Doctor Who: Rose, by Russell T. Davis

Second paragraph of third chapter:

A hug, of course, whoomph! Her mum grabbed hold of her and squeezed her tight. Jackie Tyler, five foot nothing, age not relevant, karaoke champion of the Spinning Wheel, life and soul of the party but a monumental lightning storm when angry, now sobbing and laughing and then, somehow, finding a reason to give Rose a punch on the arm.

I'm doing another themed week of reviews here, and this time it is going to be the four new Doctor Who novelisations published last month. This started with some disappointment for me – I shifted things around so that I could go to the 13 April signing by the authors of all four books at Forbidden Planet in London, but when I reached the queue at 5.40 (for a 6pm start) it was already over 400 metres long and stretched from the back entrance on New Compton St around the corners of St Giles' Passsage and some way back up Shaftesbury Avenue. By 7.45, I was still over 100 people from the front and my dinner companion was waiting hungrily in a nearby restaurant, so I gave up and went back the next morning to get unautographed copies. I should not have allowed my work colleagues to tempt me for a quick Friday pint at 5pm. I did at least say Hi to Paul Cornell in the shop while I was looking for the queue.

Anyway, here we are, the first Target novelisation of a New Who story, written by its author, the man who brought Doctor Who back. But I'm going to pause for a little more throat-clearing – these are not the first New Who novelisations. Pearson Educational published book versions of four Eleventh Doctor stories for early readers back in 2011 – The Eleventh Hour, Victory of the Daleks, The Time of Angels (including Flesh and Stone), and The Lodger. They are out of print now, but no less than six Twelfth Doctor stories are coming from the same source this year – The [sic] Robot of Sherwood, Mummy on the Orient Express, Flatline, The Girl Who Died, The Woman Who Lived, and Face the Raven. I haven't yet read any of the Pearson versions; they are what they are.

Back to Rose. Back in the bad old days of 1996, Russell T. Davies wrote a Seventh Doctor book called Damaged Goods (more recently adapted for audio by Jonathan Morris for Big Finish). It included the following interesting points:

  • The first character we encounter in the story is the daughter of Mrs Tyler, who is a single mother
  • She says to the Doctor at one point, "You think you're so funny", a line almost echoed by Rose Tyler a decade later
  • The Tylers live on a council estate where strange things are happening
  • The strange things include (but are not restricted to) a doppelganger of a black neighbour created by an evil alien intelligence
  • The Doctor's female companion is Roz
  • At the very end the Doctor goes back in time to meet the young Tyler girl before the adventure started in her time line
  • As the alien invasion fully manifests lots of people die horribly and swiftly

So this novelisation is actually the third time, not the second, that Davies has visited some of these themes.

Of course he needs to use the script of the 2005 story as his basis, and also has to make it accessible for the younger audience whose aunts and uncles may have bought this, but he adds a lot more material here, starting with a great pen-portrait of the office caretaker, Bernie Wilson, who is the first of many characters to die horribly in New Who. Most notably, Mickey gets considerably more depth and characterisation than he was ever granted on screen, and it turns out that he is in a band including a trans woman and two young men who are just on the cusp of realising their true feelings for each other. The treatment of Jackie on the page seems much more sympathetic than she got on the screen, and poor Clive gets an expansion to his background as well:

And now, in sudden coordination, every dummy in every window lifted its arm and swung down. Row upon row of glass shattered, bright chips cascading to the floor. All along the street, people screamed, yelled, some still laughing. Caroline said, `Well that’s not very funny,’ and she grabbed hold of the boys to pull them back.
But Clive was staring. With horror. And yet, with delight.
Because he remembered.
In his files. In those mad old stories of monsters from Loch Ness, and wizards in Cornwall, and robots at the North Pole, there had been tales, from long ago, fables about shop-window dummies coming to life and attacking people, a slaughter, so the secret files said, a massacre on the streets of England, hushed up ever since by the Powers That Be, the population doped and duped into forgetting. And Clive, even Clive, had read those stories and thought, How can that possibly be true?
But here it is, he thought. It’s happening again.
Which meant the Doctor was true. Every word of him and her and them. All Clive’s fantasies were now becoming facts, right before his eyes. But if the glories were true then so were the terrors. And Clive felt a chill in his heart as he watched the plastic army step down into the street.
He turned to his wife and children.
He said, ‘Run.’
Caroline stared at him, more scared by the look in his eyes than by the dummies. He said quietly, ‘I’ll try to stop them. Now for the love of God, run.’
And Caroline, at last, believed. She looked at her husband for one last time and said, ‘I love you.’ Then she took hold of the boys’ hands, and ran.

The one character we don’t learn so much more about is the Doctor himself. We get a bit more circumstantial detail about the Time War, but Davies put more than that in the 2006 Annual. Of course, this is sensible enough; the book is told from Rose’s point of view, and for her the Doctor is a mysterious stranger who disrupts her ordinary life; the cosmic adventures are yet to come. But having seen how some of the other characters are enhanced by Davies from the printed page, the enigma of the show’s central personality is even more palpable than it was on the screen.

Still, this is a worthy start to what we must hope is a revival of the old tradition. You can get it here.

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