Doctor Who: Traveling Back in Time
By Richard Davies, AbeBooks
“We need someone to write something about science fiction,” they said.
“But I’m not into sci-fi,” I replied.
“You’re British, you must like Doctor Who?”
“Sure, I watched all the shows as a kid…. Oh yeah, I had the books too. I had about 25 to 30 – they were white glossy paperbacks. I read them over and over again. Perhaps I can write something.”
I do not regard myself as a fan of science fiction but if you were to dissect my lifetime reading material then a number of sci-fi books would appear. A couple of John Wyndhams, Ray Bradbury, 1984 and a few others, and I suspect there are other people apparently uninterested in sci-fi to be in this position.
But the more I think about it, Doctor Who - the time-traveling adventurer who uses brain rather than brawn - was a major part of my childhood. Most British households tuned in to watch the TV shows on a Saturday night in the 1970s and the evolution from one doctor to another was a major event in British pop culture. I started with the third doctor, Jon Pertwee (1970-74), who became Tom Baker (1974-81), who became Peter Davison (1981-84), who became Colin Baker (1984-86). I was vaguely aware of Sylvester McCoy in 1987-89 but the magic had long gone by then.
I remember Pertwee, who dressed like a bohemian dandy, as my favorite doctor. This was probably because it was the first time I was exposed to scary TV so it had a marked effect and nostalgia has tinged my memories. Baker’s seven-year reign mirrored my discovery of books and the joy of reading. His booming voice and overacting is fondly remembered, and still parodied today.
The Doctor Who novelisations were always the poor relation of the TV episodes, but they proved addictive reading for a youngster with an imagination growing up in 1970s Britain. I had little interest in reading the books recounting TV episodes that I had already seen so I collected books detailing the adventures of the first two doctors – William Hartnell (1963-66) and Patrick Troughton (1966-69).
One Christmas, I had been given a hardback copy of a Doctor Who Omnibus featuring The Web of Fear and two other stories – Space War and Revenge of the Cybermen. I re-read those stories over and over again, but Web of Fear remained my favorite. If I ever ran out of reading material, I would pick up the Omnibus and read the Web of Fear. If you’ve ever been in London at rush-hour then the Underground can be a scary place especially when the tunnels fill up with murderous fog and there’s a psychopathic yeti on the loose.
As a script writer, Dicks was one of Doctor Who’s creative forces during the 1970s and also wrote many of Target’s novelisations of the TV serials. His science fiction writing eventually evolved into general children’s fiction. Several of Dicks’ Dr Who novelisations stick in my mind, including The Genesis of the Daleks, The Pyramids of Mars and The Planet of the Spiders.
I believe there are three key elements to being a Doctor Who fan – choosing your favorite Doctor, choosing your favorite monster and choosing your favorite Doctor’s assistant.
My favorite monster came from Doctor Who and the Sea Devils – Malcolm Hulke provided the novelisation. Although they only appeared in two storylines, the Sea Devils, ugly reptilians with a penchant for crawling out of the English Channel and zapping people, seemed to be extremely creative.
The Daleks – the quintessential alien bent on universal domination – always seemed faintly ridiculous because they used wheels to get around and they could be easily evaded by using stairs or moving onto bumpy ground. The Cybermen’s Achilles Heel of toppling over when ever they came into contact with gold also seemed an odd weakness.
Although the Doctor enjoyed the company of many attractive young female assistants, Sarah Jane, Romana and Peri all spring to mind, my favorite assistant was actually UNIT – the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce .
This small group of military personnel accompanied the Doctor on a number of adventures from the late 1960s and into 1970s. Brigadier Colonel Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart was actually introduced in the Web of Fear and the Doctor acted as UNIT’s scientific advisor when his adventures became more Earth-bound than Space-bound. The soldiers usually blundered into trouble and the Doctor saved them.
One particular UNIT adventure remains in my memory: Doctor Who and the Green Death. Dicks scripted the TV serial and I was six or seven when I watched it. The story, which turned into a novelisation by Hulke, featured deadly green maggots terrorizing a Welsh coalmine and the local community. Maggots are hardly going to take over the Universe but they featured prominently in my nightmares while the serial was airing. Since then maggots have always turned my stomach.
Of course, Doctor Who is alive and well after the BBC reintroduced everyone favorite’s Timelord in 2005. I stopped watching the TV serials in the early 1980s and have not seen a single episode from the latest generation of shows. Doctor Who just seemed to fade away. I hope the latest novelisations are being read by a new generation of Doctor Who fans.
Notable Doctor Who
Note: This list is a very small sample of the Doctor Who books available.