Help me, sons and daughter of Gallifrey!
July 1, 2010 9:53 AM   Subscribe

What Doctor Who novels should I read before the Doctor returns for Christmas?

I recently got into Doctor Who, and we just finished the newest season, and I'm feeling obsessed, really obsessed. And now I need something to satiate my obsession until Christmas.

I've watched all of the new series, and am working my way through the older ones. I know about the audio dramas, but I'm not super interested in those--what I really want to do is read some good Doctor Who novels.

I've checked this post, which has some good links to review sites, etc., but I'm feeling overwhelmed by the sheer bulk of material that's out there, and I'm not sure what will really be to my tastes. I'm most interested in stuff about the Time Lords and Gallifreyan society, the history of the Doctor himself, and the relationship between the Doctor and the Master. Bonus if it's well written. I like all the Doctors, even Paul McGann, and I know all about the dubious canonicity of the books. I just really want some suggestions that offer a good, Doctor-saturated reading experience.

I know about Lungbarrow, and I intend to read it for free online, but I highly prefer stuff I can get in dead-tree form (and if I can get it for less than $60 bucks, that would be awesome, too).

So how about it, Mefite Whovians? Any suggestions?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Thing is, most of the DW novels I've read are the extended adventures of the Sylvester McCoy Doctor and Ace. They got increasingly bizarre after a while--unpleasantly so, in my mind--which is why I quit reading them. "Canonicity" doesn't really bother me; it just wasn't the Doctor Who I knew and loved.
posted by orrnyereg at 10:24 AM on July 1, 2010

Thing is, most of the DW novels I've read are the extended adventures of the Sylvester McCoy Doctor and Ace. They got increasingly bizarre after a while--unpleasantly so, in my mind--which is why I quit reading them.

Slight derail: I'm intrigued by this. I like the Dark Seventh Doctor. Are they bizarre...that way? I've recently acquired a copy of the novel Human Nature, which, if it's anything like the version made into the 10th Doctor two-parter, is exactly the kind of Doctor Who that I like the most.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:29 AM on July 1, 2010

Are you positive you don't want to try the audio dramas? I ask because this Saturday Big Finish is having an all day sale with deep discounts of their first 50 dramas and a new one free to download for that day only. Of their main line (they also have a Gallifrey line, a one-shot about the Master, and tons of other spinoffs), I've only listened to Eight's so far and am really enjoying them. For a newcomer I can recommend the first one, Storm Warning, set the night the R101 crashes, and a standalone further down the line, Invaders from Mars (Orson Welles!). Someone else has recommendations for the other Doctors here.

I haven't gotten very far into the novels yet, but the Eighth Doctor Adventures I've read range from "incredibly schlocky yet entertaining" to "very enjoyable romp." The new IDW comics aren't bad, but most of them I could take or leave, except for The Forgotten, which I enjoyed. Part of the problem is that (except for The Forgotten, pencilled by the amazing Pia Guerra) the art often sucks and the stories aren't strong enough to make up for it.
posted by bettafish at 10:42 AM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I apparently forgot to mention that the one-day sale is this Saturday.
posted by bettafish at 10:42 AM on July 1, 2010

Response by poster: Are you positive you don't want to try the audio dramas?

I'll take a look this Saturday, but I worry that even that would be money wasted. I tend to zone out while listening to that sort of thing, unless I'm driving, and I hardly ever drive. Plus, I just really prefer curling up with a good book.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:52 AM on July 1, 2010

Sticherbeast- The books were getting entirely too blood-soaked for my taste: an almost malevolant Doctor whose adventures don't leave very many survivors and who completely alienates (see what I did there?) one of his most promising companions. I mean, I also like "dark," and this sort of thing would be fine in another scifi book series. But it's not Doctor Who. Or, it's not MY Doctor Who, for whatever that's worth.

Oh, and the Time's Champion stuff was just absurd.
posted by orrnyereg at 10:52 AM on July 1, 2010

Best answer: If you've read any of the Culture novels, Ban Aaronovich's (sp) The Also People is another take on the same idea, but set in the Time Lord universe.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:33 AM on July 1, 2010

Best answer: Go for the Short Trips short story collections if you can get a hold of them - the format means that you can skip the stories that you don't really like. Quite a few of the writers have written full-length Who novels, so if you keep a note of whose writing you like you can chase up their other stuff.
posted by Coobeastie at 11:46 AM on July 1, 2010

I'm sorry but for the most part I'm going to completely agree with most of the folks who have responded so far. Most of the Virgin New Adventures with the Seventh Doctor post-original series and the Missing Adventures with past Doctors they published are, at best, weak sauce. They tried so hard to be "adult sci-fi" that they managed to be neither true to Doctor Who or actually good sci-fi literature* I can only think of a couple that I would have bothered finishing if I hadn't been a fan since I was 11 and was a 18-25 year old geek starving for new Who.

Those that I have read and enjoyed have only been because of

(a) their occasional cleverness - I like the meta-textual stuff that is in Conundrum by Steve Lyons and enjoyed The Also People by Ben Aaronovitch as well.
(b) their occasional originality -- anything with Bernice Summerfield is better than the antagonistic relationship between the Doctor and Ace, which I actually enjoyed as it simmered on screen rather than when it exploded in the books
(c) when they really called back to mind the actual series, which didn't happen that much in the New Adventures but occasionally happened in the Missing Adventures. For example The Well-Mannered War by Gareth Roberts really feels like its from the time in the series from which it is set (Season 17) so there was something wonderful about that. As a new viewer, you may totally enjoy it but I'm not sure how much of my enjoyment came from the nostalgia factor of being excited to see these characters again.
(d) because of their connection to the current series. It's really interesting to see how Russel T. Davies approached the character before he was actually the producer or how Paul Cornell and other writers who have written (or will be writing) for the show did it in a different medium.

