Friday, 3 October 2014

Doctor Who Novellas

Between 2001 and 2004 Telos Publishing were granted permission by the BBC to produce a series of hardback Doctor Who novellas.  They went on to produce 15 of them in two different formats - standard hardback and deluxe hardback - the latter of which included both an illustrated frontispiece and the autographs of the author, the illustrator and the writer of the books' foreword..

The novellas tend to be written with a more adult, and maybe even a more literate, audience than the more readily available mass market Who books but this is still Who after all so most authors have placed fun over literary gymnastics.

The series is very out of print but copies are readily available on eBay.


Kim Newman – Time and Relative

This is the first of a short series of novellas published before the relaunch and featuring Doctors one through eight.

The series starts off with a tale concerning the first that directly precedes the ‘Unearthly Child’ storyline. This tale pits a confused and lonely Susan and a small gaggle of schoolmates against an elemental from Earth’s past called ‘The Cold’ that has decided it wants its home back from all these pesky human things.

Grandfather is uninterested in helping. In fact he thinks ‘The Cold’ has a very good case. It’s not till the end that Susan manages to ignite in him the spark of helping (or ‘meddling’ as he refers to it).
It’s written as a diary (Susan’s) which usually makes me squirm but Newman is skillful enough to make it work in this short format.

Dave Stone – Citadel of Dreams
Dave Stone is a 2000AD writer and novelist. I’m sure I’ve read a few things by him but as I rarely used to look at the credits on comics I can’t know for sure. The one thing I definitely remember was a Judge Dredd novel called ‘Deathmasques’. It was a fun and slightly risqué read for a Dredd story.

This is the first of his Doctor Who novels I’ve read. I must admit to being slightly disappointed. It’s a 7th Doctor & Ace story and he’s one of the Doctors I know least so I’m kinda dark on his character.
The storyline here is more than a little confused. For the most part it felt like style over substance. There is hardly any character development and the resolution is garbled and deeply unsatisfying. The only thing in its favour is that Stone is an personable writer but truthfully not enough to raise this out of the doldrums.

Tom Arden – Nightdreamers

Now this was an odd little affair. The story revolves around the second Doctor & Jo being forced to land on a moon with gravity so odd that people swim through the air.

It’s a feudal-ish society in conflict with its neighbouring planet from whom they had exiled themselves and also with another group / race / whatever called ‘The Darklings’. On top of this there’s some sort of trickster thing running around for no apparent reason and everyone important is going mad.

Into this mess drops the Doctor who karate chops is way to the truth of the matter whilst Jo fights off the amorous advances of a drugged prince.

Essentially it was a right bloody mess but for all its many, many flaws I quite enjoyed the ride. It was after all only 100 pages and was a giggle for an evening.

Keith Topping – Ghost Ship

I was quite looking forward to this one. A fourth Doctor adventure with no companion cluttering things up. It turned out to be fairly disappointing. The ending and the set-up and the characters were all pretty solid but the Doctor himself was all over the place.

For me this is the Doctor most at home amongst the weird. He’s the one I’d expect to thrive on a ship full of ghosts and instead he spends most of it running around in terror. It just didn’t sit right with me all the way up to the very unsatisfying ending that grew out of the genuinely nasty undercurrent that runs through the story.

Andrew Cartmel – Foreign Devils

This was the book that caught my eye and alerted me to the existence of the Telos books and it pleases me to be able to report it was a real corker of a read.

Cartmel was the script editor that was trying to revitalise the TV series just as it was being cancelled. Here he takes a break from the Seventh Doctor and tries his hand at the Second.

The Doctor, Zoe and Jamie find themselves in 1800 in China where an opium smuggler named Roderick Upcott has just found himself cursed by the court astrologer and discovered he was warming his bum on a box containing the slowly roasting remains of one of his customers.Via a spirit gate Zoe & Jamie are catapulted to 1900 England with the Doctor following in his usual manner. There, at a party held by Upcott’s well-healed descendant, they find murder, intrigue and a kindred spirit in the form of Thomas Carnacki the ghost hunter created by William Hope Hodgson.

The Doctor and Carnacki with Zoe in tow (Jamie sits this one out unconscious in the greenhouse) investigate each murder in turn, finding one to be not so supernatural in origin, before the curse reveals itself in both the possession of Carnacki’s girlfriend and the resurrected corpse of Roderick Upcott. It really was a cracking romp with a decidedly dirty mind – one of the Upcott’s liking to shag the maids with the butler watching from behind an two-way mirror.

In addition, there was a back-up story from the original Carnacki stories called ‘The Whistling Room’ which was odd and a bit creepy in a slightly dated and stilted way but a good way to end a cracking read.

Louise Cooper – Rip Tide

This is an Eighth Doctor adventure set in a Cornish seaside fishing town. A young girl, Nina, doesn’t like the attention a stranger named Ruth is paying her brother and the strange floppy haired jelly baby wielding man is up to something too. Nina investigates and finds a new world of strange men with mind bending police boxes and alien tourists stuck on Earth too frightened to return home.

I’m glad this was only a novella. I think it would have got on my nerves if it had gone on any longer but it wasn’t a bad read. A little vague and wet (and Nina was massively irritating) but enjoyable enough.

Mark Chadbourn - Wonderland

I've been saving this one for a time when I had a Who craving but not much time to spare. This is the last of the Telos Doctor Who novellas that I have here. They were, on the whole, a pretty enjoyable set of romps being a different, more adult, odd and creepy set of tales than is usually the case.

