Doctor Who: The New Adventures Series 1.02 – Timewyrm: Exodus

Cover for Timewyrm Exodus

Where to Find It?

Physical copies can be found at

A detailed synopsis can be found at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.

Story By

Terrance Dicks

Book Copy

The pursuit of the Timewyrm leads the Doctor and Ace to London, 1951, and the Festival of Britain — a celebration of the achievements of this small country, this insignificant corner of the glorious Thousand Year Reich.

Someone — or something — has been interfering with the time lines, and in order to investigate, the Doctor travels further back in time to the very dawn of the Nazi evil. In the heart of the Germany of the Third Reich, he finds that this little band of thugs and misfits did not take over half the world unaided.

History must be restored to its proper course, and in his attempt to repair the time lines, the Doctor faces the most terrible dilemma he has ever known…


The fabric of time was badly torn, Ace. You can’t stitch it up like repairing an old shirt.

While John Peel had become a regular hand at writing Target novelizations, Terrance Dicks had a much more intimate résumé where Doctor Who was concerned. He was script editor during the Pertwee years. He wrote televised stories for the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors (possibly more uncredited). Having this second original novel in the range written by Dicks is a great way to bridge the two series, lending credibility and blessing, passing the torch as it were.

In Exodus we travel to the heart of the Nazi Reich at its beginning stages. And it struck me as I read about Hitler, Himmler, and Goering that up to this point, Doctor Who had not really dealt with Nazis in their context. The first time the show overtly portrayed them was during the Seventh Doctor story Silver Nemesis, and even those Nazis were 1980s exiles, war criminals trying to recapture the glory of the Reich. The show had often drawn parallels between the Daleks and Nazis, but the human figures themselves were almost never portrayed. Had Doctor Who been an American creation, there is no doubt in my mind that the Doctor would have gone up against the Nazis as soon as possible, but this was one era of history that the show never really covered. On some level, I can see why. Doctor Who debuted in 1963. The war had only been over 18 years. The memory was too fresh and too painful. The narratives of the war in the U.S. and England are very different. For the U.S. it is a story of foreign citizen soldiers coming into the fight to do what needs to be done to defeat the enemy. For England, it is a story of endurance and survival. These are generalizations of course, but the narratives are there. For the U.S., defeating the Nazis was a given, a divine destiny. For England, it was hoped for but not necessarily a guarantee. And it is into this uncertainty that the Doctor and Ace track the Timewyrm.

The novel opens with the two arriving in 1950s England. They find that the Reich won the war and England is under German rule. This emphasizes one of the major themes of the novel, that the outcome of WWII was not a certainty. Any number of factors could have changed the result, and in the case of Exodus outside influences were present in the form of the War Lords (a primary interference) and the Timewyrm (a secondary interference). The War Lords reappear after their defeat in the Second Doctor story “The War Games,” which was a collaboration of Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke in 1969. The War Lords attempt to create the perfect soldier, typically by removing armies from different points in history and making them fight one another. Their scientific advisor in the process is a renegade Time Lord known as the War Chief. The War Chief now has an added goal: to get revenge on the Doctor. What is particularly interesting (and gruesome) in Exodus is the revelation that the War Chief wasn’t killed as was portrayed in “The War Games”; he regenerated—almost. The damage to his body caused the regeneration to fail, so the process aborted partway through, creating a monstrosity of bodily horror. Ultimately, the War Chief wants to transplant his brain into the Doctor’s body. Dicks is also mining “The Brain of Morbius” for ideas, it would seem. Added to the mix are internal Reich politics, Himmler’s obsession with the occult, and the Doctor’s struggle to insert himself into an unstable historical situation in an attempt to rectify two types of interference that the result of previous adventures.

