July Books 5-12) Eight Fifth Doctor novelisations

Continuing my project, these are the novelisations of the Season 20 stories, plus one that got away from Season 19 and the anniversary special. A number of these confounded my expectations.

5) Doctor Who and the Visitation, by Eric Saward

I may have unconsciously been avoiding this one, given how generally hostile I feel about Eric Saward’s impact on the programme. But in fact it is a perfectly decent narrative; good character moments especially for Nyssa and for the actor / highwayman Richard Mace (who is consistently described as “portly” which is at variance with the TV version). Better than I had expected.

6) Doctor Who – Arc of Infinity, by Terrance Dicks

A rather run-of-the-mill Dicks effort.

7) Doctor Who – Snakedance, by Terrance Dicks

Another rather run-of-the-mill Dicks effort, which is a shame as the TV version was one of my favourite Davison stories.

8) Doctor Who – Mawdryn Undead, by Peter Grimwade

I was bracing myself for another terrible book after the awfulness of Doctor Who – Time Flight. But in fact I was pleasantly surprised; I think it is a better story in the first place, but Grimwade is able to bring in a bit more characterisation to new companion Turlough and the Brigadier, and a bit more background to the public school. Not bad at all.

9) Doctor Who – Terminus, by John Lydecker / Steve Gallagher

This was one case where my expectations were not confounded: as with Doctor Who – Warrior’s Gate, we have here a decent enough space opera sf novel which happens to have the Doctor and companions dropped into it. A number of things work better here than they did on screen – most notably, the Garm, which was all too obviously a man in a silly suit on screen; but also the raiders Kari and Olvir, and the sense of corporate greed and despair. One of the better Fifth Doctor novelisations.

It struck me as noteworthy that both Gallagher’s stories put the Doctor and friends at a significant point – Warrior’s Gate at the zero coordinates, and Terminus at the centre of the universe.

10) Doctor Who – Enlightenment, by Barbara Clegg

I had been looking forward to this, having enjoyed the original version very much, and for most of the book I appreciated the little extra bits of detail Clegg brought to the narrative – it’s a story where both companions do unusually well in terms of characterisation. Oddly at the very end it completely ran out of steam. The broadcast version’s studied but attractive ambiguities over who has actually been thrown off Wrack’s ship, and what Turlough’s choice actually is, completely fail to transfer to the printed page. There are ways of doing this, but Clegg was obviously unable to do more than transcribe what was on the screen. A disappointing end to what had been a promising book.

11) Doctor Who – The King’s Demons, by Terence Dudley

Again my expectations were confounded, but not in a good way. Like Dudley’s previous two-parter, Black Orchid, this brings the Doctor and companions to an English country house where they get falsely accused by the local aristocrats. But here the extra detail injected to bulk the story up to novel length really doesn’t help. The early chapters have the Doctor being unkind and patronising to poor Tegan, with no hint of underlying affection between them. The one area which could have usefully been expanded, the hasty introduction of Kamelion at the end, has been left little changed. Not much good, really.

12) Doctor Who – The Five Doctors, by Terrance Dicks

This one is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. It is fundamentally very nice to have the old companions back (though poor Susan is a bit underused). The Gallifreyan plotting makes very little sense, as usual, but it is tremendous fun, and one feels that Dicks was enjoying this despite the extraordinary pressure he was under to produce it. Oddly enough it is the Fifth Doctor who comes across least memorably here. More on this in a future entry.

This brings me to the end of Nyssa’s run on the show. As with a lot of the brainier companions, she doesn’t transfer particularly memorably to the printed page. Although she does bring with her a tragic back-story, losing first her father and then her whole homeworld, this fades more and more into the background as time goes on. Having said that, there are a couple of stories – eg Black Orchid, Terminus – where she is pretty central to the action and this works well.

Nyssa of course continues to feature on Fifth Doctor audios from time to time, including on several of the best Big Finish stories – The Mutant Phase (with Daleks), Primeval (a sort of prequel to The Keeper of Traken), The Game (which brings back William Russell rather gloriously) and two particular favourites, Creatures of Beauty (which has a very unusual format but none the less works) and most of all Spare Parts (the origin of the Cybermen). Any or all of these would be a decent jumping off point to get into Big Finish, if you haven’t already done so.

One thought on “July Books 5-12) Eight Fifth Doctor novelisations

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