Made of Steel.

Books Oddly published before the new series had even begun but handily set after The Lazarus Experiment and featuring oblique references to how Martha's family are asking awkward questions about her new friend, Terrance Dicks's Made of Steel is the perfect stopgap in this short hiatus between episodes. With action taking place in only a few locations with a small group of characters the goal was obviously to produce something that works on the narrative level of a typical episode and it totally succeeds with a central relationship that's true to the third series and a story that logically explains the presence of nu-Cybermen without retconning anything that we've learned before.

The author's note just behind the cover says 'In 1968, he began working on Doctor Who. He has written over fifty Doctor Who novels and has been a prolific author of books for children' and it shows - this is a great little adventure which in some ways is even more inventive than the television programme with a storyline that wraps in on itself, apparently throw away scenes becoming vitally important in the conclusion and characterization that manages to accomplish in just a few lines more than a certain recent two parter did on television.

The storyline then (as described on the back cover): various random bits of technology are being stolen from locations as diverse as shopping malls, army bases and government ministries and it becomes apparent that not all of the Cybermen where sucked through the void at the close of Doomsday may be preparing to mass another invasion. The Doctor inadvertently drops into the timeline at an opportune moment and after falling in with the army, attempts to discover who these metal men are and how he's going to try and stop them.

In some ways, Dicks is predictably going to be at home here, what with this being an army and their scientific advisor. The likes of Captain Sarandon and Major Burton are precisely the kinds of people that might be turned out by UNIT, wise to the alien threat and knowing that they need a certain timelord's help. The search for him here mirrors what went on in Aliens of London and once again it's not hard to wonder if having this version of the Doctor exiled again on purpose wouldn't be such a bad thing - certainly a lot of fun is had as he attempts to deal with the contemporary technology in internet cafes and whatnot.

There are some lovely moments that are perfectly old school, like the longer suffering PC having to deal with the discover of the TARDIS and the Cybermen and what he'll be telling his boss about the appearance and disappearance of both. The Cybermen too are much closer to the Mondas variety, their dialogue far more sophisticated, with a certain amount of infighting as to whether the cyberleader is taking the correct action, one of the subordinates displaying a real lust for glory, emotional traits neatly explained by their origin - formerly human and therefore lightly emotional. Sadly none of them make a fist and say 'Excellent'. Next time maybe.

The book also captures the new series good verbal humour well; when the Cybermen's base of operations is revealed it's a cue for a stream of jokes as the establishment's expense. You really couldn't imagine them giving permission for an actual television episode to be filmed in the place should this material be included in the script (my favourite being 'Well, at least someone's found a use for it at last!'). Martha's ability to look danger in the eye and tweak it on the nose is all there too, especially when she's dealing with the Cybermen: 'Not another invasion. What is it this time - giant hippos? Intelligent wildebeest? Alien llama maybe?'

Dicks has said on numerous occasions that he thinks of the Doctor as being the same man whoever plays it and essentially always writes him the same way and that it's the interpretation of the actor which changes things. Which is odd, because he nails Tennant's Doctor perfectly, the fixating on little things, getting over excited about others, but also that innate ability to break explosively from joy to tragedy. But there's also that understanding of the bigger picture. At one point he makes a decision that costs lives but understands and explains that he saved many more in the long run - you could almost imagine that given the choice at the end of The Parting of the Ways he would have flipped the switch and wiped out the Earth in a way that the Northern survivor-guilt stricken jug-eared version couldn't. Despite his outward attitude sometimes, he's not a coward.

To a degree, the book also demonstrates the apex of the problem that the new series is having with the new companion; remove the visit to her old hospital stomping ground, find and replace all mentions of the words 'Martha' and 'Jones' with 'Rose' and 'Tyler' and you'd be hard pushed to say that the characters are all that different. Which isn't a criticism of Dicks who captures Freema's portrayal pretty well, that fearlessness. If there's something you could point to as a key difference, its that Martha has much more innate awareness of when the Doctor needs her help and when she should stay away and leave him to it - as occurs when he's taken away by the army and she makes herself scarce. They're less of a 'team' more of an autonomous collective. Or something.

I'd best stop here before the review becomes longer than the book, suffice to say that Made of Steel is a lovely, potentially nostalgic little read and a bargain at a couple of quid. This is certainly something I'd like to see more of in the future, writers that have a real history with the show being given an opportunity to write for the new iteration. It would be a shame if Dicks never got a chance to write for the television version because on the strength of this he would certainly be up to the challenge. Anyone else got any suggestions for old skoolers they'd like to see taken out of mothballs?

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