57 Years of Doctor Who novels!

Today–November 12, 2021–is the 57th anniversary of something pretty important in the world of Doctor Who: the publication of the Dr. Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks. Or as it is also known, the first ever Doctor Who novelization, and indeed, the first ever Doctor Who novel of any sort.

(Daily Doctor Who #354)

As you can surmise, the show was not that old on November 12, 1964–it’s second season was underway. Indeed, the second ever Dalek-focused serial was about to start, exactly nine days later. But Doctor Who was popular enough to begin to generate merchandise like this, and by all accounts the book was successful.

Written by the show’s first story editor, David Whitaker, the novel was created without any sense that eventually all the other stories would also be novelized, and so it came up with a brand new introduction to the characters. In this version of things, Ian Chesterton, an unhappy teacher seeking a job as a research assistant, meets Barbara Wright after she’s had a car accident on Barnes Common. Barbara is working as a tutor to Susan English, and is paid generously by her grandfather. Just like in the televised An Unearthly Child (and indeed, in the novelization of the same, written and released much later), the two are eventually whisked away by Susan’s arrogant grandfather and brought to another world–in this case, Skaro, home of the Daleks.

The book then goes on to adapt the original Dalek story (known usually simply as The Daleks) written by Terry Nation.

Interestingly, the whole book is actually narrated by Ian, which leads to a number of changes to the plot, and in some cases some deeper characterization. In particular, there is a more direct hint that romance may blossom between Ian and Barbara as their journeys continue, something which the show never explicitly gave us but which has been basically canonized by numerous examples from spin-off media and expanded universe materials.

Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks was the first of three novelizations that were released in the time period, with the others adapting The Web Planet and The Crusades. Much later, publishing imprint Target Books began to release adaptations of TV stories in earnest. This was significant for me as it was actually thanks to these versions of the stories that I first encountered many of the Doctor’s adventures.

This was in the United States in the early-mid 1980’s, and it was not easy to see the show back then. It was beginning to get some traction on PBS stations, but the franchise was well represented in the local Waldenbooks, with two narrow shelves at the bottom of the science fiction second devoted to these titles.

The first two books I bought (aside from the two-volume Programme Guide) were Underworld and Logopolis, both picked fairly at random. I think next up I went for An Unearthly Child (keen to read the original adventure) and The Five Doctors (excited at the celebratory nature of it). Doctor Who and the Daleks, as the original book was renamed, didn’t come into my possession until some time later.

Now it’s one of the only Doctor Who novels that I still own, most of the others long-since having been sold off.

I kept it because I have a special fondness for Ian and Barbara, and because the originality of the story makes it feel a little more special than a lot of the others. Although, I don’t think I have ever gone back to read it again, since the first time.

I’m pretty sure this is all the Doctor Who novelizations I still own

In fact, I haven’t read any Doctor Who novels for probably decades, until just earlier this year…

That’s when I picked up this, the novelization of The Day of the Doctor, written by Steven Moffat himself. This was part of a (largely) nostalgia-driven move to adapt some of the modern stories. Moffat is my favorite Who-writer so I was keen to see what sort of details he’d add into his own story, when given the chance.

And I was not disappointed! There were plenty of expansions, insertions, additions to be found in this version of the story. A lot of nuance and characterization gets mixed in with the familiar plot, and there are a few fully invented new sequence. These include brief cameos by River Song, the Brigadier, and the Thirteenth Doctor, and there is a lot more material with Tom Baker’s Curator.

There is an ongoing question of the identity of which Doctor is acting or speaking at a given moment, as the story generally does not number them, instead providing contextual clues that help the reader to keep track of what is happening. Different chapters are told from the perspective of different characters, which add to the feeling of unsettledness that one gets reading the book. The saving of Gallifrey is expanded on a fair bit and includes more detailed activities for each of the Doctor’s incarnations.

On the whole, I really enjoyed the whole thing, and in particular the opportunity to enjoy afresh Steven Moffat’s playfulness and humor as a writer. It kind of reminded me of the fun I had reading those old novelizations, although it was clear this new book had grown up with me.

But…it all goes back to today–the 12th of November with the publication of the first Doctor Who novel. Much like the first Doctor Who episode a year earlier, it was the start of a much longer legacy than anyone at the time would probably have been able to guess.

3 thoughts on “57 Years of Doctor Who novels!

  1. I enjoyed the Doctor Who Target Books for quite a while when I was a lot younger. I haven’t read any of them since then. But there were certainly enjoyable.

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