The Eight Doctors.


Books  Crumbs.  It's ironic that Gary Russell one of the great original Doctor Who authors was given the tv movie to novelise while Terrance Dicks renowned for adapting seven part Pertwee stories into 144 pages wrote the introductory book in the Eighth Doctor series.  Gary didn't seem entirely comfortable with his job working as hard as he could to produce something as distinct from its source as possible.  Here Terrance works extremely hard to create something which might as well be an anniversary episode on paper.  It's a sows ear, but a golden one.

Keep your head down, there are spoilers ahead.

But really -- what was anyone thinking when they decided that this was the perfect way to introduce this version of The Doctor to original fiction.  Imagine if in Rose, Billie had been saved from Hendricks and then within moments Chris had buggered off round the universe meeting all of his other selves before turning up in the last five minutes to finish off the Autons and chase her into the TARDIS.  Doesn't sound gripping or a great way to introduce the story to new fans does it?

Well that's what happens in The Eight Doctors.

Eighth has amnesia thrust upon him again in the opening pages as a last revenge gesture from the recently bested Master.  Then some unseen hand decides to drop the TARDIS in Totters Lane (no really) were he literally bumps into Sam a pupil of Coal Hill School (yes really), exciting new companion material who is being chased by Baz.  Who believes that she's ratted him out to the cops for all of his drug dealing.  After some misunderstandings, The Doctor somehow finds himself standing in the middle of I M Foreman's junk yard with a carrier back full of drugs, ready for the police to turn up and arrest him.  Yes, it's the first half Christmas episode, The Feast of Steven for The Bill generation.  But really which audience is this being written for?

Which is a question I kept coming back to as the book continued.  After a literal jail break The Doctor (after short trip in the TARDIS) turns up in 100,000 BC.  Where he meets The First Doctor just as he's about to knock that caveman's head in with a rock.  Time freezes and the two Doctors have a debate about the ends justifying the means, during which Eighth is given some of his memory back by First.  Time starts again and First decides that he's not a cold blooded killer after all.  And the rest of the book continues in that vein.  Eighth pops in at some critical moment in another incarnation's life, regaining some of his marbles and helping that particular Doctor with whatever crisis they're having.  It's basically Quantum Leap with The Doctor bouncing around in his own lifetime.  He tends to pop in close to a regeneration -- the big exception being an intervention with The Fifth just after The Five Doctors (cute).

It's more of an anthology than a proper story.  In some adventures, the Eighth Doctor has only marginal interaction (The Third Doctor story) -- in others he's integral because some other force is trying to stop from breaking another law of time.  The characterisation of each individual past Doctor is almost perfect, each sounding and feeling exactly like their tv counterpart.  And most of these interludes fits within the mood of each era.  I like that in each segment that version is described at The Doctor until the new one intervenes and they become The Fourth Doctor in the text just to make the distinction.  I'm not sure though that Sylvester McCoy would be too happy at his version being described as 'an unimpressive figure ....small, dark and not particularly handsome'.  Ouch.

The main problem is the characterisation of The Eighth Doctor.  We still don't really know who he is.  At the very start he comes across as an early version of Star Trek's Data and as the novel progresses he drifts wildly between Casanova and Ford Prefect, finishing up as John Culshaw doing his Tom Baker impression.  It's probably not Terrance's fault -- with only the TV movie to work from The Doctor is bound to come across as randomly here as he did there.  The trouble is (and this might with hindsight) it just doesn't sound like Paul McGann could say much of this dialogue -- well alright he could -- but it wouldn't sound or look 'right'.  He spends much of the book kissing the hand or cheek of all the women he meets, from Jo Grant through Romana II and even Tegan.  Not blaming him, but were the Grace kiss was romantic this just seems creepy.  You could imagine Tegan in particular saying 'Thank god you never do things like that...' to a bemused Peter Davison.

Then on top of all that there's Gallifrey.  That Seal of Rassilon on the cover of the book says it all really.  I've never had the aversion to The Doctor's homeworld that some have.  I'm really enjoying the Dynasty in space that is the Big Finish audios.  But a big old slab of the action takes place there and not all of it is entirely understandable.  As The Doctor drifts through the story we meet Timelords past and present, two Presidents and even dear old Borusa.  Some have regenerated recently others have stayed the same (Terrance seems very keen that we know this).  Every time we spend an interlude there, it drags the story down and you feel as though you want to skip a few pages to what looks like a good bit with a Rastan Robot.

The trouble for the contemporary reader is -- it's not about anything -- there don't seem to be any big themes at play.  Not every story has to be about Iraq and I know it's meant to be a romp, but it lacks a sophistication some of us have become used to.  I know that's an unfair way of treating things, but when a drashig is loose on the Eye of Orion or there are two Sixth Doctor running around you know that its too shallow for its two hundred and eighty pages.

Everything which is right and wrong with the book happens during the Seventh Doctor portion.  This Doctor sits in the TARDIS bored out of his wits with a bit of a mid-life crisis needling away at him.  He decides that he could either turn up at some planet and pick up a random sentient life form for a companion or go off and find his own excitement.  So takes himself to Metebelis III for another round with the Giant Spider.  Meanwhile, The Master, still getting over being half cat is in retreat learning all about how to become a worm.  Eighth turns up to cuts Seventh down from a web and they have time to share a cuppa.  In these closing moments we realise that the book is a both a prequel and sequel to The One With The Pertwee Logo.  The Godfather Part II of Doctor Who if you like.  But yet again we find ourselves clearing out a shed load of continuity when we should be enjoying Eighth's first adventure proper.

Time after time though, just as things start to flag, a golden moment happens to keep the interest.  The Delgado version of The Master hitchiking to Devil's End.  The Fourth Doctor trying to fight off vampires.  The Eighth Doctor going to the worst pub on Gallifrey and getting rat-arsed so that he can get on the good side of the locals.  In the end I found it very difficult to dislike something this bonkers.

It's just a shame that we spend so little time introducing the new companion Sam.  To be honest, there's only a hairs breath between her and Rose -- both are from the cruddier ends of London, and neither are too put out by the appearance of the TARDIS or the alieness of The Doctor.  There's even a moment when she runs into the time machine just as it's dematerialising.  I think I like her but it's too early to tell.  But it's good to see, after all the messing about in the history of the show, at there end we're left with the architypes -- one timelord, one companion (usually a girl) and a galaxy to explore.  Job done.  But what a wierd way of getting there.

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