Jenny T Colgan’s novelisation of Russell T Davies’s script for the 2005 Doctor Who Christmas special, the first (and still best) of the series’ now traditional festival extravaganzas, is surely the most straight-forward and unfussy of the BBC’s new Target Book-style novels of new series episodes.
Where Davies, working from his own script and, no doubt, reams of unused ideas for his debut episode turned Rose into almost an entirely new experience, Steven Moffat has gone off on all sorts of unlikely flights of fancy in Day of the Doctor and Paul Cornell has tried to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear of Twice Upon A Time, Colgan has delivered a book which retells the story as seen on TV with just a few welcome embellishments here and there. The Christmas Invasion is as close as this new collection of books gets to the real style of the 1970s and 1980s Target books; this could almost have been written by the legendary Terrance Dicks himself - and that’s by no means an insult to Colgan who has captured the brisk, no-nonsense ‘let’s get on with it’ sensibilities Doctor Who’s former script editor/writer so often brought to his novelisations.
2005 was something of a tumultuous year for Doctor Who. Contrary to many TV industry expectations, its return after sixteen years had been a triumph, a popular and critical success. But it looked as if the show was in trouble again almost immediately when the BBC was forced to announce soon after the screening of the first episode that its star, Christopher Eccleston, had quit the role after just one season. His successor, the relatively-unknown David Tennant, was quickly cast and all eyes turned on the upcoming Christmas special to see if the show had managed to ride out the trauma of this unexpectedly early change in its leading man. Fortunately, Davies delivered a thrilling, clever, action-packed adventure which bravely kept the new Doctor on the back-burner for the first forty minutes and focussed the drama on Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler, already the real breakout star of the first series and let her and other familiar characters - her mum Jackie, her on/off boyfriend Mickey and series one’s MP Harriet Jones, now the UK’s PM - deal with the threat of an invasion by the warrior-like, red-robed, bone-headed Sycorax. Colgan’s version of the story unfolds as it did on screen but she also allows it to breathe with some new material - mainly Professor Llewellyn’s colleagues back at the space probe Guinevere One’s mission control (unseen on screen) - and with some light and shaded added to virtually all the supporting characters. Noel Clarke’s Mickey is especially well served as Colgan embellishes sympathetically upon one of Davies’s recurring themes in the series; how do those left behind cope when one of their own disappears into Space and Time with the Doctor? Here, with the Doctor now regenerated into the wiry, dashing, wild-haired frame of David Tennant, Mickey sadly comes to terms with the fact that the future he imagined of with Rose is only ever going to be a pipe dream.
The Christmas Invasion rattles along just as it did on television and Colgan brings the visuals and the action to the page with flair and dynamism and a real sense of excitement born from her own delight at actually being able to write a Target Doctor Who book. It doesn’t attempt to reinvent the Doctor Who wheel and it isn’t as adventurous a piece of prose as others in this new run of books but it’s an accomplished, deftly-written page-turner which more than does its TV source material justice.
DOCTOR WHO - THE CHRISTMAS INVASION / AUTHOR: JENNY T COLGAN/ PUBLISHER: BBC BOOKS /RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW