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[In Which I Read] Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor Adventures

ShannonA

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Over the last several years, I read over all the Seventh Doctor Novels, including the 60 Virgin New Adventures, a dozen or so BBC Past Doctor Adventures, and the comics that were out up to a few years ago.

So now the time has come to move on to the Eighth Doctor!

Doctor Who (1996), by Gary Russell

I did see the TV movie when it came out in 1996, and I haven't seen it since. It's finally out on DVD as of a few years ago, but since the 8th Doctor almost exclusively lives in the novel and comic (and audio) realm, I decided to start off with the adaptation of the TV movie rather than watching the movie again.

The Doctor. The novel begins with the most farcical regeneration sequence of all, as the Doctor accidentally stumbles into a hail of bullets, then is accidentally killed by a well meaning human doctor. Whoopsie! It's as bad as when Six regenerates after banging his head on the console, or something. Doctor Who clearly has a problem with figuring out how to have a regeneration in the first few minutes of a story and make it meaningful. They're 0 for 2, which makes it look really smart now that the new crew just skipped the regeneration when the Doctor returned in Rose. (Though they did a fine job with Eighth's regeneration in just a few minutes in The Night of the Doctor, so it's possible.)

This is also the episode that gave us one of the worst canon continuity clunkers ever, where it's claimed that the Doctor is half-human. Sadly, they blew away deniability by having it come up several times in the book. (It's revealed through the TARDIS, it's revealed through the TARDIS' like for humans, and the Doctor even whispers it as a secret.) So, there's no refuting that it seems to have been a real fact within the context of this book ... and ignored forever after on TV (though we'll apparently see it turn up in a few novels).

Beyond that, I sadly can't tell you a darned thing about the character of the new Doctor. The book does a rather bad job of revealing who he is and what type of character he'll be. Hopefully the books and novels will do better!

Grace Holloway. "The stranger took her hand, and she found she did not mind as much as she felt she ought to." Our new companion is one of the most skilled that Doctor Who had ever seen ... and a romantic interest. Boy did people hate, hate, hate this back in 1996. It was as bad as the half-humanity. If only they'd known it was going to be a recurring trope of the next Doctor Who show! In any case, I wasn't impressed by how it was used here. Grace dreams of kissing the Doctor, then kisses the Doctor, then dreams of kissing him more. It weakens her character.

Surprisingly, Grace decides not to travel with the Doctor at the end of the book. I assume if a regular show had occurred, he would have returned for her. As is, she's a one-off, as the books and novels largely couldn't make use of her because of her ties to Universal. (As I understand it one novel and one comic arc have some connections to her.)

The Master. The best part of the book is probably the conflict. Tell me if you've heard this one before. The Master has run out of regenerations and the body he's in is dying, but he has plans to jump into a new body to continue his evil life. Yeah, OK, so it's not very fresh. But from the Daleks executing the Master at the start through his ongoing battles with the Doctor, it's all pretty cool and pretty faithful to the classic show.

The Stinkers. Unfortunately, this script has some real-world stinkers in it.

First, the setting of San Francisco is horrible, and I say this as someone who read parts of the book while in San Francisco over the last couple of days. The real-world research clearly went wrong from the start of the book when Chinatown gangs are engaged in open gunfire on the streets. Beyond that, there's barely a real-world place or a real-world detail mentioned in the book. However, the worst is the depiction of the Golden Gate Bridge. First, while riding a motorcycle on the Bridge, the Doctor manages to knock a gun out of Grace's hand, and off the edge of the bridge. Given there's a whole pedestrian walkway off either side of the bridge, he would have needed to hit that gun hard enough to break Grace's arm. Then there's this: "[it goes] over the side of the bridge, into the river far below." Hello, the Golden Gate Bridge goes over the San Francisco Bay (or if you prefer, over the Golden Gate, the entrance to the Bay.) I can't even.

Second, there's a big scientific release party at the end ... and it's for an atomic clock. Points for theming, but atomic clocks were invented in the '50s. On New Year's Eve 1999, we were just a few years away from seeing atomic clocks appearing as computer chips. There's no way that the Silicon Valley would be having a big excited party for the creation of a new one. In its own way, this was as damaging for my disbelief as the awful depiction of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I gave the book a 3 stars out of 5. The research is horrible, the writing is fine, the canon is shaky, and some of the plot is interesting.
 

Azimer the Mad

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Eagerly awaiting the review of The Tomorrow Windows. It's one of only two novels I've ever finished and immediately restarted.
 

Hodden

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God, this takes me back.

I remember The Eight Doctors as being pretty painful as well.

Fitz, by time you get to him turns out to be one of my all time favourite companions, almost as much as Izzy from the DWM comics, which for me started stronger with the whole Wormwood plot.
 

Ralph Dula

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I'm curious to see how this thread progresses. When Virgin released the first New Adventures novel I saw it listed in a copy of Advance Comics. I never saw or heard mention of any Doctor Who novels being published again until the time Vampire Science was released.

