Lost in (intersemiotic) translation

My Doctor Who book read-through project is still going, albeit at a somewhat slower pace than I had envisaged.

I have just started on Season 8, which is the second season with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor.  The first story of that season, Terror of the Autons, is the story which introduces Jo Grant as the Doctor’s new companion (replacing the wonderful yet criminally under-utilised Liz Shaw from the previous season) and the Master as his arch-nemesis.  It also happens to be one of the classic (as in, original 20th century series rather than 21st century revival) stories that I have on DVD and I have watched it fairly recently.

Early in the first episode is the scene where Jo meets the Doctor, while he is busily engaged in an experiment in his lab.  He mistakes her for the tea lady and is rather less than happy when, after his experiment catches fire, she grabs a fire extinguisher to put it out and in the process wrecks several month of painstaking work that he has done.  In response to this, the Doctor calls Jo a “ham-fisted bun vendor”, which has to be one of my favourite insults in the entire run of Doctor Who (although, as Phil Sandifer pointed out in his Tardis Eruditorum blog post about the story – himself referencing an earlier article by Paul Cornell – this is actually a rather disturbing indication of a somewhat elitist attitude apparently held by this incarnation of the Doctor).

I was somewhat disappointed when I re-read the novelisation to discover that the “ham-fisted bun vendor” line was left out (I don’t think I knew about it the previous times I read the book).  I suppose the reason is that Terrance Dicks, the author, was having to squeeze quite a lot of material into a fairly small page count and couldn’t afford the space to set up the scene with the Doctor mistaking Jo for the tea lady, which would have been necessary for the comment to make sense (or perhaps he didn’t like the line).  This is a case where intersemiotic translation (that is, the conversion of something from one medium to another – in this case television to novel) requires changes in the material presented.

I could waffle on at great length about intersemiotic translation, but I only really wanted an excuse to quote the “ham-fisted bun vendor line” (which I’ve now said 3 times in as many paragraphs) so instead I’ll refer you to the writings of Umberto Eco (from which I learned more-or-less all I know about the subject) if you’re interested to know more about it.

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