Thursday, July 5, 2012

Doctor Who and the Zarbi (Book Review)

This doesn't exactly fit in with my ongoing "project" to finish watching all of the televised episodes of Doctor Who, but it does fill in gaps in experiencing Doctor Who fandom: reading novelizations of the televised stories. Until video cassette recorders became available to the masses, the only way to experience an older episode of Doctor Who was through novelizations and the rare rerun (the number of reruns allowed was heavily controlled by contracts - a factor which contributed to the junking of episodes). As with modern movie novelizations, the book, while being based on the screenplay, is often different from what makes it to the screen. This can be for various reasons: the book is based on an earlier draft of the screenplay, certain scenes were unable to be filmed as originally conceived, etc. This is also true of the Doctor Who novelizations. Where possible, the author of the original story was employed to do the novelization, and many times, they took advantage of the opportunity to flesh out the story more than they might have been able to in the screenplay or the aired episodes.

The first ever novelization of a Doctor Who story was a novelization of the second ever serial: The Daleks. At that time, the individual episodes had names, but the serials didn't have official names. While this story is commonly known as The Daleks (or The Mutants - incidentally the title of a Third Doctor story), the novelization was originally published under the title of Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks in 1964 and was later reprinted by Target Books as Doctor Who and the Daleks in 1973. I actually read this one about a month or so before I started blogging, so I didn't do an official review of it for this blog. For my abbreviated comments, see my post on the Peter Cushing movie Dr. Who and the Daleks. I will say, however, that last year BBC Books started reprinting some of these older novelizations, both in paperback and e-book formats, including Doctor Who and the Daleks.

I'm reading these in the order in which they were originally published, not the numbering system that Target Books later devised or the story order in which they aired. The second novelization was of the second season serial commonly known as The Web Planet and was titled Doctor Who and the Zarbi, another Hartnell story. This novel was written by Bill Strutton, who wrote the screenplay for the televised serial, and was published in 1965 (and subsequently reprinted by Target in 1973). This is not one of the 12 novels that BBC Books has currently reprinted, although it was listed in an online poll where fans voted on which books to reprint first.

The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki crash-land on a strange barren planet (much like the Earth's moon) when they lose control of the TARDIS. On it, they find the butterfly-like Menoptra and the ant-like Zarbi. The Zarbi, normally peaceful cattle-like creatures, have become hostile and organized while the Menoptra are attempting to re-claim their planet from the Zarbi and the strange web that is spreading over its surface. The TARDIS crew gets mixed up in this battle and ultimately get to the bottom of what's going on, as you'd expect.

I watched The Web Planet a few years ago on DVD, and it was not one of my favorite stories: not that it was bad, but it just didn't stand out in my mind. The Menoptra were reasonably believable (although the furry body and striping of their costume reminded me more of a bee than a butterfly), but the Zarbi costumes were a bit ridiculous: as bad as the old two part horse costumes where one person is the head and front legs of the horse and the other person is the horse's behind. ;) It just seemed very unwieldy and unbelievable, even for the special effects of the time it was made. Reading the book made me re-evaluate the story and I feel like I want to go back and give it a second chance. The book consists of six very long chapters which probably corresponds to the episodes as they aired since it was a six part story. I haven't compared the book to the televised episode, so I can't say how faithful it was, but I will have to do that at some point now that I have a desire to rewatch the televised serial. :)

The next novelization to be printed was of the serial commonly known as The Crusade, which is one of the serials that only partially exists and is one of the ones I watched early on in my project. Its novelization was titled Doctor Who and the Crusaders and it was also published in 1965 and reprinted by Target in 1973.. It is one of the ones that BBC Books has reprinted. Once I read it, I'll comment on it and compare it to the televised serial since it's much fresher in my mind. :)

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