Along the way Exodus tries to avoid explaining Hitler’s Reich in terms of alien interference or the supernatural, but never quite succeeds. All the elements that led to WWII were present; the Timewyrm and War Lords magnified what was already there, but I was still left with a distinct impression that Hitler only came to power because of the magnification, not because of his own human attempts. This is a bit of a problem, I think, because it can serve to undermine the horror of WWII and the Holocaust, events which are arguably the worst of humanity. So often WWII is portrayed as a grand adventure (typically in American film) rather than the morally complex and horrifying war it was. Making Hitler a puppet of aliens doesn’t really feel right to me, especially since some of the attitudes held by Hitler and his followers were not as extreme in the 1920s and 1930s as they seem to us now. We look back on these attitudes with our perceived modern enlightenment and typically see them as fringe and aberrant, but they weren’t. They were popular and common. The Nazis were merely the end result of Western existential angst that coalesced around a nation that no longer had anything to lose and everything to gain.

This particular failing aside, the novel is still quite good. It is an easy read, likely the result of years of Dicks writing the Target novelizations. It is fast-paced and engaging. It is plotted extremely well. It deals with things the classic series probably couldn’t have pulled off with a great deal of success. It doesn’t fall into the excesses of Genesys where “adult” means sex and nudity. In the case of Exodus, “adult” means exploring ideas that may be inappropriate for children’s television: anti-Semitism, black magic and occultism, human sacrifice, torture, and Nazi zombies—although, it would have been interesting to see some of the larger moral complexity lurking underneath the alien puppetry. The secondary characters are memorable and interesting. Dicks humanizes Hitler, Goering, and Himmler without ever making them less atrocious than they were in real life. And despite the science fiction elements, there is an air of historicity to parts of the novel.

Doctor Who – The Five Doctors

Doctor Who Story 129 – The Five Doctors

Written by

Terrance Dicks

What’s It About?

Someone has reactivated the Time Scoop, an ancient Gallifreyan device which pulls creatures out of time and deposits them in the Death Zone, where they fight for the amusement of the Time Lords. The targets of the Time Scoop are the Doctor’s previous incarnations. The goal: to play the Game of Rassilon.

No! Not the mind probe!

Art from the Five Doctors DVD coverDoctor Who is just weeks away from its 50th anniversary. In the meantime, I’m celebrating the 20th anniversary with “The Five Doctors.” More so than “The Three Doctors,” which celebrated the 10th anniversary, “The Five Doctors” is the general model for how Doctor Who anniversary stories tend to go. They feature the return of Doctors and companions. Much of the beginning sets up how the Doctors and companions are brought out of their own continuity or time stream and placed in this new story. They face a challenge that can only be overcome by combining their efforts. As a result, anniversary stories have a tendency to drag in the “getting the team together” act because there are only so many ways you can make this act interesting from a storytelling perspective. Instead, act one becomes more of a reunion, driven by the return of previous Doctors. Thus, this act succeeds or fails based on the actors and the excitement created in the viewer by reconnecting with old favorites. Anniversary stories, then, can be difficult for fans who are not familiar with previous Doctors or who (shudder) do not like previous Doctors.

But while “The Three Doctors” began the multi-Doctor story, “The Five Doctors” became the model, which is interesting because “Five” is really a conglomeration of Doctor Who tropes, many of which were defined directly or indirectly by Terrance Dicks. There is a “Death to the Daleks” style dungeon crawl. The entire premise of the Death Zone is a reproduction of the premise of “The War Games.” And the Time Lords are very . . . well, they deserve their own paragraph.

In his analysis of “State of Decay,” Philip Sandifer brings up the idea that in the classic series the Time Lords had three distinct portrayals: the Terrance Dicks version (“The War Games” – Pertwee era), the Robert Holmes’ version (“Genesis of the Daleks” – “The Deadly Assassin”) and the Andrew Cartmel version (the McCoy era). I’ll briefly focus on the first two since I haven’t made it to the McCoy era yet. The Terrance Dicks Time Lords are somewhat godlike, but the godlike qualities are based in elevated technology. They possess the technology that is indistinguishable from magic. They are separate from the lower races like a deist god, but at one time they were more active and that activity led to legend, hence Omega vs. Rassilon, the vampires, and the Game of Rassilon. However, they are not gods, they are godlike (Cartmel will weigh in on this with his third view). The Robert Holmes version of the Time Lords is far more cynical, and it turns the Time Lords into bureaucrats. These Time Lords are not gods, nor are they godlike. They are merely an advanced civilization, but they are a dying civilization. They are dying because the no longer truly remember who they are; they do not understand themselves. But because they are so far advanced, they do not look like they are on the decline.

