The Telemovie
BBC Books
Doctor Who - The novelisation of the film

Author Gary Russell Cover image
Published 1996
ISBN 0 563 38000 4


A Review by Lance Bayliss 3/3/04

The novelisation of the Doctor Who TV Movie has always, to me, represented the missing link to appreciating the film to the fullest. Whereas Matthew Jacobs' film had a great deal of superb set-pieces, Gary Russell's novel expands upon these. I suspect that part of this is because of its very nature, being based on an earlier draft of the script than that of the film. Certainly, elements that are merely breezed over in the film itself become key plot points in the novel.

The entire first third is an eye-opener. The Seventh Doctor is so incredibly drawn, that you truely believe that he'll be the main star of the novel. It feels more like a final adventure for this Doctor: When we join him he's only just renovated the TARDIS, and is facing boredom and ennui (as further stipulated in Terrance Dicks novel The Eight Doctors), and he actually recieves the Master's plea telepathically - as in The Deadly Assassin. The Master's nature in the snake-like lifeform is further detailed, and why his plan involved hiding onboard the Doctor's TARDIS.

The key players of the novel are all served well through the usage of a "sub-first-person" prespective, allowing us into their thoughts at all times. The two who come out best are Dr Grace and Chang Lee. Both are fleshed out to a great degree. Grace's brief talk with the Seventh Doctor in the hospital sums up his incarnation well, and makes it very clear that had Grace not taken that last plunge in inserting the tiny camera, then the Doctor would not have regenerated (it's implied that his body was merely in a self-induced state to dull the pain of the bullets).

Grace is also given a greater backstory - All her reasons for becoming a cardiologist in the first place, of her mother's death at the hands of cancer, and how she had felt so very helpless as a child watching her pass on. Although mentioned in the film - "It was a childish dream that made you a doctor" - the actual origin, of wanting to help people, was never delved into. Everything that Grace does is given greater purpose, and she's shown to be far more than just the "stock companion" that we basically get in the film.

For Chang Lee's part, he gains much of the crucial backstory that Matt Jacobs had originally intended to include in the film. His father and mother running a store in San Francisco's China Town, their death at the hands of the Triads, his older brother Chang Ho who was part of the gang wars and to whom Chang Lee inspired to be by likewise joining the gang. Lee is also given more depth, as his motivations for taking the Doctor to the hospital are made clear, and also why he stole the Doctor's things. Whereas in the film his character is disjointed - to the point of easily forgotten, at times - every action is given a simple purpose in the novel. Lee does what he does not because he enjoys it, but simply because it's all he knows, all he's ever known. It's no wonder that he's so eager to accept Bruce's offer.

If there's one area where the novel falls down in a MAJOR way it's in the execution of its actual main hero. Whereas, for some, Paul McGann's performance of the role on television is the only part of the TV Movie that they enjoy, in the novel the Eighth Doctor isn't very well sketched out. His lines are all there (although some of them, such as the "It was so sad!" bit, are barely recognisable anymore), but unless you've already heard McGann speaking them in the film itself they seem ... unremarkable. Which isn't in the text's favour.

But I have a theory about this. What this novel actually highlights here is just how much McGann gave to the film. The Eighth Doctor was written incredibly generically, so that virtually anybody could have read it, and it's only McGann's superb take on it that makes his Doctor so memorable. Without this already in mind, the Eighth Doctor comes across on the page as rather dry and... perhaps even lacking his general Doctor-ishness (for lack of a better word). Whereas the 7th Doctor is well sketched in his final moments, and in character to the last, the new Doctor is always looking for footing. Perhaps this is the point. Perhaps I'm just missing something ...

All in all, a reasonable effort, and certainly it makes a great deal more sense than the story in the actual film does. Nevertheless, some of the characterisation lets the side down and certain moments seem shallow without that. Is it better than the film turned out? Quite possibly. Does it make a better "first" EDA than The Eight Doctors? Most definitely.

Is it an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours? Without question. Recommended.