A Look Back: The First Doctor novelizations

The DaleksDoctor Who fiction essentially began with the November 1964 release of Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure With the Daleks.  A novelization of The Daleks, the second-ever Who TV serial, it was penned by David Whitaker, then just wrapping up his one year as the show’s inaugural story editor.

Even as the first, it’s still one of the best.  The first couple of chapters are disconcerting — because the publisher, Frederick Muller, didn’t have the rights to An Unearthly Child, the first serial, David Whitaker had to add material to turn his novelization into a de facto origin story.  So Barbara is a secretary serving as Susan’s private tutor, the two of them get into a bloody car wreck on Barnes Common, and Ian is a scientist, on his way home from a job interview, who brings them to a particular Police Box for safety…  The entire book is written from Ian’s point-of-view, and includes a running subplot about his romantic interest in Barbara.  As such, it restructures much of the seven-episode TV serial and, frankly, makes it a little better.  The book ends with the Doctor offering Ian and Barbara a chance to stay with the Thals and rebuild the planet Skaro (“Now there’s a challenge for you!”)… which, imagine how much different Doctor Who fiction would have been, had Ian and Barbara accepted this offer, and had this been the only novelization!

Two novelizations followed during the next two years.  Bill Strutton novelized The Web Planet, as Doctor Who and the Zarbi, in 1965.  The TV story was evidently quite well regarded at the time; now, it’s charitably described as “an interesting experiment” and more realistically described as “unwatchable”.  Strutton’s novelization is bizarre; he demonstrates serious unfamiliarity with the show, and his prose style rivals that of the anonymous, barely-coherent short stories published for children in the old Doctor Who Annuals.  There’s also a very dated set of what would now be considered misogynistic attitudes towards female characters.

An improvement over this is David Whitaker’s 1966 novelization of “The Crusade”, as Doctor Who and the Crusaders, in 1966.  While no longer told from Ian’s point of view, this one does triumphantly conclude the Ian/Barbara love story.  It’s mostly faithful to the TV episode, but leaves Richard the Lionheart a much more enigmatic character (here, he does not reconcile with the Doctor after throwing him out of his court in the Episode 3 material), and there’s a still-fascinating prologue, set entirely on board the TARDIS, where the Doctor and his companions discuss the immutability of history, and where the Doctor expresses his desire to take them a conflict where both sides are balanced and equally justified in their actions.  The story, in print as well as on TV, certainly achieves this goal.

The Dalek Invasion of EarthAfter 1966, there were no more novelizations until Target came along in 1973 with reprints of the three Frederick Muller titles.  Starting in 1974, Target began novelizing more TV episodes, mostly from the then-current Third Doctor era, and branching out with some Troughton and, after the broadcast of Robot in December 1974/January 1975, Tom Baker adventures, as well.  Unfortunately, the Hartnell era was seriously underrepresented for the rest of the ’70s, even as the Target books were making a big impression on British youth.

We didn’t get a novelization of a Hartnell story until The Tenth Planet, which came out in February 1976, authored by Gerry Davis, who had co-written the story (although the book attributes script copyright solely to Kit Pedler).  It’s a direct follow-up to Davis’ own Doctor Who and the Cybermen, the novelization of The Moonbase, which had come out one year earlier, even though Tenth Planet was the earlier story.  This leads to oddities such as Cybermen correctly attributing the events of Tenth Planet to the year 1986, but with Tenth Planet itself taking place in 2000 (as the original scripts, which are what Davis novelized, were supposed to have done).  The ’70s Hartnell novelizations came to a premature close the next year, with Terrance Dicks handling The Dalek Invasion of Earth — one of eight novelizations that Terrance would see published in 1977 alone; this is one of his more basic adaptations.

An Unearthly ChildAnd then a serious Hartnell novelization drought: for the seven-and-a-half years after the publication of Dalek Invasion, we got exactly two First Doctor books.  Two! The Keys of Marinus came first, in 1980, and is a curious beast.  The cover, which obviously has nothing do with the story, was intended for an adaptation of The Edge of Destruction which got indefinitely postponed (I believe for reasons having to do with the then-recent death of Edge writer David Whitaker), and the book itself was written by Philip Hinchcliffe, whose only other Target books came from his own era producing the show.  This one is not badly written — Hinchcliffe does a very good Dicks pastiche — but it has the aura of “rush job” and “contractual obligation” all over it.

