in is still a better story than a lot of other stories.

Gareth Roberts is perfect casting for Shada. He has form with the Fourth Doctor, Romana II, and K-9, his marvellous Missing Adventures novels set in that era effortlessly capture both the characters and the wild, witty, fun nature of that season. The Adams-guided Season 17, barring City of Death tends to cop a lot of flack. That said, I was surprised on a recent re-watch how well Destiny of the Daleks hung together as a script, considering the chalk and cheese nature of credited writer and script editor, it’s only really Davros and the Daleks that let it down.

The rest of that season is hit and miss, but the TARDIS team of the time have great chemistry. This book version of Shada evokes the best of that era perfectly, and dials up the dramatic elements to give you something from the 1970s that is also very evocative of modern Who. Roberts seamlessly inserts new scenes with the leads that you’d struggle to tell weren’t there already, I won’t spoil it for you and tell you where to look.

Perhaps in a parallel universe a version of Shada exists in print where Terrance Dicks somehow managed to economically cram it all into under 150 pages. Gareth hasn’t done a ‘Target’ here, this version of Shada sings, and breathes beautifully at 407 pages. That said, Terrance’s influence can be felt to a degree, as although Gareth expands on the source material, he also shares Uncle Terry’s script editor’s eye for tidying up plot holes and making changes for the better.

The characters, already beautifully written, are allowed their own internal dialogue, interests, and insights. In particular, Professor Chronotis and Wilkin the porter spring off the page. Even Skagra’s Uriah Heep-like computer, an idea done far less well a couple of years later by Blake’s 7 sparkles as a character. It’s not all character and local colour either. The drama and fear factor are beefed up somewhat from what you’d expect from the post-Mary Whitehouse Who of 1979, the horror of losing your identity and the creepiness of the sphere are well defined here.

Our caped and pimp-hatted villain, Skagra, is fleshed out and given a plausible god complex from the start. Much mileage is had from his narcissism and cruel good looks, perhaps a nod to Christopher Neame’s portrayal of the charismatic Johnny Alucard in late Hammer effort Dracula 1972 A.D. The vaguely hinted at relationship between Chris Parsons and Claire Keightley is turned into an awkward british love story, and becomes a strong thread, with Young Parsons coming across as a sort of younger, braver Arthur Dent figure. Claire’s first meeting with the Doctor as seen through her eyes is also a highlight, capturing the wonder of meeting a mad man in a box, even when you don’t know about the box.

Roberts also brings his own touches to the party, fun references to prog rock and student debauchery fit right in with the 70s university setting. He also sketches in a tragicomic backstory for the poor unfortunate who picks up Skagra in his car and gets more than he bargained for. The Tom-esque joke about upsetting Status Quo works well as part of the Doctor’s manic bicycle chase. However, I’m not so sure Four would own a Bonnie Tyler cassette. Eleven, maybe, but Four? Doubt it. Maybe Romana slipped it in his jacket pocket to mess with him.

It’s a shame Gareth’s take on City of Death won’t be out for another year, I could read it now. As a kid I used to zip through a Target novelisation at a rate of knots. Shada is nearly three times the length of a novelisation of its vintage, but flew by for me as an adult. It was hard to put down, partly due to the short, addictive chapters, and mostly due to it being, in my humble opinion, the best Douglas Adams book he never wrote, and the best realisation of a story that no longer need be elusive, just buy it. Go into a bookshop and say “Give me. The book.” Silver hat and cape optional.

Based on the scripts for the original television series by the legendary Douglas Adams, Shada retells a classic Doctor Who adventure that never made it to the screen. Shada is available now from all good bookshops and via the Amazon link below. A full-cast play starring Paul McGann is also available as is the story on DVD and an audio reading of this Gareth Roberts adaptation.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Classic Series, Merchandise, News, Reviews

Review: City of Death by James Goss

The Doctor takes Romana for a holiday in Paris – a city which, like a fine wine, has a bouquet all its own. Especially if you visit during one of the vintage years. But the TARDIS takes them to 1979, a table-wine year, a year whose vintage is soured by cracks – not in their wine glasses but in the very fabric of time itself. Soon the Time Lords are embroiled in an audacious alien scheme which encompasses home-made time machines, the theft of the Mona Lisa, the resurrection of the much-feared Jagaroth race, and the beginning (and quite possibly the end) of all life on Earth. Aided by British private detective Duggan, whose speciality is thumping people, the Doctor and Romana must thwart the machinations of the suave, mysterious Count Scarlioni – all twelve of him – if the human race has any chance of survival.

But then, the Doctor’s holidays tend to turn out a bit like this.

City of Death by James Goss, released May 2015.

City of Death is considered to be one of the bona-fide classics of the original series of Doctor Who. Originally broadcast in 1979, the serial was penned by “David Agnew” – a pseudonym for a combination of David Fisher, Douglas Adams and Graham Williams. Averaging 14.5m viewers across it’s four episodes, the serial is one of the highest rated in the history of the show, with the fourth episode remaining the show’s highest ever audience with 16.1m tuning in.

Reaction to City of Death these days is almost universally positive, regularly placing in top ten lists and highlighted as one of the serials that changed the show as a franchise, contemporary critics were frequently divided on the lighter tone of the serial however, feeling the show and it’s star Tom Baker had gone too far into the realms of parody, largely through the input of Douglas Adams.

Attempting to novelise anything by the late great Adams is no easy task for the most skilled of writers, yet alone an iconic story such as City of Death, yet James Goss takes up the challenge left by the excellent Shada and Gareth Roberts and is proven a shrewd choice for the adaptation, having worked both on the Shada webcast and Dirk, a 1990s stage play adapted from the novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency that Douglas Adams was said to be delighted with.

The plot of the novel remains faithful to that seen on TV, needing little introduction. Having arrived in the then contemporary Paris of 1979, the Fourth Doctor and companion Romana are taking-in the sights of the French capital when they become aware that somebody is tampering with time itself. Who is the mysterious Count Scarlioni and why does he seem to be scattered throughout time? What role does Leonardo Di Vinci and the Mona Lisa play in proceedings and why does the Count what to steal the world’s most famous painting?

