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Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Cache of Doctor Who Treasure

Recently, my wife returned from travel with a few special gifts. I say a few, but count them: there's eighteen Doctor Who novelizations, one of which contains two stories. Of the novels, there were five books retelling six first Doctor stories, and three novelizations from the second Doctor era. This is notable, as during this time period, the BBC had a policy of erasing expensive video tape after the show's initial airing (and perhaps one repeat), so they could reuse it to record other programs. Five of the six first Doctor stories exist only as reconstructions, combining photographic images with audio tracks that fans recorded off their TV sets at home. Two of the three second Doctor stories are also missing, and only exist as reconstructions. So reading the books will help me visualize those stories better.

I've already started reading Galaxy Four, the first book following the order in which the stories were filmed. It's an odd story, in which the Doctor and his companions land on a planet inhabited by two visiting races. These are visitors from other planets, and both crash landed on this planet. One race is represented by a woman and her cloned companions. Despite her beauty, she feels only distain for others. Her companions seem to feel little emotion excepting fear of their mistress. The stratified society she represents reminds the Doctor of that old fool Plato, who he met on a trip to ancient Greece. Apparently, he tried to tell Plato that he could not found a perfect society, or Republic, based on slavery. Like many the Doctor meets, Plato decided to reject the Doctor's advice.

The other book pictured is a novelization of "The Tenth Planet." It's notable for the final story featuring the first Doctor, and the first appearance of the Cybermen. These Cybermen were crude by comparison with the Cybermen the Doctor encountered on successive occasions, as the race improves the design of their mechanical bodies. Interestingly, recent news reports have hinted that the latest Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, will encounter Cybermen of this original design later this season. That should prove interesting to watch.

The first Doctor Who story I ever saw was "The Genesis of the Daleks." As an early teen in America, I found it difficult to relate to the TV series. The fourth Doctor seemed an utterly incomprehensible figure, and the cliffhanger endings were just plain weird. After seeing "Star Wars" in the cinema, I was looking for more Sci-Fi in that vein. Shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica I could relate to better. Still, I watched the stories from the first season of the fourth Doctor, and read novelizations of other Doctor Who stories, and respected the long tradition of Doctor Who. Years later, after my wife and I married, I became a fan of the show via the third Doctor, a character I could admire and relate to. I love those fourth Doctor stories now, and especially "The Genesis of the Daleks." It'll be interesting to read the novelization, and compare it with the original recording. 

Two other novelizations I'm especially looking forward to reading are Logopolis and Frontios, both by Christopher H. Bidmead. Logopolis takes place on a planet populated by mathematicians who can change the structure of the universe by manipulating mathematical calculations. The TV version of "Frontios," a fifth Doctor story, features actress Lesley Dunlop, who would go on to play Zoe Callendar in a favorite British comedy May To December. "Frontios" transports us to a ravaged world, in which the Doctor attempts to make piece between the Human colonists and a race of giant, intelligent insects. I always felt that this story could have benefitted from a big screen treatment. It would have been great to have seen the devastated landscape on a vast scale, and the war being waged with the best special effects wizards in Hollywood. It will be interesting to see how the book compares with my vision for everything I imagine that story could have been.

Additionally, Christopher H. Bidmead read and commented on a blog entry I wrote about the Doctor Who story "State Of Decay." He wanted to give me his recollection of the dispute between himself, as Script Editor, and the writer of the story, Terrance Dicks. The fact that he would respond to something I wrote is another reason I want to read these two stories.

In closing, I must add that there's a part of me that asks "Why do you need all these novelizations? After all, you've got the TV versions to watch, or at least the reconstructions." But reading is a different experience from watching, and often novelists add scenes deleted from the TV programs, relate the scenes differently, or add additional detail to give you a fuller understanding of the characters and the world(s) on which they live. I look forward to immersing myself in the written versions of these Doctor Who stories, and coming away with an enhanced appreciation for the TV series I love.

Dragon Dave

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