Doctor Who

Shada – Gareth Roberts

Based on a Douglas Adams script that never made it to air, Gareth Robert’s novel sees the Doctor and Romana reunite with a retired timelord posing as a professor at an Oxbridge university.  The professor inadvertently lends an ancient Gallifreyan tome to a student looking for something to impress his intimidating love interest, and it finds itself in the hands of the tacky time-travelling villain Shada.

The weird thing about this book was that the narration often felt at odds with the dialogue. Roberts was adapting Adam’s screenplay, but his description of events often guessed at the character’s motivations and their emotional reactions. Honestly it felt a bit disjointed at times.

Shada isn’t the best Doctor Who novel I’ve read, but if nothing like this existed I’d always be wondering what the lost Adams was all about, so it’s worth reading on that level.

Lungbarrow – Marc Platt

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Doctor Who is unique in managing to run for more than half a century without a continuity reboot or freezing into a status quo. While there is a definite formula, a Caucasian man warping throughout spacetime in a blue box, the cast changes frequently enough that the franchise seems regularly renews itself. Compare this to earlier heroes like Superman, who are older than the Doctor but always gets rebooted into the same scenario every decade or so. When I’m reading a story about an iconic American superhero I’m confident I’ll be able to orient myself through the familiar side characters. Doctor Who stories set in eras I’m unfamiliar with are much more confusing.

Lungbarrow is set in one such era, being the Seventh Doctor’s final adventure before the 1996 TV movie. After being called back to his homeworld Gallifrey, the Doctor lands in the universe’s awkwardest family reunion. This novel is particularly controversial for its revelations about the Doctor’s past, Time Lord reproduction and history, although these tantalising facts are no longer considered canon. There are cameos from Romana (now Gallifreyan President) and the two K9s, and the only thing that really threw me off were unfamiliar companions. The setting, the ancient sunken family home of Lungbarrow, was brilliantly imagined, complete with giant sentient furniture, wooden servants and bizarre board games.

I enjoyed Lungbarrow, but I would have gotten a lot more from it if I’d read previous books in the series. It must’ve been great fun being a Doctor Who fan in the nineties, with so many of these books about. I remember when I was kid, hanging around in the local library, were there’d be all these Doctor Who books in the teenage section. Read this one if you’re curious about Time Lord biology, but I don’t think it stands well alone.

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Doctor Who And The Curse Of Peladon

Doctor Who and the Curse of Peladon is a novel written by Brian Hayles, based on a script that he wrote. The novel was published in 1974, two years after the script was copyrighted.

The Doctor cons his way onto a committee reviewing whether a Renaissance-level planet should be allowed to join a Galactic Federation. The decision process is fatally complicated by a priest who threatens the delegates with the sacred royal beast. Will the Doctor and his companion be able to fast-talk their way out of this one?

The most important thing to know about a Doctor Who book is if it is set during a part of the Doctor’s life that you are familiar with. Curse of Peladon is set during the Doctor’s third regeneration, when he was played by John Pertwee. In this book he’s traveling with a contemporyish woman named Jo.

The prose in this book is heavy with the adjectives, and the action is somewhat over-described. The key example is page is 108, a wall of text describing a combat between the Doctor and the King’s champion. The elaborate verbiage the novel an immersive feel, but it is difficult to escape the suspicion that Hayles is padding out a pretty thin script. As it is, the novel comes out to 142 pages.

The pictures in this book are pretty nifty. They are done in a black-and-white line style. Each one takes up an entire page.

The villainous priest expressed concern that his planet would be exploited as a result of joining the federation, and I really wish that this sort of colonial and economic anxiety was more prominent in the novel. Given that this book was written in the seventies, when many of Britain’s former colonies in Africa were gaining independence, it’s not difficult to see a post-colonial subtext. The reference to a ‘developing planet’ only confirms this suspicion.

Overall, I’d describe this book as okay. I’ve read better books dealing with the complex topic that is Doctor Who. I’d recommend Stephen Baxter’s Wheel of Ice, and or Jim Mortimore’s Campaign before reading this.