The Wheel of Fortune


The edition I own.

Title: Doctor Who and the Crusaders
Televised as: The Crusade (video release title)
Written by: David Whitaker
Teleplay by: David Whitaker
Published in: 1966
Chapters: Three through Eight

When I reviewed The Web Planet a few years back, I lamented about the execrable final episode of the story, that we were even cruelly deprived a direct lead-in to the superlative following story, The Crusade. Fortunately, as I mentioned in my review of The Crusade itself, it doesn’t take long for that story to being washing away the foul taste of the one that preceded it.

Reading the back six chapters of Doctor Who and the Crusaders, which roughly adapt Episodes Two through Four of the story, are similarly delightful. It would be very easy to review the novelization simply by block quoting the entire text of those six chapters. Of course, that would be pushing the Fair Use doctrine to an absurd degree, so the challenge here is to talk about why I like the book, without quoting from it quite too liberally.

As good as the TV story was, Whitaker here takes the opportunity to alter the details in many ways, to make the book more dramatically rich. Therefore, dialogue passages go on for longer, tertiary characters get a lot more screen time and motivation, and whole scenes and sequences are shuffled around and grouped together to provide for a smoother reading experience.

Indicative of this is a look at the screen title of Episode Three (The Wheel of Fortune).  That episode title is retained for the book — but it’s used for Chapter Four, which solely addresses Episode Two (The Knight of Jaffa) material.  Nothing from the chapter entitled The Wheel of Fortune correlates to any scene from the TV episode of the same title.  Whitaker may be novelizing his own TV scripts, but he certainly doesn’t feel beholden by them.  He’ll change a significant amount of large details even while telling the same story.

The Doctor promises us in the prologue that we’re going to visit a war, with each side led by a man who opposes the other for the best of reasons. And that’s what we get, mostly, in the two main guest characters, Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. On TV, Saladin is nicely underplayed by Bernard Kay… but never shows any lasting concern after Barbara is abducted from the protection of his court, and disappears from the narrative after Episode Three. Richard the Lionheart, while moody and mercurial as played by Julian Glover, briefly turns against the Doctor in Episode Three, but gets a wonderfully reflective and pious moment of redemption during his one scene in Part Four, with some great dialogue (telling the Doctor, “We were unjust to you to serve the greater good”).

In the novelization, however, Whitaker takes that apart and flips each character’s story arc. After Richard turns on the Doctor in the Episode Three material… there is no moment of redemption; the Doctor never sees him again in the book, is never forgiven.  However, Saladin does appear in the Episode Four material, this time actually getting to meet Ian (on TV, Barbara was the only TARDIS crewmember he met). And the two of them discuss theology, of all things.

“I give you these passes,” he told Ian, “because I admire your bravery and courage, Sir Ian. Secondly, the lady Barbara had believed she was under my protection and I would have that belief honoured. Lastly, El Akir has presumed upon my situation in this war, and his value to me in it, and I would have that rectified. His main army, of four thousand men, it is true, is placed with the body of my fighting men in front of Jerusalem, but he has a personal guard in Lydda of several hundred. One thing and one thing alone can bring success to your enterprise… the Will of Allah.” He smiled at Ian wryly.

“But of course, you are a Christian, and my words mean nothing to you.”

“On the contrary, Your Highness, if you will forgive my contradicting you,the names and the phrases differ but the purpose is the same in all races of intellect and culture.”

And this goes on for quite a spell. The conversation certainly would not have fit in a 25-minute TV episode, but we’ll always have the book to rectify that omission.

Whitaker also gets to do more with the two villainous parts. On TV, El Akir was played by Walter Randall, who played a handful of secondary villains in the Hartnell era, but was more of an ensemble player than a principal guest star. In the book, however, Whitaker, perfects El Akir’s villainy. The character is thoroughly sadistic and vicious, and to the modern eye it’s a bit uncomfortable to read the sentiments that Whitaker puts in El Akir’s head about the treatment of women, but the following window onto El Akir’s soul is something I’ve never grown tired of reading.

It is always hard to understand a man without saving graces. All human beings have facets which make them admired, as much as those they may possess which dismay or repel. Those who knew El Akir found nothing to recommend him, for they recognized in him a man saturated with guilt, so much so that his life could only continue by laying extra evils, one above another, as if the man were tortured by the foul deeds he had committed and had to hide them by inventing fresh crimes; and far worse ones at that; curtaining off yesterday’s depredations with new villainies.

(And that’s the word “depredations” in a children’s book).


Walter Randall as El Akir, a far less vivid on TV than his character would be in the book

A minor villain, Luigi Ferrigo, a Genoese merchant, who appeared only in Episode Two on TV and who was given an open-ended fate, also has a bigger role and better-defined arc in the novelization. He appears earlier in the story, and his misdeeds (helping El Akir kidnap Barbara from within Saladin’s court) come with a far more definite price.

So, as each man instinctively chooses the path in life he thinks will take him quickest to whatever his desires may be, Ferrigo’s way was shadowy and devious. Some said of him that he’d rather earn one gold piece by guile than a fortune by straightforward dealing, while others were convinced he was so filled with the lust for riches, he would rise to any height, or sink to any depths to make a profit.

One foundational rule of writing is to “show don’t tell”, but in this case I don’t begrudge Whitaker his deciding to break the fourth wall and tell us who a given  character is.  Not with writing like this.

Haroun ed Diin, a Lebanese merchant whose life was ruined by El Akir before the TARDIS crew arrived in the Holy Land, also has an expanded part in the book, with his backstory given even more tragic twists, and with his heroism in helping to take down El Akir at the end of the book made even more elaborate.

Whitaker’s ability to add dialogue, details, and more twists and turns, pays real fruit in the climax, where an unlimited budget is thrown at the Part Four material, removing it from the  confines of Riverside Studio 1.  In the book, Ian gets to fight with El Akir; El Akir tortures Barbara; and a fire is set in El Akir’s palace.  Maybe one of those three things could have been realized on TV, but, in the event, none of them were.

On TV, the story ends as the travelers depart the Holy Land and immediately find themselves trapped in The Space Museum … a story that is less fondly remembered than The Crusade. The novelization is spared the need to lead in to another story, lousy or otherwise. However, the novelization was also the last of its kind. This was the final Frederick Muller book, and until Target acquired the license, it would be another eight years before Doctor Who and the Crusaders led into anything.

Next Time: Jump ahead with me to 1974, Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion, and the arrival of one Terrance Dicks on the novelization scene.

About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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1 Response to The Wheel of Fortune

  1. Pingback: A Word About Pinnacle Books | "Doctor Who" Novels

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