Thursday 2 May 2013

Dr Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks (alias Doctor Who and the Daleks) by David Whitaker (Armada, 1965/Target, 1973)

NB: Linked in this week's Friday's Forgotten Books, 3/5/13.

A couple of years ago I posted a rambling essay on the Doctor Who Target novelisations – my memories of them, how they helped drive and shape my formative reading as a child, how they were my first and in some cases only exposure to many Doctor Who stories, and how chancing upon a stack of them in a Lewes secondhand bookshop led in a roundabout fashion to Existential Ennui becoming a (prolix) books blog. Shortly after that the BBC began reissuing some of the earliest Target paperbacks, with new introductions by, among others, Russell T. Davies, Charlie Higson and Target Who stalwart Terrance Dicks. Perhaps the biggest draw, though, was Neil Gaiman's intro for the new edition of this:

The very first Doctor Who novelisation, Doctor Who and the Daleks, by Who screenwriter David Whitaker. The copy seen here is the original Target edition, published in 1973, which I came across the other week in a Brighton junk shop; it's essentially the same as the 2011 BBC edition, with the same Chris Achilleos cover, although obviously minus the Neil Gaiman intro. But as Neil notes in that later intro, the Target paperback wasn't the first edition of the book; it was originally published in 1964 in hardback by Frederick Muller under the title Dr Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, and then again under the same title in 1965 in paperback by Armada, which was the edition that Neil read it in ("old and battered now, from so much reading"). The Muller hardback goes for hundreds of pounds these days, but the Armada paperback can be found for a few quid online if you look hard enough. Which, suitably intrigued having bought the Target edition, I did:

Whereupon I discovered that there are a number of differences between the Armada and Target paperbacks. Self-evidently the covers are different – the Armada edition cover art is by Peter Archer, an artist best known for his Hardy Boys and Malcolm Saville work – but the interiors differ too. The text remains the same in both, but while the interior illustrations in the Armada edition are again by cover artist Archer:

in the Target edition they're not the work of Chris Achilleos but rather one Arnold Schwartzman:

who I wonder if he might be this Arnold Schwartzman, OBE. Answers in the comments, please. (Incidentally, interior illos in the Doctor Who novelisations were restricted only to the initial Muller editions and the first wave of Target editions; thereafter they were dispensed with.)

Dr Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks (or Doctor Who and the Daleks if you prefer) is a novelisation of the second Who adventure, The Daleks (1963/4; it also shares its story with the first Doctor Who movie, Doctor Who and the Daleks, 1965, starring Peter Cushing... keep up at the back), but it's actually presented as if it's the first. Whitaker's innovation was to concoct a whole new opening sequence for the novel detailing the first meeting between schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright and the mysterious Doctor and his granddaughter, Susan. This originally took place in the debut Doctor Who episode, An Unearthly Child (1963), but Whitaker penned an alternate, eerie, evocative, notably gruesome opening in which Chesterton stumbles upon a road accident on a foggy night on Barnes Common involving Barbara, Susan and an unfortunate lorry driver, "hurled sideways at the moment of impact, the glass of the window shattering but holding him from being thrown out onto the roadway". "Is he all right?" asks a bloodied Barbara, to which Ian replies bluntly, "He's dead."

However, the chief novelty of Whitaker's novelisation is that it's written – quite well, as it happens – in the first person. The standard style for all of the ensuing Who novelisations was third person, but this one is narrated by Ian Chesterton, who makes for an agreeably sceptical companion – both for the reader and for the Doctor. Indeed, much as I love many of the later third-person Who novels – Terrance Dicks' in particular (a few more of which I also found in that Brighton junk shop, to be unveiled in a future post) – first person suits the format rather well, affording an intimate perspective on William Hartnell's devious, irascible Doctor.

It's a cut above what one might normally expect of a novelisation, and a nice acquisition – or rather, pair of acquisitions – in this, the year of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. And hey: maybe one day I'll pass on one or the other of the books – and maybe some of the other Who paperbacks I've accumulated – to a small child, and perhaps engender the same enthusiasm for reading the Who books instilled in me as a kid.

Tuesday 30 April 2013

A Delicate Truth by John le Carré (Viking, 2013); Signed Waterstones Exclusive

How time flies. Seems like only the other month I was making my way through John le Carré's first three novels and now here he is with his twenty-third... Actually, come to think of it, it was only the other month: I polished off Call for the Dead (1961), A Murder of Quality (1962) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) in quick succession in February of this year.

Of course, I'm being disingenuous in order to begin this post with a feeble joke; part of my reason for reading those novels, having previously read and loved the later Karla Trilogy, was I knew there was a new le Carré on the way, and last week A Delicate Truth duly arrived, published by Penguin/Viking in the UK under a dust jacket designed by Superfantastic and heralded by a clutch of positive notices. Indeed, so adulatory were some of the reviews – Mark Lawson's one in The Guardian ("Le Carré is back at full power") and Robert McCrum's one in The Observer ("a remarkable return to mid-season form") spring to mind – that I was moved to pop to Waterstones in Brighton at the weekend and pick up a first edition. Not just any first edition, mind:

The Waterstones Exclusive, which boasts added content (see also the Waterstones edition of Justin Cronin's The Twelve, which included an additional chapter) in the shape of an introduction by le Carré detailing the background to the novel. And that's not all:

It's signed too. There were a few signed copies secreted in amongst the stock, which I only realised as I was about to exit the shop having bought an unsigned one; needless to say I went straight back to the counter and exchanged it for this copy. And though the novel isn't quite the "return to mid-season form" claimed by Robert McCrum – it's certainly not the equal of, say, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (then again, what is?) – it's still a sterling entry in what my good friend and colleague Roly Allen calls "later le Carré", hewing to around half of the points Roly identified as characterising the majority of the author's works from The Little Drummer Girl (1983) onwards. ("Le Carré gets cross about something he reads in a John Pilger book, or Amnesty newsletter"; "Good end up dead; bad end up dragging the bodies into the back of an unmarked van and driving off", etc.) Plus it's a nice companion to my signed first of le Carré's previous book, Our Kind of Traitor.