Sunday, August 28, 2016

Doctor Doctor: Terrance Dicks' THE EIGHT DOCTORS

Terrance Dicks is perhaps THE name in Doctor Who fiction. Crafter of novelizations of uncounted (by me) television episodes from the classic series, former script editor for the show, gentleman, scholar. So who else would get to launch a series of further adventures for the poor isolated Eighth Doctor, wonderfully portrayed by Paul McGann, utterly wasted in a bad American TV movie and in danger of just being swept under the rug forever.

BBC Books and, later, Big Finish Audio to the rescue! The Eighth Doctor has become beloved after all due to some great prose and audio adventures, of which The Eight Doctors is the very first. Er, sort of.

Possibly out of concern that their British/Commonwealth readers were not prepared to accept the Eighth Doctor as part of Doctor Who continuity, the powers that were decreed that this first "novel" would basically be a very thinly constructed "plot" that forced the Eighth Doctor to hang out with each of his seven prior incarnations to accept a piece of the relay baton, and, er, reassemble it so he could get on with being the Doctor in other stories.

Yeah, it's pretty lame. But this is Terrance Dicks, so it's very professionally and well-informedly lame, so much so that at times, if you squint, it can look a bit less lame and maybe it's just walking through really thick mud or something. Except it's also maybe a little bit clever (though it could have been a bit more clever, about which more below), as each but one of the Past Doctor encounters serves as a sort of post-credits continuation of a famous TV episode. Thus we see the First Doctor towards the end of "An Unearthly Child" (after a silly frame sequence that just happens to take place in a certain junkyard in Coalville), the Second in "The War Games", the Third in "The Sea Devils", the Fourth in "State of Decay", the Fifth in/after "The Five Doctors", and the Sixth in "The Ultimate Foe" (aka the last serial in the infamous "Trial of a Time Lord" season). The Seventh is seen pretty much between "Survival" and his date with regeneration at the beginning of the TV movie, which is a bit of a gyp but o'well.

There's a lot going on here, chiefly in the form of Terrance Dicks doing the most Terrance Dicks thing he possibly could. As in long before there was the continuity-obsessed Stephen Moffat, there was the continuity-obsessed (at least for the writing of this novel; I dunno how much so he might have been during his time as script editor) Terrance Dicks, who must have had a checklist a mile long of stuff that had to be in here before it was the Doctor Who Novel That Made The Eighth Doctor Canon. And had obviously been tortured for years by little inconsistencies and plot holes and whatnot that this particular storytelling gimmick gave him a chance to fix and/or explain.

But so, this could have been a bit more fun for the kind of reader who likes this sort of thing. I would have enjoyed having had to do a bit more work to figure out at what point in each Doctor's timeline the Eighth was meeting them. The bit with the First Doctor at first seemed like it was just going to be the sort of nostalgic look at the show's origins with the Coalville stuff, and so I didn't notice that we'd plunged right into "An Unearthly Child" until I realized what was going on in the Second Doctor encounter. And then the Third encounter goes and blows it all by outright naming the episode on the very first page of that chapter. And the rest of them are so obvious that I don't feel at all bad about "spoiling" them by calling attention to this cute little device of Dick's. Pah.

I will say that, with Dicks being the practiced craftsman that he is, this all hangs together rather elegantly, especially once the Sixth encounter gets going. Dicks manages to broaden the issues at stake in the silly trial stuff and make it all more meaningful, which was very gratifying. BUT.

Ain't there always a but?

But, the framing device is ridiculous. It's not inherently silly to go back to Coalville, as Stephen Moffat et al have proven, but in The Eight Doctors we're going there solely to meet and pick up a new Companion for the Eighth Doctor, without really introducing said character, Samantha Jones, at all. We know she's a Coalville student, that she's principled and brave and... um. Because, you see, she only appears at the very beginning and the very end. She plays ZERO part in the Doctor's past self encounters. Boo. I'd much rather just meet her organically in a proper Doctor Who adventure, that's just telling one new story instead of retelling seven old ones. But hey.

Not much change to the Arbitrary and Mercurial lists. I was tempted to bump Dicks down a spot out of pique at the lame idea, but he did execute it well, so he stays at #3. The Eighth stays where he is. I almost nudged Romana II up a spot because (unlike the other companions appearing in this novel), she actually did some cool stuff in the "State of Decay" coda, but even so I still don't love her more than Ace.

As for new companion Samantha Jones? I've seen even less of her than I have of Bernice Summerfield, but what little I saw of Samantha was more interesting than Bernice, so in she goes above the professor.

As always, these'll change and change and change like a TARDIS with a functioning Chameleon Circuit.


Alastair Reynolds
Kate Orman
Mark Gatiss
Terrance Dicks
Gary Bulis
Jonathan Morris
Justin Richards
Gary Russell
Keith Topping




Romana II
Ben and Polly


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