Monday, 7 January 2013
Time and Relative by Kim Newman
My 2013 Doctor Who reading marathon begins here!
Or it did on New Year's Eve, at any rate, with the Telos novella by Kim Newman that I first read eleven years ago. It was quite a shock to find it was so long ago, this story set in the winter before the events of the first-broadcast Doctor Who story. However, the whole thing has remained vivid in my memory and, as it unfolded anew, I was amazed at how much had stayed with me of this icy and brittle story.
'Time and Relative' comes to us in the voice of the Susan Foreman - or at least through the pages of her teenage diary, kept during the months that she's trying to blend in at Coal Hill School. The Doctor's mysterious granddaughter is a wonderful character, who was very underused on TV. This book plays to many of her strengths - underlining once again her alienness and her keenness to fit in and find a place among her peers in 1963. I like the time and energy Newman puts into creating her a set of friends - John and Gillian and so on - each of them well-drawn in a tight little ensemble cast that comes under some pressure as the cold creeps in and the monsters start to roam through the streets of this transformed and deadly London. This is a London of Wimpy bars and girls with beehives and early Beatles singles. And in the middle of all of this is the quixotic, mostly unseen figure of the Doctor - who is the first to appreciate the monstrous threat mankind is facing (in an enemy curiously similar to that faced in the recent Christmas TV special, it must be said...).
What's most interesting about the Doctor here is that he has to be convinced to defend the human race. Why not put the ice monsters and their living Snowmen first? What does he owe humanity, anyway?
It is, of course, Susan, who convinces him to save the day. I love the fact that this whole pivotal scene - in which she makes him see that he must, in fact, intercede and step out of his dispassionate role - hinges upon something as innocuous and daft as a gonk. Completely perfect for the era in which the book is set, the gonk is the thing that makes the Doctor think mankind might be worth trying to save.
Somehow, for me, this gets to the very essence of Doctor Who. A lesser story might have him get rhapsodical about the Sistine Chapel ceiling or quantum physics or other lofty human achievements. Instead we've got an old man in a junk yard - just as the world is about to be subsumed by living ice and snow - having an epiphany about a gonk. It's one of those essential moments of Whoishness when the cosmic clashes with the absurdly banal, and hurray for that.
So - January is dedicated to the first Doctor. He's a character well served by print, I think. The first ever Doctor Who book '...in an exciting adventure with the Daleks' by David Whitaker established him beautifully back in 1964 - as even more mysterious and odd than he was on TV. As a fictional character he's been around the longest of all the Doctors - and writers are still uncovering new angles and depths and missing moments in his relatively short life. I'd like to read some more about him this month, and find out a little more about this irascible old devil.