With “The Five Doctors,” Dicks straddles these views. President Borusa, a character created by Robert Holmes, is representative of the bureaucrat Time Lords. He is, then, a stand in for the Holmes version. Dicks subjects Borusa to the Time Lords of legend, and Borusa is defeated. Symbolically, it seems Terrance Dicks is suppressing the Robert Holmes version of the Time Lords; he is weighing it and showing it to be wanting. (This analysis is even more interesting, I think, when you learn that Robert Holmes was originally commissioned to write “The Five Doctors.” He gave it a shot, gave up, and Terrance Dicks was hired.) Looked at another way, Borusa represents political secularization and Rassilon represents myth (or magic or religion). Borusa is allowed to live forever, although in the way many heads of state live forever—in sculpture. But the Brand of Rassilon will outlive Borusa because myth is better at branding since it captures the imagination. It provides narrative.

This idea of immortality derived from winning the Game of Rassilon is fascinating because in a pre-“Deadly Assassin” mythos it would be meaningless. “The Deadly Assassin” asserted a regeneration limit (thus symbolically assassinating Doctor Who, according to Sandifer) thus condemning Time Lords to mortality on a different scale. The JNT era has reinforced this in dialogue more than once. Doctor Who has offered multiple ways around this Holmes-imposed limit, but none of them have stuck. “The Five Doctors” can only work with this regeneration limit. The Doctor himself is offered immortality, and he refuses, stating immortality is a curse (which, again, The Black Guardian trilogy reinforced). In a story celebrating 20 years of the show and knowing there are only six season left for the classic series, I almost wonder if this can be read as a recognition the even Doctor Who as a show has a shelf life. Or perhaps, instead, Doctor Who needs periods where it is away from our screens so it can renew itself in other ways. Being on continually, year after year, may cause too strong a bond of continuity and pressure to do more of the same. Certainly the Fifth Doctor era has waffled between looking forward and looking backward, the former view creating some fascinating stories, the latter creating a mixed bag. But by being off the air for a time, it can allow new writers and producers to come up with a new approach, one that could be controversial to fans of what came before but appeal to people who join this new approach. In its current Cymru incarnation, Doctor Who has yet to grow stale, so the new series hasn’t reached that point yet. (I say this despite occasionally being really annoyed with what Steven Moffat does with the show, but credit where it is due, it is still moving forward with unprecedented quality. It works for many new fans, just not always for this old, curmudgeonly fan.)

Ultimately, though, “The Five Doctors” really isn’t a new or groundbreaking story. It is Terrance Dicks by the numbers, but Terrance Dicks by the numbers can still be fun. And truly, that’s what “The Five Doctors” is—fun. It is great to see Troughton and Pertwee again. It is great to see Sarah Jane and Susan again. I’d say it was good to see the Brigadier again, but that is a given; besides, his appearance is somewhat undermined by having seen him recently in “Mawdryn Undead.” But in all, “The Five Doctors” is a fun nostalgia fest, but divorced from the nostalgia, I’m not sure it is very effective.

My Rating

3.5/5; for the Peter Davison/Terrance Dicks commentary, however 4/5

Doctor Who – State of Decay

Doctor Who Story 112 – State of Decay

Written By

Terrance Dicks

What’s It About

Still in E-Space, the Doctor, Romana, and the stowaway Adric arrive on a feudal planet with a solitary castle, the domain of the Three Who Rule. These rulers have suppressed all technology and kept their subjects in a medieval civilization. These rulers also follow an ancient evil, one that once called the Time Lords rivals.

