End of an Era

As you may remember, I embarked on a read-through of my Doctor Who book collection last November.  After starting at a fairly fast pace, which I more or less maintained throughout the first Doctor’s stories, I have been taking things somewhat more slowly of late (and reading / doing lots of other, unrelated stuff too) but the project is still ongoing.

I have now reached the end of the second Doctor’s tenure, having finished reading The War Games yesterday.  I think in many respects, the transition from this story to the next one (Spearhead from Space – novelised as The Auton Invasion) is probably the single biggest point of change within the series, at least the classic run (and arguably including the new series as well).

Changes of Doctor (and to a lesser extent, changes of companion) always signal a bit of a change in the feel of the show.  The change from William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton (which, incidentally was described as a renewal rather than a regeneration – I don’t think that term actually got used, at least not officially,  until Tom Baker replaced Jon Pertwee) was a significant milestone as it established that the Doctor could change his body (i.e. the lead actor could be replaced) and the show could go on.

In terms of the change in the Doctor’s character, or his style, I don’t think the change from Troughton to Pertwee was particularly more marked than the previous change, or for that matter, any of the later ones.  The fact that there was a complete change of companions at the same time, a fairly unusual occurrence (indeed, unique in the original series), but this too was only a relatively minor contribution to the difference between seasons 6 (the final Troughton season) and 7 (the first Pertwee one).

Another change at this point was the switch from filming and broadcasting in black and white to colour.  This is, of course, more significant (or certainly more obvious) in the TV series than in the novels.  However, and I think it was largely due to the differing technical constraints and possibilities of the two media, it did definitely have quite a big impact on the kinds of stories they told and the way they told them.  For one thing, the pace of the storytelling definitely seemed to pick up somewhat once Doctor Who was being made in colour (although probably not so significantly as when the new series started). Other than that, it’s difficult to quantify precisely what the difference is but there is definitely quite a different feel to the black and white episodes.

I think, though, that the single biggest change was the introduction of the Time Lords, which happened during The War Games (where they were mentioned fairly early in the story and featured heavily in the final episode or two).  Previously there had been strong hints, and it had perhaps even been stated outright, that the Doctor was not human and was a fugitive from his own people.  However, it was left entirely mysterious who his own people were.  One of them, known as the Meddling Monk, appeared in a couple of stories with the first Doctor (initially in The Time Meddler, about which I wrote previously, and then in The Daleks’ Master Plan) but, although he too had a TARDIS, neither he nor the Doctor were identified as Time Lords.  All of a sudden, in The War Games, we get to see the society that the Doctor had run from and which has now caught up with him.  From this point on there will be very frequent references to the Time Lords, and not infrequent appearances by them, as well as a gradual unfolding of quite a lot more details about the Doctor’s alien nature.

There is still plenty of mystery about the Doctor after this, but it’s never going to be quite the same as it was with Hartnell and Troughton.

I am slightly sad to have reached this point in the stories, as it means bidding farewell to Zoe, who has long been my favourite companion (more for her potential than for what they actually did with the character, although I always thought she had a particularly lovely smile).  Still, we have Liz Shaw and Sarah Jane Smith, two of my other favourites, coming up soon, so it’s not all bad.

Incidentally, although the TV series goes straight from The War Games to Spearhead From Space, there have been several extra-canonical works shoehorned into the gap between them (despite the fact that one effectively finishes with the Time Lords forcing a regeneration onto the Doctor and exiling him to Earth, while the other begins with his arrival there).  I have got one of these, a novel called World Game (by Terrance Dicks – surely the most prolific Doctor Who author of all time, as well as having been the script editor at this point in the TV series’ history), which explains that the Doctor was actually employed by the Time Lords as a secret agent for a while before his exile began (and that the exile was a commutation of the death sentence in return for this service, with the official history as presented by the TV and the novelisations having suppressed the truth).  I’ve only just started reading this novel for the first time but it seems fairly promising so far.

