Well, this week my commuting reading has been the eight novelisations of stories featuring Lalla Ward as the second incarnation of Romanadvoratrelundar. As so often, a somewhat mixed bag.
A pretty standard transcription of what was on the screen, including the rather threadbare justification for Romana turning into Princess Astra from The Armageddon Factor.
Alas, we miss out on the novelisation of the best story from Season 17 – it is the only one of the five unofficial ones produced by the New Zealanders which is not currently available on their website, and you can't get paper copies for love nor money.
As with Fisher's other novelisation, Doctor Who and the Leisure Hive, he has bulked out the narrative with more background and characterisation; and unlike his other book, this one scores by being able to describe what the author imagined rather than the exceptionally naff special effects that were seen on screen. And I love the footnotes. Definitely one to look out for.
This story had some of the least convincing monsters and effects ever, compounded by very few of the actors appearing to take it at all seriously. Rather surprisingly, Dicks has turned into his most memorable novel from this period of the show's history, a fairly impassioned parable of drugs and altered realities which comes over much better on the page than on the screen. The best Dicks novel of this run.
This was a fairly blah story on screen, and Dicks has not managed to make it any more interesting on the printed page.
Scoones says in the commentary to this book that he always wanted to be Terrance Dicks when he grew up. There are both good and bad aspects to that, and Doctor Who and Shada is basically a workmanlike Dicksian retelling of what appears on screen in the footage of the story that was actually shot, and what should have appeared on screen based on the scripts. Rather more interesting, actually, is Scoones' detailed analysis of exactly which bits were lifted directly into Douglas Adams' later novel, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, and of Tom Baker's ad libs during the punting scene.
Since I read Doctor Who and the Leisure Hive quite recently, that takes us to
For once, Dicks has filled out a lot of background to what was otherwise a somewhat rootless story. The Earthling whose body Meglos borrows gets a name; we get the history of Zolfa-Thura in terms which very nearly make sense, and the whole thing is a definite improvement – though, alas, from a poor starting base.
Hmm. Smith is of course determined to give his own script a fair wind, but the end result is not very special; it is one of those rare occasions when the book doesn't quite do justice to the special effects of the original series. Of course he gives us a bit more background to the Alzarians and their origin – or not – on Terradon, but if anything it rather confuses the picture.
Since Doctor Who and the State of Decay was the first novelisation I read as I was getting back into them, we move on to
This is really good, the best book of this run; Romana II departing in style. Lydecker / Gallagher seems almost to be writing a standard genre sf book that the Doctor, Romana and Adric happen to have wandered into – Romana wanting to wander off on her own, of course. (And K9 gets perhaps his best characterisation in any of the novels, even if he is out of order for much of the story.) Of course, with it being the printed page rather than the screen, the story has to be told in a rather different way; but the author, whatever his name is, really rises to the challenge.
So, in summary, Doctor Who and Warrior's Gate, Doctor Who and the Nightmare of Eden, and the two David Fisher books are the ones to look out for from the Romana II set. She herself comes over rather better as a character than Romana I – I think partly because Terrance Dicks wrote relatively fewer of these novelisations, and did them relatively better. Certainly the character arc of her reluctance to return to Gallifrey is well conveyed in the later books, and her banter with the Doctor reads cutely in most of the earlier ones. Though it is a bit irritating that Dicks likes to describe her as "small" – compared to Zoe she is a giant, surely?
Right, only two more Fourth Doctor books left; but they will have to wait until next week.