Reconfigured in aggression mode, Master
The Three Who Rule prepare to sacrifice Romana.
Source: Wikipedia

I don’t remember a thing about this story from my childhood. This is strange, because I remember knowing that Doctor Who had vampires. One of the earliest memories I have of Doctor Who is of the Doctor being cautious because vampires are on Earth. Connected to this is a man dressed in black. He runs away from the Doctor.

As I have renewed my acquaintance with eras that I watched as a child, I know that this early memory is flawed. I don’t believe the Doctor ever encountered vampires on Earth. I do, however, know that the man dressed in black who is running from the Doctor is the Master from “The Five Doctors.” So either I thought the Anthony Ainley Master was a vampire based on costume and performance, or I saw “State of Decay” and inferred a connection, forgetting about the episode in the process. It’s fun trying to match up memories with the show. (For instance, I remember—as a three-year-old—hoping to one day see the human race that the Doctor kept referring to. I wasn’t sure if this was a footrace or a space race, but it was important enough to be mentioned on the show quite a bit, so it had to be good.)

I’ve seen “State of Decay” a few times since then. Each time I seem to have a different opinion. Initially, I loved it, then I was embarrassed by it (the Three Who Rule, in particular, are over-acting), then I thought it was watchable but slow, and this time I thought it was great. The special effects let it down a bit, but it is quite a good story, and Dicks sketches some more history to the Time Lords, an ancient war between Rassilon and ancient vampires.

Watching this story, I remembered a discussion I heard once about how “Logopolis” is a good story, but a strange story for a regeneration. In general, I think we’ve come to expect regeneration stories to be a retrospective of sorts. We remember all the good times we had with this version of the Doctor, and get to mourn him. “Logopolis” is a bit of an oddity as it has little reminiscence on Tom Baker’s era as a whole. But in a way, this entire season is the Fourth Doctor’s final story. With “Meglos” we revisit Graham Williams sensibilities, and with “State of Decay,” we revisit Hinchcliffe sensibilities. Much of the rest of the season is redefining the show, recreating it with an eye to the past. And so I think I will start to look on season eighteen as the true final story; a long one, yes, but the final story all the same. “State of Decay” is the final look at the Fourth Doctor’s era. From this point on, the Doctor is a marked man.


I was searching “State of Decay” for a specific screen capture. (Ultimately, I just found something on the internet). I had the video on mute because I was listening to a lecture as I searched. Having “State of Decay” without sound, engaging only with the images, really caught my attention. Peter Moffatt’s directing was fascinating. He blends theater staging with television framing. Watching the movements of the camera and the actors was extremely interesting, and if I had more time in my life, I would love to do a deeper analysis of Doctor Who stories, accounting for both the overall story, but also the visual narrative. If I wasn’t a full-time student, I might actually attempt this. Maybe one day I will do my own version of Doctor Who Revisitations, and re-evaluate stories by giving a deeper analysis.

My Rating


Doctor Who – Horror of Fang Rock

Doctor Who Story 092 – Horror of Fang Rock

Who Wrote It?

Terrance Dicks

What’s It About?

The Doctor and Leela arrive on Fang Rock, a small island off the coast of England. They discover a lighthouse whose workers are desperately trying to keep the lamp shining through an unusually thick fog. But something deadly is lurking in the darkness. Could it be that the legendary Beast of Fang Rock has returned?

You will do as the Doctor instructs, or I will cut out your heart!

The Doctor and Reuben in the lighthouse gallery.
Source: Radio Times

The Hinchcliffe/Holmes era was known for its Gothic horror. In fact, it was violence derived from this horror that led to Philip Hinchcliffe leaving the show. Horror of Fang Rock marks the beginning of the Graham Williams era, and for me, Horror of Fang Rock is possibly the creepiest horror story yet. Much like Talons of Weng-Chiang, Horror is drenched in atmosphere. But where Talons has an element of adventure, Horror is full of dread. It seems unlikely, but Terrance Dicks may have one-upped Robert Holmes.

