Doctor Who: The Eight Doctors (1997) by Terrance Dicks

As the official start of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel range, I expected an introductory sort of novel, not necessarily one laying out the mythology of Doctor Who to a would-be entirely fresh new reader, but one offering up some captivating new characters, spinning an engaging yarn of its own, and perhaps setting up some beats for future stories. I expected the new Eighth Doctor to be set up and characterised, and perhaps a companion or two to be as well. The type of novel you expect to start a series, in other words.

What I got was a bizarre, inward-looking mess of fan-pandering continuity references where the ostensible main character, the Eighth Doctor, is completely sidelined in favour of earlier Doctors acting out continuity-heavy scenes from decades earlier in the show’s runtime. It’s set up in a reasonable enough way, the Eighth Doctor is amnesic (a hallmark of his stories, and one of the connective links to the 1996 TV movie that established him on screen), there’s some sci-fi gobbledygook to justify him having to go through his past lives to learn how to define himself, it’s very continuity-heavy but I can see the sense of the premise. The book doesn’t do that so much as retcon such earlier events in strange and confusing ways that surely antagonised fans at the time (they certainly antagonised me, particularly the horrifying, character assassination level of retconning to the First Doctor, and the eye-roll-worthy shrinking of the scale of the Second Doctor’s final story – the book shrinks scale and injects mundanity at a few points actually, particularly with the Doctor’s history and Gallifrey as well), so not only is the Eighth Doctor sidelined in the actual scenes, the focus of the book veers off to the strangeness of the book’s treatment of continuity rather than what threadbare throughline of a story there is. That’s not even mentioning the fact nearly every scene is followed by a scene of other characters sharing expository dialogue and explaining the scene. The book isn’t just a clip show, it’s a clip show wrapped around a clip show.

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The book does flow right on from the TV movie (and wrap around behind it, when it gets to the Seventh Doctor), which is fascinating, since so much extended media around the Eighth Doctor sets itself far off in murkier places in his timeline. And some of the minor continuity touches (like drashigs) are charming. But the biggest strength of the book is definitely the new character Sam Jones, the new Doctor’s would-be companion. She barely gets two scenes, relegated to the start and end of the book, making the novel feel like an unnecessary prologue to the actual series, but they both are effective works of character set-up. The novel does immediately signify it’s on a different playing field than the television show with plot points centring around crack cocaine, which is intriguing, I’m definitely interested how this liberated writing environment for all the writers of the range shakes out. But this particular entry did not excite me. I give it one bag of crack, and an abducted Doctor.

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