Cutting a fine-line between novelising the scripts as broadcast and adding new material to give a deeper backstory and fill the holes, James Goss has done both Adams and the iconic story proud, producing a very current and genuinely enjoyable novel that more than lives up to it’s billing. Full of descriptive and high quality prose, City of Death gives the perfect sense of character and location, giving more depth to the characters and a wonderful evocation of Paris. The author is not satisfied in merely relying on what Adams had already done as surely he could have, here we see an expanded City of Death, the Doctor, Romana and the Scarlionis faring particularly well.

Nobody could be as stupid as he seems...
Nobody could be as stupid as he seems…

The comedy that was so devising in 1979 is on full display here and if you’re looking for hard and serious sci-fi, this one isn’t for you. With one-liners and surrealism throughout, the novel brings an immense smile to the face, Goss seemingly understanding exactly what it is about Douglas Adams that appeals, his own additions being the equal of any of the originals. The City of Death quote book just got a lot thicker!

A very special blend of the Adamsian surreal, with atypical comedy, drama and fantasy, City of Death is a work of an immense imagination, one that like so much of Adams work successfully mixes the normal with the outrageous, yet it doesn’t attempt to mimic the late author, Goss’ own voice added to the City of Death talent pool. Immediately readable, memorably entertaining and a perfect example of adding depth to a story, the novel is one of the best novelisations of the original series that has been produced. An essential purchase.

City of Death is available now via the Amazon link below. An audio reading is also available from BBC Audio, as of course is the DVD of the original TV source material.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Classic Series, Merchandise, News, Reviews

Review: The Roundheads by Mark Gatiss

With the Civil War won, the Parliamentarians are struggling to hang on to power. But plans are being made to rescue the defeated King Charles from his prison… With Ben press-ganged and put on board a mysterious ship bound for Amsterdam, Polly becomes an unwitting accomplice in the plot to rescue the King. The Doctor can’t help because he and Jamie have been arrested and sent to the Tower of London, charged with conspiracy. Can the Doctor and Jamie escape, find Ben and rescue Polly – while making sure that history remains on its proper course?

The_Roundheads
The original 1997 cover.

Originally published in 1997 as one of the early BBC Past Doctor Adventures, The Roundheads stems from a time that Mark Gatiss was much less well known both as a writer and as a performer to the public at large, this being two years prior to the debut of The League of Gentlemen on the BBC. Yet Mark was already firmly established within fan circles, having had two novels published under the Virgin New Adventure’s range – the acclaimed Nightshade and St Anthony’s Fire, alongside being the writer of several unofficial Doctor Who spinoffs under the P.R.O.B.E banner (which he never wishes to be reminded off… sorry Mark!).

So how well does the early Gatiss stand-up to the Mark we know and love? surprisingly well.

As he would go on to display in his next novel Last of the Gaderene, Gatiss has a talent for capturing the regular character’s nuances down to a tee, this is quintessential Troughton, Jamie, Ben and Polly. With Troughton being notoriously hard to write for accurately, Gatiss does well here to bridge the gap between the early clown and Pat’s later performances in the role following the departure of Ben and Polly. Yet it is Ben and Polly who possibly shine most here, Ben given ample pages as he finds himself press-ganged aboard two ships and living his dream life as a pirate – cutlass and all!

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Current 2015 reissue cover.

The “guest cast” aren’t over complicated in characterisation, as befit many of the earlier BBC novels, and while some maybe instantly forgettable, others such as peg-legged Captain Sally Winter and the smelly Nathaniel Scrope stand out amongst a crowded pack as colourful and particularly memorable. The King himself meanwhile is portrayed as nearly oozing arrogance, a perfect counterpoint to the more human, somber and cautious Cromwell, despite the boil on his bottom!

With an ethos and atmosphere that reminds the reader of The Smugglers in tone, successfully mixing the drama with the silly (look out for Every Boy’s Book of the English Civil Wars and the Doctor and Jamie posing as all seeing mystics… McCrimmon, powerful seer of Culloden!), this could easily place in the ravaged fourth season of the show. As our foursome become embroiled in a plot to save the doomed King, this straight historical tells of how things can go drastically wrong, even when you’re the Doctor, taking a somewhat unique angle (at least as far as the classic TV series is concerned) whereby the presence of the TARDIS crew itself creates the issue, history being altered with our leads having a duty to put history back on the right path.

With Cromwell, King Charles and pirates to boot, the novel promises something of a romp and is both well paced and excellently realised, Gatiss’ visualizations bringing real life to this dark period of British history. Encapsulating the sheer fun of the early Troughton adventures, The Roundheads at the same time manages to turn in an intelligent, politically intriguing and somewhat unique tale from one of Doctor Who‘s leading lights. A delightful classic and a heartily recommended read or listen from BBC Books and Audio.

The Roundheads is available now from the BBC Shop in both novel and audio formats, the audio book is unabridged and read by Anneke Wills.

Posted in Book Reviews, Classic Series, Features, News, Reviews

Target Novel Review: The Edge of Destruction

In a final bid to regain control of the Tardis’s faulty control system the Doctor is driven to experiment with a dangerous untried combination. With a violent explosion the TARDIS blacks out and the crew find themselves trapped inside. A simple technical fault? Sabotage? Or something even more sinister? Tension mounts as the Doctor and his companions begin to suspect one another. What has happened to the TARDIS? Slowly a terrifying suspicion dawns. Has the TARDIS become the prisoner of some powerful fifth intelligence which is even now haunting the time-machine’s dark and gloomy corridors?

Released in October 1988, cover artwork by Alister Pearson

Nigel Robinson’s novelisation of The Edge of Destruction is of special personal significance, so much so that I make no apologies for a little self-indulgence before I put on my reviewer’s hat. My worn and battered copy of the first edition of Jean Marc L’Officier’s Programme Guide became a check list for my Target collecting obsession. I would place a tick against each story as soon as I had acquired the tie-in novel, having already written the title and author below each story synopsis after they were published. I’d even scrawled the stories up to season 26 at the back of the book.

