‘Did I mention? It also travels in time.’
The thing the Doctor says to Rose Tyler right at the end of their first adventure together. The thing that tips the balance. The clincher that sets her running back aboard the TARDIS just before it goes spinning into the vortex, so that she can encounter ‘the rest of her life.’
This recent novelisation by Russell T Davies of his 2005 TV script is filled with many of these iconic, memorable, spine-tingly moments. The moments that made you realise, fourteen years ago, that Doctor Who is back, and it’s back for good. It can still work, and still be exciting to clamber inside that old blue box and set off into time and space. People will still buy it.
It was exciting then, to be at the start of a whole new season, and to hope and pray it would be recommissioned for further years. For long-term fans like me it was amazing to have all the hullaballoo around it… but there was always one thing missing. Yes, we had tie-in novels, but we never had novelizations like we used to in the old Target days.
The argument went that we didn’t need them: revisiting stories was easier these days, in the age of DVDs and box sets. But that never quite held for me, that argument. Novelisations were much more than a simple record of a story. They were that story all over again, bigger and bolder. They were that story, experienced again from the very inside.
So, last year. A spurt of nostalgic excitement from BBC Books. A set of four Target-facsimiles based on pivotal 21st Century Who adventures. I’m eking them out. Who knows when there’ll be any more? Last year I adored Steven Moffat’s loopy adaptation of his own 50th Anniversary Special: adorned with cameos and in-jokes and impossibilities of all kinds. RTD’s ‘Rose’ is a more stately, reverential, traditional affair. Here we get a loving restoration of what it was like to re-enter the worlds of Doctor Who back in 2005. Now, as then, we encounter the tropes and elements of the series gradually, and with great care…
But as with the very best Target novelizations we get to spend more time with the characters. Duration is the key, and the chief pleasure of novels. Episodes are over in 45 minutes. Here we get to explore a little backstory – Mickey is so much more sympathetic when we hear his history and meet his friends. Jackie is even more abrasive but we understand so much more about her. Clive – the conspiracy theorist in his Dr Who shed – is properly tragic in this. (And then – that wonderful hint of revenge-to-come from his wife at the very end…!) Many more characters are rounded out… as is London itself. We get a real sense of scale – with the West End going tits up when the Autons attack. It’s a proper alien invasion of the type we always longed for in the series of old. But even the visual effects of New Who can be improved in a Target novel. It’s delightful to find that out. Books are still broader and wider than the TV screen will ever be.
Fittingly, Rose Tyler is the star of the show. The ordinary girl who refuses to be just ordinary. Who learns to figure things out and refuses to simply ask the Doctor questions. The Doctor himself is rather more aloof here than he seemed at the time. More damaged, more bossy and butch. But we can see why Rose would go with him. She gets him. She knows he’s a softy and a dafty underneath all that knuckleheaded yelling and stomping that he does.
And what a great climax! The London Eye falling, the Nestenes weeping, the Autons popping like champagne corks… and all the MPs screaming as the Thames floods into the corridors of Westminster…
It all sets us up for further adventures. Rose makes her choice and dashes off to explore the universe. On TV we had lots of treats to come. The very next Saturday, in fact, we’d follow both her and Doctor Who to find out what the year Five Million was like.
But as a reader you can’t help feeling just a little bereft. No more novelizations for a while. If ever. There’s Jenny Colgan’s Christmas story, of course. And there are the original novels from 2005 to reread – Steve Cole, Jac Rayner, Justin Richards – those bookish jaunts with the Doctor and Rose. But I’m greedy for a full range of Targets. I want to know what Dickens is like, and how epic ‘Aliens of London’ feels, and to learn more about Margaret Slitheen’s inner life, all through the miracle of novelisation. I always was avid – greedy, even - for more and more Doctor Who books – since first stumbling upon ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ in 1979 (forty years ago, I realise..!)
I guess they’ll happen eventually. These magical things tend to happen eventually, when someone has the same brilliant idea, all over again. These things travel in time.