March Books 19-24) “Make Your Own Adventure” / “Find Your Fate”

These were the first set of Doctor Who game books, published in 1985-86; since then there have been a couple more sets, two published in 1986 by FASA and 16 Tenth Doctor stories with the series title "Decide Your Destiny" published between 2007 and 2010. These original six are all available for a penny/a cent plus postage on the second hand market. To my surprise, there is more to say about them than I had expected – including the very first Who story from a non-TV medium to be later adapted for television. They were originally published in the UK with the series title "Make Your Own Adventure With Doctor Who", and in the US as part of Ballanyne's "Find Your Fate" series.

Search for the Doctor, by David Martin

Quickest path to happy ending: 0-2-10-12-14-11-3-22-24-26-32-33

Second para of section 3:

The radio crackled again. 'Lost contact.' You slid down the side of the truck and sat with your head on your knees. Without Drax or K-9, what could you do?

The story starts with "you" inheriting K9 from the late Sarah Jane Smith, in the year 2056; you then join forces with Drax from The Armageddon Factor, helping the Doctor to defeat Omega who is threatening to destroy the universe by taking over a nuclear research facility for his own ends. Obviously a lot of elements recycled from TV stories which Martin co-wrote with Bob Baker, and it's actually rather well done – a somewhat improvised team ("you", Drax and K9) trying to rescue the Doctor and thwart Omega. The options for success do then to be the last in the list for each page, with only two exceptions. But on the whole the "correct" choices are fairly signalled. There are a couple of anagram puzzles which are not terribly well integrated into the plot.

Crisis in Space, by Michael Holt

Second para of section 3:

Halley's Comet being a mere ten kilometres across, the four of you troop round it in next to no time. 'Just a dirty great snowball,' Turlough says.

This is the only one of the books written by someone who didn't write for the TV series, though Holt did write several Doctor Who quiz books. The protagonist, again "you" but also named as "Chris", joins forces with the Doctor, Peri and (anachronistically) Turlough to prevent the villainous Garth Hadeez from destroying the Solar System. The writing is really excruciatingly badly pitched, with Peri and Turlough making horrible and inappropriate puns on every page, and characters routinely bursting into song (ie doggerel).

Which is a shame because the narrative structure is rather interesting – there are two different happy endings, one of which comes from a plot set entirely in 17th century Prague:
and the other on Mars and Phobos (though it turns out not to actually be Phobos as we know it):
with also the option of time-slipping from Phobos to Prague for an epic story:
(There is one mistake that I caught – section 65 offers section 66 as one of the options, taking you from a Prague crossroads to a Martian crater; it should have been the otherwise orphaned section 38 instead.)
There's also one number puzzle which is fair and actually plot-relevant. It's a shame that the originality of the path structure was not matched by appropriate restraint in the writing.

The Garden of Evil, by David Martin

Quickest path to happy ending:

Second para of section 3:

'Why, what happened?' The Doctor was looking anxiously out of the rear vizor.

Probably the most interesting from the continuity point of view of the six books, this time "you" are a telepathic refugee from Earth, stranded in a camp on Gallifrey, rescued by the Doctor, and sucked into a struggle with the evil Maker who wants to, guess what, destroy Gallifrey and take over the universe. It's not exactly Gallifrey as we know it, though in fact it's not all that far off the Time War Gallifrey which we have seen recently. There are some silly die rolls and anagram quizzes, but in general the plot is pretty linear, and when Martin lets his hair down there's some writing that approaches being decent.

Mission to Venus, by William Emms

Only path to happy ending:

Second para of section 3:

You went to Burrigan's side. He had now drawn his own gun and looked as though he meant to use it. This would be sheer foolishness, you could see, as the Doctor and Peri also joined you; the crew also had armed themselves.

This was apparently based on ideas that Emms (who wrote Galaxy 4 had put together for a Second Doctor story to be called The Imps. I fear it may be one of those cases where we should be rather glad it wasn't made. The plot, such as it is, is about a rather tedious effort to manage dangerous plants on a vital spaceship run. The next sentence of this paragraph is not an opinion I shall often have cause to express, but in this case it is true. Terror of the Vervoids did it better.