A quick flick through before writing this piece, and as I suspected I discover that it has not been updated since I purchased The Evil Of The Daleks back in 1993. Joy of joys, I can now some 21 years later finally tick off the one outstanding published novelisation in my collection – that’s right, you’ve guessed it: The Edge of Destruction. The diminishing probability of finding that book was so upsetting at the time that I am surprised that the corresponding page of The Programme Guide is not tear stained.

Once upon a time, there was a world without the world wide web. For those out of print books, before E-bay and Amazon, we had to trawl through libraries (for withdrawn for sale books), second hand bookshops and charity shops, attend comic-cons, and send off for those specialist mail order catalogues that were being advertised in Doctor Who Monthly, such as Burton Books. I was a latecomer to E-bay only coming across its possibilities because my parents, as avid music collectors, had ventured into the online auction site in the early 2000s. My Mum boasted on a visit one day that you can find anything on E-bay. So I put her to the test – can she source the one Target novelisation that had so cruelly eluded my grasp? To my amazement within an hour she was bidding on a near mint copy. And so finally after having given up the chase some ten years previous following miles of wasted trips to the most obscure of shops, my Target book collection was complete. It is like the pearl of greatest worth, the prize of my collection. Value wise my Muller Crusaders or Wheel In Space are probably worth more, but The Edge of Destruction encapsulates my target book journey like no other.

The first thing that strikes me as I reread Robinson’s book directly after finishing Whitaker’s The Daleks, is how much the legacy of the earlier novel shines through. Writing for Doctor Who Monthly, Gary Russell noted the debt that Robinson owes to Strutton’s The Zarbi, particularly in the description of the TARDIS living quarters (source – On Target website), but Whitaker’s work is also rarely far from view. Indeed the opening line of The Edge of Destruction hints at the non canonical alternative written account of Ian and Barbara entering the TARDIS for the first time in Barnes Common: “It all started, they would say later, in a forgotten London junkyard on a foggy November night in 1963.” (p7) Other nods to Whitaker include the description of the Doctor as an Edwardian solicitor (p10), and the mention of the Doctor’s “tongue clicking” mannerism (p103).

Whether it is true or not, as a youngster bamboozled by Robinson’s early eighties quiz and crossword books, I imagined he had a vast knowledge of the subject matter. But certainly, the expertise that enabled him to quickly move up the ranks to take up the helm as editor of the range can be clearly seen in his subsequent contributions to both the TV novelisations and the New Adventures.

The television script is arguably a triumph of mood over substance, in that the set up and intrigue of the story is ultimately let down by the rather tame solution of un-sticking the fast return switch. Consequently, the first episode is far superior. Robinson tellingly expands episode one to take up 90 odd pages of the 120 page book. Although wandering off in new directions with some fascinating scenes in other rooms within the TARDIS, Robinson steers his imagination back to the original script and at times it feels that this conscious approach has constrained the novel. Most of the original script is present and correct, but in places Robinson makes significant expansions.

The original script for reasons of pacing and timing is filled with brief retorts and conversations with precise and short sentence. There is no space in the 2 x 25 minute format to illustrate how the characters are reasoning or reflecting upon their situation in any great detail. Robinson is working with the added luxury of being able to expand significantly on characters’ speech, and he peppers the novel with some wonderful soliloquies. However, at times the language is so far removed from conversational speech that the characters come across as reading a script instead of naturally expressing themselves. The Doctor suffers the most from this and at times becomes Sherlock like in his deductive speeches, out of step with what was in fact an emotive response to the threat of not being in control of his TARDIS. At one point he even uses the phrase “elementary, my child”. For Robinson the Doctor enjoys making such pronouncements: “When he spoke it was as though he was addressing a group of slightly dim-witted students, and did not encourage any interruptions. Like so many of the Doctor’s discussions this one was no more than an opportunity for him to hold forth before a captive audience.” (p34) At times he sounds like a nineteenth century preacher, particularly in his final speech.

Perhaps the best speech of the book is that of Barbara’s as she attempts to reason with Susan “You and your grandfather are as alien to us as we are to you. Maybe there are times when we don’t know where we stand with you; yes, maybe there are times when we are frightened of you, uneasy and uncertain. I know we’re all unwilling travellers and the only thing Ian and I really want  to do is go home. But, Susan, were all in this together whether we like it or not and we have to learn to trust each other.” p63.

The sense of unease and psychological intensity of the story is brilliantly highlighted by the addition of the recurrent motif of the breathing sound of the TARDIS. The device allows Robinson to create the illusion that the crew are being stalked by the TARDIS. It acts as a constant refrain throughout the book, personifying the TARDIS. Each time it resurfaces Robinson does something fresh, adding to its sinister quality. For example, Barbara imagines it is sounding out her name: “Still she could hear the in-out breathing of the TARDIS life-support system. Crazily she thought she could hear it changing its rhythm and tone, almost as if it was calling out her name: Bar-bar-a…Bar-bar-a.” (p83-84)

Before The Doctors Wife and Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS, there was Robinson’s novel to help excise the horrors of The Invasion Of Time’s TARDIS interiors. But though enjoyable and evocative, the additional journeys within the TARDIS fall short of adding to the mythos and remain conservative. An organic element could have been introduced to add to the richness of the piece, but instead Robinson plumps for a very sixties concept of the TARDIS as the Doctor’s ship complete with Heath Robinson inventions. That said, it is not all steam-punk. The anachronistic reference to an LED display on the food machine sees to that. Indeed the Doctor here is more of a cross between Hartnell’s irascible pilot and Cushing’s absentminded professor.

