Books It’s 2004 and pre-production on the televised revival of Doctor Who is in full swing with all of us wondering what the franchise under Russell T Davies would look like. But some of us, those of us lucky enough to have read Jonathan Morris’s The Tomorrow Windows (ie, not me at the time) would have been given a coincidental hint of what was to come and not just under Davies’s tenure but his successor too. It’s not unique in that respect, The Christmas Invasion as we’ve discussed is practically a re-imaging of The Dying Days but it’s one thing for the new series to be influenced by the wilderness years; quite another for similar approaches to emerge simultaneously.
It’s all here, all the makings of the trailer for the series, the celebrity cameos, a devastating explosion at a London landmark, a nerdy figure who’s a fan of the Doctor, dozens of strange new worlds with odd customs, half a dozen strange new beings with even odder customs, self-conscious literary pastiches, ghosts and above all a creative model somewhere between Kay Mellor, Monty Python and The Brothers Grimm. But it’s also heavily, as is usual with Morris, influenced by Douglas Adams, but as he urges in his acknowledgements, it’s not meant as a pastiche, more of a tribute to his narrative way of going about things, of highlighting humanities problems through metaphorical satire and hyperbole.
Good god I loved it, even more than his previous Adams pastiche, Anachrophobia. That was still somewhat shackled by the needs of a story arc. But with such things set aside beyond the bit of mystery surrounding Trix, Morris is allowed to let rip, splattering ideas, characters and bits of narrative all over the shop and will us to stay with it and watch it all coalesce together at the climax. After thirty pages I was on Twitter singing its praises and there wasn’t a moment after when I wasn’t surprised and delighted and gaping at the sheer brass balls on display. Five novels to go and I’ve found another one which I’ll want to read again and I’d actively recommend to anyone who just wants to see what these Eighth Doctor novels can be like.
I expect I should mention the story. The Tomorrow Windows are magical mirrors able to provide the viewer with the gist of what their future holds. Noticing a range of worlds on some galactic heritage list are due for an apocalypse, an alien scientist is hoping to utilise these looking glasses to suggest to each population that there’s another way, but unfortunately for him, he decides that Earth needs fixing, and sets up an exhibition at Tate Modern just as the Doctor and his pals drop in on contemporary London in the mood to see some art. Stuff happens and before long, the four of them are jumping about the cosmos hoping to save the planets on his list and get to the bottom of why the apocalypses are happening in the first place.
This is one of those rare novels which embraces the caravan narrative with their masses of mini-adventures within a framing device, though closer to the The Keys of Marinus than Seasons of Fear, and obviously extremely close to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Galaxy, Morris having great fun introducing each world both from the moment when everything starts to go wrong and their ultimate end. Thematically he takes pot shots at everything from the kind of bad democracy where both “choices” agree with each other to climate change debates and causes to bureaucracym all the while testing our nerve to see if we notice which part of Adams’s oeuvre he’s being influenced by in each given chapter or page.
Of course not everyone has a tolerance for this sort of thing, which is why the Graham Williams era (with Adams at the helm) received such mixed reviews, the kinds of mixed reviews, which greeted this on publication though not interestingly Matt Michael in Doctor Who Magazine, a man not easily pleased but like me finds much to enjoy, especially what amounts an unexpected and affectionate (?) parody of Lawrence Miles’s Alien Bodies embedded in the middle. It’s quite surprisingly how little of that kind of self reflexive referencing happens in these novels between authors, some kind of gentleperson’s agreement I’ve heard, but with time running out presumably that’s become a bit flexible.
Example: remember back when writing up The Infinity Race when I was exercised about, amongst other things, how Anji and Fitz’s sections appeared in the first person for no good reason? At a certain point in The Tomorrow Windows it becomes apparent Trix is at it too, seemingly to provide some much needed character building or rather lack of since although there’s hints at some dark past, she’s changed her identity so many times she’s forgotten who she is. Except then it’s utilised for something else, becomes an actively important part of the storytelling and a device, which could only work convincingly in a printed format. Hooted, I did, hooted, even as the writing took a turn for darkness and then became even darker.
Not that there’s much proof that Morris is referencing The Infinity Race, but given all of the stories from across the franchise which are referenced herein thanks to the list of planets which the Doctor must save, I wouldn’t put it past him. As I write I keep remembering beautiful moments like the introduction of a Brian Blessed analogue doomed to repeat his most famous screen moment in a Flash Gordon parody (treated it has to be said with more respect somehow than in the talking bear film Ted). Or the character that seems designed to tenderly lampoon the production requirements of the classic series who’s fundamental nature is based upon the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. Or the very final page of the book, which knows it’s the final page.
This also features the Eighth Doctor at the height of his powers, entirely comfortable with his memory loss, the series happy to allow him to face elements of his forgotten past for fun (also referencing The Dying Days itself in the process). More than ever he seems like the transitional incarnation between the classic and new series, steeped in the righteous anger of the Fourth Doctor but with the Tenth Doctor's constant state of wonder. Similarly Fitz has rarely been better, though some of the directness he exhibited in Halflife seems to have remained, though to an extent it's a requirement of his most prominent portion of the novel, a Christie pastiche years before The Unicorn and the Wasp, which requires what amounts to being a second Doctor.
None of which will make much sense without reading the thing, but even if you’ve never read a Doctor Who spin-off novel but have any interest in Adams, Python or that sort of writing, this is well worth chasing down and particularly if you enjoyed Gareth Roberts’s Shada novelisation last year. My copy has £2 written on the inside front page; I think I bought it from the bookshop on Mount Pleasant in Liverpool. But there are plenty of copies knocking about online for relatively cheap prices. This is a near perfect expression of what the spin-off fiction was capable of in a way which wouldn’t be reflected again for a good few years after the return of the television series. Plus it has a Sugababes reference. Four to go.