The essential structure is a base-under-siege, the base being a lighthouse in this case. Just before The Doctor and Leela arrive, the lighthouse keepers see a light fall from the sky and crash into the ocean. The fog soon follows, as do power fluctuations in the lighthouse which has recently been added to an electrical grid. One of the keepers is killed. What follows is a tense story in which the characters struggle to keep the light shining while a creature from the sea picks them off one by one. And I hope it isn’t too much of a spoiler to reveal that a ship crashes into the rocks, adding new, antagonistic characters to the mix.

The story takes place in the 1920s, and it captures the tone of a 1920s supernatural story. According to Shannon Patrick Sullivan on A Brief History of Time (Travel), one of the inspirations for this story was the Wilfrid Gibson poem Flannan Isle, a poem about a ship that comes upon an abandoned lighthouse. The dinner table in the lighthouse is laid out for a meal, but there is no sign of the keepers. Sullivan also cites Ray Bradbury’s The Fog Horn as an inspiration. This story involves a creature from the ocean that is attracted by the lighthouse horn. It is easy to see how both of these stories influenced Dicks in writing Horror of Fang Rock. Both inspirations involve recurring horrors being visited upon a lighthouse, whether the curse in Flannan Isle or the fog horn that sounds like the sea creature’s mating call in The Fog Horn.

One thing I appreciated about the monster: it fit the story. While we ultimately discovered that the monster was a Rutan, as in the eternal enemies of the Sontarans, the visual design of the creature was similar to a jellyfish. Basically, the Rutan looks like it could be a creature that crawled out of the ocean.

This was a great story, possibly Dicks’ best (or at least, the best realized).

My Rating


Doctor Who – Robot

Doctor Who Story 075 – Robot

DVD cover
(Source: Copyright 2007 by BBC.)

Who Wrote It?: Terrance Dicks

What’s It About: The Brigadier and UNIT must learn to work with a regenerated Doctor. It seems a series of break-ins have been committed by someone who can break through electrical fences, locked doors, and underground bunkers. The stolen items: parts for a disintegrator gun.

I have quite a few friends who love new Doctor Who. I would love to share the old series with them, but many of them have no interest due to the dated effects and slower pace. But another problem is deciding which stories to introduce them to. For years, we fans have lived in a world of Doctor Who a la carte. If we want a little horror, we go with the 4th Doctor. If we want some heavy sci-fi elements, we may choose the 5th Doctor. If we want a historical with minimal sci-fi, the 1st Doctor provides that. In this particular case, knowing the desires of the audience is essential.

But fans of new Who are used to watching entire seasons. They almost expect that any season has an arc, whether plot or thematic. I think some fans like to see context. I have been fascinated, as I have gone through the classic series in order, at how much character development is in the Doctor Who. The very first season had the TARDIS crew (composed of The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan) learn how to work together and respect on another. It wasn’t until the thirteenth episode that we saw the antagonism between the characters settle into mutual respect. And even then, the situation almost erupted again at the beginning of The Reign of Terror. There is something to be said for watching the classic series in order, to see it not as a collection of serials, but as an on-going, evolving series.

Which brings me to the 4th Doctor and Robot, the natural starting point for the Tom Baker era. The 4th Doctor has massive appeal to viewers, and he is probably one of the closest Doctors in personality to Matt Smith’s version of the character. A transition from 11th Doctor to 4th Doctor wouldn’t be a hard one. But when you look at Robot, you are confronted with a story that doesn’t match the tone and themes of the larger Baker era.

