The Eight Doctors
Having just finished reading the run of 7th Doctor NAs (New Adventures), listening to Death Comes to Time and re-watching the TV Movie, I've reached The Eight Doctors (TED.) The reason I mention my previous Doctor-related endeavours is that this section of the Doctor's timeline is a continuity mess. I was hoping that reading/listening to the pre EDA adventures would allow me to make better sense of TED and subsequent books, but TED raises as many questions as it answers. I'll come back to that later.
As a standalone book, TED begins well enough. Dicks' work always seems to have a villain that the Doctor can completely outwit and out-argue, it's the same here with Bully Baz. I'm a big fan of this, especially since it usually shows us some cracking dialogue and emphasises just how clever the Doctor really is. Another Dicks trait is using cliffhangers at the end of chapters to make you want to read on, but they seemed fewer in number when compared with Timewyrm: Exodus, Blood Harvest and even Shakedown.
The story itself is pacey, yet light. I never got bored, but I did feel that some sections were ultimately filler. Sam Jones gets poorly treated in the characterisation stakes, whereas the Eighth Doctor is more or less the same one that appeared in the TV Movie but without any character expansion.
Unfortunately, it's cut short. The Coal Hill school sections form only a small part of the novel, with the bulk of it being devoted to the Eighth Doctor regaining his memories by visiting each of his former selves. Most of these are set at important points in the Doctor's previous lives and reveal either a little more of the back story of previous events or attempt to weld over some gaping continuity holes.
Of particular note are the Gallifrey sections in which Flavia is President and Spandrell is Castellan. We can take from this either that the EDAs are attempting to ignore Virgin continuity in which Romana becomes president, or that Flavia's second reign takes place before Romana's presidency in Gallifrey's timeline.
The Doctor also mentions his half-human parentage. Now, at first glance this seems to contradict the Loom explanation given in Lungbarrow. However, we learn from Lungbarrow that the Doctor used to be The Other, a Time Lord from a time before the Looms when Gallifreyans reproduced sexually. Theoretically then, assuming human and Gallifreyan DNA is compatible, the Other could have had a human mother, brought from Earth by his Father, a Time Lord. This also provides some explanation as to how Susan came to be his granddaughter, although we're not told anything about The Other possibly having a son or daughter. Anyway, The Other somehow gets into Lungbarrow's loom and reweaves himself as The Doctor. The Doctor has no recollection of this until the events of Lungbarrow.
The most interesting of the Doctor-Doctor meetings are 5-8 and 6-8. Davison's Doctor re-encounters The Raston Warrior Robot, which is worth the price of the book in itself, as we learn many interesting things about this viciously elegant machine.
Then, it's onto the 6th Doctor during the Trial of a Time Lord. The Earth-Ravolox dilemma is resolved, and we learn the reason for it ever existing in the first place. Unsurprisingly, it all turns out to be yet another Time Lord conspiracy, but since I'm one of the few people that actually likes Time Lord conspiracies, I didn't see that as a drawback.
If I was to cite the one major failure of this book, it would be this:
It's obviously written with the intention of introducing new readers from a new era of Doctor Who to the previous lives of the Doctor. Most of the characterisations are decent enough (although the 7th is somewhat wide of the mark.) However, in using previous adventures (most of which have massive importance in Who canon) to portray previous incarnations, the stories used are then spoilt should the new reader wants to go back and watch the VHS/DVDs of said stories.
All in all, it's not a badly written book, just an ill-conceived one. I did enjoy most of it despite the mangled continuity and the segmented nature of the story. Dicks always manages to write easy to read books, and this is certainly one such book. I just can't help thinking that this time, most of the depth has been sacrificed in order to shoehorn in a poorly construed premise. Now, if the book had concentrated on the Coal Hill sections, I think you could probably have added 2 points onto the score below.
Review by Tom Hey