Here we go then! Having brought a kindle and starting to get into the habit of reading a bit before I go to bed, I thought I’d dip into some of the books relating to some of my favourite franchises here and there (probably more there than here, admittedly), and where better to start than with Doctor Who! Sadly, there are a LOT of better books to start with by all accounts, but I’ve had my eye on reading this for many, many years, and despite going into it knowing it won’t be very good, I wanted to finally get that “monkey” off my back. Plus this means I can add a “Books” section to each of the first Eight Doctor’s pages! Hooray! Let’s take a closer look then!
Recuperating after the trauma of his recent regeneration, the Eighth Doctor falls foul of a final booby trap set by his arch-enemy, the Master.
When he recovers, the disorientated Doctor looks in a mirror and sees the face of a stranger. He knows only that he is called the Doctor – nothing more. But something deep inside tells him to trust the TARDIS, and his hands move over the controls of their own accord.
The TARDIS takes him to a strangely familiar junkyard in late-nineties London, where he is flung into a confrontation between local drug-dealers and Samantha Jones, a rebellious teenager from Coal Hill School.
But the Doctor soon finds the TARDIS transporting him to various other places in order to recover all his memories – and that involves seeing seven strangely-familiar faces…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Well, since it’s been a while since I sat down with a book, I am at least happy that author Terrance Dicks has a simple and easy to follow prose style. It helped me get back into the swing of things.
Also the idea of the Eighth Doctor losing his memory, beyond a cliché in 2020, and frankly unoriginal when this book was released in 1997, and having to revisit each of his past selves to regain each memory chunk is at least a fun way to do a multi-Doctor story, and could’ve been interesting. Could’ve been. New companion-to-be Sam is a good idea for 97, a contemporary girl struggling with the drug culture and the like, but again that doesn’t quite work out…
As much as I appreciated his prose style, Terrance Dicks was obviously the wrong choice here. BBC wanted to launch their Eighth Doctor books with a name fans would recognise and love, but it’s clear Mr. Dicks didn’t have any interest in writing anything that wasn’t connected to him. He starts by trashing the TV movie, then proceeds to have the Eighth Doctor coincidentally arrive mostly in stories that were written by him, with a Time Lord story going on at the same time that features characters and lore from a story written by him.
To make matters worse he had to write an introduction for new companion Sam, a 16-year-old girl in 1997 who is being tormented and harassed by a drug-taking gang, and he clearly had no idea how to write for someone of that age at that contemporary time. Hell, I’m 36 and if you asked me to write a convincing scene of a current 16-year-old having trouble with drugs I’m pretty sure my attempt at current dialogue and references would be pretty terrible. So it’s not so much blaming him as saying I think he just wasn’t the right man for the job.
Man… even the cover’s bad, though from what I’ve seen, the BBC Eighth Doctor books often just have a simple picture due to there being so few promo shots of McGann, or some such… Not that it stopped Big Finish, mind you!
So the story, beyond a chance encounter between an amnesiac Doctor and Sam at the start that involves a drug gang and a stay at a police station, is the titular Time Lord going back and meeting each of his other selves, arriving and freezing time for everyone but himself and his counterpart for a brief time and then getting involved. He meets his first self as he is about to bash in the head of a caveman with a rock from the first TV story (where it seems it’s the Eighth Doctor’s intervention that causes him to stop), his second self during his final adventure, The War Games (why his final adventure? Well, it was written by Terrance Dicks, of course!) helping himself come to terms with sending a message the Time Lords, his Third just after the Sea Devils (script edited by etc) where he comes into contact with The Master who is on his way to Devil’s End to retrieve his TARDIS (linking it more heavily to story “The Daemons”), his Fourth during State of Decay (written by etc.) where The Doctor has had a bunch of his blood drained and the Eighth gives him a blood transfusion paradoxically, his Fifth during The Five Doctors (why a multi-Doctor story in the middle of this multi-Doctor story? Well, it was written by…) more on that below, the Sixth during his Trial where the two Doctors have to deal with a revolt from the Shobogans against the high council, and the Seventh in a never-seen original story involving the planet Metebelis III from Planet of the Spiders (script edited by…)
Some were fine, admittedly. I liked the idea of the Third Doctor being tempted to take his future self’s TARDIS so he can escape his banishment (plus more Delgado Master is always good!) and I’ve always enjoyed the Raston Warrior Robot that the Fifth and Eighth Doctor had to defeat, but it was just little dips into Terrance Dicks’ Who history, and that’s all it felt like. It didn’t feel like exploring what at this point was a brand new Doctor, it was just the author taking a trip down his own memory lane. There was a side-story set on Gallifrey that featured President Flavia from the Five Doctors leaving The Doctor’s timeline-crossing antics alone, but a Time Lord name Ryoth instead uses the Time Scoop from the Five Doctors to send the Raston robot to kill The Doctor. It fails and The Doctors have the scoop backfire and the next creature (a Drashig) appears in Ryoth’s chamber and eats him. Again, Drashig from when Terrance Dicks was script editor and all Five Doctors stuff.
In the last moments The Doctor returns to Sam, and the two head off together.
As mentioned the meeting with each of the first six Doctors take place during or just after “An Unearthly Child”, “The War Games”, “The Sea Devils”, “State of Decay”, “The Five Doctors”, and “Trial of a Time Lord: The Ultimate Foe” respectively, with the Seventh Doctor being on Metebelis III from Third Doctor story “Planet of the Spiders”. Also featured are Drashigs, also from the Third Doctor era, in this case “Carnival of Monsters”.
After The Master escapes at the end of Sea Devils he heads to Devil’s End from “The Daemons” during the Third Doctor part, the story where he was captured. We also see a later version of The Master experimenting on “Deathworm Morphants”, a species he uses to transfer to other bodies in the TV Movie.
The rest is mostly from “The Five Doctors”, Flavia, the Raston Warrior Robot and even Borusa is freed from Rassilon’s tomb at one point. Flavia mentions the events of not only Five Doctors, but “The Three Doctors” and “The Two Doctors” as well.
The Eight Doctors is quite the experiment is revelling in one’s own past, and I’m not talking about The Doctor going back through his past selves, I’m talking about Terrance Dicks going back through his old stories. The prose is nice and simple, and there are small bits of good hiding in there somewhere, but overall it’s not a great experience. At least from many years of looking in from the outside I know there are many better novels out there, so I’m looking forward to getting to them, slowly but surely…