The first thing you notice reading Jenny T. Colgan’s The Christmas Invasion is the table of contents. Jenny could teach the BBC a lesson on how to use titles. Every chapter is the title of a Christmas song. And that’s both charming and brilliant for The Christmas Invasion. The only chapters not so labeled are the prologue and the epilogue. The former is merely one page, but it captures a pre-credit sequence marvelously. And then the adventure begins…
The first thirty pages all take place before the opening credits, covering that marvelous 8 minute Children in Need release that preceded The Christmas Invasion and leads up to the whole TARDIS crash and that wonderful question we all love to hear “Doctor Who?”
What caught my attention very quickly was the way Colgan captures the voices of those for whom she is writing. Jackie’s internal thoughts are Camille Coduri’s voice; Mickey Smith is Noel Clarke. I’m consistently impressed by this because I’m not talking about the quotes. That’s easy; you copy what was said. If you’ve seen the episode, you know the words. I’m talking about capturing the tone when talking about what the character is thinking. That’s a skill. And that’s the thing that caught my attention with this book: the skill Colgan evidently has with writing her story. Let me use my recent readings of City of Death and Rose to illustrate some points. In City of Death the writer, James Goss, basically transcribes the episode into paper format. There is little added to give greater dimension. It works incredibly well as a retelling, bringing it all to life but not adding a whole lot. This is not a complaint, but an observation. I thoroughly enjoyed City of Death. Russell T. Davies’ Rose by contrast adds a lot but more of what he adds takes away from what we know about previous episodes. Whether he’s spoiling the surprise of regeneration, the premature introduction of a Dalek or the “there was a war” speech from a later episode, Davies additions end up as subtractions. This, sadly, is more of a complaint! So much so that, one of his “additions” take away from Colgan’s book. Davies adds a bit about the Doctor getting a cut that never happened during the televised episode. When he crashes through the table while fighting the Auton hand in Rose’s apartment, he gets a “deep cut” that Rose observes and even comments on. Since that never happened in the episode, there was no need to add it especially when Colgan’s book has Rose wondering if the Doctor even bleeds after seeing his hand get cut off. RTD took that from her by trying to add something unnecessarily. There’s danger in doing that when fans are so interested in a bit of continuity. (The caveat here is that these are meant to be retellings of preexisting stories, not new work! There is no reason to add some things!)
Colgan, by contrast, adds without taking anything away. I’d almost say she could have done more. For instance, with 1/3rd of the world standing on the edge of whatever precipice they can find, there could be more than just one random man falling to his death. For instance, there should have been people with frostbite or falling just due to wind. Still, Jenny adds a scene that adds realism but could have had more of it; she shows she is aware of the larger world in which her story takes place, acknowledges it in passing, and moves on. Plus she gives a relationship where one never seems to have existed before, between Sally and Llewellyn. Again, it doesn’t take anything away but adds dimension to a character to give us more to care about. She understands that age-old adage, “What doesn’t add to the story, takes away from the story”. If I had to critique an addition, it’s adding a bit where the Doctor is trying out the word “fantastic” and, finding it doesn’t fit his new mouth, works on other terms including “molto bene”. The catch is, this takes away nothing from the series. It’s just my preference to the way the episode actually played out.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the TARGET books were outstanding. They gave my younger self this hunger to read and taught me words in the process. When I was reading this, a word caught my attention (on page 104) that I didn’t know: “imprecations”. I was immediately struck by how, even at my age, a word might turn up that taught me something. These books maintain a tradition that I loved as a child and that makes me very happy. They also add some logic to a story where, perhaps due to lack of budget or time, it had missed an opportunity. For instance the televised episode doesn’t make clear why the Sycorax bring 4 people to their ship instead of just one, but when observed from their point of view, 4 Sycorax appear together on-screen; it is implied that they operate in sets of 4, at least from a leadership perspective. It’s a subtle hint, but it’s there. What needed more explanation from either the show or the book is why the Sycorax can detect the alien technology from the TARDIS but fail to do so from Torchwood. And I give Colgan extra credit for one observation: Daniel Llewellyn thinks at one point that he’s never been courageous then thinks better of it: he’s never been tested so he doesn’t know if he is or not. (This may be the impact of the Mighty Bosstones with their line “I’m not a coward I’ve just never been tested; I’d like to think that if I was I would pass”, but whatever the reason for it, it’s a nice acknowledgement from Colgan. Most people don’t know how brave they are until they are tested and Daniel Llewellyn is no exception.)
Colgan also pays a nice little one-paragraph homage to Arthur Dent of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fame, firmly linking the two franchises in a way that probably shouldn’t exist, but I loved it anyway. And when the book comes to an end, you realize you’ve just watched the whole thing again in your head. Like an artist with a paintbrush, she captures the likenesses perfectly and brings the story back in full color. She is a talented writer. She also gives us an incredible afterword that was the icing on the already-delicious cake. She talks of the TARGET books with such fondness and the show with a love that is evident in this wonderfully written book. I hope to see more from her in the future! ML
In fairness to James Goss, the Target retelling of City of Death is a cut down version of his own full length novelisation which is fantastic
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Completely true and I don’t disagreee. I also think it very fair of you to say that. But I wasn’t really complaining about his book so much as praising Colgan. Think about it this way: Colgans book was cut down from the beginning. She had a fraction of the space to work with and told the story brilliantly.
I’m not knocking City or Goss! I’m just pointing out that with less space available, she still told a great story.
Now, RTD’s Rose did irk me. He wanted to be clever by adding things that never happened and hurt the other author in the process. That’s rude.
And not ginger!
PS – good to hear from you again!
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