Doctor Who
Time and Relative

Author: Kim Newman
Telos Publishing
RRP 10.00 (standard hardback), 25.00 (deluxe hardback)
ISBN 1 903889 02 2 (standard hardback), 1 903889 03 0 (deluxe hardback)
Available now

The harsh British winter of 1963 shows no sign of relenting, even into April. Stranded on Earth with her Grandfather, Susan Foreman has to contend with memory losses and feelings of alienation - as well as the far deadlier danger that this new Ice Age brings...

You would be forgiven for wondering whether there is room for another series of prose Who adventures in a marketplace already saturated by 22 original BBC novels a year. I'll return to this thought later.

Kim Newman has certainly taken a bold step with his setting for the first Doctor Who novella from Telos (that's the publishing house, not the adopted planet of the Cybermen). Both BBC Books and Virgin before them have resisted commissioning any novels set prior to the first televised episode, An Unearthly Child, but Telos and Newman evidently have no such qualms.

The setting poses particular challenges, because in his early exploits Hartnell's Doctor wasn't particularly heroic. He was initially extremely selfish, and his urge to do good by meddling in the affairs of other planets took time to develop. Therefore, any pre-Unearthly Child story would have to feature a Doctor that was even more selfish and even less of an adventurer. Newman embraces this factor by fixing his spotlight squarely on Susan, who relates the story by means of her diary. Her Grandfather crops up only intermittently - though references to him permeate the narrative - and he often appears distant or amoral, being almost totally disinterested in the human race.

The diary format conveys Susan's character extremely well. She is believable as both an alien and a teenager. Intrinsic to both of these aspects are her desires to fit into human society and to gain the approval of her classroom peers - especially her best friend, Gillian. In An Unearthly Child Susan claimed that her time at Coal Hill School had been the happiest five months of her life, and you can believe it as the author describes the ups and downs of Susan's friendships with Gillian and another classmate, John.

When the true nature of the icy menace reveals itself, the book becomes less believable. The "monsters" are rather bizarre, as are the extreme reactions that adult human characters have during the ensuing crisis. Many of the adults refuse to accept what is happening - but this in fact also ties in with that first televised episode, in which Susan stated that human minds reject what they cannot understand.

The novella's length (ironically about the same as the slimmest of the old Target novelisations) allows for a more experimental style than your average full-length novel, while offering greater depth than a short story. Newman's narrative works on several levels, tying in oblique references to some of the Doctor's other adventures, on TV and in other media.

For instance, a number of short story writers have suggested that the First Doctor and Susan suffered from some kind of memory block, thus explaining why they couldn't control the TARDIS. Newman develops this notion, making these memory blocks a side effect of the travellers having defied the psychological indoctrination of their own people. Their patchy memories also offer a possible explanation for Susan's claim that she devised the name "TARDIS" - maybe she just remembered the acronym without realising that the term is also used widely amongst other Time Lords. The author also rationalises how the Doctor and Susan can be both exiles and willing escapees.

Most intriguing of all is Newman's allusion to the early TV Comic Doctor Who strips. Although his John and Gillian are clearly distinct from the younger children who called the TV Comic Doctor "Grandfather", the use of their names cannot be a coincidence. Perhaps Susan (who went time-travelling at the end of the novel Legacy of the Daleks) will one day name two of her children after her classmates!

So... is there room in the Doctor Who marketplace for a new series of novellas? When they're of this high standard, there most certainly is.

Richard McGinlay

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