Doctor Who: City Of Death by James Goss (book review).

TV novelisations have become quite rare in an age when most TV series are more likely to have a DVD or even a blu-ray release now. Much of this is down to the TV companies being able to do them economically to tie-in with them being shown on the box and, in part, because fewer people read novelisations anymore. After all, the novelisation is second-hand to the source so why not watch the original? Gone are the days of perhaps seeing the original once or twice on TV. That doesn’t mean people have necessarily stopped reading. After all, the tie-in market is still reasonably healthy although I tend to be wary of reading anything that is non-canon simply because it confuses research. However, there is such a thing called ‘Doctor Who’. Long before even videos came out, there was a roaring trade of Target novelisations of the series as it was the only way one could relive the stories when it was rare for a repeat of them to be shown on TV. Even these had the occasion polish or adjustment to explain something that wasn’t explicit on the box.


There are a few absences from the pot. Anything by Douglas Adams for the show wasn’t novelised for a long time. Not that he didn’t want them done but simply because he wanted to do them himself and just never got around to it. Some project to do with hitchhikers got in the way for most of it. Now, after fifteen years after Adams’ death, we finally have the novelisation of ‘City Of Death’. I reviewed the DVD a couple years ago. David Fisher wrote the original story but had to be extended when more filming time was made available so script editor Douglas Adams and producer Graham Williams did this as Fisher wasn’t available.

In the distant past, the alien Scaroth from the planet Jagaroth crash-lands on the primeval soup planet that would one day be called Earth where his spaceship explodes, sending twelve fragments of himself through the time-line. The future most shard in 1979 Paris, with modern technology at his disposal, is seeking to collect himself back together by making sure that the explosion never happened which, even unknown to him, would also prevent or change the time when life started on Earth.

Purely by accident, the Doctor and Romana appear in 1979 Paris to have a holiday and notice a disturbance in time – aptly demonstrated in this book by a blank page before recommencing. I thought that this was a printing error at first before a wry smile at how to do this blink in time on the printed page.

The Time Lords then have to unravel what is going on in the Louvre when the Doctor fleecing a bracelet that is also alien technology before encountering the bruiser and private detective Duggan. It is only their meeting with Count Carlos Scarlioni and his wife, Heidi, and being thrown into the dungeon together that they begin working together. Even more so with the time experiments of Professor Nikolai Kerensky and discovery of six more original Mona Lisas hidden in a secret chamber and unravelling what that is all about. The paintings is easy to resolve. Seven secret collectors and the needed money to finance the time experiments but how does Scarlioni know that number?

The Doctor leaves Romana and Duggan to guard the Mona Lisa in the Louvre while he heads back in time to visit Leonardo da Vinci and runs into Captain Tancredi, who is practically a twin for Scarlioni that he begins to put things together. Interestingly, his thoughts include all the means of time travel, including one which we won’t see for several regenerations to come.

Escaping back to the 1979 present, the Doctor needs to rally his forces. All right, Romana and Duggan, except to find them captured and the Time Lady sorting out Scarlioni’s time machine, even if she tells him she limits it from working for a few minutes. However, that’s all it’ll take to end things for the Earth. For more, you’ll have to buy this book.

One thing that is odd is seeing reference to the TARDIS translation circuit which, if memory serves, wasn’t revealed until this century and just put down to something that Time Lords could do for his companions. Although I can understand a need for James Goss to cover his back and to explain why nether the Doctor or Romana can’t read the Jagarothian language, I can see some of the purists thinking he might have been too advanced.

It’s interesting seeing Goss doing the Doctor’s thoughts in a confused state in comparison to Romana. I suspect that this has probably got a lot more to do with how stories are written in the tie-ins which I tend not to treat as canon. Even so, this does explain how, unlike the Target books, there is double the page count. Goss also goes into a bit more detail as to what do Duggan and Romana do waiting through the night before they dare to invade the Scarlioni house in daylight and the Time Lady clearly cannot hold her red wine. No wonder the Doctor always ordered water.

At the back of the book, Goss explains that he built the novelisation up from the rehearsal script, filling in various gaps where needed. Seeing other shards of Scaroth can be accounted for in this. There are also explanations as to why Heidi didn’t consummate her marriage with Scarlioni or think it unusual not to. Bedtime must have been interesting, although there is no indication of how long they’ve been married. I doubt if those bracelets will catch on anytime soon.

This is a passable novelisation and I suspect the Whovian fans will buy regardless. If you have a collection of the Target books, then this will go some way to completing your ‘Doctor Who’ novelisations.

GF Willmetts

February 2016

(pub: BBC Books/Ebury Publishing/Random House. 306 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84990-676-0)

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