The history of Doctor Who printed fiction is every bit as varied and extensive as that of the programme itself, encompassing everything from straight retellings of televised adventures to more experimental journeys into territory the show wouldn’t have gone anywhere near and everything in between. It’s no easy task to pick a favourite from the hundreds of books published since the programme’s first flush of success back in the 1960s, but perhaps we can help you out in this difficultly undertaking by providing a (very brief) overview of the (very wide) array of choices…
For many fans, particularly those of a certain age, it’s going to be difficult to beat the early days of the classic novelisations, which saw adventures from the programme’s first decade adapted in ways that diverged quite markedly from the stories they were based on. A special mention for David Whitaker, whose recounting of Ian Chesterton’s first meeting with the Doctor on Barnes Common matched the television version for eeriness. Malcolm Hulke delivered wonderfully sophisticated retellings of his Doctor Who scripts, and Terrance Dicks will always have a special place in the hearts of those who read his many novelisations for his economical, unpatronising style.
In later years the Target novelisations became something of a production line, with readers for the most part happy to settle for faithful versions of stories they had seen on the screen. Perhaps this was understandable in the pre-VHS era, when opportunities to see episodes after they had first been shown were extremely limited. There would later be a resurgence in the quality of the books however, owing to a combination of the desire to complete the range by returning to stories which hadn’t yet been novelised, the desire of script writers to adapt their own work and the injection of new blood into the show’s writing talent in the late 1980’s. So we were able to enjoy the likes of Donald Cotton and John Lucarotti returning to the world of Doctor Who after many years to deliver their own interpretations, as well as young writers such as Ben Aaronovitch and Marc Platt bringing a new level of polish and detail to stories from the programme’s later years in its original run.
Doctor Who’s cancellation represented an opportunity for aspiring writers which probably wouldn’t have arisen if the programme had continued, of course. Virgin secured the rights to create the long-running New Adventures line and gave authors the remit to come up with stories ‘too broad and deep for the small screen’. Readers who avidly followed these books continue to revere them over two decades later, as evidenced by Big Finish’s success in adapting selected titles on audio. These may have been fallow years for the show but this era in fact saw a wealth of creativity, and of course gave the likes of Russell T Davies, Mark Gatiss and Gareth Roberts their first paid work on Doctor Who. BBC Books, seeing it was missing out on a good thing, brought the publishing rights back in house and continued a regular pattern of both past and Eighth Doctor releases until the news broke that the programme would be returning.
The years since Doctor Who returned in 2005 have seen a mix of releases encompassing regular batches of books featuring the current Doctor and companions aimed (like the programme itself) at as wide an audience as possible as well as more infrequent, more complex novels from writers who are often already extremely successful in their own right. Many would argue that the results have been somewhat mixed, demonstrating that literary talent and impressive sales don’t necessarily translate into memorable stories when it comes to the tricky task of writing Doctor Who.
AL Kennedy, who recently wrote Fourth Doctor novel The Drosten’s Curse, blogged in the Guardian last week about how writing Doctor Who for publication gave her the opportunity to rediscover ‘the power and the clarity of pure story in children’s writing’. Elsewhere in the article she confesses to not being that much of a fan but nonetheless displays an impressive awareness of Doctor Who’s history in print.
So many writers, so many books and I haven’t even mentioned annuals, short trips, graphic novels, Telos novellas… But which is my favourite Doctor Who book? It’s back to the glory days of Target for me. Doctor Who has given me many happy memories but none better than the day my Dad brought home a copy of The Auton Invasion, the stunning cover of which promised a nightmarish tale of ‘dummies whose murderous behaviour is directed by the NESTENE CONSCIOUSNESS’ (their capitals, not mine). It even had review quotes from the Daily Mirror and Daily Sketch to say how good it was.
Over to you, Kasterborous readers! You’ve got all of time and space to choose from – which is your favourite Doctor Who book? Let us know!