There being so many Doctor Who spinoff novels out there, there is no way that I can read them all; but occasionally I will have an idea for getting hold of several that share a common theme, or have been recommended in the same place, or whatever. Most of them are easy enough to get via second-hand shops or eBay, and some (including one of the four below) have been put online by the authors because they are out of print. I bought/downloaded all four of these because they are the only Doctor Who spinoff novels featuring the First Doctor’s somewhat obscure companion Dodo Chaplet. I will probably do another post at some point on Dodo’s life and times in the Whoniverse, but each of these books was actually rather good in its own different way, the pluses definitely outweighing the minuses in each case.
At the end of the televised story The Massacre, Dodo wanders into the TARDIS while it is parked briefly on Wimbledon Common in 1966; by the start of the next story, The Ark, she is perfectly happy to believe that the TARDIS has taken them to a different part of contemporary England, but has difficulty grasping the possibility of time travel. Also (to the mockery of generations of fans) her accept has completely changed, from something rather north of England to something more uncertainly southern. Salvation rewrites Dodo’s first scenes in the TARDIS as part of an encounter with godlike aliens in 1966, which takes her, the Doctor and Steven to New York. Lyons has invented vast amounts of back-story for Dodo here, all of which makes the character (and her accent quirks) much more believable; he does the same to a lesser extent for Steven, catching Peter Purves’ characterisation of him perfectly while also adding to his background. And his Doctor is very Doctor-ish, taking charge of the confused officials trying to deal with the situation, confronting and defeating the bad guys while also determined to minimise casualties. The exploration of humanity’s relationship with gods, and with belief, is a bit pale compared with Neil Gaiman, but then isn’t everything? My biggest criticism is that while Lyons gets New York’s physical geography, he does not really capture the city’s vibrant multi-ethnicity very well; most of the American characters might as well have been English, which is a bit ironic given that he saves the phenomenon of Dodo’s accent.
In some ways a very First Doctor-ish story: the crew land in Kiev in the year 1240, with the city about to be attacked and sacked by the Mongol hordes, and its defenders internally divided about how best to respond. However there is an element from later Who as well: under the city lurks an alien killer, working to its own agenda. Lots to like in this book: the descriptions took me back to my visit to Kiev in late 2005, and there is much good characterisation – even the bad guys have comprehensible agendas, and everyone gets something to do (the Doctor, at one point, riding off to plea for peace with the Mongol horde). Also, while Salvation was in part about belief, Bunker Soldiers addresses religion – the defenders of Kiev are weakened by tension between bigoted Christians and loyal Jews. About half the story is told in the first person by Steven, a tactic used also by
Once again, (and immediately following Steven’s departure in The Savages) the TARDIS lands in what appears to be a familiar Earth environment, in this case post-revolutionary France. But all is not as it seems; the supreme leader is not Napoleon, but a mysterious Minski, under the patronage of none other than the Marquis de Sade. The Doctor gets involved with trying to work out What Is Really Going On, while Dodo falls in with a theatre company and takes on the lead role in The Misfortunes of Virtue, managing a fling with one of the other members of the cast along the way. I never really did work out What Was Really Going On, but very much enjoyed the ride; reminiscent of the crazy Managra, in a good way.
An unusual spinoff novel this: investigative journalist James Stevens (fictional, though listed on the cover as a co-author) decides to write up The Truth about UNIT and the mysterious set of individuals going by the code name of “The Doctor”. He ends up playing a very “Rosencrantz and Guidenstern are dead” role, as the man on the far end of the Brigadier’s yelling at journalists in seasons 7 and 8; and Bishop explores what the TV adventures would have looked like from the outside point of view – how the authorities would have covered it all up. Dodo comes into the picture because the very first Doctor Who story set in the “present day”, The War Machines, sees her brainwashed and written out of the series by being sent to the countryside to recuperate. Who Killed Kennedy? picks up her tragic story from several years later. Bishop describes her as “a late addition to the cast of the [book] and was originally only going to appear in [one] chapter, passing on information to Stevens. But once she appeared on the page Dodo wanted to stick around. It’s a strange experience when a character takes charge of their own destiny while you’re writing and Dodo was the first time this had happened to me.” Certainly the relationship between Dodo and the narrator is a core element of the story, in a way that (as the author admits in his on-line notes) the actual assassination of JFK, which is after all the title, is not. Some would probably accuse this novel of too much “fanwank”, ie obsessive references to continuity with the TV series, but I think that would be unfair; Bishop is actually doing something very different here, telling familiar stories from a different angle, and I think it largely works.
His commentary and notes for the online publication of the book seemed to me more engaging than any others I have read. I wonder if this is because Bishop, a native Kiwi, was writing for the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club, rather than for the BBC
Anyway, all four of these were rather good. More thoughts on Dodo for a later day. But I refuse to discuss whether the First Doctor had only one heart (O’Mahony/Man in the Velvet Mask) or two (Lyons/Salvation).