Doctor Who is the longest running science fiction show in the world. The British show ran for 26 seasons from 1963 until it got cancelled in 1989. The Doctor, a time travelling alien (a Time Lord) from the planet Gallifrey, travels though space and time, experiencing adventures and righting wrongs all over the Universe (but strangely seems to spend most of the time in his televised adventures on Earth). His time machine/space ship looks like a 1950s blue police box, and is quite a lot bigger on the inside than on the outside. He has had a variety of companions through the years, mostly humanoid, although the majority seem to be young women of varying degrees of hotness.
When the Doctor dies, he regenerates into a new body. This means that when the first actor playing the Doctor needed to be replaced, they were able to keep the show going without any major changes. So far, eleven different actors have played the part of the Doctor, and while they are different ages, have different appearances and personalities, they are all aspects of the same character. This is probably one of the things that makes the show just so brilliant, and likely why it’s managed to stay on the air and quite so immensely popular for so long.
After its cancellation in 1989, it was off the air for a total of 17 years, with the exception of a pretty dreadful attempt of the BBC and Fox to re-launch the show with a TV movie in 1996, starring Paul McGann as the Eight Doctor. This attempt failed spectacularly. In 2005, BBC brought the show back again, starring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor and Billie Piper as his companion, and this time it did not fail. It’s been one of the biggest television successes since the return, and over ten million watched the end of the hugely popular Tenth Doctor (the lovely David Tennant)’s era on New Year’s Day this year.
As well as the TV show, there have always been novels published about the Doctor’s adventures as well. While the show was on the air, these were usually novelizations of the television episodes, but once the show was off the air, the novels was the only way the fans could get new adventures. From 1991, a series of books was launched, the Virgin New Adventures, which served for a lot of fans as a continuation of the TV series, starring the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy). Only one novel featured the Eight Doctor, who on telly has otherwise only appeared in the aforementioned dreadful TV movie. He does, however, feature as the Doctor in several series of audio dramas and later got his own series of novels published by the BBC.
But The Dying Days by Lance Parkin is the one Virgin New Adventures novel the Eight Doctor got. The Doctor’s companion is Professor Bernice “Benny” Summerfield, an archaeologist from the 26th Century, who first appeared in the Virgin New Adventures, but later in a series of novels and audio adventures of her own.
The book is clearly set shortly after his regeneration from the Seventh Doctor (shown in the TV movie), as Benny is expecting to meet a short, older man, and is surprised when he turns out to be younger, quite a bit taller, a lot more handsome and dressed in a Victorian velvet frock coat. She doesn’t have long to come to terms with the change before she and the Doctor witness a helicopter crash close by, and have to run to see if they can be of assistance.
Soon Benny and the Doctor have to try to stop Ice Warriors from taking over Britain with the help of sinister government officials – and despite it being a very action-packed adventure with an enormous space ship hovering over London and a potential army of Ice Warriors – there are never more than two Ice Warriors “on screen” at the same time. This is a direct response from the author to TV movie producer Philip Segal, who claimed that the reason the TV movie didn’t feature any monsters was because the budget wouldn’t stretch to more than two monster costumes, and “you can’t show an invasion story with only two creatures on screen at the same time”. Lance Parkin proves him very wrong, and if my husband hadn’t pointed this plot point out to me, I doubt I would even have realized that there aren’t hordes of Ice Warriors present in some of the scenes.
Fairly early after starting the Cannonball Read in November, I promised my husband that one of the books I would read would be a Doctor Who novel. Since he is the biggest Doctor Who fan I know, he has watched nearly every existing episode of the show, listened to most of the audio dramas, and read many of the novels. He promised me he would find one that I would enjoy, and as he knows I’m quite a fan of the Eight Doctor from the audio stories I’ve heard with him, and was very disappointed with the TV movie – he figured this would serve as a much worthier introduction to the Eight Doctor than the failed TV pilot.
I’m not even vaguely as big a fan of the show as my husband is, but I have greatly enjoyed BBC’s relaunch since 2005, and also watched and liked a selection of stories with pretty much all of the former Doctors. I’ve also listened to quite a few of the audio stories, but I’d never read one of the book, figuring they were a bit too much like licensed fanfic. Having seen quite a bit of the classic series helped when I read the book, as it does refer to quite a few of the Doctor’s previous adventures and companions. I do not, however, think that someone who had only seen the new show, or who didn’t know a lot of the back-story of the Doctor, would have any trouble picking up this book and enjoying it. If you’ve never heard of the show, it may not be the best introduction, but as a casual fan of Doctor Who it was a fun read.