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Thursday, 17 September 2009

Book Of The Month: Time And Relative

Growing up as a casual Doctor Who fan I read a few of the Target novelisations, but was only vaguely aware - in later years - of the Virgin and BBC books that followed The Doctor's adventures once he was off our television screens.

In those days, Doctor Who was very much a visual thing to me and it is only lately that I have come to realise the true wealth and expanse of the literary Whoniverse.

Where better then to start a concentrated delve in to the wealth of Doctor Who fiction than with one of the most highly regarded (as far as I can find out) stories - Kim Newman's novella Time And Relative, from small press publisher Telos?

What particularly drew me to this story was that it was a First Doctor story set before the show's first actual episode, An Unearthly Child (one of my single favourite episodes of the show and which I intend to review shortly) and told from Susan's point-of-view in the form of a diary.

Where the story is at its strongest is when it gets inside Susan's head as she tries to work her way through the fog banks in her mind and remember details about her life before she and her Grandfather arrived on Earth in "the Box" (the word TARDIS is never used).

Both she and The Doctor have had memories erased and mental blocks put in place by the Time Lords, who, while she defends them, come across as very Orwellian in their totalitarian rulings.

Read now, in light of recent innovation in Doctor Who, Susan's adventure reads like an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures set in 1963, but those tales are always a positive, bonding experience for the youngsters involved; Susan and her friends - John and Gillian (no, not THAT John And Gillian) - all drift apart in the end, once they discover her 'secret', adding a level of poignancy that Susan's ultimate loneliness echoes that of her Grandfather.

One of Newman's other strengths is in capturing the voice of The First Doctor; he only reappears as an active participant in the proceedings towards the end of the book, but from the moment he starts talking you can hear William Hartnell's voice loud and clear.

However, he isn't quite The Doctor we know from the early years of the TV show just yet; it is this story - set during The Big Freeze of 1963 (but extending it for dramatic purposes to April, when really it came to an end in March) - that helps him shake off his Time Lord indoctrination/brainwashing and sets him on the path towards becoming the 'man' we know today.

The frozen atmosphere of London, 1963, hangs over everything in this book and the all-pervading thick snow is inescapable.

Providing you can get to grips with the idea that animated, killer snowmen would actually be quite terrifying then the simple story - effectively a journey from Coal Hill School to the junkyard at 76 Totter's Lane, where The Doctor is working on "the Box" - is very engrossing.

But Time And Relative's merit lies not in its action sequences, but in its character work - primarily fleshing out Susan, and then, by default, laying the groundwork for the character of The First Doctor to grow from.

4 comments:

  1. The Virgin line is very hit and miss but I was addicted to it back in the day. If they all hold up now I cannot say but I recently read Human Nature and Iceberg which I can recommend.

    I've heard nothing but good things about the Telos-published novellas, though. You may want to give another one a try.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks P.O.P., I've got several other novellas on the shelf and a number of the Virgin and BBC books. I read Human Nature, some time ago and really enjoyed it.

    http://www.heropress.net/2008/06/book-of-month-human-nature.html

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, thanks for mentioning this! I'll have to track it down.

    As for other books in the Virgin series, I really enjoyed White Darkness by David McIntee and especially the "Missing Adventure" Cold Fusion by Lance Parkin -- brilliant.

    ReplyDelete
  4. And thank you, Ken - I'll try and track those two down.

    ReplyDelete

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