The structure of the book is much the laziest of any of the six: at every turn, you are presented with three choices, of which in every single case the first two lead to failure and the third to success. From both section 14 and section 23, the two wrong options are section 8 and section 16, while sections 12 and 22 are fatal snippets which are not attached to any preceding text. I couldn't actually be bothered to work out which ending was meant to go with which previous section. The one mildly saving grace is that a couple of the false turns are so silly as to verge on gonzo surrealism: one option, for instance, has "you" gobbled up by Dracula and his brides (who are somehow occupying a cabin in a spaceship to Venus), and another leaves "you" trying to emulate the Scarlet Pimpernel in revolutionary France. But this is lazy stuff, contemptuous of the reader.

Invasion of the Ormazoids, by Philip Martin

Quickest path to happy ending:

Second para of section 3:

'Set what?' The lights go on flashing urgently. A warning buzzer starts. Something called 'static warning of temporal overload' starts blinking at you. Then you remember the Doctor fiddling with a small computer input panel. This might be the co-ordinate setting now required.

This one was the reason I sought these books out, after tremendously enjoying Philip Martin's audio play Antidote to Oblivion earlier this year. It's probably the best of the books from a literary point of view, though this is not a high bar. What's particularly pleasing is that most of the choices actually require some thought and analysis and reward careful consideration of the options; and yet a number of the "correct" options are presented as if you have made the wrong choice with duly impending doom, until you turn to the next section and discover that things actually get better. It has also quite a long pathway to victory. There are a couple of fairly straightforward puzzles which verge on actual relevance to the plot. If you are thinking of sampling these, this might be the one to start with. NB that a crucial early transition, from Section 6 to Section 13, makes No Sense At All.

Race Against Time, by Pip and Jane Baker

Quickest path to happy ending – an unbelievable 94 steps:

Second para of section 3:

Shaped like an armadillo, but with the speed of a jackal, a Quarintalardus springs from a camouflaged burrow and grabs you by the scruff of the neck. There is blur as you are given a short but sharp shake. The the Quarintalardus, smacking its lips, departs, leaving you flat on your back.

I had not realised that this book has a historic place in the history of Who – long before Big Finish plays, New Adventures or DWM comic stories were adapted to become episodes of New Who, the plot (such as it is) of Race Against Time was recycled within a year of publication to supply many of the elements of Time and the Rani – most notably the Rani running her biological experiments on a remote base, aided by specially designed monsters, here called the Ratapes, mildly scrambled with one change of letter to become the Tetraps in the televised story. So Time and the Rani is actually the first Who from non-televised media to be adapted to TV. (Though there's a story in the 1972 Countdown Annual with some resemblance to The Seeds of Doom.) However, it's very nearly the only point of interest. The choices leading to life or death seem pretty arbitrary; the puzzles are actually quite difficult and generally have nothing to do with the plot; section 153 advises us to "look back at 125" though in fact you can't possibly get to section 125 for another 50 steps. Reading these six books was a slightly mad idea anyway, but I really had to force myself to finish this one. I will say that the Bakers wisely dialled down the exclamation marks so prevalent in their novelisations.

So, what to learn from this? It was unfortunate that a run of Sixth Doctor stories in an untried format were published just at the time that the character himself was getting dumped by the Beeb. I think also that it might have been better to get authors who knew how to write single-player gamebooks to try their hand at Doctor Who, rather than the other way round. I don't have the detailed knowledge of the format that Demian Katz brings to his critique, but it's not difficult to suspect that this could have been done better. The internal illustrations, by Gail Bennett who also illustrated the Doctor Who Cookbook, are pretty good; the covers a little more iffy (Bennett clearly was at her best in monochrome). The three books by writers whose surname is Martin are better than the three books that aren't, but this is not saying much.