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Eighth Doctor Adventures!

June 4, 2010

As I’ve mentioned on this blog once or twice already, I’ve recently rediscovered the delights of Doctor Who fiction. That’s not to say I haven’t read lots of Doctor Who novels in the past, but simply that they’ve always been Target novelizations, Novellas, Short Trips or standalone past Doctor adventures, rather than installments in a regular ongoing series.

I suppose it was a case of ‘continuity fear’ that put me off, the notion that were I to indulge myself in either the ongoing Virgin range or, later, the BBC Eighth Doctor stories, I would either a) lose my entire life to them as I attempted to stay on top of the publication schedule each month or b) dip in and out but not experience them properly because I’d miss out on the ongoing story arcs and character development. I guess I was scared to commit.

Well, that’s all a matter of hindsight now, since both of those ranges are sadly extinct. But recently I decided to dip my toe in the water and read a copy of ‘The Scarlet Empress’ by Paul Magrs, after having reread his Third Doctor novel, ‘Verdigris’, and enjoying it just as much as I remember doing the first time around.

And what a revelation it was. I loved it. Every minute of it. And because of it I’ve gone back to the start and I’m now working my way – at my own pace – through the ongoing Eighth Doctor stories. So I thought I’d do a quick recap on where I’m up to. After Empress I went back to the start and read ‘The Eight Doctors’ by Terrance Dicks. Then back again to ‘The Dying Days’ by Lance Parkin, followed by the Telos Novella, ‘Rip Tide’ by Louise Cooper. Now I’m on with ‘Eye of the Tyger’ by Paul McAuley, before tackling ‘Vampire Science’ by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman.

The Scarlet Empress by Paul Magrs

For me, this book is a blueprint for a different kind of Doctor Who. A literary Doctor Who that has moved on from the limitations of a television budget and returned to the core ideas of the show. A Doctor Who that celebrates its freedom, recognizes what it is and is not self-conscious about it. This is Doctor Who with the stabilizers removed, an unashamed adventure story and a metatexual examination of the character and his history.

I loved this book. It is at once fantastical, hallucinatory and literary. It plays with form and winks at you knowingly while doing so. It takes a quest fantasy narrative and jumbles it up with the trappings of Doctor Who. It explores the character of the Doctor by juxtaposing him against Iris Wildthyme, the madcap, drunken transtemporal adventuress who is clearly in love with him (and stealing his history, subsuming it into her own).

The setting, too, is filled with wonder. Hyspero is a magical landscape, ever shifting: a place where dreams can become reality and reality can become dreams. We need more stories in this setting. I thought it was rather marvelous.

And what’s more, the book was funny, too. I love the notion of the Doctor coming up against all those wonderful Harryhausen monsters, a giant Walrus and enormous birds. I saw them in my mind’s eye as stop-motion animation, and was filled with nostalgia for a lost age of adventure movie.

Brilliant stuff.

The Eight Doctors by Terrance Dicks

You know, I’d been led to believe this was worthless. I’d read reviews telling me to avoid it like the plague. I’d heard it was best forgotten, a piece of Doctor Who history that people like to pretend never happened. I came to it with those preconceptions in mind.

Perhaps because of that, perhaps because I expected nothing from this book at all, I have to say: I actually enjoyed it. Now, coming off the back of the Magrs book, I’ll freely admit that this wasn’t revolutionary, and didn’t do anything new, and didn’t really have any depth of characterization or great literary shakes. And it was full of what people like to call ‘fanwank’, references to old continuity from the TV show. But it had a certain charm, and some of the vignettes were very effective. And it felt like Doctor Who.

I read it quickly and never wished it were over. And that kind of left me on a high, because I was expecting it to be a slog. So I went to the next book feeling cheery and ready for more.

