It’s not all highbrow literary fiction and non-fiction, polemics, okay. Sometimes I just need to kick back, relax, and read some terribly corny Doctor Who novelisations from the 1960s.
The Target novelisations are a treasure trove of Classic Who, and arguably the most accessible way to discover much of what it holds; older episodes are missing or spread all over the place, told in seemingly overcomplicated narrative structures which look worlds away from the episodic iteration of New Who. Reading Doctor Who and the Cybermen, an adaptation of The Moonbase, it struck me that Doctor Who is different now in more ways than just form. The book has all the hallmarks of 1960s-era sci-fi you might expect: a foolishly hopeful vision of the future, a close-to-home yet nonetheless uncannily outlandish premise, implacable villains, terrible dialogue and fairly one-dimensional characterisation. It is comfort reading, perfect for a retreat into the most basic and fundamental of storytelling ticks – with a queer twist of fate that its story begins with a deadly, unknown virus.
Yet there is much to glean from it for Whovians, and, for me, the book acted as a time capsule of an original show that’s long gone. The Doctor seemed a completely different character. Modern audiences think of the Doctor as fizzling with energy and dynamism, running around and shouting and making everybody know that he is the smartest man in the room; but Doctor Who and the Cybermen presents a deeply different, more restrained Time Lord, one steeped in the values and trends of patriarchal characters from the 1960s. The Second Doctor (or Two) is a little calmer, less outspoken, less learned in the ways of the universe. The Doctor is different because the show is different. Those original creators, crew and stars are all dead. But the Doctor is also different because, here, he is but a few hundred years old, if that, not the two or three thousand years her current incarnation has reached. This is the Doctor before the Time War, before the return of the Master, before Davros, before Gallifreyan vindication and so much more – so much we come to associate as part-and-parcel of the mad man in a box. It’s a young show, and a young hero.
The same goes for the Cybermen, too. This was only their second-ever appearance and so much seems different between then and now; they are slightly more emotive, and represent the first foray into full-blown steel superbeings, away from the body horror of the Mondasian Cybermen. It’s also interesting to see a three-strong TARDIS team which feels far more well-balanced than many of Thirteen’s adventures with Graham, Ryan and Yaz, and clearly marked characters between them, most evident in Jamie, a relic from another time. Fans have often demanded of New Who that we get a companion from a historical period, or another planet, or the future; not only was this fairly common in Classic Who, it livens up the story. What would someone born in the 18th Century have to say before a Cyberman?
It’s a breezy read, perfect if you’re looking for something light and relatively inoffensive to glitter away these quarantined hours. For a trip to the moon and down memory lane, I’d recommend taking an adventure with Doctor Who and the Cybermen.