Notes on the Target Collection: Doctor Who – Rose, The Christmas Invasion, The Day of the Doctor and Twice Upon a Time
Amidst being ill and travelling, reading in the first half of this week has involved the four entirely new Doctor Who novelizations from BBC Books. These somewhat emptily bear the Target logo on the front, though nowhere else, with no explanation of the logo on the covers or the interior. This might be an indication that the marketing of these books has been very much to the older fan for whom the logo (here in its most dissimilated late 1970s form) bears fond associations, and less to new ones despite social media showing that there is a lot of enthusiasm for these titles among the teen and twentysomething bracket.
Brief thoughts: The Day of the Doctor is extraordinary, if occasionally smug, but indicates what Steven Moffat would really have like to have done with the anniversary story. There are more Doctors, some River Song, and portents of The Time of the Doctor… or is it The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon? (Sorry – what did I just type? Why are there tally marks on my arms?? Turn to page 232… Predictable as ever, Moffat???) If this is what a first novel looks like from an experienced television writer, then Moffat should write more, in whatever genre.
Rose, by Russell T Davies, is a tale of human beings being extraordinary even when circumstances set a low bar (traditional phrase) and when they can, like Rose, do so much more. Mickey is redeemed in print in a way he wouldn’t be on screen until later in the first series, and has a band. Clive is more noble and more pathetic at once, too; and the rising of the Autons is more violent, more bloody, and more enduring. Jenny Colgan’s The Christmas Invasion is a generally brisk treatment of RTD’s script, but Colgan does take time to add more detail and character texture; we learn more about the Guinevere One programme, and of Danny Llywellyn and his team, and there’s more sense of the human cost that sleepwalking a third of the population to precipices would bring as well. Meanwhile, it’s not just a new body the Doctor is getting used to, but unprecedented feelings in a certain direction – and I’ve never thought of the Doctor in terms of chocolate cake before.
Finally, Twice Upon a Time feels just as well marinated as the older stories, despite Paul Cornell having written most of the book before seeing the television episode on screen. He incorporates a critique of the episode’s characterization of the First Doctor, the Twelfth being its (inner) mouthpiece. Barbara Wright is namechecked, and the issues of memory and story, which I’d have mentioned in any review of the episode, are brought out into the fore in a way the television episode didn’t quite manage. Questions about Bill and Nardole and their manifestations in this story are answered, too.
While a full revival of the novelizations range is unlikely and probably undesirable in its old form, a carefully-curated release every so often would be welcome, featuring of four or five books like these, with a careful mix of original authors and novelizers sympathetic to the original material. Let’s see Doctor Who: Listen before 2195.
A review from the archives, written in November 2009 shortly after The Waters of Mars was broadcast.
When Doctor Who has managed possession, it has done so rather well. The Waters of Mars is no exception. Establishing Bowie Base One as a setting was achieved with alacrity, so we were only a few minutes in when Andy (sympathetically portrayed in his few unpossessed scenes by Alan Ruscoe) was infected and became the first representative of the Flood. The delayed transformation of Maggie was well-achieved, though I had expected her to continue to be a spokesperson for the Flood; her covetous little speech about the Caspian Sea became an odd exception to the rule that the Flood is implacable and impossible to interrogate. (As I am about to post this I’ve just learned her later speeches were cut, in one of which she would have named the infection as the Flood – it’s not just a spontaneous naming by the Doctor). Steffi’s convulsions in front of the recorded message from her children, and her possessed self’s turning impassively away from the screen to pursue the remaining humans, with the children’s voices still playing out in the background, was simple, effective and for this viewer disturbing.
The evolution of Doctor Who has depended more upon improvisation than upon planning. There has been a tension in David Tennant’s performance as the Doctor from the beginning, between his fun-loving jovialness and his sometimes coldly calculating, overburdening sense of responsibility; this has contributed towards his Doctor coming across as unbearably smug, particularly in his first season when Billie Piper’s Rose threatened to turn into a mirror for his apparent self-love. Now the smugness sank into delusion, but one which the audience have been invited to share on occasion in the last four years. I expected Adelaide to shoot the Doctor from her window, either instead of or in addition to shooting herself; when the previews spoke of Adelaide as the Doctor’s most strong-minded companion yet, it was probably her suicide which was being hyped. The Doctor is now face to face with his psychological imbalance; the survivor guilt which seemed purged at the end of The Parting of the Ways was instead repressed and has been gnawing away at this Doctor from the inside. How much of The End of Time will be in the Doctor’s reality, and how much hallucination? Or will there indeed be very much difference?
I’m still not sure how far The Waters of Mars left me numb with shock, or simply underwhelmed. The threat from the Flood seemed to lose focus; the infected humans were dismissed too easily. Luckily the Doctor’s conviction that he could and had the absolute unquestionable right to save Adelaide, Yuri and Mia was taken just far enough beyond previous limits to undermine this viewer’s confidence: the Doctor had to lose his Mother Hen qualities (as Elisabeth Sladen has termed Jon Pertwee’s performance) and become, for a few minutes, someone very dangerous. Adelaide had to die to show the Doctor the error of his ways; he is left holding on to life and sanity and the programme hopes we are holding him too. This was just about managed; but the closing two-parter will have to have been made with care indeed.
I found myself double-booked for The Doctor Falls, and so over a week after broadcast have returned with a follow-up review for Time Lines, John Connors’s blog which continues the ancient traditions of his earlier fanzines Top, Faze, This Way Up, Antenna and others. As I write, it’s not quite a review:
Steven Moffat at his best is very good at treating characters and events as symbols whose interaction as principles not only shapes but often overtakes conventional narrative. Looking back after over a week of rewatches and reviews, the success of The Doctor Falls lies largely in how this coded writing works, laying emphasis on specific aspects of character and setting which sometimes confound expectations which World Enough and Time might have encouraged. What follows isn’t quite another review but a set of reactions considering some of the opinions I’ve come across since The Doctor Falls was broadcast. In case anyone is in any doubt, I greatly enjoyed the episode; there was a tense fatalism throughout, leavened by statements of optimistic principle. I realised while watching it that kindness was probably the factor that kept me watching Doctor Who in the first place. The Doctor has not always been kind, but he tries to be kind to the greatest possible conceivable number of people, all the time. This is his virtue and periodically, in limited ways, his downfall.
Reviewed by me over at the Doctor Who News Page’s Reviews section.
Again, I’ve been remiss about reviewing the 2017 series of Doctor Who for this site. However, I have reviewed World Enough and Time for John Connors’s Doctor Who blog. It’s always a pleasure to guest review there, and to read my reactions (though managing not to say anything about the controversial and intriguing pre-credits sequence, I notice) please visit Timelines.
I’ve not written reviews of every story this season, but hope to get round to them eventually. However, I did undertake a review of Empress of Mars for the Doctor Who News Page’s reviews site. It’s best read over there…
I’ve written this story up for Doctor Who Reviews, the Doctor Who News site’s reviews section. The review was based on an advance viewing copy. I didn’t find
room for the line of continuity between Invasion of the Dinosaurs, The Beast Below and Robot of Sherwood (compilations of images and sound on a screen depicting unpalatable depictions of the truth) and might read Samuel Butler’s Erewhon tonight, as Frank Cottrell Boyce has Tweeted that it was an influence – but I’m not displeased with this review, nor with the story.
I’ve reviewed The Return of Doctor Mysterio as the additional reviewer for the Doctor Who News Page, and you can find the review here. Look at Matt Hills’s lead review for the site too – it makes lots of excellent points, including recognising the breakthrough in Bill’s line about using the toilet on the TARDIS.
Time has been limited the past few weeks, so I’m behind on Class reviews. However, John Connors asked me to review The Power of the Daleks, animated version, for his site Timelines, and my look at that story was published a few hours ago. However, reading the review back, I’ve realised that apart from having committed some very cumbersome phraseology indeed at times, I have managed to write a review of Patrick Troughton’s first Doctor Who story, without mentioning Troughton himself.
Troughton’s performance in The Power of the Daleks remains enigmatic even after the valiant and effective reconstruction by the animation team led by Charles Norton. There’s a sense from the telesnaps and from recollections by those who worked on or watched the serial that there was a lot of physical comedy of which we see very little – only the leapfrog in episode one, I think, is achieved, the point of which is to subvert the viewers’ expectations of the Doctor, as it appears that he isn’t measuring the rock for the purposes of geological, petrological or mineralogical study, but as a precursor to testing his new body’s physical capabilities. There’s a great diffidence about this Doctor, which often makes him irritating rather than charming, his recorder-playing a puzzle as it leaves so few cues for Ben, Polly and the viewer to draw conclusions. Even his destruction of the Daleks is left ambiguous by the script, as it’s not clear what the Doctor had anticipated from his attack on the power supply.
As for Troughton’s playing of the Doctor, it’s difficult to draw conclusions from the evidence we have. I remember, many years ago, going through one particularly frantic scene on the first VHS release of The Seeds of Death, where it appeared that Troughton changed his facial expression completely on each frame. With such flexibility and control, the animators can’t be expected to keep up with Troughton within the parameters of this project, though they have a good try. The New Doctor Who of 1966 is still a mystery to the 2016 audience, but we can at least now see with more definition the space the acted performance would fill.
We sing in praise of total war…
This post exists to provide a link to my review of Doctor Who – The King’s Demons by Terence Dudley for the Doctor Who News Page. I find few redeeming features, but might just be thought open to some of the charges I level against Dudley – except that I do like the Doctor and Tegan. In general, from the mid-1980s I came to appreciate more and more the economic writing style of Terrance Dicks; handing over the books to the authors of the television serials didn’t always gain the desired results.