Doctor Who and the Giant Robot
|ISBN||0 426 11279 2|
|First Edition Cover||Peter Brookes|
|Back cover blurb: 'Look, Brigadier! It's growing! screamed Sarah. The Brigadier stared in amazement as the Robot began to grow... and grow... swelling to the size of a giant! Slowly the metal colossus, casting its enormous shadow upon the surrounding trees and buildings, began to stride towards the Brigadier. A giant metal hand reached down to grasp him. Can DOCTOR WHO defeat the evil forces controlling the Robot before they execute their plans to blackmail - or destroy - the world? The first adventure of DOCTOR WHO's 4th incredible Incarnation!|
A respectable adaptation by Tim Roll-Pickering 13/12/03
On screen Robot is one of the fastest debuts for any Doctor, with Tom Baker quickly finding his feet and in the later episodes there is no indication whatsoever that a regeneration has recently taken place. Appropriately this was the first Tom Baker story to be novelised, and is also the first occasion when Terrance Dicks novelises one of his own stories. Reading through the book there is a strong sense that this is closer to what Dicks wanted on television, with a far more dramatic battle between the enlarged robot and the military, including an RAF attack (shown on the original cover). The television story looks impressive even to this day (bar the odd model shot) but here Dicks works hard to produce an alternate take on the story that works well.
One curiosity is why this novelisation is called Doctor Who and the Giant Robot when the robot doesn't become giant until the very last chapter, over 100 pages into the text. Despite the title there is a strong emphasis on Thinktank and we get a sense of how Miss Winters views the world around her and routinely seizes the moment. There is less character exposition in this novelisation than in some of its contemporaries by other authors but instead we get a strong action story that tightens up onscreen plot weaknesses (for example the details of the world's weapons of mass destruction are no longer stored in a mere safe but in a tough vault with a strong security presence) although the tendency to send up the Brigadier does continue from this era of the television programme.
The Doctor is portrayed a little weaker here than on television, with several references to his recent regeneration throughout the book and there is a sense that Dicks is working more from his scripts written before Tom Baker had recorded any scenes than from the actor's onscreen performance. Nevertheless this does not detract from a good solid read. It may not be the weightiest of novelisations but it does the job. However the original cover feels a little too much like a comic page for me, with the use of two panels, whilst placing the Doctor's face over the logo just doesn't work either. Fortunately the latter was dropped immediately (though in the 1980s Target tried something similar and equally dropped it overnight). Otherwise this is a respectable novelisation. 7/10
The giant robot versus the man with a giant scarf by Andrew Feryok 2/11/11
"No point in being grown-up if you can't be childish."
- The Doctor to Sarah, Chapter 12, page 122
On TV, Robot was the first story for Tom Baker's fourth Doctor. In the Target book series, Doctor Who and The Giant Robot was also the first story for Tom Baker's fourth Doctor and remained the only one for almost a year! Robot is one of those stories that every fan of the classic series is familiar with, and can probably quote by heart, but rarely give any heavy attention or analysis. It's just one of those stories that everyone takes for granted as being good and it ends up slipping under our radar. For me, I will always remember Robot as the first story I ever saw in episodic format. Prior to this, my PBS station had always shown stories in omnibus format with the breaks taken out. Imagine my surprise and utter puzzlement as the story seemed to end after only 30 minutes! Terrance Dicks adapts his TV script for the printed page, but how does it hold up in comparison to it's TV counterpart?
It actually holds up extremely well! This was still in the early days of Target novel releases and Terrance Dicks wasn't churning out endless novelizations on his own, but sharing the load with Malcolm Hulke. As a result, Dicks takes much more care in adapting the story to print. It also helps that he was the original author and so has the best knowledge of where he wanted the story to go and what he wanted to expand upon. Its also interesting that Dicks, who normally does his best when he adapts action stories with lots of gunplay and running up and down corridors, does very well in writing a story that involves a lot of detective and spy work. But then he still gets to have his action sequences throughout the story as well, so it makes up for it.
