Philip Reeve’s Fourth Doctor ebook feels very much like a new series episode in terms of pacing and content, although it does have overlap with other Tom Baker stories. It’s interesting reading Reeve’s blog, describing mixed feelings for the current era of Doctor Who and a patchy knowledge of the show, as he ends up embarking on a combination of new series-romp and spectacle against an early Graham Williams-era Doctor, using elements of The Face of Evil (which Reeve believes to be the first story he ever watched), a smidgen of The Seeds of Doom and Alien 3‘s unused ‘Wooden Planet’ concept.
The Fourth Doctor is, frankly, a bugger to write dialogue for. Like Patrick Troughton before him, Tom Baker was a great interpreter of other people’s scripts. Unlike Patrick Troughton, Baker didn’t always stick to the basic meaning of his lines if he felt they were substandard. This means that the prose Fourth Doctor is often written as ‘Generic Doctor’, because trying to think like Tom Baker is enough to give any mortal being a headache. Reeve gives it a go, so it’s only about a third of the time we find the Doctor talking more like Matt Smith’s portrayal. Possibly this is because the Eleventh Doctor makes an impact on proceedings, culminating in an entertaining sartorial repost from his younger self. There’s also a description of the Doctor as being both childlike and deific, which almost exactly matches his current portrayal on television.
Arguably, despite being similar to a previous story, Reeve takes a different, more Moffat-era spin on the concept of the Doctor arriving somewhere he is already known. In this case, the Doctor and Leela (K9 is charging) visit the Heligan Structure – a byproduct of terraforming – which in this case is a spherical tree world hanging above a dead planet. It’s exactly the kind of high concept pitch you can imagine a showrunner furnishing a writer with, after consulting with the visual effects department.
The character’s names, seemingly in the vein of traditional Science Fiction-y stylings, are also fun. They stem from the Doctor’s legacy, based on his previous visit to the Heligan. The Fourth Doctor cheerily demolishes any issues caused by this, and as such is an ideal incarnation to examine this cause and effect. Leela is given short shrift though, as the pace is so fast, and the resolution is remarkably simple and quick. In this respect it feels like it could be a forty five minute TV episode high on monster action (hordes of plant based creatures stalk the second half of the book).
After the departures from the norm in the first two books, and the traditional Pertwee story, The Roots of Evil takes more of a mish-mash approach. Considering the author was trying to replicate his childhood memories of the show, it’s a testament to Doctor Who then and now that the result is representative of both eras.
Read Andrew’s review of the previous story, The Spear of Destiny, here.
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