Monday 23 March 2020

Who Novelisation Quest 5: "The Five Doctors" by Terrance Dicks

1983 cover
The Five Doctors is unique among the Target novelisations in being written and released before the serial it was based on reached the screen. This must have been an odd experience for the fans looking forward to the series' twentieth anniversary, able to read the story and get the main events before seeing the episode itself. On the other hand, it's not much different to my experience of the TV special, seeing that I'd absorbed most of the stories from programme guides before I saw them.

It isn't the strongest of Dicks's novelisations, but given that he had to speed-write this to meet the deadline, it's pretty solid. It was never the most logical of his scripts in the first place, unsurprising given his remit to include as many Doctors, companions and monsters as possible and then having to rewrite this to suit who was available. Given this, it's odd that the novelisation doesn't differ more from the televised version. Why not take the opportunity to go back to the earlier version of the script, and bring the Fourth Doctor into the story fully? Why not include more faces from the past, without the restrictions of actor availability?

1991 cover
Perhaps that would be asking too much of Dicks when rushing something to completion with such a difficult brief. There are some shifts in the story, mostly a few minor scenes reintroduced or moved around, and even this mainly brings the story more in-line with the later Special Edition video release. There are a few little asides that are noteworthy: the First Doctor being near the end of his life is particularly intriguing, given his tightly-packed adventures on screen. I dislike the insistence of having Susan call the Doctor by that title, rather than Grandfather, which Carole Ann Ford rightfully insisted on when filming the special, even if there is a flimsy justification in the prose. (Basically, everyone else calls him that, so she does too.)

The Five Doctors was a bit of silly anniversary fun, and the novelisation is no different. Even a speed-written Doctor Who story by Terrance Dicks is effortlessly entertaining. It's a pleasure to read.

First published by W. H. Allen (Target imprint) in 1983
Based on The Five Doctors, first broadcast in 1983
Audiobook read by Jon Culshaw, with Nicholas Briggs as the Cybermen and Dalek

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