Those new series adventures within the TARDIS are nonetheless both inspired either directly by Robinson’s work or from shared sources, notably the horrors of the doors being locked trapping the companion within (c.f. Ian – Rory) and the TARDIS corridors being reconfigured. Anyone who shared the frustrations of playing the 90s computer game Destiny of The Doctors will identify with the annoyance of the ever changing corridors and the maze like quality of the dimensionally transcendental craft. Robinson is not adverse to a little retconning, hinting at the cloister bell to signal that the TARDIS is dying (p94). In the wake of The Doctor’s Wife it would be fascinating to know what other elements Robinson might have retconned had he been writing the novelisation today. There is a lovely passage when after the Doctor says “my machine cannot think” the narrator adds: “The truth was that the Doctor was so convinced of his own superiority he had never before even considered the possibility” (p104)

With the source scripts lacking any great deal of plot, Robinson can flesh out the 120 pages with explorations into the four characters. Rarely divided in the televised piece, Robinson contrives to separate Ian and Barbara from the Doctor and Susan, emphasising that the two pairs seem at times so very alien to each other. The narrator agrees with Ian’s assessment that “The old man had a completely alien set of codes and morals to those of him and Barbara” (p56). The otherness of Susan in relation to the two teachers is differently spelt out, describing her early on as Asiatic in appearance and later noting she sounded Dalek-like to Barbara.

After fighting her possession, Susan becomes the peace-maker and the one to make the move to unite the disparate crew members. In a bold addition to the script Robinson has Susan attempt to inject some sympathy for her Grandfather by telling Barbara to go easy on him for “you don’t know the terrible sort of live he’s had. He’s never had any reason to trust strangers before when even old friends turned against him in the past.” In all likelihood this is a hint at the Doctor’s relationship with the master or maybe even the meddling monk, but it is an intriguing line nonetheless, thrown out there to keep the reader interested (p78).

Considering the Doctor has been travelling the galaxies with abandon, flitting about across all of time and space, he is remarkably closed minded to the possibility of forces beyond his imagining. It is Barbara, whose world has been blown about from her brief travels with the Doctor,  who challenges him to think outside the box “what if it isn’t logical? Why don’t you admit that things are not always logical? After all we’ve been through” Back then only three episodes in, the series was largely educational, focusing on history and science over fantasy. Consequently, the plight of the crew was very much down to a logical series of causes and effects. A more satisfying tale would be one that opened the possibility of unseen, illogical forces at work. Robinson chooses instead to stick to the original resolution, even though his exploration of characters would have been a nice set up for a different ending altogether.

Compared to the television story, the novelisation is a huge improvement and the whole thing makes much better sense. Robinson explains the slightly confusing aspects of the story, for example expanding upon the significance of the melting clocks. The reality altering effect of the TARDIS’s actions are explored more fully, with some interesting new dimensions added, such as Barbara believing the TARDIS is the school staff room, and the stand out scene of Barbara being prevented from opening the door to the Doctor’s most hazardous experiments by the TARDIS effecting some telekinesis.  Robinson adds new depth to both the characters and the TARDIS environment. Yet despite all this, the story retains its peculiarly and paradoxically claustrophobic feel. But, it is the moral of the story that shines through – the need to be open to infinite possibilities, it is that openness of spirit to explore and learn together that breaks through the claustrophobia:

“There is a boundless universe out there beyond your wildest dreams, Miss Wright, a thousand lives to lead, and a myriad worlds of unimaginable wonders to explore. Let you explore them together and not in anger or resentment, but in friendship.” p118.


This article is the second in our “Story by Story” series running all this week celebrating The Edge of Destruction (or Inside the Spaceship!). We welcome all submissions and pitches on the theme throughout the week at dww@doctorwhoworldwide.com.

In future weeks we shall be celebrating Marco Polo (Nov 10 – 16), The Keys of Marinus (Nov 17 – 23), The Aztecs (Nov 24 – 30), The Sensorites (Dec 1 – 7) and The Reign of Terror (Dec 8 – 14).

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Classic Series, Features, Merchandise, News, Reviews

Book Review: Doctor Who in An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks by David Whitaker

This is DOCTOR WHO’s first exciting adventure – with the DALEKS! Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright travel with the mysterious DOCTOR WHO and his grand-daughter, Susan, to the planet of Skaro in the space-time machine, Tardis. There they strive to save the peace-loving Thals from the evil intentions of the hideous DALEKS. Can they succeed? And what is more important, will they ever again see their native Earth?

Original Muller Edition
Original Muller Edition

Despite the added “in an exciting adventure…” the original Muller hardback novelisation of Terry Nation’s The Daleks by David Whitaker was graced with the most uninspiring of the publisher’s three Doctor Who covers. The Crusaders boasted the TARDIS on one side and King Richard in an attack pose on the other, and The Zarbi had a lovely comic book image of the Doctor glancing at one of the insectoid aliens. But the choice of a rather droll faced William Hartnell looking as if he was journeying towards death and with not a Dalek in sight, was suitably coloured a dull black against a maroon background. No wonder it didn’t sell well to the libraries in 1964.

With publishers capitalising on Dalekmania it would receive not one but two attempted rebirths, the first by Armada and the second as part of the initial run of Target Doctor Who stories in 1972. This latter version is how I first encountered Whitaker’s remarkable book, withdrawing it from my local library when I was still in junior school. Fortunately Chris Achilleos’ stunning cover complete with Daleks bearing colour schemes never before seen on screen, ensured that it no longer needed “an exciting adventure” to show its appeal. The success of the TV series would also have added to its saleability, though thankfully the original idea to re-illustrate the novel with Pertwee’s face was dropped. The internal illustrations are beautiful in their simplicity and part of the attraction for this young reader was the knowledge that here was an adventure of an older Doctor. It was good to be reminded periodically of that fact from the pencil drawings of Hartnell’s features.

With no expectations that the preceding story, An Unearthly Child, would be novelised, Whitaker invents a completely different scenario for how Ian and Barbara end up travelling with the Doctor and Susan.  Here Barbara is a private tutor topping up her day job and clearly onto a winner with a very generous client who has employed her to educate his Granddaughter in English customs. Ian on the other hand, whilst a science School Master as in the original Coburn scripts, is here a disillusioned one. Seeking a change of career, he first encounters the Doctor on his way back from an unsuccessful interview in Reigate. The opening scenes are evocative and dramatic with Ian stumbling upon the aftermath of a car crash. It is grittily realistic and more adult than would have been allowed on the small screen.