Despite my curiosity, I didn't buy any Doctor Who novels until 2004, when enough DW fans on here sold me on the books, and I ended up buying two collections on E-Bay, ending up with almost ever DW book novel published by Virgin or the BBC. I read them all over the course if two years, and I found out most of the cool things I was looking forward to reading were fanon or head canon by the posters I talked to....

I know where most of my collection is. I may have to unbox them and follow along, with notes of what I was told to expect versus reality.
 

ShannonA

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Eighth Doctor Adventures #1: The Eight Doctors

So how does The Eight Doctors go wrong? Let me name the ways …

It's a bad book. Rather, it's not a book, it's a series of vignettes. Dicks tries to introduce tension and continuity with a subplot about the Time Lords tracking the Doctor, but it largely fails.

It's a horrible introductory book. The goal of the first Eighth Doctor book should have been to introduce and spotlight Eight. Instead, the past Doctors grab the spotlight from him, reducing Eight to being a narrator and a minor actor. Sometimes we don't see him for chapters at a time! Worse, this book is so mired in continuity that it probably repelled the new readers that an exciting new series of Doctor Who books should have attracted.

So, as a book mission failed!

However, I had more hope forThe Eight Doctors as an interesting piece of lore. I looked forward to seeing how Dicks resolved issues from Doctors past. And how did that work out?


  1. One. Set in the Tribe of Gum story. Dicks answers the question "Why was One so arrogant and unfriendly?" The answer, that he was so much closer to his Gallifreyan origins is a rather magnificent explanation of the character, and shows how this exercise could be useful.
  2. Two. Set in The War Games, which is obviously Dicks' favorite story. Dicks answers the question "Why did Two call the Time Lords if he was so afraid of them?" And in contrast to the great work on One, this is a question that never needed to be asked. By making Eight an important factor in Two's decision, Dicks manages to undercut Two's courage and self-sacrifice. Bad Dicks!
  3. Three. Set after The Sea Devils, with references to The Daemons. I have no idea what Dicks' point was in this section. Cleaning up some point of the Master's chronology? Resolving some issue from The Daemons? Anyway, it shows just how wrong this continuity wank can go, if someone like me who's seen all the episodes just follows along in puzzlement.
  4. Four. Set after State of Decay. This time Dicks seems to be exploring the question of how there were more vampires for later novels like Blood Harvest. I think. It seems kind of pointless (again), and it manages (again) to undercut the original story — this time by making the Doctor's defeat of the original vampires seem a little pointless because there are so many more around causing problems.
  5. Five. Set after The Five Doctors, Dicks again decides to have the Doctor deal with the problem he just dealt with. So it's more timescooping and the return of the Raston Warrior Robot. I think that the point of the interlude was to provide some more details on a critter that Dicks just barely used in the television show. But, you know, who cares?
  6. Six. Set during The Trial of a Time Lord, and if ever a story needed some continuity clean-up, it's this one. Unfortunately, Dicks makes a mess of it by introducing another trial and an alternate version of Six … But he also does answer some questions. What was the point of the Trial? (To discredit the Doctor, because he's been to Ravolox.) Was Ravolox really Earth? (Apparently. It was destroyed by the Celestial Intervention Agency to get at the people stealing data from the Matrix.) It's actually a neat bit of retconning that better connects the mess of season 23 … but it really begs the question of whether the retconning was necessary. If such a clearly notable retcon doesn't seem important … then what's the point of this book?
  7. Seven. Set before the TV Movie. Clearly this is meant to answer the question of how the Master got from Survival to the TV Movie, and it's a ham-handed bit of nothing, let alone that it ignores the Virgin New Adventures which had already filled in much of this space for the Master. In other words, this creates continuity problems of its own.
The main goal of all of this was obvious to characterize Eight through contrast, and Dicks sort of manages that a little bit. Eight's not a trickster like Two (or Seven). He's a master of physical defense like Three and although he makes some claims of non-violence, he's clearly not truly non-violent like Five: he's happy to kill vampires and Sontarans and scheming time lords. He's got a smart mouth like Four. He's exactly as arrogant as Six (at least while he's around Six).

And we'll see if any of this lasts …

The other goal was certainly to fix continuity holes, and seeing the holes that Dicks was worried about, this was totally and entirely misguided. Most of it is such minutia that no one cares. An explanation of Trial of a Time Lord would be nice … but it wasn't entirely accomplished in the space allotted it.

So, I didn't find this book painful to read. I was always eager to see the meeting with the next Doctor. Nonetheless, it's a badly structured book, a bad book for an introduction, and an obsessive and largely unnecessary bit of continuity wank.

The only saving grace of The Eight Doctors was the quick visit to Coal Hill. It was nice to see a modern take on the show's origins (though it's again heavy-handed and over-the-top). I'm interested to see more of this new vocal and more aggressive companion, Sam Jones —*though claiming she's a new sort of companion seems to totally forget Ace (let alone the companions from Virgin).

