There’s long been a bit of a relationship between the television series Doctor Who and famous scribes. During his televised time travelling adventures, the good Doctor has met Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, HG Wells and even the great bard, William Shakespeare. And back in the 1970s and 80s, Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) wrote some Doctor Who episodes, as well as having a stint as script editor on the series.
These days, Doctor Who is still attracting famous authors. Earlier this year I blogged about Neil Gaiman and his foray into Doctor Who script writing with “The Doctor’s Wife”. He’s not the only one. Well-known science fiction author Michael Moorcock has now written a Doctor Who novel. The Coming of the Terraphiles was published late last year by BBC Books and I’ve finally gotten around to reading it.
I was rather disappointed! Perhaps I was expecting too much? Perhaps Moorcock’s style simply isn’t to my literary taste? Perhaps it just isn’t a very good book? Or maybe I’m being a little too harsh?
The story centres around a series of re-enactment games in the far-flung future, where people who are obsessed with Earth’s past, play a tournament for the fabled Arrow of Law. The games they play have been bizarrely altered by the passage of time and thus bear little resemblance to their original incarnations. The Doctor, with Amy in tow, has joined one of the sporting teams as he needs the Arrow of Law to stop the accelerated collapse of not just our universe, but all the multiverse.
At heart it’s a simple story, but Moorcock tells it in such an unnecessarily convoluted manner. The story would have benefited from being more plainly told, with greater punch and less waffle. It is repetitive in places, slow and lacking in any real excitement. It’s as if Moorcock has gotten so caught up in this universe he has created, that he’s forgotten about the plot.
The characterisation of the Doctor and Amy is rather patchy. At times, their dialogue is spot on… and then, a paragraph or so later, completely out of left field. Moorcock has, however, created some rather engaging original characters.
Moorcock certainly doesn’t take himself seriously. His tongue is firmly in his cheek as he introduces us to characters such as General Force and his Anti-matter Men, milliner Toni Woni and Bingo, Earl of Sherwood. But the humour doesn’t quite work for me — it feels forced and self-conscious, and there are times when he sounds like he desperately wants to be Douglas Adams (without quite making it).
“The Gargantua was a happy ship again. If space liners could smile, whistle and snap cheerful fingers then there was no doubt that the massive ship would soon be doing the hoochie coochie as she slipped magnificently through the star lanes.”
The novel is apparently written in a style that homages PG Wodehouse… but never having read Wodehouse, it’s lost on me. The novel is also apparently riddled with references to Moorcock’s past novels… again, this is all lost on me. I can’t help but wonder if Moorcock has alienated casual readers not familiar with his or Wodehouse’s work… not something you really want to do when your novel is part of an ongoing series.
The novel sits rather awkwardly within the Doctor Who universe. Moorcock’s use of the Judoon (a race of rhinocerid police), for example, seems like a misplaced attempt to tie the book in with series continuity — but the way in which he handles them is completely unconvincing.
The Coming of the Terraphiles is certainly not your average Doctor Who novel, either in style or content. It is a brave attempt to do something a little different. But it doesn’t quite work for me. And it seems to have divided fan opinion.
Having finished The Coming of the Terraphiles I’ve gone straight to another Doctor Who book. I’m now re-reading one of my childhood favourites, Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth by Terrance Dicks. Does it live up to my memories? How does it compare to Moorcock’s novel? To find out, tune in next time.
Catch ya later, George
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