Robot is the final story of Barry Lett’s tenure (although we will see him return later). Philip Hinchcliffe will take over with The Ark in Space. The difference in tone between these two stories is almost jarring. The Ark in Space (to be reviewed soon), is dark, paranoid, and creepy. Robot is lighthearted, silly, and moderately thought-provoking. In fact, this story has more in common with the era that preceded it than the episodes that follow. Throughout most of the story, The Doctor seems uninterested. His previous incarnation would have enjoyed this adventure, but the current one is somewhat bored. He has most of it sussed out within the first episode, and he seems to merely be sticking around to hold The Brigadier’s hand. The story itself reuses elements from Invasion of the Dinosaurs (an elite group wanting to rule the world, which was also an element of Tomb of the Cybermen). The execution is uneven. And let’s face it, the robot itself is impractical. I both love the design and hate it. The effects really let this story down, and there wasn’t a lot to work with to begin with.

In many ways, Robot seems more a farewell to UNIT than an introduction of the new Doctor. Planet of the Spiders was more about The Doctor and Mike Yates, so perhaps it was felt that UNIT needed a farewell. Fair enough, but it makes a clumsy place to start a new Doctor and a new era.

I think what frustrates me the most about Robot is that it is the ideal starting point to the classic series. It has a familiar Doctor; it has stories that are moderately recognizable to viewing audiences (especially since many of them are derived from horror movies and tropes); it has Sarah Jane Smith who is a great companion. But the era begins on such uneven footing. It is almost painful to have to start with Robot, but it is necessary because it introduced Harry Sullivan (another great character). But it is also sad, to me, to have Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks go out on such a mediocre story. I thought Season 10 was quite good (with the exception of the Peladon story), and I’m sorry that their last stamp on the show (until Season 18, at least) was Robot.

My Rating: 2/5

Doctor Who Story Number 050 – The War Games

Written by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke
Directed by David Malone

From the Back: The TARDIS has materialized in a world of trench warfare, barbed wire and poison gas: the Western Front, 1917. In the chaos and paranoia of the First World War, the Doctor and his companions are separated from their ship, captured and court-martialed. The death sentence is swiftly pronounced. But all is not as it seems. As the Doctor finds himself increasingly out of his depth and facing impossible odds, the only solution is the truly unthinkable. He must seek help from those he most fears—his own people, the Time Lords.

It is an unusual feeling to be ready for a regeneration one week, only to miss The Doctor when it actually happens. While I haven’t found myself loathing The Krotons, The Dominators, or The Space Pirates as some fans have, I was beginning to desire change. Perhaps this was due to season five being repetitive. Regardless, over the past month I have found myself eager to start the Pertwee Era.

Now that I have closed out the Troughton Years, I don’t feel nearly so eager. I already miss the cosmic hobo much like I missed William Hartnell as his face morphed into that of Troughton. What accounts for this change of heart? I attribute it directly to The War Games, which may be my favorite episode of the series thus far.

The War Games is fast-paced, well-acted, and very compelling. Early on we are given the implication that The War Chief is from the same race as The Doctor, only this time The Doctor’s fellow isn’t a bumbler or trickster. He is cruel. He is chilling. The only character more sinister than The War Chief is The War Lord (yes, these names can get confusing if one doesn’t pay attention), only the latter is marked not by being a Time Lord, but by being a brilliant strategist and manipulator. His ultimate goal is to conquer the universe and unify it under his leadership. Given his skill in dealing with The War Chief, The Doctor, and various other characters in this story, his goal seems just plausible. Philip Madoc brings this character to life extremely well.

For the previous six seasons, The Time Lords (unnamed until now) have remained a mysterious presence, characterized only by The Doctor’s insistence that he cannot go home. They seem dangerous only because of his refusal to return to them. Their presence in this story is not disappointing. They seem an intriguing blend of high technology and supernatural ability. Indeed, perhaps that line is blurred. Once they have gotten a bead on The Doctor, he is unable to escape. I have seen some of the later portrayals of The Time Lords, and at the moment, this one is my favorite. These Time Lords are not stuffy bureaucrats, they are distant observers, the kind of gods a diest could live with; they maintain the balance and function of the universe. The Doctor, on the other hand, is an intervening god, one who sees the power (or technology) of The Time Lords as a responsibility. The mythology established in this story is quite fascinating.

