Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Novels of Season 7

A belated update! It's been a busy few months at work, which has nothing to do with a certain frill-fronted adventurer with a young-old face and a shock of white hair, so let's move on with no further ado.

After the excitement of 'Inferno', I was able to do something that viewers of the time could only dream of: experience further adventures with the wonderful Elizabeth Shaw. Many years after these stories were broadcast and enjoyed, fans of the show were moved to write novel-length fan fictions which were published by Virgin Publishing and, later, BBC Books.

Scales of Injustice, by Gary Russell, was a so-called Missing Adventure published in 1996, a long and involved look back to 1970s Who in the midst of its modern revival in the form of Paul McGann; along with Russell's revisionist fannishness of Silurian and UNIT history, not to mention the love-life of the Brigadier, the arrival of Mike Yates and the big goodbye from Liz Shaw, this is a novel with a strong engagement with 90s pop culture, showing the obvious influence of The X-Files. (In the same way, Russell revived the 1970s Target novel format for McGann's San Francisco escapade.)

In a sense, this is a project of reconciliation: the naivety of the 1970s with the paranoia of Chris Carter's work, and the jarring 1980s approach to the Silurian culture with its original 1970s appearance. But it's a story about schisms and break-ups: the Brigadier's family breaking up under the strain of the Official Secrets Act, the splinter groups of angry reptiles, and the divisions within government concerning UNIT and its approach to alien life. It's also a novel full of violence and aggression - it is, perhaps, Russell looking back to the cosy world of Seasons 7 and 8 and asking, How could it be like that? We know life's not like that. It's a belated bestowal of gravitas upon random cast changes and odd decisions of monster costume.

I found the second half less interesting than the build-up. Perhaps because the disparate elements of the novel don't seem to integrate properly. They are, I suppose, creating the perfect storm in which we can understand Liz Shaw leaving the Doctor. Perhaps, in that at least, it succeeds - but it's a rather chilly story, ultimately. I must admit to remembering very fondly the Terrance Dicks short story in a Doctor Who Yearbook about Liz leaving UNIT, perhaps only because of a gorgeous illustration by Phil Bevan.

A little later, but earlier for the Doctor, came the BBC Novel The Devil Goblins from Neptune by Martin Day and Keith Topping. This is a stylish thriller pastiche with bags of atmosphere and retro scene-painting. Like Russell, the authors play about a bit with the idea of UNIT and global politics, and with a similar sense of reconciliation - but in a much more mischievous mood - they tie together a lot of the random characters of early 1970s Who to suggest the crazy world of Who's Britain.

Russell's novel has a lovely, warm portrayal of the Third Doctor and some fun stuff for Liz to do - by contrast, this novel has some fun action for the Doctor to get into, and some really convincing character work for Liz: it really suggests the cool cynicism and wit of the woman we see in 'Spearhead from Space', the character slightly diluted in successive appearances (though back to the fore in 'Ambassadors of Death').

It's great that Russell's novel is back in print, and I have cautious hopes that more of this era of Who (including The Devil Goblins) will slowly become available once more, and perhaps be followed by new adventures in prose. Yes, we get more of the Third Doctor in these stories, more of Liz Shaw too, but there are other interesting things going on too, with history, subversion, making connections, building background - sometimes they don't quite work out, and to some readers they will seem eccentric exercises, but to me they are a wonderful aspect of fan re-reading and re-writing, critical and creative at once.

And I'd love to have a go, myself!