August Books 33-36) The End of the Classic Who novelisations

So, that’s it: after five months of concentration, mostly on the daily commute, I have now read all but one of the Classic Who novelisations (the one exception being an unofficial fan publication which is not available outside certain circles in New Zealand). I’ll do a roundup post on the novelisations as a whole next, but this is the roundup of books covering Season 26, plus some observations about Mel, Ace and Seven.

33) Doctor Who – Battlefield, by Marc Platt

I’m not the greatest fan of Ben Aaronovitch, who wrote the original script, but Platt has taken the story and makes it work really well on paper. It makes you realise just how much of the TV version’s problems were down to poor direction, bad music and lousy acting. We get some lovely back-story for the Brigadier and Doris; we get just enough explanation for the Doctor being Merlin to leave room for further speculation without just being stupid; we get the Bambera/Ancelyn relationship decently treated as well. Interestingly Platt has broken the story up into four parts which more or less coincide with the episodes as broadcast, the only novelisation where I remember this being done.

An easy pass for the Bechdel test, with Ace and Shou Youing defending each other against the forces of darkness (in the book, we are not distracted by their awful acting).

34) Doctor Who – Ghost Light, by Marc Platt

After enjoying most of Marc Platt’s oter work, including his novelisation of Battlefield, I was looking forward to reading this. I’m afraid I was disappointed. Once again, I realise just how vital the direction and acting of the TV version can be; and the intensely visual and subtle original just loses most of its vitality and mystery on the printed page. In particular, we lose the striking visual appearance of Nimrod the Neanderthal and of Light himself, who comes across as just some random and rather dull megalomaniac with super powers.

Scrapes through the Bechdel test: in most of the Ace/Gwendolen scenes they are talking about Josias and/or the Doctor, and the one exception is when they fight, and are then interrupted by Control. A fight is barely a conversation, but I suppose it will have to do. (Mrs/Lady Pritchard appears to communicate with the maidservants by telepathy.)

35) Doctor Who – The Curse of Fenric, by Ian Briggs

Ian Briggs, on the other hand, does a masterful job with The Curse of Fenric, perhaps the most adult of any of the Who novelisations (in the sense of talking about sex). The most striking change from the TV original is that the vicar, Mr Wainwright, is explictly young (rather than Nicholas Parsons). Apart from that, the whole narrative feels very soundly rooted both in itself and in Who – particularly with Ace’s introduction in Dragonfire (which of course Briggs also wrote). For once, the Doctor’s-hidden-past motif actually seems to make sense rather than feeling like a bolted-on idea (the only other story that achieves this is The Face of Evil). An excellent read.

Also a comfortable pass for the Bechdel test, what with Phyllis, Jean and their landlady on the one hand, and Katharine, Audrey and the Wrens on the other, with Ace wandering between them.

36) Doctor Who – Survival, by Rona Munro

Well, a decent novelisation of what I felt was not such a great story. The whole thing seemed a bit more coherent on the page than on screen, and Ace’s reactions to returning to Perivale somehow made more sense here. A reasonable effort with unpromising material, with the Cheetahs’ planet much more convincing (and an interesting digression on the Master/Doctor relationship which I may copy separately). Passes the Bechdel test thanks to the Ace/Karra scenes.

I forgot to give Mel a valedictory write-up after finishing Doctor Who – DragonfireBang-bang-a-boom and Flip-flop. But she is sadly the least memorable Who companion on screen since Dodo, apart from Kamelion who barely counts, and that’s not really Bonnie Langford’s fault.

The big problem with the TV version of Ace is that, to be honest, Sophie Aldred was rather variable as an actress. She has highs and lows – in Battlefield she is particularly dire, but in both Dragonfire and The Curse of Fenric she is rather good. The plot concept of giving her a Past would have been rather good if consistently developed, but it feels a bit bolted on in the last season as it is. The character gets much better development in the New Adventure books, and Aldred herself is good though not excellent in the Big Finish audios: I guess I would pick out Colditz, featuring as a guest star someone called David Tennant, as my favourite of those featuring her so far; though I also liked Dust Breeding, The Genocide Machine and The Rapture. (Audio-only companion Hex has not yet convinced me.)

Sylvester McCoy was more fortunate with the scripts than Colin Baker; though Time and the Rani did worst of any Old Who story in my poll a few weeks back, I concur with fannish opinion that things had started picking up towards the end. Of the books, I really enjoyed Ian Briggs’ Doctor Who – The Curse of Fenric and Doctor Who – Dragonfire, with an honorable mention to Doctor Who – Remembrance of the Daleks. As well as the Mel and Ace audios mentioned above, there are a couple – Excelis Decays, Last of the Titans and the second half of Project: Lazarus – where McCoy does an excellent solo performance. He is criticised by some as being too comical, but I think he does bleak!Doctor rather well.

I’ll do a roundup post of the novelisations as a whole, but I think not tonight.

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