doctor who city of deathJames Goss
ACE Books
2015

The Doctor almost wished that for once he could sweep aside all the reversing the polarity of the death ray nonsense and just sit down for tea and natter over macaroons. If it wasn’t for the Count being a homicidal maniac, the two of them would get on famously. What a pity.

Back between September 29th and October 20th in 1979, the BBC broadcast one of the serials that sci-fi author Douglas Adams had a hand in writing; in that Adams heavily re-wrote an unfinished script that was originally titled “A Gamble With Time”. What resulted was a Doctor Who serial where the Fourth Doctor and is then-companion Romana run into an ancient alien while on holiday in Paris, an alien who inadvertently kick-started life on Earth due to an accident millions of years prior that killed off the remainder of his race, and is working to go back and prevent said accident. Also, there’s an Inspector involved. British wackiness ensues.

Over time, “City Of Death”, despite it being one of the more popular Doctor Who serials, was never given the Target Books novelization treatment initially. This was due mainly to Target offering the standard advance price to Adams for adapting the story, with Adams retorting, “I don’t want to be embarrassing but I do have a tendency to be a best-selling author,” and refusing to allow anyone else to write one.

It wasn’t until after Adams’ untimely death and long-time Doctor Who writer Gareth Roberts doing a bonny adaptation of Adams’ “Shada” script when we finally got an official novelization of “City Of Death”. Yeah, it was also supposed to be written by Roberts, but eventually the reigns were given to James Goss.

There. That takes care of the Obligatory History Portion of this review. Let’s get on the novelization, shall we?

As mentioned previously, the Fourth Doctor and Romana are on holiday in 1979 Paris, France, enjoying and relaxing in an outdoor cafe’, when the Doctor notices a lady scanning the security setup around the Mona Lisa with alien technology. So, along with an Inspector, they follow her back to a chateau owned by Count Scarlioni. There, they find equipment used in time experiments, along with several copies of the Mona Lisa. Romana and the Inspector continue to investigate things, while the Doctor zipps off in the TARDIS to visit Leonardo da Vinci, about the Mona Lisa copies. Romana and the Inspector are captured by Scartioni, with Romana pressed into building a working time machine by threatening to destroy all of Paris if she doesn’t; meantime, in the past, the Doctor is captured by an earlier iteration of Scartioni, who then explains that he is the last of an alien race that was wiped out by their ship exploding on Primordial Earth 400 million years ago, give or take a century. This explosion had the inadvertent effect of sparking life on the planet, which also created the concept of irony. Through the eons, Scartioni had been manipulating history to where, by the time the 20th Century rolled around, the technology was such that he could feasibly begin working on a time machine to go back to the beginning and stop the ship from ‘splodin’, funding the entire thing with selling off the several copies of the Mona Lisa he had commissioned da Vinci to paint. Of course, this plan doesn’t sit well with the Doctor, so he escapes back to 1979 Paris, which leads to a confrontation and showdown with the alien Count.

Like with the other Doctor Who serial novelizations I’ve read, I hadn’t seen the televised show this was based on before reading City of Death. I still haven’t gotten around to watching it; but based on this novelization, I probably will do so sometime shortly.

As a Doctor Who story in book form, City Of Death is written in that same kind of style that typified works by Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams…mainly Douglas Adams, probably because he wrote the script of the show itself, so it would make sense that James Goss would imitate his style. I haven’t really read anything of Goss’ outside of this and his other Doctor Who adaptation The Pirate Planet (also originally scripted by Adams), so I don’t know if that’s his natural writing style, or if he’s just imitating what he would think Adams would write, had he actually did the novelization himself. I might have to rectify that.

Regardless, reading this novelization of City Of Death was a blast. I recommend picking this up and checking it out.

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