Dicks makes lots of changes to the story, but they don't actually alter the overall adventure in any major way. So if you aren't someone who knows this story line by line and scene by scene, then you might not notice it. But for those like myself who grew up watching this story, it is much more readily apparent. For instance, the Doctor's regeneration is told in flashback by the Brigadier who is trying to make sense of what he saw happen in the Doctor's lab. The final battle with the robot is different as the robot stays near the bunker instead of rampaging through an English town and the Brigadier sends the RAF to do battle with it! The bunker that the SRS hide in is much larger and more impressive than the small shed we got on TV, and there is a marvelous bit of comedy as Sarah is led on a tour of Think Tank by Miss Winters and Jellicoe. They sense she isn't science savvy, so to make her feel inferior, they start bombarding her lots of technical jargon and science theories that go over her head and dull her journalistic interest in the place. But the Doctor has the last laugh on them later in the book when he is given the same tour. He not only understands everything they throw at him, but treats them like they are school kids and proceeds to show them how their experiments are all wrong, leading Miss Winters to get red with fury since she is not used to feeling like the dumb one. A lot of Dicks' changes are geared towards changing the overall tone of the book, playing down the humor in order to elevate the drama and adventure. This is not actually a bad thing, but it does dull some of the stories' comedy gems such as the Doctor's first meeting with Harry.
The Doctor is captured rather well in the book. Because the humor is toned down, the Doctor doesn't come across as clownish as he does in the TV episode. Dicks also clearly wasn't used to writing for Tom Baker's Doctor yet and tended to fall into using Pertwee's speech patterns and phrases from time to time. But this for once actually worked in favor of the Doctor's characterization. Because he had just regenerated, it is only natural that he should still have some lingering aspects of his predecessor. But Dicks still captures well the fourth Doctor's ability to be flippantly humorous and seemingly uncaring, but then turning on a dime to show a brilliant mind and master detective.
The other characters all come across well. Seeing Sarah Jane in the role of a reporter is less shocking nowadays since she carries her own spin-off show in which investigating something like Think Tank is pretty commonplace. Harry is his usual charming self and I love how Dicks paints him as a military doctor who spends his spare time reading dime novel thrillers and dreaming of adventure. Upon meeting the Doctor, who he seems to think is a lunatic for most of the book, he finds a man who can unlock this secret desire and help him escape the drudgery of his life. Dicks even adds in at the end of the book that the Doctor has become rather fond of Harry and doesn't hesitate to offer him a trip in the TARDIS. The Brigadier seems to regain some of his competency in this book compared to Doctor Who and The Green Death written in the same year where he comes across as a blustering fool incapable of even basic command decisions. Here at least he is shown in command and dealing not only with the investigation but with Whitehall as well. Benton is also a bit more prominent due to the absence of Mike Yates and I still love the moment when he timidly gives the Doctor the information he needs to create the virus that kills the robot. He thinks he's talking out of turn with a stupid idea and the Brigadier looks like he's going to rip his head off, but the Doctor instead embraces him and calls him a genius!
The villains of the story also come across well with Miss Winters appearing less as the ice queen she was from the TV show and more like a snob who sees herself as the chosen elite for the world and far more intelligent than anyone around her. So when she runs smack into the carefree Doctor whose appearance hides a mind far more brilliant than her own, she naturally starts losing her temper. Indeed, Miss Winters proves far more emotional and volatile in the book than she does on TV. Her assistant now has a clear name: Jellicoe. He at first seems to have a personality of his own as he is a timid public relations officer. But as the story moves forward he evolves into a thug and right-hand man for Miss Winters, and by the very end becomes a sadistic Nazi who would feel right at home on Skaro a few stories later.
One of the great things about this book is how Terrance Dicks really ups the scale of the story. Budget limitations meant that the story on TV ended up feeling particularly cheep and shoddy with only the location shooting giving a larger feel. But Dicks really makes us feel that a global catastrophe is unfolding as the SRS begin setting their plan in motion. We have word from the Brigadier of cabinet meetings being held over the SRS' demands, we hear about different nations (including African nations) and the extent of their nuclear weaponry. And in the final moments when it seems the missiles are going to be launched, the government starts warning the public and telling them what to do in the event of a nuclear strike! And that doesn't even count the end when the Brigadier has to call Whitehall and explain how he zapped a robot with a disintegrator gun, made it grow 20 stories, and now needs the RAF to fly in and bomb it with bombs and nuclear weapons!
On the whole, this is one of Terrance Dicks' most solid stories. While the story itself may not be a classic in the vein of Genesis of the Daleks or The Deadly Assassin, Dicks manages to capture the original story well, recreate the characters, and expand the scope, scale, and budget of the story beyond what we see on TV. You can't ask much more from a novelization than this! 10/10