Big-name Doctor Who

This weekend, the world is celebrating the 50th anniversary of a little TV show called Doctor Who. Fans are eagerly awaiting the televising of the special commemorative episode “The Day of the Doctor”, which will be simulcast in many countries across the globe. A 3D version of this special will also be screening in many cinemas throughout Australia and other countries. There is an unprecedented hype in the air. So it seems like the appropriate time to discuss some Doctor Who books.

In recent years, BBC Books has been publishing Doctor Who stories by novelists well-known in their own right for non-Who material. The first of the really big-name-author books was The Coming of the Terraphiles by famed science fiction author Michael Moorcock. While I didn’t care for the book, I could certainly appreciate the attempt to do something different and adventurous with the franchise (see my review).

Since then, I’ve read another two big-name-author Doctor Who novels. The Wheel of Ice by science fiction author Stephen Baxter was certainly more to my taste than The Coming of the Terraphiles. It’s a full-on sci-fi adventure set amongst the rings of Saturn with the second Doctor and his travelling companions, Jamie the highlander and future-girl Zoe. While I enjoyed the basic story, I found the novel as a whole, problematic. The characterisation of the Doctor and his companions is patchy — particularly Jamie. Sometimes I could imagine the dialogue being spoken by the respective actors and sometimes it seemed all wrong. And the book could have done with some editorial moderating, particularly with the astonishing over-use of the word ‘swarming’. Every time the little blue aliens appear, there’s that word… over and over and over and over again. On the plus side, there is an abundance of lovely little references to the events of televised episodes of the series.

Dark HorizonsI followed up this book with Dark Horizons by rom-com author Jenny Colgan (writing as JT Colgan). Of the three, I enjoyed this one the most. Set in a remote Scottish seaside village during the time of the Vikings, it pits the eleventh Doctor against an alien force that incinerates living beings as it tries to survive. It’s a terrific concept that is executed very much in the style of a Moffat-era television episode, with a very accurate characterisation of the Doctor. Reading it felt just like watching the series.

That’s not to say I loved every bit of it. There are moments that stretch credulity — but thankfully, not to breaking point. And there are some glossed over explanations that probably do not bear too much thinking about.

Even though I did not love each of these three books (as I did Paul Cornell’s Human Nature or Mark Gatiss’s Nightshade), I did enjoy reading them. It is interesting to see what these authors bring to the Doctor Who mythos and it is gratifying to see BBC Books allowing authors to stretch the boundaries of the Who-niverse.

And for something completely different, but still Doctor Who related, check this out…

Catch ya later,  George

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Media tie-in books

Tied InMedia tie-in books are those that are in some way associated with a film, television series or game. I’m interested in these types of books both as a reader and a writer. I recently read a book about tie-in writing — Tied In: The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-in Writing. So tie-in writing is the subject of today’s post.

Official tie-in writing, licensed by the owners of the property, can be divided into three areas — novelisations, original fiction and non-fiction. Novelisations are straight adaptations of existing films or television episodes. Many major films will have these and so will some tv shows. Original fiction tie-ins are, as the name suggests, new stories about the characters and world of a television series, film or game. And non-fiction is… well… stuff written about a tv show, film or game. Of course, there’s also the unofficial tie-in writing. In terms of fiction, this means fan fic, published on the Internet or in fanzines at no profit. In terms of non-fiction, this means professional books and magazines of critique/reviews, as well as fan commentary.

My first encounter with tie-in writing, as a reader, was with the Doctor Who novelisations. Target Books published well over a hundred of these back in the 1970s and 80s. Next, there was the novelisation of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and the sequel novel E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet, both by William Kotzwinkle. Since then I’ve gone on to read lots of novelisations, original fiction and non-fiction based on things like Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.

As you can see from the above, my tie-in leanings are towards science fiction. But there’s tie-in fiction for all sorts of films and tv shows. The novelisations of the Dance Academy series have been particularly popular in recent times. And I’m sure I’ve seen Home and Away books in many a discount bin. 🙂

My experience as a reader has shown me there is a great deal of variation in quality. There are some pretty awful tie-in books out there… but there’s also some real gold. For many years there was a great deal of stigma attached to writing tie-in material. It was seem by many as the domain of hacks and writers incapable of getting original material published. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just take a look at the Doctor Who and Star Wars books of recent years. Names such as Michael Moorcock, Sean Williams and Stephen Baxter jump out. So don’t be too quick to judge a tie-in book!

 

I’m particularly excited that my friend Trudi Canavan, author of The Black Magician Trilogy and many other great books, is writing a Doctor Who novella for a series of BBC eBooks (see her blog post “Time Tripping with Doctor Who”). Her experience has been fun for me, as I’ve gotten to wade through my DVD collection, choosing appropriate episodes to lend her for research; and I’ve been a pseudo-consultant, answering some nerdy fanboy Doctor Who questions for her. Now, I can’t wait to read her story.