Wonderland is a second Doctor story that fins him, along with Been & Polly wandering around San Francisco's Haight Ashbury at the height of its hippy fame. Two different things - which inevitably prove to be the same thing - are happening here. The Doctor is receiving strange visitations that detail former foes whilst a young hippy girl - our narrator - is searching, often with Ben & Polly's help, for her missing boyfriend.

It's a little unfocused and the ending was both a bit sleazy and unsatisfying but Chadbourn has constructed a fairly interesting take that probably needed a lot more room and a little more development to tell properly.

Simon Forward – Shellshock

This is the first thing I’ve ever read featuring the Sixth Doctor. I disliked him immensely at the time and have yet to go back to revisit the character so there’s a lot of negativity in my head about him.

The story finds him and Peri landed on a floating wreck on a waterworld. Peri goes off snorkeling while the Doctor does some fishing. Unfortunately a little cyborg crab thingy takes it on itself to dynamite the wreck, sinking the TARDIS and casting the two travellers adrift.

The Doctor winds up on a beach populated by a shellshocked soldier and more of the crabs. Other dangerous crabs turn up and invade the beach until the Doctor, the soldier and the (friendly) crabs escape and find their way to the research station where Peri has become absorbed into a sponge thing.

Throughout, the Doctor is a pompous arsehole but he does seem to care. This was an odd but strangely enjoyable read.

Daniel O’Mahony – The Cabinet of Light

This one of this lovely run of novellas features an un-identified Doctor possibly travelling alone or possibly with a young woman called Emily Blandish who is amnesiac in the book.

In post war London a spiv / fixer called Lechasseur is asked to search for a man called The Doctor. His search for this enigma leads him to various odd and unusual characters including the aforementioned Emily.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable ride. Very much rocking the Raymond Chandler vibe and finding a good level of pulp dynamism and Doctor Who silliness.

Jonathan Blum & Kate Orman - Fallen Gods

Easily my least favourite of these Telos novellas. It was over written in a frankly annoying style that seemed more concerned affectation over substance. 

The story puts the 8th Doctor in ancient Greece teaching a local girl how to fly in order for her to combat the fiery 'Bulls' that are being sent against them, as it transpires, by the 'Gods' in the mountain.

It was a tedious and pretentious read that buried it's ideas in lumpen prose and inept ostentation. A shame as this has been a pretty solid series so far.

Tara Samms – Frayed

This pseudonymous novella was massive amounts of fun.

The story seems to be the first meeting between the First Doctor and Susan with humans. It also gives a possible, if maybe slightly unsatisfying, origin of the pairs names.

Beingn then First though he is yet to become the genial fixer that the name implies and is more inclined to sod off than he is to help.

The staff of a remote re-education facility for children whose genes indicate they may grow up with hostile tendencies. The facility is under siege from fox like creatures. Also one of the patients has developed psychic abilities and is reaching out to the only member of the staff that was nice and creating a fake world in order to entice him.

It was a quick and easy read but that doesn’t detract from how enjoyable it was.

Paul McAuley – Eye of the Tyger

I really like Eighth Doctor books / stories as there was only ever the one official appearance writers have carte-blanche to play with the character. They’ve give him a variety of personalities but here he is a slightly arrogant but deeply caring and adventurous Doctor determinedly trying to rescue and cure a man who has, due to his own hubris, been infected by a nano-virus that is turning him into an tiger-man.

On their way to a future hospital for the cure they are sidetracked by a huge colony ship trapped on the edge of a black hole. There, the Doctor finds a rebellion to stop, the tiger finds love to make and the colonists some new planets.

It was bright, breezy and readable with little real meat but I enjoyed this one.

Robert Perry & Mike Tucker – Companion Piece

A short – 100 pages – but entertaining little read pitting the Seventh Doctor and a unique companion called ‘Cat’ (Catherine) who to my knowledge has only ever been in this one story.

The pair appear on a small back-world looking for a new bag for the Doctor after Cat loses his after helping them escape from some nasty robot spiders. The planet is part of the new Catholic Church and the Doctor is soon arrested by the Inquisition as a witch. After recruiting some kindly help Cat is also captured and the pair are ferried off to Rome.

There are some real plot holes here and it could have really done with another 100 or so pages to run its course more satisfactorily. It was a fun Sunday evening read though.

Iain McLaughlin – Blood & Hope

This is the first time the Fifth Doctor has appeared in this series which does surprise me somewhat. He, Peri and Erimen visit the Wild West only to immediately become separated with the Doctor helping out the Union army whilst Peri and the black Egyptian Erimen are trapped behind Confederate lines with a ‘crazy evil’ colonel.

The book is all told through letter extracts which, due partly to the relatively short book length, didn’t become tiresome. That the book was also quite engagingly written also helped obviously.

Probably more so than any other Telos novella this read like an episode of the TV show (except for the killing at the end) and I enjoyed it very much.

Simon Clark – The Dalek Factor

This, the fifteenth and final Telos novella was written by the guy who wrote a sequel to Day of the Triffids a few years ago and here he’s continued the theme with a story set on a world of killer flora and fauna...and Daleks.

The Doctor is not identified but definitely isn’t the First and his request, whilst amnesiac, to be called Professor leads one towards the Seventh but who knows.

It was enigmatic and fun, lots of fun in fact. It was very light but also very ‘Who’; particularly very modern ‘Who’. I could imagine the showdown featuring the Tenth, all it needed was the word ‘Sorry’ a lot.


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