Better is Dicks’ own adaptation of An Unearthly Child (the complete serial, not just the first episode), published on October 15, 1981 (i.e. my 8th birthday), just in time for “The Five Faces of Doctor Who” —  the BBC2 rerun season which screened Unearthly (and four other serials) to herald the January 1982 debut of Peter Davison’s Doctor.  This one is just a joy to read — it’s Terrance in full-on myth-making mode, opening with a prolonged scene from the POV of the police constable glimpsed fleetingly in the first episode, ending with a huge lead-in to The Daleks, and in between, Terrance having great (non-snarky) fun with the political maneuverings of the cavemen.  It’s fair to say that I’ve memorized nearly every word of this book.

Marco PoloWith the arrival of Nigel Robinson as novelizations editor, and with the ranks of un-novelized Tom Baker episodes rapidly dwindling, the Hartnell era then began a prolonged print renaissance.  September 1984 saw John Lucarotti novelizing his own The Aztecs, with Marco Polo following early the next year.  This was right around the time that I discovered the novelizations, and the latter book especially is one of the many cornerstones to my abiding (and some would say irrational) obsession with the Hartnell era.  While each successive Lucarotti adaptation (concluding with the release of The Massacre in 1987) was increasingly unrelated to the original televised episodes, he always brought vivid descriptions of his historical settings, and interesting moral dilemmas for his characters.  The Massacre in particular was so far removed from Donald Tosh’s televised story that it could in some sense be considered the first Missing Adventure.

The other “new” author during this period was Donald Cotton, who novelized his two TV stories in 1985 and 1986, and then adapted the late Dennis Spooner’s The Romans in December 1987.  Where Lucarotti wrote richly-detailed books with an attempt at you-are-there realism, Cotton veered strictly to wordplay and farce.  His adaptation of The Myth Makers included all the puns deemed too silly for TV (“Hull Low, Young Lovers”, “Small Prophet, Quick Return”, and, of course, “Doctor in the Horse”), and was narrated by Homer, who starts the book with two good eyes and… well, you can imagine how many he winds up with at the end.  The Gunfighters is told by Doc Holliday, via Ned Buntline, and contains all the prostitutes and comedy deaths that the TV story was, comparatively, too sober to address…

Following the string of Lucarotti and Cotton successes came a succession of noble failures strewn across 1986 and 1987.  Just about every one-shot Who TV scribe from Seasons 2 and 3 came back to novelize their now 20-year-old adventures, many showing only a passing familiarity with the ability to write clear prose.  William Emms hewed very closely to his Galaxy 4 scripts, writing a four-chapter book, each chapter ending with the corresponding TV cliffhanger.  Both Glyn Jones (The Space Museum) and Paul Erickson (The Ark) expanded from the small screen, with Jones restoring all the humor that had been excised from his original drafts, and with Erickson adding a sense of limply-worded grandeur that simply couldn’t have fit inside Riverside Studio 1 in 1966. Gerry Davis was then hired to adapt his last-second scripts for The Celestial Toymaker, but, being busy in L.A. at the time, farmed them out to a young TV writer named Alison Bingeman who, in the event, wrote a less atmospheric and richly-detailed book than Davis was typically known for.

A little bit later on came Ian Stuart Black to novelize his two Hartnell stories.  The Savages is a fairly standard, not to say dry, adaptation, made slightly more interesting by the use of in-story quotes as chapter titles.  A little sharper is his take on The War Machines, which he wrote solely from the TV scripts, without reference to Michael Ferguson’s innovative direction.  Black adds one of the funnier in-jokes from the Target line here, as he has WOTAN secretly constructing a War Machine from … inside BBC TV Centre.  One can imagine a mind-controlled Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis neglecting their duties in order to build another marauding tank…

The Reign of TerrorRunning out of surviving authors, Nigel Robinson next turned to both Ian Marter and himself to clean up the Hartnell backlog.  Marter, who played Harry Sullivan on TV during the early Tom Baker era, was at home writing novelizations for almost all the TV Doctors (in his lifetime missing out only on Jon Pertwee and Colin Baker).  His version of The Reign of Terror is terrific, upping the violence quotient from what would have been acceptable on TV in 1964; on-air, Robespierre was shot in the jaw off-screen, but in print, it is most certainly done in-vision.  Marter also has the TARDIS crew actually speaking in French, rather than relying on wibbly-wobbly notions about “TARDIS translation circuits”.

