Sunday, 16 September 2018

Who Novelisation Quest 8: The Novel of the Film by Gary Russell

Officially titled, like its TV predecessor, simply as Doctor Who, this is one of a very few DW novelisations that was never published under the Target banner. This was the first Doctor Who novel to actually be published directly by the BBC, before even Virgin's licence had run out and the New Adventures were winding down. It was the first novel to star the eighth Doctor, and indeed, his first major appearance in the UK, being released shortly before the movie was aired by the BBC. Oddly enough, however, it was never officially published outside of Britain. It seems that with the recent revival of the Target imprint it would be a perfect opportunity to reprint the novelisation, but there are apparently rights issues preventing this (the TV Movie being something of a copyright minefield).

Despite my fondness for the movie, this is the first time I have read the novelisation. I did listen to Paul McGann's reading of it (on audio cassette!), but that was heavily abridged and reworked by the author to bring it more in line with the broadcast programme. As Russell points out in his opening to the book, this was adapted from an early draft of the script and based on limited visual information, and so in places differs wildly from the actual film. When he wrote the novel, Russell was still quite early on in his Doctor Who career, which is still going strong, and he is one of the stalwart writers of tie-in books material. I've always found his prose unchallenging but entertaining, exactly the sort of style that suits a novelisation. I get the feel that it was knocked out in something of a hurry, though; there are a few glaring typos, including one amusing moment when the Doctor is described as having "long back hair."

The differences between the novel and the film are, as with the best of Target's novelisations, a huge part of the appeal of the book. While the story is still breathless and strange, it actually hangs together rather better than what we got on screen, with some of the more howling plotholes filled in. There's also a lot more insight into the characters' lives than in the film, which really only found time to examine Grace and the Doctor. In particular, we learn a great deal more about Chang Lee's harsh childhood, giving us an understanding for why he would side with the Master (aside from the villain's obvious hypnotic abilities). He even gets a proper redemption, rather than simply being killed as soon as he turns on the Master.

The Master is far more like his old self here. While inhabiting the body of Bruce the paramedic, he still sounds much more like the verbose, eloquent Master of the Ainley and Delgado incarnations. He is also visibly decaying throughout, as was ostensibly the plan in the film before production difficulties reduced it so much it was scarcely noticible. By the time he captures the Doctor, his body is falling apart. The climax is especially different, with the Master almost managing to create a new body from the Doctor's life force, leaving him in a half-formed state, rather like the Watcher from Logopolis.

The relationship between the Doctor and Grace is more one-sided here, with the Doctor more overwhelmed with excitement when he kisses Grace rather than any real romantic interest. There's also a continual reminder of the Doctor's past in the form of his straw hat, mysteriously still in the Doctor's possession throughout and providing a link to his previous incarnation. Russell also peppers the story with little nods back to the New Adventures, making it feel rather more like part of that series than the BBC Books EDAs that were to follow.

The novelisation is a strong Doctor Who adventure, perhaps rather better a story than the film it's based on, and a good introduction to the eighth Doctor in prose that would slot in nicely between Lungbarrow and The Dying Days.

First published by BBC Books in 1996
Based on Doctor Who, first broadcast in 1996
Audiobook read by Paul McGann

WHO REVIEW: "Seasons of War: Gallifrey" by Paul Driscoll and Kara Dennison

Declan May's Seasons of War was a triumph of fan fiction. Multiple authors came together to create a story of the Time War from start to finish, affording glimpses of how the Time Lord formerly known as the Doctor resorted to acting in the universe-threatening conflict. It was a big enough success that further explorations of the Time War under its banner were welcome and inevitable.

The first such release – is it a spin-off? A sequel? - is Gallifrey, the hugely impressive debut novel from Paul Driscoll (The Black Archive, A Clockwork Iris, The Hybrid, the original Seasons of War) and Kara Dennison (The Hybrid zine, Crunchyroll, Owl's Flower). Together, they create a version of Gallifrey that is at once steeped in Doctor Who lore, and entirely original. It's always been difficult to reconcile the different images of Gallifrey we've seen over the years, from the aloof demigods of The War Games to the agrarian homesteads of The Day of the Doctor and Hell Bent, but that's exactly as it should be when catching glimpses of a whole planet and an ancient civilisation. The authors present a vision of a Gallifrey torn apart by caste divisions, riddled with distrust, but home to decent, real people who just want to get on with their lives.