I don't follow fandom's opinion on the novels, so I don't know if I'm quite as much in the minority on this opinion as I feel, but I think the books after the BBC took the imprint back are much better -- if you can get over all the fanwank. (I don't use this term derogatorily, just for what it is.) Again a lot of the writers were trying to do something that they thought Doctor Who should be rather than what I liked about it; I personally find all of the Time Lord tripe and Faction Paradox stuff to be shite, but others love it, so...

The one-offs were stuff I liked better (The Blue Angel comes to mind, but I can't tell you why since it's been so long since I read it; I do remember that it wasn't very popular with other folks in reviews I read online afterward, and I didn't understand why.)

By comparison, I very much liked some of the BBC Past Doctor novels, basically because some of them really nailed (c) above. Synthespians™ by Craig Hinton was wacked fun for me and really felt like it came from the 6th Doctor's era (unlike others, I see this as a plus); I also really like what Simon Guerrier did with the original TARDIS crew in The Time Travellers.

Okay, for somebody who really doesn't like the books, I've certainly written a lot about them. But if you can take the word of somebody who is obviously suffering from such an obvious disconnect, I'm going to be adding another vote to the Big Finish pile. I really, really, really avoided them like the plague for exactly the same reasons you did, but after meeting a lot of the Big Finish folks at a fan convention a few years back, I finally gave in. And I felt like a god damn fool for missing them for so long because

(A) If you want authentic Doctor Who spinoff materials, they are easily the most accurate.
(B) They are just so much more than "books on tape", which I enjoy for driving and such and maybe sometimes sleepy time. But as someone who needs a little noise to fall asleep, we found that Big Finish audio stuff off-limits because if we started listening to them, no matter how tired, for the best episodes we ended up staying up until they were over. The best of Big Finish actually measure up to some of the best of televised Who, and I can't say that about any of the published works.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:22 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: They tried so hard to be "adult sci-fi" that they managed to be neither true to Doctor Who or actually good sci-fi literature

I'm actually a pretty seasoned reader of licensed novels (Alien Nation: Day of Descent, anyone?), so I'm not expecting super high quality or faithfulness, although some degree of staying true to the spirit of things is nice, at least.

I'll look up those suggested, and, maybe, give Big Finish a chance (but reaaally guys, I want boooooks!). Thanks for the suggestions so far, and keep em coming.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:37 PM on July 1, 2010

Best answer: Check out Justin Richards. I enjoyed the unabridged audiobook version of The Resurrection Casket, and he seems to have written a bunch of other Doctor Who novels. My standards for this sort of stuff are: "Do the Doctor and company sound like themselves? Does the plot make sense without a lot of hand-waving? Was it an enjoyable romp?" and he fulfills all of those criteria.
posted by colfax at 1:10 PM on July 1, 2010

Best answer: Staying true to the spirit of things is definitely done more in the BBC Past Doctors Adventures more than anything else. The Eighth Doctor novels and New Adventures with the Seventh Doctor take their own path, and while I'd fight anybody who tried to dismiss them as non-canon, a lot of them aren't for me.

But since you're definitely looking to read (and sorry if I seemed like I was trying to tell you otherwise; I'm just an overexcited Big Finish fanboy who was late to the party) -- try out the ones I mentioned, and since you've mentioned licensed novels, you reminded me of something I probably left out because I, like the writers of the novels I criticized, was being too damn adult.

The New Series Adventures, though written for a younger audience, are actually pretty sharp books, certainly better than the more juvenile themed Target books from the early part of that series run. They do a great job capturing the new series, and though they might be dismissed as "kids books", I'd say they are "family books" in the same way televised Who is a family show rather than a kids show. The best (of the ones I've read) have been The Story of Martha explores what happened in the "year that never was" at the end of Series 3, and Beautiful Chaos tells a great story with the Doctor and Donna but it touches on what happened to Donna and her family after the Doctor and Donna parted ways and actually made me a little sad.

Like I said, they're written with a younger audience in mind, but in a Harry Potter way, not in a Dick and Jane way, so most of them are just a quick fun read in a potboiler, page-turner sense. My favorites include: Sting of the Zygons, The Last Dodo, and The Stone Rose.

Also, I really liked The Clockwork Man as a book -- and all the of 9th Doctor novels because they give me more of the 9th Doctor. The Clockwork Man really nailed the tone of that first new season, which is sort of amazing considered it was written as it was being completed.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:23 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sorry. I don't know which Doctor it is, but the current BBC7 audio series features Paul McGann with Sheridan Smith as Lucy, and are quite engaging so may be worth trying even if you aren't sure about audio.
posted by mippy at 9:42 AM on July 2, 2010

I haven't read any of these since high school more than a decade ago, but I remember some of the early NEW ADVENTURES being really incredible--two in particulary. Timewyrm: Revelations is, I think, the first Doctor Who novel written by Paul Cornell and it's a mythic crazy DW fan novel unlike any I've ever seen--fanfic by Carl Jung, directed by Derk Jarman, set on the moon and the collective unconsciousness of Doctor Who, with a prog rock soundtrack. Also, I thought Marc Platt's Cat's Cradle was really curious--early Gallifreyan time travelers, a parasite that eats information, the Tardis turned inside out and an infinite city where all times are co-existent!
posted by johnasdf at 10:37 AM on November 6, 2010

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