Armada Paperback Edition
Armada Paperback Edition

The story is told in first person from Ian’s perspective and whilst initially this approach is highly effective it does quickly become a constraint. Scenes where Ian is not present, such as Susan’s journey back to the TARDIS to recover the medicines left there by the Thals, are recounted to him after the event somewhat woodenly as a result and Whitaker tries to offset this with Ian stating “I began to get quite carried away with her story..”. Another unfortunate effect of the first person narrator is that the Doctor becomes largely absent in the final parts of the story since the newly recruited Thal army has been split between his group and Ian’s sub-team. There are even moments when Whitaker makes Ian talk about himself in the third person “I heard a short scream of helpless agony and realised that it was me who was making the noise.” But Whitaker is faithful to the rules of the first person approach and religiously avoids other mistakes such as the omniscient narrator. Perhaps at a meta level the narrator is protesting against his implied author when Ian angrily shares his frustration after the failed attempt to generate a fighting spirit in the Thals “I seemed to have been a pawn in someone else’s game”.

But the beauty of the first person approach is the way in which we as readers journey through the remarkable story with Ian. There is real character development in a way that wouldn’t be possible even in a seven part serialisation. Initially he is the reluctant companion in contrast to the more accepting Barbara “lets get out of this asylum and leave them to their own fantasies”, but as the story unfolds and somewhat foreshadowing modern day companions such as Rose and Donna, he reflects on the appeal of travelling with the Doctor in contrast to the monotony of everyday life “secretly, I knew I was beginning to enjoy what was happening to me. It was a fantastic wrench to be literally heaved out of ones normal way of life and have nothing much in the way of compensation but doubt and uncertainly, yet already a part of me welcomed it…..now I could work out the restless itch that had made be scratch my way through a dozen jobs. I could fill myself with excitement and adventure with the Doctor.”

By the end of An Unearthly Child the leadership struggle between Ian and the Doctor was largely resolved with just a little undercurrent still remaining in Nation’s story. Whitaker quickly bypasses such a struggle by having the Doctor authoritatively stake his leadership credentials to Ian “one rule only – one captain to a ship.” Ian knowingly accepts his role, but maintains his own air of authority through his awareness of what the Doctor is up to. Unlike the televised story, Ian realises immediately that the Doctor is playing a trick on the rest of the crew by pretending to be in need of mercury, but for the sake of maintaining the status quo and knowing that the manipulative Doctor would ensure in any case that he got his own way, Ian lets it pass. Brushing aside the potential struggle for control between the two male leads, Whitaker instead saves his more interesting relationship tensions for that between Ian and Barbara.

Original Target Reprint
Original Target Reprint with cover by Chris Achilleos

Ian tries with increasing frustration to get a hold of Barbara’s emotions and thoughts, assuming he ought to be able to understand her. His advances are constantly knocked back with Barbara becoming more and more extreme in her reactions against him.  From failing to join him for a smoke, she ends up pretty much blanking him completely. But there is an implicit air of chauvinism about Ian that Barbara is recoiling from. In some ways we as readers almost share his stance, normalising it through the tale being told from his perspective. Frequently the language he employs betrays an attitude that suggests his view of Barbara is somewhat patronising, from the opening impression of her face as “deceptive….attractive yet with strong character.” to his relief at her being asleep when they come to allocating night watch shifts on account of her being in his view the weakest member of the party.

Later in the caves Ian makes the classic error of assuming to know what Barbara is about to say, when he mistakes her offer of water as a peace offering and a request for forgiveness. Ian’s attitude towards women is perhaps best illustrated in his description of the female Thals “like a cluster of different jewels. Each one with her own sparkling beauty yet each one different. Of them all, Dyoni was undoubtably the rarest gem.” But it is not just the narrator Ian who has such an attitude, the implied author too is stepped in this cultural attitude, somewhat unfashionable in the 6os, so that there is added sexual tension between Ian and Barbara  and the sniggering observation of the Thal men that the two could be an item: “I caught her round the waist and pulled her beside me thankfully. Then I felt the muscles tighten in her back as she moved away from me” and later “I got up and walked over to Barbara and took her hand lightly. I felt her fingers pressing into mine, asking for comfort? Affection? I still didn’t dare hope it might be love.”

The Doctor is far softer round the edges than the tetchier TV version, with moments of genuine concern and empathy for his companions and a level of perceptiveness that is out of step with the character we see on screen. At one point he is even moved to tears when faced with the guilt of leading his companions into danger. He is also sprightlier with Ian observing at one point his strength and at another his speed. When he smiles he looses twenty years. None of these are particularly apparent from William Hartnell’s screen persona, although he does purport to be an expert fist fighter in The Romans. The Doctor at the end of the story even sympathetically gives Barbara and Ian the choice of staying to rebuild Skaro with the Thals or taking the riskier option of continuing to travel with him, with no promise of ever getting them home “For what can I offer you? Constant danger. No permanence, a life of drifting from place to place, searching perhaps for the ideal and never finding it.”

BBC Reprint Edition
BBC Reprint Edition

The description and characterisation of the Daleks is notable for three reasons, the repeated use of the word “exterminate” on the lips of different characters (the term only features once in the broadcast story and would only reappear towards the end of The Dalek Invasion Of Earth before becoming a catchphrase); the unique description of the physical appearance of the mutants complete with their slots for mouths and their arms rather than tendrils; and thirdly, the glass Dalek. Whitaker wrote his novelisation before the motion picture, so his task was to add colour to the story and not surprising he uses the language of colour fairly often. The Dalek gun emits a blue ray.

