Doctor Who.

Books Something particularly worrying as I set off on this adventure is the number of spoilers I'm going to end up dodging. These books started publishing a year short of a decade ago and I already have a good idea of what happens in key novels. I suppose the real fun is going to be the joining up of dots and meeting the characters.

Its refreshing, then, to start with a book which is already spoilt because I've seen the film its based on so many times. I had desperately wanted to try and read this first novel as though I'd never seen the film and try to write about it in that way. But that's impossible. Once you know the source material well enough, it's difficult to divorce your feelings about it from any kind of adaptation. All of the same problems I have with the story still exist on the printed page -- like the title -- is it just called Doctor Who or The Television Movie or The Enemy Within (or the TV Movie with the Pertwee logo?). I've plummed for what's on the cover even though it looks a bit wrong. Why - oh - didn't they stick something up on the screen to save us the bother?

I've always thought of Gary Russell as a very underated writer. He's built a reputation for being the guy you hire when you want a good meat and potato perfectly fine Who adventure without any exotic experimentalism. But actually it's about what's in there in between the lines. During he opening pages of the book, Russell explains that he 'wrote speedily from an excellent script, but with precious little visual reference ... changes to the script took place throughout the filming and so portions of this version may differ from what we all see on screen.' So actually in reading it's difficult to see how many of the differences are of Russell's own making or due to script changes. Which is a shame, because there are many new moments which I'd love to give Russell credit for.

The TARDIS becomes an even more infinite space. The cloister room is a cathedral standing on a massive plain an internal building within the ship. The Eighth Doctor carries his predecessor's hat throughout the adventure a constant reminder of change, popping it on Grace's head as she leaves him at the end. The security guards at the New Year's Eve party are given their own little storyline injecting some humanity to what's at stake. But most excitingly, we're told The Seventh Doctor covertly enters Skaro and sneaks off with The Master's remains, which is the great action sequence and it's a shame the novel doesn't have the time to tell us more about it.

There are also more interpretative moments when Gary's looked at the script and tried to extrapolate some intent or indeed place them within the more familiar Who setting. I never had a problem with that kiss at the end -- for me it's about The Doctor enjoying the moment. Here, to some fans relief, Grace kisses him and we don't hear what his reaction to the gesture is. The Eye of Harmony at the centre of the time machine is a facimile of the actual eye on Gallifrey, with all of the TARDISes linked to that central power source. The Doctor's half humanity is hit head on and becomes an intergral part of the story. I'm wondering if in the novels to come this is going to be built on or quietly forgotten. It seems odd that this story is still considered canon, and such a big premise change hasn't been mention often elsewhere.

But this is a story of two Doctors. Doesn't the Seventh get an ignominious end? For what was (until that point) the most long lived incarnation in multiple media he isn't really given the death he deserves. He carelessly lets The Master out, leading to a crashlanding, before blundering out of the TARDIS in the middle of a gun battle. Hardly the master manipulator we've come to expect. He's closer here to the man who appeared the the Hulk Comic strips than the one who dragged Ace through Ghost Light.

Without foreknowledge it would be difficult to get a handle on this new Doctor. He comes across more as a greatest hits, a selection of ticks, than a rounded personality. He's certainly the most romantic and poetic since the Fourth and is more reactive than pro-active, blundering into situations then looking for a way out. Perhaps conditioning from the new tv series has led me to expect something more, a depth which wasn't there before, perhaps a hint of guilt at what his predecessor had been up to. He's just too blanded out, as though the writers (the original writers) don't want to give to much of a character at this early stage in case they change their mind later.

The problem is that The Doctor isn't the strongest character in the book -- Grace is. As the action unfolds, she's the wit, fulfilling many of the roles the timelord would in a traditional adventure. Much of the time though she just seems to be there to be as American as possible as a contrast to the Doctor's Englishness. But she would have good companion potential because she points out all of the things that the audience would be thinking so that the timelord can be different -- much like Rose and Jack in the new series.

Good example: At one point they somehow manage to capture a gun from a cop. But The Doctor throws it away because he doesn't do guns, and when Grace suggests they could have used it as a deterent he asks her if she could actually fire the thing (the fact that the gun is still loaded when he chucks it and could be picked up and used by someone else isn't explored). I'll be interested as I leap headfirst into the run of books to see why they decided to go with another best friend for The Doctor (assuming it wasn't just to do with the rights to the character). I think it's more likely because she was an American audiences way into a very British institution which becomes pointless when your audience is British anyway.

The other so-called companion, Chang-Lee spends most of the adventure with The Master and doesn't come across well at all. He feels like a one-hit-wonder of a character his arc well and truly told -- not actually stupid just offering poor judgement in the face of a bit of money and flamboyance.

But the real imbalance comes from The Master. An awful lot of time is spent with the character and arguably we get a better idea of who he is over The Doctor which just increases the latter's apparent ineffectualness (I mean we're introduced to the TARDIS interior by the mortal enemy -- controversial, experimental or just plain awful?). He just isn't himself. The whole point is that he's The Doctor's equal, except evil. But his desperation to nab his rivals form has given him a meatheadedness which is only partially given weight by the adaptation -- the character has obviously been written to fit Eric Robert's inflections. But since this is a possession rather than a regeneration. He might as well be some other character. He's monologuing all over the place try to convince Chang-Lee to help him. Why? Surely it'd be quicker to head off to the nearest university and hypnotise the nearest Scientist. Eventually at the end of the story (and I don't remember hearing this one on the tv) 'I am The Master, you will obey me.' But you're not really convinced it will work.

Overall though the story lacks an umph. It foreshadows Rose, in that The Doctor is captured and its up to the companion to save him because we don't really understand what the fuss is about the tension disipates. The Doctor fighting an alien army beats him having a shouting match with someone in a cathedral any day. The threat here is just too abstract.

As I look at the stack of novels ahead, even with the regeneration this does not feel like the start of an adventure. Fatally it wraps up with too many loose ends. A bookend rather than the start of something new. At the end of the novel The Doctor says to the TARDIS, 'Well old girl, I don't know where I've just selected, but let's hope it takes us somewhere interesting, unusual and exciting. Or at least. somewhere that does a decent pot of tea.' Which is hardly the most exhilarating mission -- all he needs to do is drop the TARDIS off in Albert Square and he's already been there.

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