If Kylie Minogue counts as a companion, then I posit Lt. Carstairs is a companion.

But not to overshadow the other nine episodes, the eponymous War Games give us a fun concept of different historical armies fighting in sectioned-off regions of a planet. The aliens seem to be conducting an experiment to determine which era of human warriors is the strongest. The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe, aided by Lady Jennifer and Lt. Carstairs, must stay one step ahead of the aliens. This story hardly ever slows down. For a ten part story, there really isn’t much padding.

Final Verdict: I think this is my favorite story thus far. And yet, I can’t help but feel that the impact is due, in part, to having watched everything up to this point. Having spent six seasons with The Time Lords only present as a threat, to finally see them is a huge deal. This story is probably best watched after a period of watching nothing but Hartnell and Troughton.

Coming up: The Troughton Era in review.

2011 Book Review Part 4

And here it is, the final post on what I read this year.  I’m cheating just a bit because some of these I have reviewed more extensively, so why recreate my thoughts?  Just a word or two and a link will suffice.  I also hate to admit that I did not meet my goal of 28 books because I failed to finish Mr. Midshipman Hornblower prior to midnight.  You see, 2011 and I did NOT get along, and it saw fit to strike me will illness these last few days.  I’m glad to see the end of this year and am putting high hopes on 2012.  It will be different, at the very least.

The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth was the shortest book I read this year.  It was the winner of the 1931 Newbery Medal and it deserved it.  Set in Japan, the story chronicles the work of an artist as he attempts to change his fortune by painting a work based on the life of the Buddha.  He attempts to put himself into the stories of the Buddha to understand how the Buddha related to the various animals.  And as he paints, his newly adopted cat grows more and more sad as cats are deemed to be evil for cats rejected the religious leader.  It is a beautiful story and has the feeling of a folk tale.

Another children’s book read this year was C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.  This wasn’t the first time I read it.  I must admit that each time I read it, I enjoy it less.  This isn’t to imply I think it bad.  Quite the contrary.  But I’ve always been more of a fan of Middle Earth than Narnia.  That said, the BBC versions of The Chronicles of Narnia will always hold a special place in my heart as they were my introduction to Narnia.  And Tom Baker will always be Puddleglum to me.

I have reviewed The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan elsewhere.  I had hoped for more from this story, especially as Richard Hannay is part of the adventurer genre of Britain.  Unfortunately, very little of these stories grabbed me.  It improved with the introduction of a villain, but until then it was somewhat forgettable.

About Time Vol. 1 is an in-depth analysis of the first three seasons of Doctor Who.  It is written by Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles and it is mind-boggling in its detail.  It was so much fun to read as I made my way through the Hartnell era last year.  It gave connections between episodes and real-life events or cultural phenomena that may have inspired stories.  This is the kind of analysis I enjoy, taking pop culture and analyzing how it is indicative of the culture and times that spawned them.  A great deal of fun if you are a fan of the classic era of Doctor Who and television history.

And while we are on the subject of Doctor Who, I re-read Doctor Who and the Unearthly Child.  A full review can be found here.  It was a decent read, and quick.  Both are positives.

I have also reviewed A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin elsewhere.  I was drawn to this book because of the HBO series which quickly became unwatchable due to the pornographic nature of the series.  Not that Martin shies away from the adult content in the novel, but it is easier to skim over those parts in prose than to skip past them on TV.  The book is an amazing story and was possibly the most fun I had reading this year.  Certainly my favorite new find, edging out China Mieville by a slight margin.

This brings me to the final book read this year, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.  This was the story of Billy Pilgrim whose consciousness travels back and forth through time.  We learn of his experiences as a civilian before and after World War II as well as his time in an alien zoo.  It is certainly an interesting and thought-provoking novel with many amusing moments.  My main problem with Vonnegut is that I intellectually understand his humor, but find it depressing at the same time.  I love his narrative voice, I love his style, but I come away from all his books wanting to cry.  I’m not sure why I keep reading his books.  Maybe it is similar to what compelled me to watch footage of the Japan earthquake over and over earlier this year.  It was hard not to watch this force of nature completely lay to waste human progress, despite knowing the death toll was very high.  So it goes.