The TARDIS too is described in colourful terms with its “short corridor, made up entirely of tall, square pillars of coloured glass, the reds, the blues and the yellows alternately glowing and dying down”. Whilst inconsistently referred to with and without the definite article (TARDIS and sometimes The TARDIS) Whitaker makes the most of the novel format to expand on the technology it contains. Alongside the food machine (that here provides the Doctor with his favourite Venusian Fish dish) there is the amusing hairdressing and shaving machine (cf. Caratacus Potts’ pedal powered invention) and the shower made of a thousand jets of water and oil. It provides us with one of the very few dated lines in the book “I had as good a barbering as I would have received at Simpsons”

Whitaker adds richness to the story with his attention to the little details such as the story behind Ian’s torn jacket, Susan’s pirate-like attire, the Doctor’ cut pocket, and the everlasting match that makes several useful appearances. Generally the observations of Ian are highly detailed and help to build up strong pictures in the readers’ imaginations. We are less confident when it comes to defining the character of the Doctor and so to coin a suggestion of Ian’s “Perhaps that’s what we ought to call him – Doctor Who?” Imaginatively and bravely told through the eyes of Chesterton, The Daleks remains one of the strongest in the range. Once we get to Troughton in our Story-by-story series, we will be able to look at John Peel’s novelisations of Whitaker’s two televised Dalek stories. Great novels they may be, it is nonetheless a shame that Whitaker didn’t live long enough to be able to novelise his own work. It would have been fascinating to see what changes he would have incorporated and what perspective he would have taken in retelling those classic tales.


This article is the fourth in our “Story by Story” series running all this week celebrating The Daleks. DWW welcomes all submissions and pitches on the theme throughout the week at dww@doctorwhoworldwide.com. 

In future weeks we shall be celebrating Inside the Spaceship (Nov 3 – 9), Marco Polo (Nov 10 – 16), The Keys of Marinus (Nov 17 – 23), The Aztecs (Nov 24 – 30), The Sensorites (Dec 1 – 7) and The Reign of Terror (Dec 8 – 14).

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Classic Series, Merchandise, News, Ongoing Series, Reviews

Book Review: The Secret Lives of Monsters by Justin Richards

The Secret Lives of Monsters is in all good stores now!

Ignorance is not bliss. It is the alien invader’s greatest advantage. Tales of unearthly beings have long circulated among us, from legends of intelligent life on Earth before Homo Sapiens to conspiracy theories about what really happened at the Battle of Canary Wharf. But the truth is that alien life exists – and here, at last, is proof. Based on exclusive access to classified government files, The Secret Lives of Monsters collects evidence that has been suppressed for centuries – notes from clandestine meetings, reports of eyewitness accounts, never-before-seen images and documents, secrets provided by a mysterious agent known only as ‘the Doctor’, and more. It reveals all we know about aliens who are already here, and provides essential information to survive future invasions. So don’t panic. You are not weaponless. The Secret Lives of Monsters will give you the greatest weapon of all: knowledge.

Justin Richards is something of an elder statesman of Doctor Who, a name instantly familiar to fans during the wilderness years and the new series alike. When not acting as creative consultant to the BBC range, Richards is equally adept at writing audios, novels and non-fiction works across a near unrivalled résumé, having already provided the excellent [p2p type=”slug” value=”book-review”]Silhouette[/p2p] for the Twelfth Doctor range in recent months. Returning to non-fiction after 2013’s successful [p2p type=”slug” value=”review-the-essential-guide-by-justin-richaryn”]Doctor Who 50: The Essential Guide[/p2p] however, Richards once more approaches the theme of Doctor Who monsters that he tackled in 100 Scariest Monsters and the RTD era Monsters and Villains, Aliens and Enemies and Creatures and Demons.

Laying very much in the same sphere as The Doctor: His Lives and Times, the author successfully blurs the lines between fiction and non-fiction, presenting the content as the findings of government sources on various creatures from the entirety of the canon (with a natural focus on the ongoing series), even including references to Big Finish’s output. One of the book’s highlights is the combining of both new and classic into a unified consensus.

Utilising both on-screen ques and creative license, Richards provides an enthralling  account of each of the fourteen highlighted enemies, including Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Zygons and the Great Intelligence. From information on the Daleks being in ancient hieroglyphs to revealing the Sontarans weaknesses, each section is accompanied by a behind-the-scenes article on the creation of each beastie!

Packed with artwork, photos, diagrams and more, like most books of this nature from the BBC, The Secret Lives of Monsters is a visual treat, displaying a wealth of information and imagery without overloading the reader.

While not one for those desiring an in-depth look at the series or the Doctor Who historian, The Secret Lives of Monsters is not designed to be so. Serving as an introduction of sorts, heavy on style, the book is ideally suited for all the family and would be an excellent present as we approach the holiday season.

Plus, you can never have too much knowledge of your enemy when faced with an imminent alien invasion!

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Classic Series, Features, Merchandise, News, Reviews

Target Novel Review: Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child by Terrance Dicks

A strange girl who knows far more than she should about the past – and the future… Two worried teachers whose curiosity leads them to a deserted junk yard, an extraordinary police box and a mysterious traveller known only as the Doctor… A fantastic journey through Space and Time ending in a terrifying adventure at the dawn of history… DOCTOR WHO AND AN UNEARTHLY CHILD

THE BEGINNING OF A LEGEND

an-unearthly-child
1982, 1983 & 1984 editions. Cover by Andrew Skilleter

Like many of our readers I first encountered Hartnell, Troughton and the early Pertwee stories through the medium of the Target Novelisations. Memories of musty libraries, trawling second hand bookshops, and reading with a torch under the pillow come flooding back.

An Unearthly Child was a particularly exciting release to my twelve year old self. It was after all the very first Doctor Who story and I knew so very little about it, save from the briefest of synopsis in Piccolo’s The Making Of Doctor Who book. It was also written by my then favourite Who author, Terrance Dicks whose books were so readable I could complete them in a night or two (as long as the batteries on my torch held out). And to top it all it even had a foil logo on the cover, the first of its kind (it would be followed by The Five Doctors).

Published in October 1981, it was a sparse year for the novels due to the Writers Guild strike. However, I for one didn’t really notice due to the need to catch up on previous releases. John Nathan-Turner pushed for this one in order to tie in with November’s Five Faces Of Doctor Who repeat run (the first of its kind) and I distinctly recall feeling a sense of privilege at having read the novel before the repeat transmission, and even attempting to read it along with the broadcast.

