The Gentle, Comical Face

the-abominable-snowmen-1

Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen.  Original Target cover.

Title: Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen
Televised as: The Abominable Snowmen
Written by: Terrance Dicks
Teleplay by: Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln
Televised in: September through November 1967
Published in: November 1974
Chapters: One and Two

As I went to pick up my copy of Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen, I realized that the book, when published in late 1974, broke a streak of six consecutive Third Doctor novelizations. In fact, this is the first true “Past Doctor Adventure”. The three Frederick Muller novelizations all came out during the Hartnell era, and, while 1974 was Jon Pertwee’s final year as the Third Doctor and while he had bowed out in Planet of the Spiders that June, all of the first six Pertwee novelizations were released before Tom Baker’s proper debut story, Robot, hit the screens the last week of the year.

But the novelization of The Abominable Snowmen is quite a different animal. Pardon the pun. Or not. The book came out over seven years after the TV episodes aired, and about five and a half years after Patrick Troughton’s final appearance as the lead. So it was the first “retro” novelization. And, as we’ll talk about next time, it’s really the beginning of Terrance Dicks’ rushed-for-time paint-by-numbers approach to adapting “Doctor Who” scripts for book format, and a slight setback (but only slight) from the lush quality of his earlier who efforts.

The opening two chapters of Abominable Snowmen are exhilarating, not so much because it’s great writing – it’s good, it’s serviceable, but it’s a notable letdown after I’d just spent the previous eleven days in the company of Barry Letts and Malcolm Hulke. Rather, this is Terrance introducing Patrick Troughton – the man who was the Doctor when Dicks began working for the show – to a new audience, to kids who quite possibly were too young to have seen or remembered The Abominable Snowmen on TV.

This means that the first two chapters of Snowmen spent a little more time than usual establishing the Doctor and his two (by then long-gone) companions, Victoria and Jamie. But first, we get our first good, true, Terrance Dicks-style description of the TARDIS’ arrival. He featured it briefly in his first novelization, Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion, but then his second adaptation, of Day of the Daleks, was essentially a TARDIS-free story.

Next morning, a little higher on that same Himalayan peak, a wheezing, groaning sound shattered the peace and stillness of the mountain air. An old blue police box appeared from nowhere, transparent at first, but gradually becoming solid. It perched on a snow ledge, looking completely out of place.
Inside the police box was an ultra-modern control room, with a center console of complex instruments. There was something very odd about this police box. Somehow it was bigger on the inside than on the outside.

Variations on this theme will appear in just about every subsequent Dicks novelization, although at this early date he hadn’t yet described the center console as “many-sided”.

And then comes the TARDIS crew:

There were three people in the control room. One was a middle-aged, middle-sized man with a gentle, rather comical face, and a shock of untidy black hair. He was wearing an old black coat,and a pair of rather baggy check trousers. […] a mysterious traveler in Space and Time known only as the Doctor.

After Victoria and Jamie are introduced, Victoria then reflects on just what the Doctor is like:

Victoria sometimes wondered if her decision to join the Doctor had been a wise one. He was very kind, in his vague, erratic way, and she was very fond of him. But he did seem to have a knack of wandering into the most appalling danger.

Interestingly, Dicks chooses Victoria as his audience-identification figure in these opening scenes. The character was from from the 19th century, an orphan, but it’s through her eyes that Dicks interprets the Second Doctor – since the Target house style at the time was to minimize scenes told from the Doctor’s own POV. Dicks plays up her innate strengths (“despite her initial timidity, she was discovering resources of courage inside herself”).

Unfortunately, as much as Dicks tries to make Victoria identifiable, he’s still working from the original script. And, the sad fact is, no matter how well Deborah Watling played her on TV, Victoria’s dialogue is just about, 100%, a mix of scared whines and nervous questions. She says very little that’s memorable in between the quotation marks. That’s not on Dicks – he’s only typing up what was in the original, pre-rehearsal scripts – but it does make Victoria, for all the extended intro she’s given here, a much less interesting character than Liz Shaw got to be in The Auton Invasion, or than Jo Grant got to be in the Letts and Hulke novelizations.

An example of this is will be seen later on, in the Episode Three cliffhanger. On TV, a Yeti held captive within the monastery is reactivated, when its control unit (a semi-sentient silver sphere) rolls its way across the monastery and re-enters the Yeti’s body. In the book, presumably as originally intended by authors Haisman and Lincoln, the sphere briefly possesses Victoria and forces her to place the sphere back inside the Yeti. This bit of possession doesn’t have the effect of making Victoria look particularly competent … and it’s not even the only time Victoria will be possessed in the story, either.

For all the issues with Victoria’s characterization, it’s Jamie, however, who is played off as the more cartoonish figure:

He welcomed each new adventure with tremendous gusto. Jamie was a fighter by nature. English Redcoat soldier or alien monster, it was all the same to Jamie. He grabbed his trusty claymore and charged.

Dicks makes the, from a 2016 perspective, somewhat puzzling decision to type all of Jamie’s scripted lines in dialect. Just in case we, you know, didn’t realize that Jamie was Scottish rather than English. There are tons of “Och!”s and “mebbe”s and “dinna ken”s. To the modern-day New Series fan, what with Karen Gillan and Peter Capaldi proudly owning their native accents, and with David Tennant narrating audiobooks in his Scottish burr, there’s nothing unusual about “Doctor Who”’s cast having a variety of accents. But in the 1960s, you only had three accents. Lower-class soldiers (and Ben Jackson) spoke Cockney, just about everyone else spoke RP (including Dodo Chaplet after two weeks on the job)… and Jamie spoke Scottish. The use of dialect to separate Jamie out from all the other characters quite possibly made a lot of sense when the novelizations were being written, but from today’s viewpoint it seems more like an effort to dehumanize the character. I’m sure the Target writers believed they were doing this all in good fun (Gerry Davis would do it as well for his upcoming adaptation of The Moonbase), but on the printed page it now looks just odd.