The Dying Days by Lance Parkin

This was great, too! It was great in a different way from the Magrs book: it felt traditional. It felt very English. It felt like classic Doctor Who rendered as a novel. I liked that. It was a nice counter to the wild reinvention of the Magrs book (and whilst I think I prefer that kind of wild invention, I also don’t want it every time I sit down to read Doctor Who. Sometimes I do just want Doctor Who, done well).

I imagine Lance Parkin must have felt a great weight on his shoulders while writing this (and from reading his notes on the novel it’s clear he had a ‘shopping list’ of things he had to do). He had to simultaneously wrap up the Virgin era, kick off the Eighth Doctor adventures and launch the Bernice Summerfield spin-off series. And I have to hand it to him, he did it with panache.

I found this thoroughly engaging. I thought the Ice Warriors were great. And it was lovely to see the Brigadier back in action again. I can see why people herald this as one of the best of the New Adventures. And again, some lovely funny moments.

I find myself looking forward to more Lance Parkin novels as I read on…

Rip Tide by Louise Cooper

This was a lovely little book! Only a novella, but with a heart big enough to be a novel. And a lovely treatment of the format: a Doctor Who story with no bad guys! Where the only enemy is the sea and a terrible disease.

I thought the characterization of the Doctor was particularly well done here, and the other characters – particularly Nina, the stand in companion – were well drawn and sympathetic.

This was also a book with a real sense of place. The setting was so fantastically well described that I could almost taste the sea spray and feel the bracing wind coming in off the water.  I wanted the book to go on, for the Doctor to take Nina off to new lands (like Hyspero!). But in the end it was the perfect length for the story, and the farewell between Nina and the Doctor was touching and memorable.

So there we have it. My Eighth Doctor odyssey continues. I’m enjoying ‘Eye of the Tyger’ and looking forward to getting stuck into ‘Vampire Science’ too! I only hope the stories don’t get too bogged down in their own continuity as I read on…

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Lawrence Burton permalink
    June 4, 2010 6:09 pm

    I seriously doubt you’ll be short of folks recommending other titles, but for what it’s worth I’d very, very, very strongly recommend Lawrence Miles’ Alien Bodies and The Adventuress of Henrietta Street and the Simon Bucher-Jones & Mark Clapham The Taking of Planet 5. If I had to save three Who books from a fire, it would be those three, and it seems bordering upon criminal (at least to me) that neither LM or SBJ are subject to wild acclaim outside the Who ghetto. The Eight Doctors get’s a lot of stick but it was enjoyable enough I thought, nothing Earth-shattering but I’m still not quite sure why it is the subject of such vitriol. I’d say there are a couple of the range which are truly beyond belief awful, but that isn’t one of them.

    Oh…. some of the older Paul Cornell titles were pretty damn fine too.

  2. June 4, 2010 7:08 pm

    Thanks, Lawrence

    I’m thinking of basically tackling them in order, so Alien Bodies isn’t that far off. People keep telling me good things about it, so I’m looking forward to it now. But I’m also looking forward to Vampire Science and The Bodysnatchers, so I’m not rushing! Plus I have other things to read in between. That’s actually the nice thing about coming to these late, I’m finding: I’m not simply getting more and more out of date as I take my time to work through them.

    Of course, I’d prefer it if someone was still publishing ongoing Who fiction, of course…

    Thanks for the tip on the older Cornell books too. I’m thinking I’ll see how the EDAs go. If I find myself still hungry for more when I get done (and I think that will be some time away), I’ll take another look at the NAs too.


  3. June 6, 2010 9:07 am

    Might be worth checking out the eight doctor comic collection ‘Flood’. The stories were all written just before Russell T Davies rebooted the TV show, and there’s a really interesting afterword by one of the writers about what it was like to find out about the reboot. Also the Spring Heeled Jack story is fantastic.

    • June 6, 2010 9:12 am

      Hi Nathan

      That’s a timely comment – Yesterday I picked up a copy of the first Eighth Doctor comic collection, Endgame. I thought I’d give the comics a go as well. It’s good to hear they’re worthwhile.


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