Unfortunately, Marter died in October 1986 (on his 42nd birthday), before completing work on The Rescue.  Robinson himself finished work on that one.  I enjoyed Robinson’s books quite a bit when I was younger, but turning to them now, I find this one quite disappointing, including his pointless coda killing off the last two surviving Didonians.  Almost as bad, his novelization of The Time Meddler jettisons most of the good-natured humor of the original, betraying a distaste for the character of Steven which, honestly, is quite unmerited, given how much energy Peter Purves managed to bring to the role.  Robinson also tackled The Sensorites and The Edge of Destruction, doubling the size of the latter story (to bring it to the then-standard 144-page count), adding much of his own material in a somewhat kind-of sort-of close match to David Whitaker’s notions, and in the process making the TARDIS very much a creature out of Poltergeist

[On a side note, Robinson recently wrote a new novelization of An Unearthly Child, read by William Russell, which was supposed to be released by AudioGo in early November 2013, but is, as far as I can tell, still unavailable for retail purchase, due to AudioGo’s recent shutdown…]

Closing out the Hartnell era in print between November 1988 and December 1990 were long-time Who scribe John Peel, and our old friend Terrance Dicks.  Peel had the more plum assignment, adapting The Chase and The Daleks’ Masterplan.  When Peel recounted his authorship of the latter at L.I. Who last month, he recalled opting to split the story across two books. Terry Nation had asked him why he did this, to which Peel replied, “Two advances.”  Nation reportedly said, “Now you’re thinking like a writer!”. While The Chase in print is oddly humorless, at least compared to its TV counterpart, the two-book set for Masterplan is one of the Target line high points; it enhances its descriptions of Dalek armies, shoot-outs, Sara Kingdom’s kung-fu fighting, and Mavic Chen’s double-dealings, and basically eliminates the very few weaknesses of the TV original.  As a plus, the audiobook adaptations are narrated by Purves, Jean Marsh, and Nicholas Briggs.

One senses, however, that Terrance Dicks was a bit less enthused about his chance to novelize Planet of Giants and The Smugglers, neither story coming from Dicks’ long tenure on the series.  For Giants, Dicks reinstated some of the material cut for TV when the episode count was reduced from four to three in post-production, but the book still manages to be…. miniscule … in length (see what I did there?).  Dicks tries his best with The Smugglers, too, but you can always tell when he’s either bored with, or irritated by, the story he’s adapting, and, in this case, he spends so much time recapping the end of the previous story, The War Machines, that you can sense him at his typewriter in 1988 doing whatever he could to avoid having to retell the story proper…

If you read the Hartnell novelizations in story order, you’ll notice that they present a rather skewed view of the TV era.  You get two separate origin stories, and a regeneration scene that doesn’t remotely match the ones on TV.   Courtesy of the later books, you get out-of-sequence reveals that the Doctor is a Time Lord with two hearts, and a more influential future for Ian Chesterton than the little “aww” moment presented in The Day of the Doctor.  Interestingly, when John Peel adapts the final ten minutes of The Tenth Planet for his adaptation of The Power of the Daleks, he finds ways to name-check UNIT, Sarah Jane Smith, and a character from Remembrance of the Daleks.  The books were written over a period of 26 years — as long as the original show ran — and, oddly, the books from 1989 and ’90 tend to be more screen-faithful to the Hartnell era than the ones actually published when Hartnell was still the leading man …

Then again, there’s really no point in my trying to be objective about the novelizations, any of them.  I’ve been reading and rereading them for almost 30 years, and can still remember turns of phrases from books that I haven’t opened for more than half that time.  No matter when they were written, or who wrote them, or how much they deviate from the televised stories, these books are a huge part of my Doctor Who fandom, and I wouldn’t get rid any of them.  Not even Doctor Who and the Zarbi.

Well… OK.  Maybe Doctor Who and the Zarbi.

About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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