It’s been pointed out by more popular pundits that Jamie’s role as a young 18th-century man, who constantly needed technology explained to him, was quickly glossed over by the production team, in order to play up the terrific chemistry that Troughton had with Fraser Hines. By the time of The Tomb of the Cybermen, Hines had Jamie laughing genuinely at the Doctor’s “complete metal breakdown” quip, which in context should have made no sense to the character at all. But here, Jamie is still very much the Doctor’s student: “What was it that the Doctor was always on about? The exercise of logical thought”.

Even when the Doctor is paying Jamie a compliment, it sounds about as backhanded as something Winston Churchill might have said witheringly about a political adversary:

“Go on, Jamie,” said the Doctor encouragingly. He knew that although the Scots lad was more of a fighting man than a thinker, he had a shrewd, quick mind, especially where practical problems were concerned.

And, of course, Jamie’s 18th-century gender politics are always worth a good double-take.

“I’m getting very bored,” Victoria said. “Couldn’t we take a look outside?”
Jamie shook his head. “The Doctor said to wait here”.
“I’ll go by myself.” Victoria stood up decisively. Jamie sighed. It was in the nature of females to be contrary.

*****

abominable-snowmen-1

The Second Doctor models a bulky fur coat, which will soon cause Victoria to mistake him for a Yeti.

Because Doctor Who was produced, back in the day, with a week or more of rehearsals, followed by only four to six days of taping for any given serial, you often find a wide gulf between script and screen. The authors’ final scripts would get sent to rehearsal… and would often come out quite different, after the director and lead actors and script editor had their say. We as fans know about the differences, because the novelizations were based on those pre-rehearsal, scripts, and we’ve read the novelizations a dozen times each, but we’ve also seen the TV episodes 15-20 times or more, so already have memorized two different versions of the same story. In reading any novelization, but especially one featuring a very visual and inventive, improv-flavored Doctor such as Patrick Troughton or Tom Baker, who had heavy input to the scripts during rehearsal and production, the mere words on the page often just fail to capture the anarchic quality of that Doctor.

We’ll talk about this a lot more in the coming months as we get to Print Tom Baker, who’s a more sedate figure than TV’s Tom Baker.  Print Baker is much less prone to over-dramatically declaiming Shakespeare over a Cyberman’s corpse, or hurling ad-libbed insults at rubber-masked aliens, or finding comical ways to enter doors (or, in the case of The Androids of Tara Part One, walking through the set as all the other characters walk around to enter through the doorway).

In reading this first Patrick Troughton novelization, one instantly senses that Dicks is writing for a clownish, attention-grabbing character, an alien. Jon Pertwee was a much more traditional stick-to-the-script actor, and while he did pepper the script with suggestions and improvements during rehearsal, you can rely on the novelization for a largely accurate sense of what he was like on camera. With Troughton, though, as vividly as Dicks writes for him in the books, there’s still a lot missing when you watch the corresponding TV episode back.

For starters, it has to be acknowledged that Dicks does capture Troughton well in print.  Early in his first appearance here, Dicks writes:

The Doctor started ferreting inside the chest, rather like a dog at a rabbit hole, throwing things over his shoulder with gay abandon. Jamie and Victoria looked on in amazement. After a moment, the Doctor’s head popped up indignantly. “Come on, you two. Aren’t you going to help me?”

Later in the story, Dicks spends a lot of time playing up the Doctor’s alien nature.  In this story, the Doctor hypnotizes two characters, engages in a telekinetic battle of wits with the Great Intelligence, and is frequently described as having immense strength under his unassuming, baggy exterior.  Dicks clearly has a lot of fondness for both the Second Doctor and for Troughton, and it shows in the book.  You won’t mistake the Troughton in The Abominable Snowmen for Hartnell or Pertwee, that’s for sure.

But, while, in the book, it’s amusing to read about the Doctor ransacking a treasure chest inside the TARDIS console, searching for the holy ghanta of Tibet’s Detsen Monastery, that still pales somewhat in comparison to the TV episodes, where Troughton does even more impish clowning around the console room set, including some business with a set of bagpipes that Jamie then offers to tune for him.

In Episode Two, two bits of inspired clowning on the TV screen – the Doctor playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” in his monastery cell, and then frightfully grabbing Victoria’s hand and backing away because – oh no! – Jamie has an idea! – are both missing from the book. Instead, here, the Doctor sleeps in his monastery cell (“relaxed with something of the serenity of the holy ones themselves about it” – not that Troughton’s performance could ever really be described as “serene”), and makes no comical double-takes about Jamie’s idea at all.  The Doctor ends Episode Six by playing the recorder again, but the novelization is a recorder-free zone.

Also missing from the adaptation is a rather striking scene in Episode Four, one presumably added by script editors Peter Bryant or Victor Pemberton late in the production, where Victoria and one of the Tibetan monks discuss the Doctor’s great age and godlike qualities.

In short, Dicks does an excellent job introducing the Second Doctor to the novelization range.  His Doctor is both clownish and alien, excitable and reflective, impish and hypnotic.  It’s only that, when you watch the TV episodes, you realize that Patrick Troughton was all of that, and about twice as much more besides.

Next Time: We’ll talk about how Dicks handles the rest of the story elements, and, of course, Henry Lincoln’s rather more infamous second career.

Advertisements

About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
This entry was posted in 2nd Doctor, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Gentle, Comical Face

  1. Pingback: Holy Blood, Holy Ghanta | Doctor Who Novels

  2. Pingback: The Gerry Davis Show | Doctor Who Novels

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s