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Evil Power Daleks

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently reading through my Doctor Who book collection. This is focused on the classic series (i.e. from its inception in 1963 to its cancellation in 1989; so far my only contact with the new series has been via the TV episodes, mostly on DVD). Although I also have a number of more-recently-written novels (including a few audiobooks) set in this era, the mainstay of my collection is novelisations of the original TV stories. By now, I have almost all the novelisations up to the end of the 5th Doctor’s tenure, with only two outstanding (there were also a handful of stories that were never officially novelised, but there are versions of them published by the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club which are freely available online in PDF format – although the novelisations page seemed to be down when I last checked it). My collection for the remaining doctors has a few more gaps but I’m less worried by them since I remember watching the stories that are missing from my novel collection and some of them weren’t that great.

The two missing novels from my early Doctor Who collection are the two dalek stories from the Patrick Troughton era. Both of these were novelised (sometime in the late 1980s, I think) by John Peel (not the radio DJ) but unfortunately they are long out-of-print and copies are now quite expensive to procure. I have not yet managed to find a copy of either book for a price that I’m willing to pay. However, all is not lost as I have managed to get copies of both stories in other formats (not DVD, as both are among the missing stories from the early years of Doctor Who).

The first of the two stories is The Power of the Daleks, which is an especially significant story as it was Troughton’s first (and therefore the first story ever – not counting the two dalek movies of the early 1960s – to feature a doctor other than William Hartnell). I have got a copy of the TV script for this one (which, along with several other Doctor Who scripts, was published in the early 1990s). Reading a script is, in some ways (and perhaps unsurprisingly), rather similar to reading a play and requires somewhat more effort than reading a novel to keep track of all the characters and to imagine how the lines might be delivered.

The other story is The Evil of the Daleks, which was the first story of the next season (season 5) and marked the introduction of the character of Victoria Waterfield, who went on to travel with the Doctor and Jamie for the remainder of that season (before being replaced by Zoe, who is a strong contender for my favourite companion ever). This one I have in audiobook format. They have used the audio track from the original story (which, unlike the video, still exists in its entirety) and supplemented it with some fill-in narration from Frazer Hines (the actor who played Jamie, although he doesn’t put on a Scottish accent for the narration) to explain the bits that are not conveyed by the dialogue.

Both the script and the audiobook provide quite a different experience from reading a novelisation. On balance I prefer the novel format, which I think holds up better as an alternative to actually watching the stories. If I get a chance to get the novels of these two stories without having to mortgage any body parts to pay for them, I think I will do so. However, it is quite nice by way of change to approach these stories via alternative media and it is certainly better than having them completely absent from my collection.

As I write this, I am listening to the final chapter of The Evil of the Daleks. This illustrates one benefit of audiobooks over printed novels, in that you can listen to them while doing other stuff (although potentially at the cost of sacrificing some of your attention from the story).

All Change

My read-through of my Doctor Who book collection is proceeding well, after about 3 weeks.

I’m currently reading The Time Meddler (novelisation by Nigel Robinson, original script by Dennis Spooner). This was the 17th televised Doctor Who story and the end of the second season, although I also have a number of original novels (i.e. ones which are not based on TV stories) and, for some reason, most of the ones I’ve got are for the William Hartnell era and many of these fit within the first two seasons, so this is actually the 23rd novel on my list.

In some respects, this very early period of Doctor Who is an especially interesting one as we see the character of the Doctor taking shape as he transforms from essentially an anti-hero (who kidnaps two innocent people in the first episode and forces them to travel with him rather than risk them spilling the beans on his existence, as well as being quite ready to club an injured man to death in order to facilitate his own escape or to endanger the lives of his crew by faking a malfunction to the TARDIS which necessitates exploring an alien city that turns out to be populated by Daleks) to the hero we know and love who, while still taking his companions into dangerous situations, will do everything in his power to look after them and will willingly put his own life on the line to help people in need, just because it’s the right thing to do.

