Doctor Who: The Novel
June 15, 2014
I first discovered Doctor Who in 1980 when it was being run on my local PBS station. At the time, they were running stories with the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker. I knew nothing about the show, and I had no idea that it had already been around for nearly 20 years at that point. I also had no clue that there had been other men to play the title character. So, I was a bit shocked when Tom Baker transformed into Peter Davison. Once I witnessed my first regeneration, I was finally clued into the unique history of this program and was eager to see the Doctors who had come before Baker. However, there was a bit of a problem.
You see, back in the day, there was not a lot of thought put into preserving Doctor Who’s legacy. The BBC could not have predicted in 1963 that the show would become the lasting cultural phenomenon that it has. Let’s face it, what person in their right mind would think that a children’s science fiction series would last for half a century. As a result, there was no emphasis put on safekeeping copies of early episodes. Once they had been broadcast, the tapes would often be wiped in order to be used again or they would be disposed of entirely. This was especially common during the Hartnell and Troughton eras. Sadly, this means that those of us who came to the program later, often had to miss out on some of the early stories. At least their on-screen versions.
However, I was delighted to discover as a child that there had been novels written that were based on the stories of most of the early episodes. Sometimes penned by the writers who wrote the original scripts, the novelizations of these early Doctor Who adventures gave those of us who thought we would never get a chance to see them on the television the opportunity to at least experience them in written form. I snatched up as many of these books as I could find (in fact, I still have a lot of them on my bookshelf.) and saw a certain advantage in experiencing The Doctor’s adventures through a book.
There has been a lot of attention paid over the years to the fact that the classic series of Doctor Who had practically no budget from which to work. There were also no computers or CGI available to the original creators of the show. As a result, the sets and special effects of classic Who were often hokey and unrealistic, especially some of the early monsters. While there were successes like the Daleks and the Cybermen, many of the creatures that were supposed to scare us out of our minds instead made us laugh because of their obvious resemblance to a man in a rubber suit. This could occasionally detract from what were really good and involving tales.
With the Doctor Who novelizations, you were not reliant upon the special effects department to make the monster seem real, only your imagination. The alien worlds that they tried, and sometimes failed, to create onscreen were much more detailed in the books and could be much more epic in their scope. Without the distraction that was caused by the lack of finances, the heart and soul of the stories could finally shine through. It was through those novels that I think the true brilliance of the world of Doctor Who could be seen.
You must also remember that back in the 1960s and 1970s, most people did not have a video recorder, and reruns were very rare. Therefore, in order to experience a certain story over again, you had to seek out the novelization of the script. That was the only way that fans were able to relive certain favorite adventures. And with many of the classic episodes still missing, the line of books that were created all those years ago remains the only means by which younger viewers may ever get to experience these stories. While more and more of the missing episodes are being found (two complete adventures were recently found in Nigeria of all places.), there is no guarantee that we will ever have every single Doctor Who story on film. That is why these novels are such a great asset.
Of course, the books that have been written starring The Doctor are not all based on television scripts. During the 15 years of the shows hiatus, a fan’s only way of continuing to explore the universe with The Doctor was to pick up one of the new novels that expanded on his travels. Sometimes, they created adventures for the Eighth Doctor, who until recently had only one story that had appeared on screen, and sometimes they added new adventures to a previous Doctor’s canon. There have even been novels written about the Doctor’s companions and their trials while away from him. And even though we now have DVRs to record the new series, and no longer need to have a novel to relive a Doctor Who episode over again, there are books coming out starring the most recent Doctors in completely new stories.
So if you are a fan who would like to go back in time and see what the Doctor was up to years ago or read some never televised adventures, it’s a good idea to seek out a Doctor Who novel. They can fill in a lot of the history of the show for fans of NuWho, as well as help pass the seemingly interminable time between series. They also give a much deeper insight into the character that we have all grown to know and love over the past 51 years. Oh, and don’t forget the new audio versions featuring the classic Doctors and companions that are continuing to be made. These are also great fun and are helping expand the seemingly never ending universe of Doctor Who.