Jenny T Colgan
Based on the original script by
Russell T Davies
Released May 2018
To begin this review at the end, Jenny Colgan’s Afterword sees her describe her love of the classic Target range. She touches on that old chestnut that in her day it was the only way to relive episodes after their broadcast and, besides, all this t’where fields back then lad, but doesn’t dwell. Rather she weaves a picture of a lovely childhood spent lingering at the desk of her local library. Trying to navigate the torture of rules that meant she could only get out four Targets a month. She concludes with the observation that the first Target she’s ever own all to herself will be one she wrote and notes how mad and wonderful that is.
So, it’s in this context that the novelization of The Christmas Invasion brims with affection and nostalgia for childhood days with your hands propping up your chin and you lost yourself in those curious little tales of Doctor Who. It also means that it’s the most traditional and straightforward adaptation. Russell T Davies uses the Target range’s long-standing custom of inventing entirely new subplots out of nothing but those subplots are very uniquely in his style. The Day of the Doctor, meanwhile, is so gloriously playful in its structure only Steven Moffat could have written it.
But Colgan takes the route of expanding on the script but, nearly always, doing so by giving us more insight into the thoughts and feelings of the various characters as they experience events pretty much identical to those seen on TVs on Christmas Day, 2005. Near the start, there’s a whole set of introductions to the Guinevere One team and their daily routine but once we get going there’s not much deviation from the plot. The Doctor piloting the TARDIS back to Earth from the Sycorax ship, rather than the Sycorax teleporting it down, is about as divergent as it gets.
But honest, believable emotion and character are Colgan’s strong suits, as anyone who’s read her non-Doctor Who books can tell you (yes, boys and girls, you can read novels without spaceships in them from time to time; your hair won’t go on fire, I promise). Her choices here bring the story very much into her wheelhouse and she expands skilfully on Davies’ own ability to make believable a character with only fifteen lines of dialogue. The chief beneficiaries of Colgan’s eye are Guinevere One boss Danny Llewellyn and UNIT operative Sally. On screen they get a brief flirtation – him flustered by a woman so beautiful being nice to him, her endeared by his combination of earnestness and humility. On the page, we lean in to the tragic undertones, as each mentally sizes up the other – imminent death focusing their thoughts on possible futures, possible futures they’ll never have the chance to even dip their toe in together.
The audiobook edition is read by the myth and legend that is Jackie Tyler herself. Or rather Camille Coduri, proving herself to be so much more than just Jackie. It’s easy to fall into the trap, when an actor is just so good at portraying one character, to forget that they have a whole acting range to explore. So apologies are due to Coduri in this review for she shifts effortlessly from one character to another throughout. Even her Jackie should be saluted as she recaptures with apparent ease every ounce of energy in her television performance, flicking back forth from that to her narrator’s voice with ease.
But her Rose is also astonishing. Even though Piper and Coduri have similar voices, and played their roles with similar accents, Coduri proves adept at capturing even that subtle difference. In some scenes of the Tyler women bickering back and forth, you could almost believe Piper had popped in for a cheeky cameo.
Her accents for the Welsh characters are almost as impressive. It probably shouldn’t surprise that a couple of years living and working in Cardiff gave our storyteller a good grounding in those Celtic tones, but it’s still striking that there’s nothing broad or comedic about her Llewellyn, but simply an authentic sounding rich tone. And when her Sycorax leader shows up, it almost blows you out of your chair in surprise. It certainly sent this reviewer into a few tracks of distractedly listening while googling who the second performer was. But, nope, 100% Camille Coduri. Treated and artificially deepened though it is, her capturing of the hard biting rage and disdain of the Sycorax is still note perfect and astonishingly good. With other male characters, she plays it safe and, perhaps wisely, simply throws a nod towards their style of speech though it’s still glorious to hear her Doctor and her Jackie’s take on the “I need…” routine.
Sound design wise, there are some clever choices here. Colgan adds the actual TARDIS departure to the ending, and in the audiobook’s take on that coda the full, lengthy version of the dematerialization sound is given a rare outing. Its fading swoops and burbles and beeps form a subtle soundtrack to Jackie and Mickey’s thoughts on being left behind. Elsewhere, the soundscape wisely keeps out of the listener’s way but adds just enough background to give a nice sense of space and location.
Meanwhile, the handsome cover by Anthony Dry uses the same, striking pointillist style – each dot painstakingly created one at a time in pen and ink - that’s dominated his Doctor Who work over the past two decades and has made everything from DVD insert booklets to the mural wall of the Doctor Who Experience so striking. It’s a style that, through artists like Ron Turner, Frank Bellamy and Chris Achellios, has long been associated with Doctor Who and makes for a comfortable fit for the next generation of novelizations.
Some may dismiss The Christmas Invasion as the least experimental, and therefore most disposable, of the new range. But that would be a mistake. Because its also the most successful at evoking that undefinable Target feeling. Of sending you back to days on tip-toes, peeping over the librarian’s counter to ask when you’ll next be able to take it out again. Add to that a versatile reader and sympathetic sound design and you’ve a release ready to stand up proud next to any of them in Target’s Golden Age.