strange_complex: (One walking)
Right then. This is me trying to catch up on unwritten book reviews from 2010. Today, that means reviewing a book which I read last April, and took no notes on at the time. So that's bound to go well...

I've only read a couple of Target's Doctor Who novelisations before, so I'm not intimately familiar with the genre. But my understanding is that they were usually (though not always) written by the same person who produced the original television script, and basically aimed to present the same story for fans to enjoy a second time in a context where home video was not yet the norm.

This one is indeed written by the original script-writer, Donald Cotton, although at a distance of twenty years from the original time of broadcast. And presumably that means even he could not have rewatched the original story when preparing the novel, since it must already have been destroyed by then. Rather cleverly, though, he actually integrates his own distance from the original broadcast into the novel, by having the whole thing narrated in a first-person format by 'Homer', himself looking back over events which he had witnessed some forty years earlier. This means that any deviations from the story as broadcast instantly become excusable - they are simply the effect of Homer's faulty memory. And that in itself fits in beautifully with Cotton's general approach of treating the Greek myths as garbled versions of real events which I commented on in my review of the TV story.

That same approach is at work throughout the novel, too - mainly as applied to the same ideas and events, since the plot is pretty close to the original broadcast story, in spite of the time-lag before it was novelised. But the device of inserting Homer as a character into the story does allow Cotton to be a bit more explicit about what he is doing. At the end of the novel, Homer reports that he later wrote up what he had witnessed at Troy as The Iliad, but explains that he left any references to the Doctor and the TARDIS out because 'the public expects' the gods instead. The implication is that what we have just read is the 'real' version of events, and that they were consciously altered to better suit the conventions of the literary genre when the epic poems were composed.

That said, I didn't find the use of Homer as a first-person narrator entirely satisfactory. For one thing, it means that he needs to witness every event of the broadcast story, on both the Trojan and the Greek sides, in order to be able to recount what happened. Cotton tries to make this work by merging him with the character of Cyclops from the original TV story - a sort of mercenary go-between, who is sent from one side to the other on spying missions. But that isn't really enough to explain the extent to which Homer seems to rush back and forth across the plain of Troy from one camp to the other. The reasons why he might do so began to seem awfully thin and unconvincing before very long.

Cotton also seems to have been rather ham-strung by the fact that the one thing everyone 'knows' about Homer is that he was blind - which is a real problem in a first-person narrator. He seems to have decided to handle this by having Homer blinded, first in one eye, and then the other, during the course of the story. This is mildly clever on one front, since he loses his second eye just before Achilles is killed and Troy is sacked, offering one explanation for why neither event is included in the Iliad or the Odyssey. But it also means that we have to believe that he carries on rushing back and forth between the two camps after having had one eye poked out with a marlin-spike by Odysseus about two-thirds of the way through the novel - which doesn't seem entirely credible, for all the character's references to being in terrible pain and fear as he does so.

Anyway, in the novel, Homer remains behind with Troilus and Cressida-Vicki after the departure of the TARDIS crew and the end of the TV story, so that his narrative is able to tie up a few loose ends which the TV broadcast could not. He relates how the Greek forces carry their booty (including Helen) down to the shore and sail away, while he himself leaves with Troilus, Cressida-Vicki and the other surviving Trojans to found a new city - via, of course, a brief detour to Carthage. And at the very end of the story we discover who the mysterious visitor to whom he has been relating this whole story in an olive-grove actually is - the Doctor, unrecognised by Homer because of his blindness, and come back to catch up on the aftermath of his own adventure. I like the idea of the Doctor in those odd, quiet moments of his which we never see on TV, mooching through time to relive former adventures - and especially to find out what happened to former companions after he had left them behind.

All told, I enjoyed reading this, and certainly felt that it had something more to offer beyond the TV broadcast version of the story. But it's hardly a great work of literature, and given how little and how slowly I read, I don't think I'll be rushing to work my way through the other Target novelisations any time soon. If I do read more, though, I will definitely continue to select from the early historical stories, mainly for the little extra insights they can provide into how the script-writers / authors were thinking about the programme's approach to the past in this period (as I'm very aware is discussed explicitly in the introduction to The Crusaders). Indeed, I already have Marco Polo lined up for that very purpose. :-)

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