BBC Books Review #1: The Clockwise Man

Being the first book to feature the Ninth Doctor was always going to be difficult. Back in 1997 when the BBC’s Doctor Who books range was launched with Terrance Dicks’ ramshackle continuity fest that was The Eight Doctors, we already knew Doctor Who wasn’t going to be returning in a hurry. Like the Virgin New Adventures before them, the BBC Books range was all we were going to have in the way of knew Who for several years. Dicks’ book failed in the same way that the TV Movie failed – an unnecessary preoccupation with all that had gone before it. Which bearing in mind Terrance’s own importance in Doctor Who’s 1970 comeback (where everything that had gone before 1969 was ceremoniously dumped) was unfortunately ironic.

So fast-forward 8 years to 2005. We have a successful ongoing television series and a new range of novels. Where Rose succeeds in throwing away almost all of the clogging elements of the last 40 years of Doctor Who and retaining what works, The Clockwise Man build upon this (rather than rewriting it) and develops the closeness between the Doctor and Rose, the wonder of time travel as seen in early episodes The Unquiet Dead and The End of the World; indeed the story is very much in the style of the first three episodes of the series.

The Doctor and Rose have arrived in 1920s London, and soon discover that clockwork robots are searching for a galactic criminal, guilty of genocide. This theme is interwoven with allusions to the Russian revolution and the claims of asylum made in Britain by various eastern European nobles towards the end of World War 1. Justin Richards also takes complete advantage of the revelation revealed at the climax of The End of the World; it isn’t until over halfway into the book that the reader becomes certain that the clockwork aliens aren’t in fact after the Doctor, but another man, Shade Vassily.

As mentioned earlier, the style of storytelling is similar to that of the first half of the new series. The relationship between Rose and the Doctor is in its infancy. Rose doesn’t know enough about him to be travelling with him into the past – yet they are still comfortable together, and trust each other. Rose and the Doctor make the best pairing since the fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane.

Rose’s caring nature endears her to the young Russian prince, Freddie. He has shares a genetic trait with the murdered Romanovs of history – haemophilia – which proves to enhance the fact that Shade Vassily is indeed the cruel despot described by the featureless Painted Lady. Even as he attempts to conclude his plan to escape Earth – and in doing so destroy London – the boys blood flows out of his body like those of the millions whom Vassily has disposed of.

The atmosphere of the Imperial Club – a Bertie Wooster-style haunt lavishly furnished in oak and leather – is sufficiently smoky and sinister in equal parts. A great deal of the story revolves around this location and its inhabitants. There is Wyse, for starters, and the bizarre Reppel and Aske as well as the rotund Cheshunt. The story of Reppel and Aske is steeped in subterfuge and falsehoods, but plays a vital part in The Clockwise Man.

Climaxing in a “39 Steps”-style confrontation within the clock tower of Westminster, Justin Richards’ novel on the whole mixes the pace, emotion and humour in equal amounts with the latest series – as described in Doctor Who Magazine 357, the writer was given some access to the new series. However as much as the relationship between Rose and the Doctor is perfectly pitched, it is in the one final – crucial – aspect of their characters that Richards strokes gold. Within one page the reader is certain that he is reading the words of the Ninth Doctor. Not the third, or the eighth, but the current Doctor Who as played superbly by Christopher Eccleston. While throughout the series the actor consciously (and wisely) chose to play the Time Lord as a man unlike any of his predecessors, this was bound to have an effect on the refinement of the dialogue in the scripts, and this is reflected in the novel, as demonstarted in this exchange between Rose and the Doctor:

“And that’s when this exhibition thing is?”

“The British Empire Exhibition, yeah. Got to get a bit of culture now and then”

Justin Richards, The Clockwise Man (page 9)

The first instalment of literary adventures for the Ninth Doctor and Rose is a welcome to a new Doctor, a new companion and a new series. As the series grew in stature on the strength of Rose, so I expect the BBC books series to develop on this strong debut.


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