When I reviewed City of Death by James Goss, one thing that jumped out at me was how accurate the book was. It was lifted right out of the television story adding very little beyond slight blips of internal thought from a major character or a hint of background to give more dimension to a minor character. It created the effect of watching the story again in your head without deviating much. And I liked that. But a writer is allowed some freedom and adding backstory can be very informative, especially when the book is written by the same writer who wrote the episode in the first place. It gives the writer a chance to expand on the universe in a way that is not limited to filming restrictions or time issues. So Rose is penned by the same writer who gave us the episode: Russell T. Davies and he has some gaps he wants to fill in.
Now, I once berated Russell for some horrible writing, but the truth is, the man may have occasional plot holes, but he can write emotion well! He will make you care for characters and that’s a fantastic talent. But there’s a balancing act a writer has to maintain by asking an important question: “do I create new material to give a page count or tell something worth telling that might benefit from fewer pages?” Russell teeters on when he goes to the wrong side, it feels forced. Worse, I think he periodically forgets who his readers are.
Wilson, the unseen maintenance man from the beginning of 2005’s televised episode Rose does have the ignominious distinction of being the first death in New Who, albeit off-screen. Russell dedicates the entire 9 page prologue to him and it painted him as an extremely unsympathetic character. That means the very start of the book shows the first death as someone we not only don’t care about, but frankly we are almost happy to be rid of. Maybe it affected my mood, but there were a number of complaints I had with this book. (And you bet I’m going to share them!)
Russell also wrote Tennant’s two-part goodbye episode, The End of Time. He also created Donna Noble. So, it’s only fitting that he adds bits to acknowledge these wonderful additions he gave the Doctor Who canon. But when Rose encounters Tennant in that final scene, which makes a cameo in this book as a memory she recalls, he doesn’t say what he said on screen. In the televised episode he says “I bet you’re gonna have a really great year.” Yet according to this book, he says “This year is going to be great!” It doesn’t even sound like David! Sure Rose’s memory could have faded a bit; become a vague memory of some vagrant who she spoke to in that dark corner on a drunken New Year’s Eve night, but it came off like Russell just didn’t make the effort to make sure his material was correct. By contrast, his brief reference to Donna during the invasion, later in the book, works well and just establishes the bigger world that is going on around the Auton invasion while still giving background to one of his characters. The problem there is that, for casual readers who don’t know the series, they will wonder “who was Donna and why was she brought up when she has nothing else to do with the story!” For fans, it’s a fine acknowledgement. For non-fans who might just pick this book up, it’s a waste of a page or so. Showstopper? No. Proof that the demographic for these books is 100% aimed at pre-established fans: absolutely.
But that’s not the only thing. Rose’s meeting with Clive is more detailed, which is fine, except for the fact that she sees all of the Doctors. It seems even Unit doesn’t have as many pictures of the Doctor that Clive does! Clive has pictures right up to Jodie Whittaker and beyond. Not buying it! This would have been something Rose would have remembered and, if we remember The Christmas Invasion, she had no idea about “regeneration” and Tennant was brand new to her. When Clive tells her that he thinks it’s all the same person, he’s giving Rose a chance to be ready for that first regerenation, and she simple was not! In the process, Russell power-dumps his personality into the book far too much. I don’t need his predictions on what all the Doctors will look like but he gives a number of them past Jodie. His personality also comes through when he talks about the owner of Henrik’s Department store travelling around London with his wife and his boyfriend. Mickey’s band, who we get introduced to, obviously has a gay couple and they end up outside a “gentleman’s specialty” shop when the shop window dummies come to life, which means shirtless men in studs, straps and leather. Russell’s proclivities are not the subject of a Doctor Who book and the sheer volume of same sex couples that show up seems like he missed the demographic completely. The thing is, I’m not saying they should have been heterosexual couples either. There’s no need to pair people up the way he does in a Doctor Who book that can be geared for any age and there was absolutely no need to have the gentleman’s specialty shop dummies stalking the streets either!
To compound matters, some of the added scenes do feel like filler. When the “living statues” of a ballerina and a couple other characters come to life, it’s done to corral the Doctor and Rose into the right place for the meeting with the Nestene, but it felt forced. The Doctor found that on his own in the episode and there was no need to change that. Mickey, cloned once during the televised episode, ends up being cloned twice in the book, again feeling forced to add page count and a bit of logic to a scene that didn’t need any; namely why the Auton’s reach into the Doctor’s pocket when they are holding him as he address the Nestene. (It is not atypical to frisk an enemy before meeting the boss, so why did we need so much extra exposition?) And when Rose and the Doctor talk, the Doctor tells Rose the “there was a war” line which actually happened in The End of the World. By commandeering it here, Russell takes away the punch from the next episode, and at the time, that was a stunning punch!
Surely that’s it? No! When Rose is with Clive, she sees a photo of a Dalek. Come on Russ! Regeneration and Daleks? She had no idea what a Dalek was in Dalek but she saw a picture and forgot it? Let’s call a sink plunger a sink plunger: they aren’t easy to forget; they are very distinctive, in fact. By adding that to the book, it makes less sense of the context we saw in the televised episodes. And at the end of the book, when the invasion dies down, Russell even has a comment about Clive’s wife wanting revenge against the Doctor. What?!!? Is there a sequel planned? The Widow’s Revenge! (Well, maybe that’s something coming during Jodie’s run…) But where did he get that from? It’s been 13 years since Doctor Who returned to our screens and no one even thought to mention Clive’s wife since. Why would Russell think she’d need a revenge cliffhanger?
There are three things that really carry enough weight that still had me enjoying this book even with the sheer volume of unnecessary elements. The Doctor’s first meeting with Rose, the “Run!” scene, is captured perfectly. Then there is a commentary about Clive as thought about by his wife, that he’s a good man who has a quirky hobby, but that only serves to make him more of a decent person, who loves his family and does not do bad things, doesn’t cheat, and in general is just an all-around nice guy. It comes off very much like a commentary of fandom: we have our odd love of Doctor Who, we collect our collectibles, but we’re happy with our little hobby and it makes us better people all around. I thought that was an incredible message and it made me very pleased with Russell’s opinion even with all his foibles. And then came the ending and I was sitting on the edge of my couch. He changes some of it to make Rose’s (rather cold) abandonment of Mickey a little less unfeeling. Gone is the “Thanks – For what? – Exactly” dialogue between Mickey and Rose. But considering how much we all loved Mickey in the end, maybe that’s for the best. The fact is, even with the changes, Russell did exactly what he did with the television episode: he made me smile, broadly. And I can’t wait for the next one… ML