The story I’ve just finished (The Chase, by Terry Nation and novelised by John Peel – I’m not sure if that’s the radio DJ or another person of the same name) marked the point at which the last of the doctor’s original companions (who started out as the people kidnapped by the Doctor, as mentioned earlier, and by this time have become his close friends) left the TARDIS and the second new companion (Steven, played by Peter Purves who would later go on to be a Blue Peter presenter – although he’d left that programme too by the time I started watching it around 1980) joined (the Doctor’s original companion, his granddaughter Susan, was replaced by Vicki about half a dozen stories back; BTW technically although Steven appeared in the Chase and entered the TARDIS at the end of that story, he didn’t officially become a companion until the start of the Time Meddler, when the Doctor and Vicki discovered him on board). In most respects, I think that the smaller TARDIS crew that became standard for most of the time from now on (the Doctor plus one or two companions rather than three) worked better, but it was still a shame to see Ian and Barbara (who were probably the strongest companion characters in the early years of the show) leave.

The Time Meddler itself is quite an interesting story as it represents the first appearance in the series by another member of the Doctor’s race, although they weren’t identified as Time Lords for another few seasons (not until The War Games at the end of Patrick Troughton’s era). I think largely because of that, this was one of the first of the early Doctor Who stories that I particularly wanted to see or read when I was growing up. The novelisation didn’t come out until 1987 and I don’t think it made it into any of my local public libraries at the time; certainly I didn’t get my hands on a copy until about 2006 (the last time I was working on expanding and re-reading my Doctor Who book collection). I remember watching the serial on TV at some point, probably in the early to mid 1990s, when I suppose they must have been showing some repeats.

In addition to reading the Doctor Who novels themselves, I’ve discovered an interesting resource called the Tardis Eruditorum (by Philip Sandifer). This started life, and continues, as a blog providing a story-by-story commentary on the series, from the first episode up the the present and including a representative (or possibly just personally biased) selection of stories from alternative media (novels, audiobooks etc.) and some other essays on topics tangentially related to Doctor Who. The collected essays on the first two Doctors’ eras (complete with a few bonus essays on some of the non-TV stuff that wasn’t covered in the blog, as well as a few updates or expansions on the existing articles) are available as printed books and also as e-books for Kindle, and it’s this latter format in which I’ve got them for the sake of convenience. I’ve been reading the Tardis Eruditorum in parallel with the series of novels (i.e. read a novel, then read its entry in the Eruditorum) and finding it quite interesting. I don’t agree with all the opinions expressed by the author but it certainly adds an extra dimension to my contemplation of the Doctor Who opus.

Happy Birthday to Who

Today is the 49th anniversary of the broadcast of the first episode of Doctor Who, which went out at around tea-time on Saturday 23rd November 1963 (slightly delayed by a newsflash relating to the assassination of President Kennedy, which took place the previous day).

For the past month or so I’ve been watching through, and adding to, my Doctor Who DVD collection and I’ve also been intending to re-read my fairly extensive collection of Doctor Who books. The latter includes most of the novelisations of the classic TV series (at least up to the end of Peter Davison’s tenure as the Doctor; my coverage of the last few seasons is much more patchy) as well as a few original novels set during the same period. I don’t yet have any of the novels based on the new series and I’m not currently planning to extend my collection in this direction.

The birthday of Doctor Who seemed to be too good an opportunity to miss and, since I don’t want to wait another whole year (for the half-century) before I begin, I decided to start my latest read through today. The last time I attempted this feat was about 7 years ago and I got about half way through the Tom Baker era stories (in fact, roughly to the point the series had reached by the time I was born, I think) before getting side-tracked to other projects. This time, I intend to read my entire Doctor Who library, which includes quite a few books that I have added to my collection more recently. I’ve no idea how long it will take to get through the whole lot. On the one hand, most of the books are fairly short and don’t take long to read, but on the other hand there are over 150 of them and I’m certainly not intending to completely give up reading other stuff while I read Doctor Who.

I plan to read the books in chronological order (as listed in the Doctor Who Reference Guide). The first book in my collection is that of the first televised serial, An Unearthly Child. Coincidentally, that was one of the first two Doctor Who books I got (along with The Loch Ness Monster – the novelisation of the story Terror of the Zygons), back in the very early 1980s. As I recall, they belonged to my big brother, who gave them to me when he no longer wanted them (at least, I hope he didn’t want them back!).