March Books 21) Time and Relative

21) Time and Relative, by Kim Newman

This was the first of the run of Doctor Who novellas published by Telos, set immediately before the events of the first TV series, in London in early 1963. It’s written in diary form, with Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter, as the narrator. She and her grandfather are exiles from their home planet, and can’t quite remember why; as she tries to fit in at school, she comes top in Maths and Science, but loses out in Geography as she can’t remember what the various cities and countries are called this century.

As typical with Telos there is an irritatingly self-congratulatory blurb (this time by Justin Richards) detailing just how wonderful this particular novella is. However, in this case it is close to being justified. For one thing, Newman gives Susan her own voice – in the series, she was rather the archetype of the screaming girl companion, to the dismay of Carole Anne Ford who had taken the role believing that she would have alien kung-fu type skills and whose favourite memory is when she turned violent in The Edge of Destruction. Newman’s Susan isn’t Buffy – apart from lacking physical fighting skills, she is less lucky in her choice of friends – but she is her own person, plaing not just at being grownup like her friends but also at being human – and it all makes sense.

Newman’s other success is that his First Doctor comes closer than any other written version I have seen to capturing the essence of Hartnell’s performance. This is helped by the first-person narrative from Susan’s point of view: her grandfather is familiar but not central for most of the story. He catches the alienness of the Doctor’s motivation and manner very well.

The actual story hardly matters in all of this, but the plot of a monster based on Cold, awakened by drilling experiments and taking over the earth starting with London, is true to many a Who story and also to the horror tradition which Newman is rooted in, so he does it pretty confidently. There are of course pleasing nods to continuity: Ian and Barbara are glimpsed on a date at the cinema, there is a hint that Susan’s own people may be sending a man with a beard after her and her grandfather, and more subtly her friends at school are John and Gillian (probably most Telos readers are sufficiently up in obscure Who lore to get that particular in-joke).

Anyway, based on this, one would be encouraged to get the rest of the series of Telos novellas. Unfortunately, I have read two of the others and they don’t come up to the same mark (one of them is definitely the worst Who fiction I have read in hard copy). Still, it was a good start.

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