Although ostensibly a Doctor Who story, Gallifrey focuses on a cast of four new characters, living on the Time Lord planet at the outbreak of war. We follow the intertwined stories of Savalia, a poet living in the outlands of Gallifrey; her cousin Kendo, a newly inducted Time Lord senator; Tor Fasa, an ancient Time Lord on his penultimate regeneration; and his protege Mordicai, the Engineer, and idealistic young man who shares a strained romance with Savalia. They are all fascinating, well drawn characters; as the novel progresses, their paths diverge and cross repeatedly, and we see the same events from different perspectives. How the characters present themselves to each other and how they really feel about their actions are frequently at odds, and the same actions take on very different colours when seen from inside and outside.

Of the core characters, I enjoyed Tor Fasa the most. An old contemporary of the Doctor – who even asked Fasa to travel with him when he left Gallifrey – he's an elderly, idealistic but pragmatic schemer, whose one consistent physical feature across his regenerations is a vicious scar across his face. His manipulations drive much of the plot forward, but events are forever out of his control. While the Doctor appears only sparingly, his fingerprints are all over the book, not just in his obvious influence on the character of Fasa but particularly as the inspiration of Mordicai's philosophy. Easily the most na├»ve of the four main characters, Mordicai is also the most noble, and takes the Doctor's transformation into a soldier as a personal betrayal. The War has irreversible consequences on all the characters, though, with perhaps Savalia changed the most, dragged into the war effort and finding herself surprisingly suited to it.

The bizarre realities of Gallifrey are explored in depth. Regeneration, and its chaotic consequences, is a theme running throughout the novel. The authors take the concept to its extreme, exploring just how devastating such a transformation could be, even if it went to plan. There's a character suffering from a regeneration sickness, perpetually cycling through all her incarnations, while one of my favourite characters, Commander Bez, has regenerated from a hulking male soldier to a hyperactive little girl. The Death Zone is a major location, taking on critical importance to the plot, and explored in far more conceptual detail than it was ever afforded on television.

Perhaps the most fascinating element is how the Time War is presented itself. There's a divide between the very physical warfare seen on screen and the nightmarish temporal warfare spoken about. Gallifrey uses this contradiction well, with the more esoteric warfare happening on the front lines, distant from Gallifrey itself, while the physical soldiery existing as the last line of defence should the War reach its shores. Intriguingly, there's the clear suggestion that the War is progressing faster on the front lines than on Gallifrey, with the constant threat that the future is going to come crashing down on the present. Given the litigousness of the Nation estate, the Daleks don't feature, being only briefly alluded to, but this works in the story's favour. The Daleks hitting Gallifrey is the final event of the War, while for the most part they act through their slaves and allies, both alien and Gallifreyan.

Gallifrey is an excellent exploration of the Doctor's homeworld with some brilliantly drawn characters and some wonderful concepts. There's the occasional bit of clunky dialogue, and it does end rather abruptly, but the ending sets up the possibility of further adventures for some of the characters and further exploration of their universe. This is the best exploration of Gallifrey and the Time Lords since The Infinity Doctors

Seasons of War: Gallifrey is available from Altrix Books in both paper and e-book formats, with all proceeds going to Caudwell Children.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Now available - "The Fossilist"

My latest bit of fanfic is now available at The Doctor Who Project. The Fossilist is my third short for the site, the second written with my talented friend James P. Quick. I'm really rather pleased with this one.

The Fossilist features the TDWP Ninth Doctor and Silver, along with the noted amateur palaeontologist Mary Anning. I previously wrote for the Basil Rathbone-inspired Ninth Doctor in City of the Dragon - his penultimate adventure and my first contribution to TDWP. Anning is something of a hero of mine and I hope we did her wonderful story some justice with this silly adventure.

If you enjoy it, there are some notes at the end which give you a little insight into how James and I work together and how the story developed.

Also, there are dinosaurs in it. Lots of them.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Must-reads: blonderedhead

I feel I should be sharing others' writing more. There are some incredible writers out there, some of whom I'm fortunate enough to know in real life.

Rachael Spellman aka blondereadhead aka Celena Gaia is one of the most remarkably gifted writers I've ever known. Her blog is an astonishing mix of poetry, prose and raw, heartfelt real life accounts.

