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Book Review: Doctor Who: City Of Death by Douglas Adams & James Goss
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Doctor Who: City Of Death
Hardcover | Kindle
Written by Douglas Adams, James Goss
From a story by David Fisher
Ace Books
Release Date: October 6, 2015

Prior to this review for Doctor Who: City Of Death, I had never seen the Doctor Who episodes of the same name. I am a recent convert to all things Whovian, and I’m slowly getting through the massive quantities of literature and television programming. Nonetheless, I was quite happy to undertake the review for this book thanks in no small part to the fact that the original scripts were written by none other than Douglas Adams, though they were adapted from a story by David Fisher. The mere mention of Adams’s name makes me smile, so entertaining is his work. This publication is more than a novelization of Adams’ efforts, though. Author James Goss has taken the original scripts and created a far more comprehensive work than the program presented to audiences in 1979.

Now, as I admitted earlier, I am a bit of a newbie with most of The Doctor’s adventures, so I decided to read the book first and then watch the four episodes of City Of Death. It didn’t work out quite that way, unfortunately. As I was reading, I kept trying to visualize Tom Baker in each scene and it became quite the distraction. So, scrapping the original plan of “book first, show second,” I sat down and enjoyed a little Netflix time. To be truthful, it helped immensely. I was able to create better context for the book based on the viewing of the original product. Sidenote: many of the scenes had a distinctive Mary Tyler Moore intro to them, specifically the ones where The Doctor and Romana were running down the streets or sidewalks. Though this could be more attributed to the late seventies musical score and less to the visuals. Regardless, this has zero bearing on the book, so sorry about this interruption.

Here’s the official description of the book:

“The Doctor takes Romana for a holiday in Paris – a city which, like a fine wine, has a bouquet all its own. Especially if you visit during one of the vintage years. But the TARDIS takes them to 1979, a table-wine year, a year whose vintage is soured by cracks – not in their wine glasses but in the very fabric of time itself.

Soon the Time Lords are embroiled in an audacious alien scheme which encompasses home-made time machines, the theft of the Mona Lisa, the resurrection of the much-feared Jagaroth race, and the beginning (and quite possibly the end) of all life on Earth.

Aided by British private detective Duggan, whose speciality is thumping people, the Doctor and Romana must thwart the machinations of the suave, mysterious Count Scarlioni – all twelve of him – if the human race has any chance of survival.

But then, the Doctor’s holidays tend to turn out a bit like this.”

This succinct blurb does the book little justice. It far surpasses the television episodes in that it delves deeper into the Count’s psyche, his relationships, and his motives. Not that he’s not a true antagonist, but you really feel like he’s doing what he feels is right for his people. The splintering of this last surviving Jagaroth is explored a bit more in the book as we learn more about the different timelines and how only some are conscious of their part in it all. The author extrapolates more from the original texts to explain a lot of what confused me in the final episode of the story. Idiosyncrasies of The Doctor and his Companion find their way into the story, making it not only more believable, but also more enjoyable. One of the hardest parts of the show for me are the almost goofball antics on screen. Goss does a splendid job of rationalizing it as a personality trait of our beloved Time Lord. I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you liked the episode, you’ll love the book.

After reading the novel, I dove headlong into the Afterword and was rewarded with the secrets of the universe! Okay, not so much. In reality, Goss reveals that he wrote from the original Adams scripts and not the finalized ones. Like big budget films, a lot was left on the proverbial cutting room floor. Well, our wondrous author added it back in, for the most part. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll notice some slight changes in dialogue and scenes, as well as a lot of additional material that really fleshes out the story and answers a lot of questions that the show left behind. Notably is a really introspective viewpoint of time lapsing from the inside. Essentially moments of real time were a literal eternity inside of the time bubble.

(Slight Spoiler Alert) Other things like the casual references to how the Count (aka Scaroth) speaks of his hand in the advancement of the human race is quite telling, it trivializes the millions of years he has spent trying to revive his race. Or the ways he has had to hide his true face from mankind throughout history, subconsciously enabling his other splintered selves to obtain the same knowledge. These pieces to a much larger puzzle are explored and even become stories unto themselves. I could go on and on, but there is a plethora of information in this book at which the original television show only hinted. All pieces in that same puzzle. (End Spoiler Alert)

It was a struggle to find a handhold on the book at first, but with the perspective of the original airings I found myself riveted to the book. No doubt exists in my mind that any long term Whovian will feel the same, though some readers may need that same boost of energy from the show that I sought. It was a fun, whimsical read and reflected the writing style of Douglas Adams in many ways. You won’t mistake it for his work, mind you, but you’ll see his influences and maybe that’s all it really takes, you know? I recommend this to any and all of you. Much like Paris, it has its own bouquet. That’s an inside joke and you either get it, or you don’t.

“Roaring at eternity, the small-blue, large-white box was off to new adventures…”

Doctor Who: City Of Death cover

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