Priced £1.25 I purchased this one from WHSmith’s in Rhyl, North Wales on our regular family holiday using summer spending money, sacrificing a couple of rides at the fair for a journey of a lifetime at least in my imagination. Not able to wait to get back to the caravan that night, I started chapter one whilst my brother rode the ghost train and whizzed around on the waltzer. At 128 pages with reasonably large print, it isn’t a long read and fitted the standard format of the books as the time. Terrance Dicks was by then almost too good at writing them, churning each book out at an alarming speed. He recalls that this one along with the novelisation of his own The Five Doctors were the easiest to write. However, it is a more satisfying read than say The Robots Of Death.

I used to rate the targets when I first read them and my rather battered copy has my scribbled three stars on the back (out of a possible five). Thirty three years later and I’d probably give it a similar score.

The chapter headings are always good fun and range from chapter one’s story specific “The Girl Who Was Different” to the final chapter’s corny and generic “Escape Into Danger.” Reading the targets, I enjoyed guessing at what point in the narrative the television cliffhangers kicked in. An Unearthly Child is structured around the same four part roughly equal division, with each episode divided into three chapters so that the cliffhangers are at the end of chapters three, six and nine respectively.

In this novelisation Dicks sticks fairly faithfully to the scripts as broadcast but there are plenty of extra or altered lines. At times he consciously makes Ian out to be ungrammatical in his speech patterns, perhaps reacting against the all too proper English of the original scripts. He keeps true to the 60s setting of the first episode, adding an explanatory line to younger readers about pre-decimalisation currency and even the individual old coinage values.

But it is Dicks’ character descriptions that are the most fun. Poor Barbara is described as having “a face that would have been even prettier without its habitual expression of rather mild disapproval.” (p12). William Hartnell’s doctor is described as being like a “family solicitor from some nineteenth century novel”. (p33). Susan’s alien qualities receive the most apt of descriptions through the eyes of Chesterton “Her speech was almost too pure, too precise and she had a way of observing you cautiously all the time, as if you were a member of some interesting but potentially dangerous  alien species. There was a distant, almost unearthly quality about her…” (p18)

The heavy morality tale element of Coburn’s original script, with its focus on leadership styles and how best to build a community, is somewhat downplayed in the novelisation. Dicks stresses instead the horrific elements, something he had first noticed when researching for the book. The culture of the cavemen is narrated with a focus on their brutality and Dicks storytelling is evocative enough to make his younger readers recoil at some of the barbarism displayed. Old Mother is brilliantly characterised as a person to be as equally feared as Za. But it is all told in a very safe manner, with the focus on adventure. Chapter 9s opening account of the attack of Za’s fight with the sabre toothed tiger is suitably action packed and impossible to convey so well in a 60s TV studio.

“As the tiger hurtled through the air towards him, Za seized his only possible chance. He ran, not back but forwards, under the attacking beast, and swung his great stone axe with all his strength at the creature’s side.

He felt the axe-head thud home. The tiger screamed in rage and pain. Its while weight dropped full upon him, bearing to the ground.

Za tried to wrench back his axe for a killing blow at the skull, but only the handle came free. The axe was broken….

To the Doctor and the others, everything seemed to happen in a blinding flurry of speed. They saw the great beast spring, bearing the caveman to the ground.. They heard the tiger scream…

In a flash of yellow fur, it broke free and disappeared into the forest, leaving the blood-covered form of the caveman stretched out in the moonlit clearing.”

Dicks trademark lines feature in abundance including the tried and tested TARDIS description – “there was a wheezing, groaning sound, quite unlike the roar of any beast” But this repetitive familiarity is a reassuring hook to the young readers familiar with his work.

The quintessential Dicks novelisation, Doctor Who And An Unearthly Child is a fun though undemanding read, dialogue based with  the briefest of exposition and almost no insight into the motivations and thoughts of the characters. It is worlds apart from Whitaker’s earlier novelisation of the next story The Daleks.

This article is the fifth in our new “Story by Story” series running all this week celebrating An Unearthly Child. DWW welcomes all submissions and pitches on the theme throughout the week at dww@doctorwhoworldwide.com. 

In future weeks we shall be celebrating The Daleks (Oct 27 –  Nov 2), Inside the Spaceship (Nov 3 – 9), Marco Polo (Nov 10 – 16), The Keys of Marinus (Nov 17 – 23), The Aztecs (Nov 24 – 30), The Sensorites (Dec 1 – 7) and The Reign of Terror (Dec 8 – 14).

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Merchandise, News, Ongoing Series, Reviews

Book Review: Silhouette by Justin Richards

“Vastra and Strax and Jenny? Oh no, we don’t need to bother them. Trust me.”

Marlowe Hapworth is found dead in his locked study, killed by an unknown assailant. This is a case for the Great Detective, Madame Vastra. Rick Bellamy, bare-knuckle boxer, has the life drawn out of him by a figure dressed as an undertaker. This angers Strax the Sontaran. The Carnival of Curiosities, a collection of bizarre and fascinating sideshows and performers. This is where Jenny Flint looks for answers. How are these things connected? And what does Orestes Milton, rich industrialist, have to do with it all? As the Doctor and Clara joint the hunt for thr truth they find themselves thrust into a world where nothing and no one are what they seem.

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Silhouette is available now from BBC Books alongside The Blood Cell by James Goss and The Crawling Terror by Mike Tucker

It is the final of three novels featuring the Twelfth Doctor up for review here at DWW and this one we deliberately saved for last. From the pen of the mighty Justin Richards, the author has continued his record of having one of the debut novels for all the new series Doctors, his Clockwise Man being one of the initial Eccleston releases while The Resurrection Casket and Apollo 23 were amongst the first three books released for the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors respectfully. It is a show of some faith in Justin by BBC Books and not one that is misplaced.

Arriving in Victorian London, the Doctor and Clara are reunited with the Paternoster Gang – Vastra, Jenny and Strax and are quickly flung into a typically rip roaring adventure across the city, taking in Frost Fairs (hello The Caretaker), a Carnival of Curiosities, a creepy undertaker and of course plenty of grisly murders, but nothing is perhaps quite as strange as the mysterious Silhouette and her Shadowplay…

With the obvious shades of Sherlock Holmes (watch out for Strax’s typical mix-up of one of his sayings!), Silhouette is also perfectly evocative of the Smith/Capaldi era Paternoster adventures, standing as something of a companion piece to The Snowmen and Deep Breath, Justin Richards of course also contributing to Big Finish’s Jago & Litefoot range. All five main characters once again well realised as they have generally throughout this series of three books, perhaps none more so here however with the novel perhaps benefiting from the inclusion of the Paternoster Gang to give an air of familiarity.

