April Books 3-4) Two early Doctor Who novels

3) Doctor Who and the Zarbi, by Bill Strutton
4) Doctor Who and the Crusaders, by David Whitaker

These were the other two Doctor Who books published in the 1960s, after the initial success of Whitaker’s Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks. Both feature Hartnell’s First Doctor with original companions Ian and Barbara, and relatively new girl Vicki.

Doctor Who and the Zarbi was based on the story now generally called The Web Planet, which crashes and burns spectacularly awfully on screen because today’s viewers cannot take the production values seriously. The book is a bit better, because the printed page and the reader’s imagination, rather than the unforgiving camera, supplies the details of the various non-human races in conflict on the planet Vortis. In principle it makes a good sf story, perhaps the best sf story, in terms of the norms of the genre, from the whole Hartnell era.

The book does suffer from a couple of weaknesses. Most bizarrely, and uniquely, the central character is referred to as “Doctor Who” rather than “the Doctor” throughout, and the Tardis loses the definite article, as if Tardis was just the name of the vessel. Also, in places the book feels uncomfortably like what it is, a TV script cast in different format, and one feels that Strutton is just writing what appeared to the viewer on the screen. Having said that, though, the book is still better than the original TV story.

Doctor Who and the Crusaders is the only one of the 1960s Who novels to have been drawn from a four-part rather than seven-part story, and Whitaker makes full use of the extra space this gives him to expand on his own original material. His opening paragraph is pretty memorable:

As swiftly and as silently as a shadow, Doctor Who’s Space and Time ship, Tardis, appeared on a succession of planets each as different as the pebbles on a beach, stayed awhile and then vanished, as mysteriously as it had come. And whatever alien world it was that received him and his fellow travellers, and however well or badly they were treated, the Doctor always set things to rights, put down injustice, encouraged dignity, fair treatment and respect.

Despite the solecisms of “Doctor Who” and “the Tardis” (which are fortunately not repeated later in the text), it’s a good start, and the whole story fees more embedded in an ongoing narrative than does Doctor Who and the Zarbi. This is partly because Whitaker makes the Ian/Barbara relationship even more explicitly romantic than in his previous book. But it’s also because there is a good sense of geography, of this Palestine, despite its rather implausible woodlands, being a place with real towns filled with merchants, robbers and warlords.

The biggest loss from the TV version is the rhythmic, indeed iambic, structure of some of the set pieces; but I guess that would not read as well as it sounded. However, Ian’s humanistic discussion with Saladin, and the decency and chivalry of the Saracen leaders, remain high points of the story. Well worth hunting down if you can find it.

One thought on “April Books 3-4) Two early Doctor Who novels

  1. I may try and get a quick interview with the four candidates … though they’d be wise to say no since they’ll win a lot more votes from members at hustings events than they will from majority non-SDLP readers of blogs!

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