I think that about wraps it up.  Having missed my goal by just one book, I feel somewhat satisfied.  For 2012, I will shoot for completing another 27.  I’ll probably be too busy for anything more than that.  I’ll continue working on Mr. Midshipman Hornblower and Don Quixote, but also hope to participate in the January Vintage Science Fiction read.  Here’s to another good year of books.

Doctor Who and The Unearthly Child

A novelization by Terrance Dicks

While attempting to satisfy their curiosity about an unusual student, teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright find themselves trapped with a mysterious old man at the beginnings of the ice age.

I wrote in a previous post that my preferred Target novelizations were those that took the opportunity to flesh out characters and situations in greater detail than the episodes on which they are based or for the author of the story to give a greater indication of his or her vision of the story than was achieved on television.  Doctor Who and The Unearthly Child does not deliver this.  On the latter point, it can’t.  The original story was written by Anthony Coburn while the novelization fell to the prolific (by necessity) Terrance Dicks.  Now, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with how Dicks adapted this story.  It is perfectly by the numbers and by reading it, you get an accurate vision of what was on the screen.  So accurate that when you actually watch the episode, you see very little difference.  Dick’s adaptation was written about nineteen years after the original broadcast, so I don’t know if he was drawing from scripts or the episodes themselves.  There will be some minor deviations and differences.  I imagine it would be hard to write for The First Doctor when Dicks has written for the Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth by this point.  So much development has come to the character and certain ideas of who The Doctor is have changed in the intervening years.  Despite this, Dicks reproduces the Hartnell Doctor quite well.  The characters are reminiscent of who they were on the screen as well.  Of the changes, the most-striking that I noticed was when the idea for using the skulls and fire were devised.  In the televised story, Susan began inexplicably playing with the fire and skulls, which gave Ian an idea.  In the novel, this scene is played much more naturally.  I honestly think it works better.

In my review of the televised An Unearthly Child, I played with the idea of cave-man politics not being so far removed from modern day politics.  In the novel, the political nature of the struggle between Kal and Za is much more explicit.  In fact, this struggle is juxtaposed a bit with the power struggle between The Doctor and Ian.  It isn’t masterfully written, but the idea does seem present and I think the story is better for it.  Likewise, the parallels between Ian and Barbara’s primitive nature (in comparison to The Doctor) and the prehistoric humans are quite striking.  Setting the beginning of an epic (well, long) journey in the dawn of civilization may be a bit heavy-handed, but no more so than beginning a novel range at the point of the first written-epic (see Timewyrm: Genesis).  Yet, as a way to draw parallels between the lead characters and how they could potentially relate to one another, it works great as a metaphor.  Likewise, the TARDIS crew, forced together by circumstance, must learn to work together to survive while at the same time showing Za and his tribe how to work together to survive the ice age.  In many ways you could say that The Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara are the founders of human survival and civilization due to the lessons they taught the tribe.  Those in humanity’s future helped those in humanity’s past to survive and flourish.  How very Moffat.

The more I ponder this story, the more I think about the novel, the more I am coming to like it.  So while Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child may not offer much more than the story upon which it is based, it does help one to re-evaluate the story and engage with it in a deeper and more meaningful way.  The story that Coburn (and here, Dicks) crafted really does work, despite being a bit slow and boring at times.  But metaphorically and structurally, it seems quite ambitious and does achieve some wonderful symbolism.

Excellent passages

First description of Susan:  “She had a way of observing you cautiously all the time, as if you were a member of some interesting but potentially dangerous alien species.”

“Kal saw his hopes of leadership dissolving in the laughter of the Tribe.  He grabbed The Doctor by his shoulder, lifting him almost off his fee.  ‘Make fire, old man!  Make fire come from your fingers as I saw today!'”