My vague ambition to read all the novelisations of Doctor Who stories before my vacation did not come off, but I did at least finish the Sixth Doctor novels on Eurostar on Tuesday.
26) Doctor Who – Vengeance on Varos, by Philip Martin
I mocked Martin’s misuse of the word “vulpine” in an earlier entry
27) Doctor Who – The Mark of the Rani, by Pip and Jane Baker
This is the first of the Bakers’ novels, and sets a standard for what is to come – too many exclamation marks, not quite enough extra background to make sense, and a less than coherent plot (though better here than on screen).
28) Doctor Who – The Two Doctors, by Robert Holmes
This is much the best of the Sixth Doctor novels, and it’s a shame that Holmes didn’t write any other novelisations. Somehow he seems very much in control of his material, especially filling out the background of the Androgums and the Shockeye/Chessene relationship. This is basically the only Sixth Doctor novelisation that one could recommend to a non-Who reader with confidence.
29) Doctor Who – Timelash, by Glen McCoy
It’s not a fantastic book, but it is at least at the level of quality of the average Who novelisation, unlike the original series which; it makes you realise just how much the TV original suffered from a) Paul Darrow’s overacting as Tekker and b) the pathetic hand-puppet monsters. One of those cases where the reader’s imagination is better at supplying the effects.
30) Doctor Who – Revelation of the Daleks, by Jon Preddle
This is the last of the New Zealand fan-produced novelisations (apart from the one of City of Death which I haven’t yet got hold of). Preddle says in his introduction that there are two ways of doing these books, the right way and the Terrance Dicks way, and he is conscious of having gone for the latter option. This isn’t really fair on Terrance Dicks, who is a more than competent writer when on form, or indeed to Preddle himself, who has turned in quite a reasonable adaptation of what was a decent enough story to begin with, with extra characterisation of the Happy Repose setup (and unhampered by one particular rather weak performance).
31) Doctor Who – The Mysterious Planet, by Terrance Dicks
This is, however, not one of Dicks’ greatest efforts. I’ve noted before how the Dicks/Holmes combination is only rarely successful on the printed page, and this, the last of the sequence, is fairly typical, a faithful recounting of what the viewer sees on the screen without much added. There are some mystifying slips, Peri’s full name being given as “Perpegillian”, for instance. It also fails (as did the original TV version) to establish the Time Lord trial setting convincingly (let alone fit it into continuity).
32) Doctor Who – Mindwarp, by Philip Martin
This is my favourite of the televised Sixth Doctor stories, but Martin doesn’t quite do it justice on the page. In particular, the questionable reliability of the narrative in its own terms was made to work well on screen, but comes over as a bit of a cheat on paper. Also the “happy ending” for Peri is even more of a copout here than it was on screen (though at least Yrcanos shows some more romantic interest in her in the book).
33) Doctor Who – Terror of the Vervoids, by Pip and Jane Baker
This is the best of the Bakers’ Sixth Doctor novelisations, though this is not saying a lot. Basically this is because the plot actually makes sense, and the novel is not cursed by the actual appearance of the Vervoids on screen. However, there is still an excess of exclamation marks.
34) Doctor Who – The Ultimate Foe, by Pip and Jane Baker
Alas, it doesn’t matter how many exclamation marks you add, this remains an incoherent story; and while the Bakers valiantly attempt to fill it out with extra detail, it is basically beyond salvation from the start.
The biggest surprise for me in reading these was that the Peri/Doctor relationship actually works rather well on paper, even if the books themselves are generally not particularly great. I’ve noted before how the printed page tends to flatter the screamy rather than the brainy companions, and Peri, though nominally brainy, is in fact screamy. On screen, one sometimes wondered what she was doing travelling with the Doctor at all; the friction often seems nasty rather than affectionate. On paper, it somehow works better. I still think that the original ending to Mindwarp rather than the “happy” ending is a better close to her story, though.
As for the Sixth Doctor as a whole: fannish collective opinion does not rate the era highly (all but one of the stories are in the lower half of the dynamic rankings table, with The Twin Dilemma and Timelash in the bottom two slots). On TV, it’s pretty clear that the good stories are Revelation of the Daleks and Mindwarp. The best of the books, as noted above, is Robert Holmes adaptation of his own The Two Doctors, though I am struck by how often I felt the novelisation was better than the TV original; the problem was really the production values in general rather than the scripts per se.
The only other Sixth Doctor book I have read is Simon Forward’s Telos novella Shell Shock, which I rather enjoyed (though wondered about the characterisation of the Doctor). I have the three “missing season” novels on the reading pile.
On audio, Colin Baker has shown what he is capable of with decent material to work from, not only with Nicola Bryant and Bonnie Langford, but also with the brilliant Maggie Stables as older companion Evelyn Smythe. I particularly recommend The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, Bloodtide and The Wormery, though the Evelyn/Doctor relationship is always fun. (I am not a fan of Frobisher though.) Indeed, Baker has turned his hand to writing himself.
To the McCoy era now!