Start with her latest post, a powerful account of her time under mental health care, but take time to explore her writing. (CW mental illness, suicide, eating disorders).

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Who Novelisation Quest 9: "Rose" by Russell T. Davies

When the relaunch of the Target imprint was announced, there was a brief period of wondering which episodes would be adapted. There was one story, however, that was never in question. "Rose" began the resurrection of Doctor Who on screen in 2005, and so it was quite right that it would be part of the resurrection of the Target novelisations. Technically, this is the first release in the new run, although in practice they all came out together. Nonetheless, it still feels like the first. Even after thirteen years, "Rose" feels like a beginning.

It's a bit of a coup to get Russell the T back onboard to novelise his own story, but equally it's hardly surprising that he jumped at the chance. After all, he's a dyed in the wool Who fan who grew up reading these books. Even he has said in an interview that he feels like he really "counts" as a Doctor Who writer now. Davies has written for a DW book line before: Damaged Goods for the New Adventures back in the 90s. There are some similarities between the two books - the alien life meets council estates approach of Damaged Goods clearly signposted how Davies would retool Doctor Who later - they are very, very different books. Don't expect heavy drug use or gay sex from a Target novelisation, even in 2018. Nonetheless, Davies goes further with his novelisation than he ever did onscreen, with asides to Rose's abusive criminal ex-boyfriend and a much more LGBT-diverse cast of characters than were ever on television.

"Rose" the episode was a breathless affair, deliberately straightforward to make it as accessible as possible to new viewers, many of whom had never seen Doctor Who. The novelisation is a completely different animal, released into a different environment and for a different audience. Davies elaborates his original story in great depth - essential to make a forty-five minute episode into a novel-length story - and gives far more backstory to both major characters and walk-on parts. The episode began with Rose looking for Wilson to give him the lottery money, before being told that "Wilson's dead." The novel makes Wilson a character in his own right, before describing how the bastard has been creaming money from the Lotto fund, before leaving him to the mercies of the Autons. 

There's a lot of this in the novelisation; tweaking characters so that we're happier with their fates. Mickey comes off best; his backstory is cleared up, and he is made into something of a local hero, central to his little estate community with a band of close mates whom he looks out for. Given that he's a more positively written character in the book, Rose's dismissal of him as we saw on TV would have made her seem even harsher than before. In turn, then, her reaction to Mickey's actions and her final goodbye to him are kinder and more understanding. It's a complete reworking of the story, keeping the same story, with only a handful more plot beats, but bringing so much more depth that it feels almost completely new.

Given that the novelisations are aimed at established fans, Rose in book form is far more steeped in Doctor Who mythology than the episode ever was. Not only is the intended audience different, the series has moved on to the point where the first Doctor can co-star alongside the current incarnation at Christmas. The 2005 episode went to lengths to avoid looking back at earlier iterations of the series, with only the basic trappings - police box, sonic screwdriver - and the choice of the Autons as the monster to link it back to the classic series. 

One bit that really stood out for fans in the original episode was Rose's visit to Clive in his obsession shed. Aside from one line - "That's your Doctor there, isn't it?" - nothing suggested that the Doctor had ever looked like anything other than Christopher Eccleston. Of course, it's easy to understand why RTD didn't want to chuck in a bunch of old men in funny clothes and confuse new viewers, but there's no way that scene would be written the same way today. And so it's not. In the book, Clive files his documents by incarnation, kept in strict order as best he can figure out. Rose is shown photos of various Doctors, not only recognisable incarnations (although she does see the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth Doctors) but even potential future incarnations. The novels have been introducing possible future Doctors since Battlefield but it still adds a little something to the expanding expanded universe, and RTD really flies with it. Apparently, some day in the future the Doctor will look like a dark-skinned woman and wield a flaming sword, while in another life they'll be childlike and use a wheelchair, and own a robot dog (K-9 mark five?) In fact, it makes it clear that Davies was displaying admirable restraint when he wrote the script for "Rose."

Also, hats off to him for managing to incorporate Graham Norton's unintended voiceover from the original broadcast. Now that's novelisation.

First published by BBC Books (Target imprint) in 2018
Based on "Rose," first broadcast in 2005
Audiobook read by Camille Coduri