Saturday, 22 February 2014

‘Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric’ – Ian Briggs (Target)

I told you that some of the books here would be a little different from what I used to cover over at the other blog, didn’t I? I think there’s a real urge sometimes to concentrate on the ever moving conveyor belt of brand new books, headed our way, and I don’t blame anyone for doing that. I mean, look at all the cool books! Of course we’re going to want to read as much of that as we can. Inevitably though, it comes at the expense of all those old favourites (classics or otherwise) that you always mean to go back and read but forget to because, you know, new books and all that.
I’ve got a room stacked so full of books that it would be a crime to leave them all unread in favour of the new stuff and so this blog is going to be a healthy mix of old and new books. Well, that’s the plan anyway; we’ll see how I’ve done at the end of the year.

I grew up on the ‘Doctor Who’ Target novelisations; there was a library bus that came round every week (or something like that) and I used it to read as many of the books as I could. You can’t blame me really, there was no other way I was going to be able to catch up on all the adventures of the Doctor (in the days of ‘no DVDs’ etc) and there were so many even then. Those books were a massive part of my childhood and although most of them wouldn’t hold up to a determined read these days, I owe them a lot and have real fond memories of them.
Having said all that, I never read ‘The Curse of Fenric’ as a kid, it was the TV show that scared the life out of me and had me cowering in bed (but that’s a story already mentioned on the old blog…) I bought myself a copy of the novelisation, after reviewing the DVD back in July 2012, and promptly forgot about it because… new books :o)
Until now that is. I’ve been trying to mix up my reading a little bit, just recently, and this is where I ended up… Blurb shamelessly copy and pasted from the old blog because I’m tired and fancy cutting a little corner…

The Doctor and Ace find themselves at a secret military base, during the Second World War, where elements of the British army are about to lure their Russian allies into a deadly trap. A far deadlier trap is about to be sprung though as an ancient evil stirs beneath the waters of the bay and an old Viking Curse comes to fruition. Only those with faith will survive and, even then, they may not have much left afterwards…

What’s great about the old Doctor Who novelisations is that the reason they’re so good for catching up, with old stories, because they stick so faithfully to what happened on the show. You could see it playing out in your mind just as you would have done on the screen; just like the 70’s or 80’s version of a DVD ;o) They didn’t make for particularly challenging reading then but that wasn’t really the point. They were there so kids like me could read about adventures the Doctor had on TV before we were even born (and that’s pretty damn cool isn’t it?)
‘The Curse of Fenric’ really stands out from the pack by bucking that trend; I don’t think I’ve seen a Doctor Who novelisation like it in fact. It looks like all the stuff Ian Briggs wanted to do with the story on television made it into the book instead and the end result is a book with a lot more depth than you would expect to find in one of these novelisations. A shared history between Judson and Millington makes a lot of the stuff that happens on screen, with these two, suddenly make a lot more sense. Other characters get similar treatment (I would never have guessed who the double agent was or even that there was a double agent in the book…) and the end result is an extra layer of meaning that sits very well with the standard ‘tell it how it is’ approach that is going on at the same time.

What I really liked though was the mention of the game of chess that the Doctor played with Fenric; not just a mention actually, a full blown account of the game as told in ‘Ancient Arabian Tales’ translated by one William Judson. There’s an epic feel to the Doctor’s life now and Briggs does very well to tie up all sorts of plotlines that occur over centuries. That’s Steven Erikson territory and Briggs shows here that he’s more than capable of the same kind of thing.

Like I said earlier, the overall effect of ‘The Curse of Fenric’ is a really positive one and I’d mark it as one of the better Doctor Who books that I’ve read. I can’t get away from the feeling though that you would have to be a real fan of the show to enjoy this book and that’s weird because there’s nothing in the book to suggest this (other than that it’s Doctor Who and people either love it or are completely indifferent about the whole thing). I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

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