I gave this book 2 out of 5 stars.

PS: Someone thought they were really clever when they realized they could put the Seal of Rassilon on this book, and it'd look like an eight.
 
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DaveB

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Re: Eighth Doctor Adventures #1: The Eight Doctors

Like I said before the database rollback, I am so sorry you had to go through that. Onwards to Vampire Science!
 

ShannonA

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Re: Eighth Doctor Adventures #1: The Eight Doctors

Like I said before the database rollback, I am so sorry you had to go through that. Onwards to Vampire Science!
Honestly, it wasn't that bad. I mean, it totally failed as a book and horribly failed as the start of the 8DA. But, I was entertained and read through it pretty quickly and wasn't bored. Though maybe much of that is because I was approaching it with a canonically analytic point of view: so why the hell is he doing this?

But I think all my two star Virgins were worse reading experiences: First Frontier, Strange England, Blood Harvest, Iceberg. Plus Independence Day (a 1-star!) and Prime Time.
 

Ralph Dula

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Re: Eighth Doctor Adventures #1: The Eight Doctors

I'd be lying if I said that I'd enjoyed The Eight Doctors. I'd also be lying if I said I remembered anything of it 11 years after reading it other than the way it had a story of each Doctor, and also introducing the devil beast known as Sam Jones. I'd also be lying if I said I ever noticed the Seal could be looked at on the cover as a subtle reference to the Eight Doctor.

So I guess I'm not really able to contribute much about this book.

I will say I can understand the idea of having the first Eight Doctor book spotlighting each of the previous incarnations. The TV movie was supposed to start a new era of Who on television, and people drawn into the books by the movie might be drawn into it by nostalgia. I'll freely admit that, after rpg.net intrigued me about the books, I bought a small collection of old novels at a used book store. One was a Virgin New Adventures by Dicks that tied into a Fourth Doctor story I hadn't seen in many years. Reading that book really brought back the memories for me, and convinced me to keep on with the books.
 

ShannonA

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New Adventures #61: The Dying Days

It's nice to be back with Virgin one last time. After The Eight Doctors totally ignored the New Adventures continuity (and even contradicted it), now we get an Eighth Doctor adventure that pays the proper respects. Kadiatu and The People get name-dropped on page one … and then the companion for the adventure is Benny, waiting patiently at the House on Allen Street.

Alas, what might have been.

Benny is obviously here primarily to set up her own New Adventures, following the departure of Doctor Who from Virgin. So we get 60 pages or so when the Doctor is thought dead and Benny buries us in her diaries. It's actually a bit distracting if you're coming in here to read about Eight, but so it goes.

UNIT also gets some nice attention in this 1997 story, which manages to acknowledge quite a broad swath of the organization's history. The Brigadier is recognized as the head of UNIT during the '70s, but his Mawdryn Undead-induced retirement is also noted. So, we get Crichton as the head of UNIT in the '80s, then Bambera afterward, correctly connecting up with various TV shows and novels. (Even better, both the Brigadier and Bambera appear in the book, with the Brigadier being a major character.)

Of course building on the history of UNIT also requires dealing with the near-future feel of the UNIT episodes, and The Dying Days does so by imagining a more technological Britain that actually landed on Mars in days gone by — with their return being the heart of this book. It's a nice conceit.

Then there are the Ice Warriors, because you can't have Mars without them. This is positioned as their first chronological appearance … and it's nice to have them back after their recent appearances in the Seventh Doctor's New Adventures. However, I find it much more interesting that their invasion of London is positioned as the first publicly-known alien invasion. It's a really nice set-up for that happening on a weekly basis in the revamped TV show on the '00s and '10s.

The Ice Warrior invasion actually feels a lot like the Cybermen invasion of The Invasion, which didn't get First Invasion status only because it was covered up afterward. In any case, they both create a rather delightful tension by having invading aliens and evil humans working with them … and those two forces falling out.

And that finally brings us to Eight, who again we get to learn a little about in this early novel. My favorite is Benny's description which is that he's "carefree instead of careful", nicely contrasting Eight with Seven. Beyond that, he seems to be fearless and bold. In addition, he seems to have a boyish charm that extends to genuine sex appeal. (There's more kissing! Future TV writers take note!)

Overall, The Dying Days is swimming in continuity, but it's never overwhelmed by it, unlike The Eight Doctors. It never exposition-dumps and it never becomes purely a vehicle for hashing out canon (unlike The Eight Doctors). The result is a good story, and a nice vehicle for the new Doctor.

I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.
 
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Hodden

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Re: New Adventures #61: The Dying Days

There's a bit I remember in Dying Days where the Ice Warriors kill everybody within ten miles of the Doctor's country home.

I suspect that the writer didn't realise that the whole of Canterbury would be covered by this, leading to a death toll of at least 50k.
 
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