Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Doctor Who and Rose, by Russell T Davies

Last night I was again the guest of the Hastings Writers' Group to give feedback on and announce the winner of their science-fiction short story competition. The 19 2,000-word stories all brimmed with brilliance, and gave us plenty to talk about. Mike Gould then read his beguiling and original winning entry, "Up There And Far Away", and we had time for a couple of the runners-up, too. An enthusiastic, talented and supportive group - it was a pleasure to sit among them.

Reading those stories and some research for work things has meant little time for books, but there have been moments for Rose, Russell T Davies' glorious novelisation (he prefers "novel") of the episode that, back in 2005, brought Doctor Who back from the dead. Doctor Who rose, do you see?

I've shared my immediate reaction to seeing Rose before, and the book largely follows the events seen on screen but adds three things:

First, Russell ties the events and characters into stuff we learn in later TV episodes - there are references to Rose's dad from the 2005 episode Father's Day, Mickey's gran from the 2006 series, Rose's chat with the Tenth Doctor in The End of Time part two (2010), and all sorts of bits about the Time War.

The past is also up for grabs. Most notably, when Clive shares with Rose evidence of the Doctor visiting key moments in history, the TV version has him show her pictures only of this incarnation. That made sense for a brand new series looking to appeal to an audience who might never have seen any old Doctor Who. But with the series - and regeneration - now better established, he can have Clive present all the Doctors, in order, including some future ones.
"'He's not the final Doctor in sequence, have a look at this next one ... And how about this one?' said Clive. 'He's more your age.' Rose saw a man with a fantastic jaw, dressed in a tweed jacket and bow tie. Then Clive kept the sequence going; an older, angry man in a brown caretaker's coat, holding a mop; a blonde woman in braces running away from a giant frog in front of Buckingham Palace; a tall, bald black woman wielding a flaming sword; a young girl or boy in a hi-tech wheelchair with what looked like a robot dog at their side..."
Russell T Davies, Doctor Who - Rose, pp. 78-9.
In the same way, we learn Clive's father died in the 1960s in some kind of Doctor-related event. Some of us will recognise the details from Remembrance of the Daleks (1988).

Just as more Doctors appear here than in the TV episode, there are a lot more people generally. Wilson, mentioned and murdered off-screen on TV, has his life story detailed in a prologue - a life so rich and tangled that it's worthy of its own TV drama. When Rose returns home after meeting the Doctor, her flat is filled with people. Mickey also has a gang of mates - Mook, Patrice and Sally - who again could front their own series. The Auton attack on London is bigger, wilder and involves more people.

Russell fills the space afforded by a novel that wasn't practical on screen. We get Mickey's first sight of the interior of the TARDIS, and a chance for Rose to do what many of her successors have down, and gaze down on the Earth from space. Clive's wife gets more to do, and I long to know what happens to her afterwards and her quest for revenge.

The scale is spectacular, but the success of the book and the TV episode still rest on the small and ordinary stuff: it's all real, recognisable, relateable. For all people are selfish, difficult or weak, there's a great warmth in the writing, too, a delight in our foolishness and foibles. Russell is determinedly inclusive - not just in the sense of writing in new gay and trans characters, but also in making us welcome. The joy of this book, of his writinng, is not the aliens, but the humanity.

I look forward keenly to Russell's new TV drama, A Very English Scandal, which begins this Sunday. See also the new profile of Russell T Davies in The New Statesman.

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