I can’t be the only one who got into Doctor Who after the 2005 series reboot and is now completely overwhelmed by the prospect of trying to get into the original series. I know some of the basics of course, but where (and how) to start watching the original stories?? Well, there are some DVDs available, BUT I found another loophole / fun avenue to explore: Doctor Who novelizations. Here’s two I’ve read recently to get started with:
The Dinosaur Invasion, published 1976, stars the Third Doctor (think gentleman scientist) and superstar companion Sarah Jane Smith (journalist, legend, icon) attempting to unravel a mysterious plot to bring live dinosaurs across time into modern-day London, assisted of course by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT. I adore Sarah Jane (pro tip for parents: The Sarah Jane Adventures is a fun and kid-friendly introduction into the Doctor Who universe) and I love that this book showed her off in all her determination and resourcefulness. I also enjoyed the informative, no-nonsense writing style because it felt like a good immersion into 1970s sci-fi / spy culture.
Shada, by comparison, is much more tongue-in-cheek because it was developed from a script written by Douglas Adams (definite sci-fi icon, humorist extraordinaire and one of my all-time favorite authors). Here, the Fourth Doctor (Mr. Being Eccentric is my Job and I’m Good At It) and Romana (Paragon of Dignity) travel with K-9 (Surprisingly Sassy Robot Dog) to Cambridge to meet up with an old friend, Professor Chronotis. Once there, they get entangled with a mysterious Gallifreyan relic, a megalomaniac with a mind-stealing orb, and a pair of hapless almost-romantically-involved scientists. The humorous tone is absolutely perfect, the stakes are high, the action is well-paced, and most importantly the characters are sympathetic and well-made. This one was published later, so it captures the spirit of the character while fleshing out some underdeveloped elements.
If you like Doctor Who, 60s and 70s sci-fi, Douglas Adams, or novelizations of famous TV series, you may enjoy one or the other of these books.
It is rare that a novel based on a successful television program amounts to anything more than a slap-dash rehash designed to turn a profit, but in the case of Erin Kelly’s Broadchurch: A Novel the story is as finely fashioned with words as the 2013 British crime drama is with moving images. Both explore the ramifications of an eleven-year-old boy’s shocking murder on the life of a coastal tourist town in Southwest England as two detectives gradually uncover a complex network of closely-held secrets.
At the center of the story is the relationship between the two investigators assigned to the case. Detective Ellie Miller, an integral part of the Broadchurch community, struggles with the need to delve into her friends and neighbors’ affairs while suffering the loss of young Danny alongside them. She is at odds with DI Alec Hardy, unexpectedly brought in to fill the leadership position on the police force that Ellie had been promised. Alec takes a cold and cynical attitude in conducting the investigation and is skeptical of Ellie’s ability to remain objective. He bristles and becomes more defensive under the watchful eye of the press: both local and London-based journalists are suspicious of his handling of an earlier child murder case. With each question the detectives raise, each encounter they have with a Broadchurch resident, further suspicions mount. In a cascading effect, relationships begin to falter, irretrievable words are spoken, and yet more harm is unleashed.
Kelly relates the story through the eyes of other main characters as well, including bereaved mother Beth Latimer and opportunistic reporter Karen White. She takes full advantage of the novel form to explore the principal players’ internal lives: their memories, their questions about the case as more information is gathered, their reflections on their own behaviors and interactions with others in the community, and their concerns for the future once the truth is finally revealed. She deftly weaves these musings into the action and closely examines the consequences of the investigation on each character without sacrificing suspense.
In addition to Chris Chibnall’s superb writing, the award-winning television series Broadchurch (BAFTA Best Drama Series) features Olivia Colman (BAFTA Best Actress) and David Tennant’s nuanced performances, Olafur Arnalds’ evocative music, and cinematographer Matt Gray’s gently charged contemplation of the Dorset landscape.
Read Broadchurch: A Novel and watch Broadchurch the series, in no matter what order. The experience of one enriches that of the other.