Most movie novelizations end up being a not-quite-final draft of the film’s script converted into prose. There’s the occasional deleted scene or expanded character backstory, but it’s mostly just a book version of the film, as you’d have seen it. Doctor Who: The TV Movie is precisely that kind of novelization. It’s well written, sure, and Russell’s prose adds a fair amount of depth to the story that a ninety-minute TV film simply can’t have. But it’s still a very safe, very standard novelization. It’s a little disappointing compared to how different some of the other recent Target novelizations are to their original stories, but I’m kind of okay with Russell’s adaptation being as faithful and safe as it is. I have quite the soft spot for the TV film, and Russell’s novel does a great job of capturing what works about the film. (4 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: This review features mild spoilers for Doctor Who: The TV Movie and its novelization. Read at your own risk.
Doctor Who: The TV Movie (written by Gary Russell) It’s December 1999, and strange things are happening as the new millennium nears. A British police box appears from nowhere in San Francisco’s Chinatown and the mysterious man inside it is shot down in the street. Despite the best efforts of Dr Grace Holloway, the man dies and another stranger appears, claiming to be the same person in a different body: a wanderer in time and space known only as the Doctor.
But the Doctor is not the only alien in San Francisco. His deadly adversary the Master is murdering his way through the city and has taken control of the TARDIS. The Master is desperate to take the Doctor’s newly regenerated body for himself, and if the Doctor does not capitulate, it will literally cost him the Earth… and every last life on it.
Dalek is a perfect episode of Doctor Who. It’s got great character work, thrilling action sequences, and an expertly crafted and executed plot. The idea of novelizing the episode must have been a daunting one for Robert Shearman, the episode’s original writer and the author of this new Target novelization. How do you successfully translate the episode’s bone-chilling tension into prose? The answer, in Dalek’s case, is that you don’t. Instead, Shearman takes the opportunity to delve deeper into the story, stretching out the backstories of all of the characters and allowing the narrative a lot of room to breathe. This results in a compelling novel, but one that lacks the tension and focus of the episode it’s adapting. It’s a fun read—but a wildly different experience when compared to the episode. (4 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: There will be mild spoilers for “Dalek” ahead. Read at your own risk.
Doctor Who: Dalek (written by Robert Shearman) The Doctor and Rose arrive in an underground vault in Utah in the near future. The vault is filled with alien artefacts. Its billionaire owner, Henry van Statten, even has possession of a living alien creature, a mechanical monster in chains that he has named a Metaltron. Seeking to help the Metaltron, the Doctor is appalled to find it is in fact a Dalek – one that has survived the horrors of the Time War just as he has. And as the Dalek breaks loose, the Doctor is brought back to the brutality and desperation of his darkest hours spent fighting the creatures of Skaro… this time with the Earth as their battlefield.
The Target range of Doctor Who novelizations has long held the ability to transform an otherwise average-to-bad episode of the show into a memorable and enjoyable book. Sometimes, what doesn’t work on screen is destined to work on the page, and granting the original screenwriter the opportunity to expand upon their script often yields exciting results. This is the mindset I approached the latest wave of the range with. Neither “The Crimson Horror” nor “The Witchfinders” are bad episodes of Doctor Who, but they are decidedly average ones, which means there’s quite a lot of room for them to be bettered in a novelization. While “The Crimson Horror” doesn’t really achieve this feat, “The Witchfinders” does. And, to be fair, both novels are immensely enjoyable and should prove pleasing to any Doctor Who fan who decides to read either story.
“Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss Something ghastly is afoot in Victorian Yorkshire. Something that kills. Bodies are washing up in the canal, their skin a waxy, glowing red… But just what is this crimson horror? Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax are despatched to investigate the mystery. Strangely reluctant to assist their enquiries is Mrs Winifred Gillyflower, matriarch of ‘Sweetville’, a seemingly utopian workers’ community. Why do all roads lead to the team’s old friends Clara and the Doctor? Who is Mrs Gillyflower’s mysterious silent partner Mr Sweet? And will the motley gang be in time to defeat the mysterious power that threatens all the world with its poison?
“Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson The TARDIS lands in the Lancashire village of Bilehurst Cragg in the 17th century, and the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz soon become embroiled in a witch trial run by the local landowner. Fear stalks the land, and the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But the Doctor soon realises there is something more sinister than paranoia and superstition at work. Tendrils of living mud stir in the ground and the dead lurch back to horrifying life as an evil alien presence begins to revive. The Doctor and her friends must save not only the people of Bilehurst Cragg from the wakening forces, but the entire world.
Back in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, nearly every serial from the classic run of Doctor Who was novelized in one way or another through a range of books published by Target Books. That practice was discontinued when the show returned in 2005, mainly due to how readily available various home video formats were. It’s a shame because many of those classic novelizations ended up being better than the televised versions (mainly because a novel doesn’t have the budget constraints of a science fiction show made on a shoestring budget in the mid-1970s). Then, just a few months ago, BBC Books decided to revive the range for a brief five-book run. Like the old range, they brought back the writers of some of the episodes while mixing it adaptations from other writers. The books adapted for this new range were Rose by Russell T. Davies (the writer of the episode), The Christmas Invasion by Jenny T. Colgan (based on a script by Russell T. Davies), The Day of the Doctor by Steven Moffat (the writer of the episode), and Twice Upon a Time by Paul Cornell (based on a script by Steven Moffat). This review, however, will be focusing on the latter two books: The Day of the Doctor and Twice Upon a Time.
Doctor Who: Day of the Doctor (by Steven Moffat): When the entire universe is at stake, three different Doctors will unite to save it. The Tenth Doctor is hunting shape-shifting Zygons in Elizabethan England. The Eleventh is investigating a rift in space-time in the present day. And one other – the man they used to be but never speak of – is fighting the Daleks in the darkest days of the Time War. Driven by demons and despair, this battle-scarred Doctor is set to take a devastating decision that will threaten the survival of the entire universe… a decision that not even a Time Lord can take alone. On this day, the Doctor’s different incarnations will come together to save the Earth… to save the universe… and to save his soul.
Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time (by Paul Cornell): Still reeling from his encounter with the Cybermen, the First Doctor stumbles through the bitter Antarctic wind, resisting the approaching regeneration with all his strength. But as he fights his way through the snowdrifts, he comes across the familiar shape of a blue police box, and a mysterious figure who introduces himself as the Doctor… Thrown together at their most vulnerable moments, the two Doctors must discover why the snowflakes are suspended in the sky, why a First World War Captain has been lifted from his time stream moments before his death, and who is the mysterious Glass Woman who knows their true name. The Doctor is reunited with Bill, but is she all she seems? And can he hold out against the coming regeneration?