The Eight Doctors, by Terrance Dicks (8th Doctor Novel)

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BLOT: (09 Sep 2010 - 12:50:32 PM)

The Eight Doctors, by Terrance Dicks (8th Doctor Novel)

Here we have the first book in the EDA (Eighth Doctor Adventures) line, the new (for '97) line of Doctor Who novels designed to carry on the adventures of the Doctor post-TV. Some -where/-how in the mix there were other lines of novels (see second paragraph) that looked back at past Doctors and specifically carried on post-Survival Seventh Doctor stories. This one focused, as you can guess, on the Eighth Doctor as played by Paul McGann in the movie.

The Eight Doctors starts things off by trekking back through the Doctor's previous lives and having him save his previous incarnations (85% of the story) while also introducing him to his next companion (3%) and getting mucked about in Time Lord Polity (12%). Number Eight, Terrance Dicks wants us to know, is dashing and suave and forceful and clever and wise (a certain degree of character complexity got reintroduced in the next novel: Vampire Science). For the first couple visits (with the First and Second Doctors), we get little scenes cuts that show how certain key decisions were made. He stops the First from bashing in the head of a caveman, and helps to talk the Second into summoning the Time Lords despite the cost. I think this is more Dicks' way of giving new fans a glance back rather than claiming the Doctor continuity was potentially something different but was altered into its correct pattern by Eighth. Compared to the increasingly long stories with the later Doctors, the First barely even touches the book so if you are Team Hartnell, you'll probably not like where this ends up.

For most of the rest we get an "immediately after a televised adventure" series. Eighth helps Third to track down the Master immediately following The Sea Devils, and helps Fourth fend off a vampiric counter attack right after State of Decay. The biggest self-referentialization occurs right after The Five Doctors from Number Five's point of view, and events from that 20th Anniversary Special are heavily referenced throughout. Fans of the Raston Warrior Robot get a second glimpse of the devil (with some background story), this time with Sontarans (try and read the dialogue without doing the Sontaran voice, dare you). At this stage, the novel is still relatively fast paced: Quantum Leap short stories for Time Lords.

Then we get to the section with the Sixth Doctor. Set on one end of the Trial (though you might say "tangentially set"). Rather than continue the 3rd through 5th pattern, Terrance Dicks decides to take us to the behind the action, a presidential enquiry to redeem the Doctor once and for all. In the classic series, the Trial (by which I mean Season 23, aka Trial of a Time Lord) was the swan song of both the Sixth Doctor and the Time Lords (outside of renegades and spin-off material, they did not return until "The End of Time"). Rather than spend the novel's time defending Number Six, Dicks instead devotes a considerable chunk of the novel to the Doctor leaving behind the Sixth and fixing Time Lord society through various schemes. While this is the first time Dicks lets the Eighth really be free, it also comes as a sharp contrast to the rest, a mis-stepped diversion that bogs down an other word one-sitting read. It does, to some degree, help to recast Time Lords as "generally ok", which might help some fans who disliked the increasingly negative portrayal on screen, but still. Different novel at a different time material. By the time it is wrapped up, the Doctor barely has time to interact with the Seventh (uniquely to the novel, the Seventh is set towards the end of his spin-off career, as opposed to televised) before discovering the "real plot" and getting back on track for his own stories.

Being, generally, ignorant of the various flavors of "Classic Who" spin-off novel, I have to admit that missed part of what Dicks was going for with The Eight Doctors. It reads best like a check-point for the series. If someone started with the Doctor Who Movie and then picked up this novel, between the two narratives they would have a fair standing in the Whoniverse. With lots more questions to ask, sure, but enough answers to keep going. I know it also provides a few corrections to slightly out of sync events going around the novels (of the time) and was Dicks' way of slapping the movie just a tad, while simultaneously trying to make a few things that snuck into the movie make sense (see: Eye of Harmony being in the Tardis, The Master's "snake form", etc). He does not rectify the "half-human on my mother's side" statement, though I'm sure one of the Eight Doctor Adventure (EDA) series will surely look into it.

I personally think you could probably skip this one, since the Doctor is almost a non-entity at the center. However, for Eighth Doctor fans for those who want at least some of the problems with the movie fixed, it is more essential to read. I would call it Fair. Not a strong point of Terrance Dicks' contribution, but well enough.

TAGS: Doctor Who [Eight Doctor, Novels]

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 36
BY MONTH: September 2010

Written by Doug Bolden

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