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Season 24: A Novelisation in Four Volumes

Book Review by Paul Scoones

Time and the Rani by Pip and Jane Baker
Paradise Towers by Stephen Wyatt
Delta and the Bannermen by Malcolm Kohll
Dragonfire by Ian Briggs

A year ago we didn't have a single Sylvester McCoy novel; now we have every novel from his first season, and they came out in the right order too, surely a record for Target. It seems appropriate then, to review all four books together - by comparison they range from the very well written - Dragonfire - to the ghastly - Time and the Rani.

Most stories suffer from being novelised by someone other than their original author, but such is not the case here. This is both a curse and a blessing, as I am convinced that Terrance Dicks, with all his blandness, could have done a much better job of Time and the Rani than Pip & Jane Baker do. Like their three other attempts at writing Doctor Who novels, this one is an abysmal failure. Even Enid Blyton is less patronising towards her readers than the Bakers. All the criticism I made of The Ultimate Foe (see TSV 10), apply equally well here. It is surely an asset to Target that the Bakers have (fingers crossed) written their last Doctor Who novel.

The same I believe can be said for Malcolm Kohll. He isn't as bad as the Bakers, but he's a long way from being a Bidmead or a Gallagher. Delta and the Bannermen reads like one of the more boring Terrence Dicks novels. It's over-long at 144 pages - the length of a four-parter, rather than a three-parter, and Kohll has added some terrible padding at what seems very much like short notice. The Epilogue, for instance, is dreadful, and Kohll should really have ended the book at Chapter 32, which, incidentally makes it the Doctor Who book with the largest number of chapters - even outdoing the Bakers - a somewhat dubious distinction. Something else which bugs me is the large number of typographical errors - if wrongly numbering Time and the Rani No.127 (it should be No.128), wasn't bad enough, the spine of the book says `Bannerman' instead of `Bannermen' and the text of Kohll's book is 'peepered' with errors (mistake deliberate!)

Talking to fellow collectors of novelisations, I gather that Stephen Wyatt's Paradise Towers is rather hard to find in New Zealand, which is a pity as this book is rather good. Wyatt sticks religiously to the script, but adds a good deal of detail in his descriptions, including making the Caretakers more believable - here their uniforms are tatty and dirty, unlike the cleanliness of their TV appearance. One interesting point is that Wyatt makes the Towers an entirely artificial world, whereas on screen we were given no clues as to where it was. I'm disappointed that Wyatt didn't go still further, and elaborate on the war that brought the Kangs to the Towers. Anyone who recalls my review of the story in TSV 6 will know that I think there is a good deal of untapped potential - explaining how the psychological condition of the inhabitants has come about, for one - but disappointingly, Wyatt does not explore such facets. Other than that Paradise Towers makes a good read, and I'm looking forward to his second novelisation, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, due out next year. But his is not the best novel from Season 24, as you've no doubt worked out. The best has been saved for the last.

When you buy several poorly written Doctor Who novels in a row, you may begin to wonder, as I do, whether it's worth continuing to collect them, and then a novel like Dragonfire comes along, and your faith is restored. Admittedly the story was the best of Season 24, which gives it a head start. It's hard to pinpoint what I liked the most, but the superb cover has to rate a mention as does its length - the text begins on page 5, and ends at the very bottom of page 144; I challenge anybody to work out any section as obvious padding. I am envious of the ease with which Briggs keeps his narrative flowing. What the story lacks on screen, Briggs more than makes up for here - the Doctor, Mel, Kane, Belazs and, especially, Glitz and Ace come alive on the page. I have become a fan of Ace only quite recently, and I'm sure this book helped the process. Some of the book's best scenes aren't even in the TV version - my favourite being the ice-face rescue of Ace by Mel on pages 60-4; I was riveted to every word as I read the section for the first time. Briggs looks set to become one of my favourite Who authors. Whatever the standard of the TV version of The Curse of Fenric, I'm sure Briggs will deliver a superb novelisation.

So that was Season 24 - a rather mixed bag of novels, three by new writers to Doctor Who. This situation is to be repeated with the Season 25 batch - my money is on The Greatest Show in the Galaxy for the best novel, but we'll just have to wait and see...

This item appeared in TSV 15 (September 1989).

Index nodes: Season 24, Time and the Rani, Paradise Towers, Delta and the Bannermen, Dragonfire