Like both other books in this series so far, Silhouette is something of a mystery, asking enough questions of the reader to build to a satisfying conclusion, the character of industrialist Mr. Milton adding some depth and relish to the book, stealing many a scene in the final chapters.

A fine addition to a very strong opening for the Capaldi Doctor in print, Silhouette is televisual in it’s outlook, a novel that would easily sit at home as part of the ongoing series. Wonderfully captured by Justin Richards the regulars are in fine form and easy to visualise, the book cracking along at a great pace and keeping the reader interested till the last. A third of three recommended releases from BBC Books.

Silhouette is available now from BBC Books via the Amazon link below.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Merchandise, News, Ongoing Series, Reviews

Book Review: The Crawling Terror by Mike Tucker

“Well, I doubt you’ll ever see a bigger insect.”

Gabby Nichols is putting her son to bed when she hears her daughter cry out. ‘Mummy there’s a daddy longlegs in my room!’ Then the screaming starts. Kevin Alperton is on his way to school when he is attacked by a mosquito. A big one. Then things get dangerous. But it isn’t the dead man cocooned inside a huge mass of web that worries the Doctor. It isn’t the swarming, mutated insects that make him nervous. With the village cut off from the outside world, and the insects becoming more and more dangerous, the Doctor knows that unless he can decode the strange symbols engraved on an ancient stone circle, and unravel a mystery dating back to the Second World War, no one is safe.

book-crawling
The Crawling Terror is available now from BBC Books

Having been a fan of Mike Tucker’s work since the BBC Past Doctor Adventures in the 1990s and his profilic partnership with Robert Perry, The Crawling Terror was one of the more anticipated of the latest Twelfth Doctor releases here at DWW.

The Doctor and Clara arrive in Ringstone, a village that is literally undergoing a crawling terror, infested with gigantic spiders, beetles and all manner of insects. Acting in an almost militaristic manner, the crawling legions have trapped the local population and the Doctor soon discovers links to secret experiments during the Second World War that could be about to lead to a full scale alien invasion

Like the previously reviewed Blood Cell, The Crawling Terror is a gripping tale that keeps the reader enthralled throughout, as has been the norm with much of Tucker’s previous Doctor Who novels, very much in the tradition of the classic “base under seige” stories of the Classic Series. The novel has more in common with the darker tales of Series 8 thus far however such as Into the Dalek and Listen, there is little of the fun and adventure of Robot of Sherwood and Time Heist here, Peter Capaldi suitably cold and detached and yet as a possible criticism, not as harsh or belligerent as we’ve seen so far during the ongoing series.

With gigantic insects, stone circles, secret military experiments, alien invasions in littlest England and a siege atmosphere, the reader will find nothing radical here in a highly traditionalist take on the new Doctor, The Crawling Terror dripping in a classic atmosphere and Doctor Who lore despite contemporary references to Coal Hill and even Danny Pink.

A page turning creeper of a tale, The Crawling Terror is another recommended purchase in the early days of the Twelfth Doctor range.

The Crawling Terror is available now via the Amazon link below and from all good book stores.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Merchandise, News, Ongoing Series, Reviews

Book Review: The Blood Cell by James Goss

“Release the Doctor – or the killing will start.”

An asteroid in the furthest reaches of space – the most secure prison for the most dangerous of criminals. The Governor is responsible for the worst fraudsters and the cruellest murderers. So he’s certainly not impressed by the arrival of the man they’re calling the most dangerous criminal in the quadrant. Or, as he prefers to be known, the Doctor. What does impress the Governor is the way the new prisoner immediately sets about trying to escape. And keeps trying. Finally, he sends for the Doctor and asks him why? But the answer surprises even the Governor. And then there’s the threat – unless the Governor listens to the Doctor, a lot of people will die. 

9780804140928James Goss is no stranger to Doctor Who fiction, penning Dead of Winter for the Eleventh Doctor range and The Time Museum, The Scorchies and The Last Post for Big Finish amongst others. His Big Finish work in particular show an author unafraid to try something new with a format and The Blood Cell is no different, told (unusually for a Doctor Who novel) in the first person.

Told from the perspective of the Governor of an intergalactic prison (The Prison), the tale is in many ways reminiscent of the “Doctor-lite” episodes of the TV series, placing it’s focus on the life and interactions of a secondary character who just happens to come into contact with the Doctor, or Prisoner 428 as he is otherwise known here.

The Doctor is well characterised by Goss, impatient, intimidating and heroic, his bickering with the Governor is evocative of the Capaldi we are starting to get to know. The Doctor tries to warn of the impending slaughter at the The Prison if he’s not allowed out to help, making frequent escape attempts in the process, all the while gathering new information on the prison and his captors. We like to think it would be scrawled all over a blackboard if he had one!

Of course the inevitable comes to pass and chaos ensures as systems go down, people start to die and a creature stalks the prison, forcing the Governor to place his faith in the prisoner who’s “crimes” he feels sickened by.

Goss crafts an intriguing tale from the outset as we first ask how the Doctor has come to be in the predicament he’s in and then with each layer that’s peeled away new questions arise surrounding the creature, the failures throughout The Prison and what exactly the Blood Cell is. While the novel successfully maintains the intrigue, The Blood Cell remains a true page turner and it is only toward the end that interest may start to wane for the reader as explanations begin to sound somewhat convoluted.

The finale certainly doesn’t detract however from what is an engrossing new start for the range, this our first of three Twelfth Doctor books released this month. Early steps for the new range as the TV series itself looks to do likewise but, again like Series 8, there is much here to enjoy and be excited about.

And a spoon.

The Blood Cell was released on Monday alongside Silhouette by Justin Richards and The Crawling Terror by Mike Tucker, it is available via the Amazon link below.