As a writer, tie-in material holds a great deal of fascination for me, particularly as I’m a bit of a pop culture junkie. So I’ve actively pursued it. I wrote for the Behind the News magazine and I wrote one of the tie-in books. I was also lucky enough to write a Doctor Who story for the anthology Short Trips: Defining Patterns. And I’ve done a few essays for some unlicensed books about Doctor Who. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed a great deal and would love to do more of. (See my blog posts: “I Love Doctor Who” and “Writing about Doctor Who“)

Which brings me back to Tied In: The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-in Writing, edited by Lee Goldberg and published by The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Aside from a few  typos, this book is a great read. To any writers out there who are keen on getting into the tie-in market, this book is an excellent resource. It gives you the facts of working in the industry and a run down of what you can expect from working in that area. To readers of tie-in material, this book is a wonderful history of and insight into the industry. Highly recommended!

Catch ya later,  George

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Michael Moorcock writes a Doctor Who novel

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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Doctor Who books

Here it is! At long last! The post I have been threatening you all with since I began writing Literary Clutter. The post you have all been waiting for with bated breath… The first Doctor Who post.

Now, for those of you who do not know what Doctor Who is (because, clearly you’ve been living under rock for the last 47 years), I should explain that it is the longest running science fiction series, ever. First going to air in the UK in 1963, it lasted for 26 seasons, finally being cancelled in 1989. But, just like its main character, it would not die. It came back for a tele-movie in 1996 and then a revived series starting in 2005, and is still going strong. The principal character, known only as the Doctor, is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He travels in a time/space machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). The TARDIS is dimensionally transcendental, which means that it is bigger on the inside than the outside. It is also able to change its external appearance to blend in with its surroundings — at least, it’s meant to. It’s actually broken and is stuck in the shape of a 1960s police call box.

One of the most remarkable things about this series is its ability to change lead actors. You see, the Doctor, like all Time Lords, has the ability to regenerate. When his body wears out, or if it is damaged, instead of dying, he changes — becomes a new person. So over the years, he has been played by 11 different actors — William Hartnell (1963-1966), Patrick Troughton (1966-1969 ), Jon Pertwee (1970-1974), Tom Baker (1974-1981), Peter Davison (1982-1984), Colin Baker (1984-1986) Sylvester McCoy (1987-1996), Paul McGann (1996), Christopher Eccleston (2005), David Tennant (2005-2010), and Matt Smith (2010-??).

Doctor Who has gone way beyond its humble television origins. Aside from the numerous television spin offs (K9 and Co, Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood and the new K9 series), Doctor Who has resulted in feature films, radio plays, CD audio adventures, computer games, toys, comics, magazines and, of course, books. Lots and lots and lots of books. Hundreds of them, in fact.

It all started with the novelisations published by Target Books (later taken over by Virgin Publishing). There were 156 books published in this series, with only 5 of the original series stories left un-novelised. I used to love these books as a kid. I would read and re-read them. Hardly a week would go by without me reading at least one of them. I have particularly fond memories of Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth by Terrance Dicks, which was my most often re-read Doctor Who book.

Things didn’t end with this series of novelistations. After the series was cancelled in 1989, Virgin Publishing began a range of New Adventures books, original novels set after the series, continuing the adventures of the seventh incarnation of the Doctor. Then there was the Missing Adventures books, original novels featuring earlier incarnations of the Doctor, set during the events of the series, but between televised stories. And so it went on and on. After the tele-movie in 1996, which featured a new eighth Doctor, there were more books. And now with the new series, we have another range of original novels featuring Doctors #9 through #11.

Sadly, with the recent demise of the Short Trips anthologies, a series of short story books from Big Finish Productions (the company that also produces the Doctor Who audio adventures), there are no longer any new books featuring the older set of Doctors. I keep hoping that the BBC will one day again licence a publisher to do more novels with the earlier Doctors. In the meantime, there are the current series books and the books based on the Doctor Who spinoff series Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures.

Doctor Who books had a huge influence on me as a kid. They fuelled my interest in the television series between seasons, and in science fiction in general. Although I no longer religiously read all the books, I do still occasionally dip into the Doctor Who literary ocean. The last one I read was Doctor Who: The Story of Martha, and as I look over my shoulder to my to-be-read pile, I can see three other Doctor Who books as well as a Torchwood novel. I’m also rather looking forward to the upcoming Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, by the well-known science fiction author Michael Moorcock.

Want to know more about Doctor Who books? Check out the TARDIS library, a very comprehensive listing.

So… any other Doctor Who fans out there? What are your favourite Doctor Who books? Leave a comment below.

And stay tuned for more Doctor Who, as over the next couple of posts, Literary Clutter will be visited by a few authors who have had the good fortune to play in the Doctor Who universe.

Catch ya later,  George