The harsh British winter of 1963 shows no sign of relenting,
even into April. Stranded on Earth with her Grandfather, Susan
Foreman has to contend with memory losses and feelings of
alienation - as well as the far deadlier danger that this
new Ice Age brings...
would be forgiven for wondering whether there is room for
another series of prose Who adventures in a marketplace
already saturated by 22 original BBC novels a year. I'll return
to this thought later.
Newman has certainly taken a bold step with his setting for
the first Doctor Who novella from Telos (that's the
publishing house, not the adopted planet of the Cybermen).
Both BBC Books and Virgin before them have resisted commissioning
any novels set prior to the first televised episode, An
Unearthly Child, but Telos and Newman evidently have no
setting poses particular challenges, because in his early
exploits Hartnell's Doctor wasn't particularly heroic. He
was initially extremely selfish, and his urge to do good by
meddling in the affairs of other planets took time to develop.
Therefore, any pre-Unearthly Child story would have
to feature a Doctor that was even more selfish and even less
of an adventurer. Newman embraces this factor by fixing his
spotlight squarely on Susan, who relates the story by means
of her diary. Her Grandfather crops up only intermittently
- though references to him permeate the narrative - and he
often appears distant or amoral, being almost totally disinterested
in the human race.
diary format conveys Susan's character extremely well. She
is believable as both an alien and a teenager. Intrinsic to
both of these aspects are her desires to fit into human society
and to gain the approval of her classroom peers - especially
her best friend, Gillian. In An Unearthly Child Susan
claimed that her time at Coal Hill School had been the happiest
five months of her life, and you can believe it as the author
describes the ups and downs of Susan's friendships with Gillian
and another classmate, John.
the true nature of the icy menace reveals itself, the book
becomes less believable. The "monsters" are rather bizarre,
as are the extreme reactions that adult human characters have
during the ensuing crisis. Many of the adults refuse to accept
what is happening - but this in fact also ties in with that
first televised episode, in which Susan stated that human
minds reject what they cannot understand.
novella's length (ironically about the same as the slimmest
of the old Target novelisations) allows for a more experimental
style than your average full-length novel, while offering
greater depth than a short story. Newman's narrative works
on several levels, tying in oblique references to some of
the Doctor's other adventures, on TV and in other media.
instance, a number of short story writers have suggested that
the First Doctor and Susan suffered from some kind of memory
block, thus explaining why they couldn't control the TARDIS.
Newman develops this notion, making these memory blocks a
side effect of the travellers having defied the psychological
indoctrination of their own people. Their patchy memories
also offer a possible explanation for Susan's claim that she
devised the name "TARDIS" - maybe she just remembered the
acronym without realising that the term is also used widely
amongst other Time Lords. The author also rationalises how
the Doctor and Susan can be both exiles and willing escapees.
intriguing of all is Newman's allusion to the early TV
Comic Doctor Who strips. Although his John and Gillian
are clearly distinct from the younger children who called
the TV Comic Doctor "Grandfather", the use of their
names cannot be a coincidence. Perhaps Susan (who went time-travelling
at the end of the novel Legacy of the Daleks) will
one day name two of her children after her classmates!
is there room in the Doctor Who marketplace
for a new series of novellas? When they're of this high standard,
there most certainly is.
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