Thursday, January 17, 2013

Unfrozen and ill-tempered Martians

I was first introduced to Doctor Who through novelizations of the television episodes. The first one I read was a Tom Baker story--Genesis of the Daleks--which I bought at a Stars and Stripes bookstore in Subic Bay.

When I got back to the States, Doctor Who was being broadcast in the U.S. on various PBS station. I'm pretty sure the first episodes I saw were from The Ark in Space, also a Tom Baker story.

Baker will always be my Doctor, but all the various Doctors (from both the old-school and new-school episodes) have brought something entertaining to the part. And I was introduced to many of the early Doctors through the novelizations, which were available in the States long before the actual episodes were.

So when some of those novelizations recently became available in electronic reprints, I snatched them up. With very few exceptions, the prose versions of the stories are well-written, fast-paced science fiction adventures that provide you with a perfect way to spend the 90 minutes to 2 hours it takes you to read one.

Take Doctor Who and the Ice Warriors, for example. Written by Brian Hayles in 1975, it was based on a 1967 story arc that starred Patrick Troughton as the Doctor.  Gee whiz, it's a lot of fun.

(By the way, I believe the broadcast version is one of a number of Troughton stories that are missing some episodes--all the more reason for appreciating the novelization.)

The wandering Time Lord is, at this time, travelling with Jamie (a hotheaded young Scotsman from the 18th Century) and Victoria (a very pretty gal from the 19th Century who does tend to scream and faint a little too often for my tastes).

The TARDIS plops them down near a scientific base in futuristic England, where that base is one of many using "Ionisers" to stave off a new Ice Age. Outside the base, England is now a snow- and ice-covered wilderness, with the glaciers slowly advancing despite the best efforts of Earth's scientists.

But that's not their only problem. It turns out that 5,000 years or so earlier, a Martian ship crashed on Earth and was frozen during the original Ice Age. Now the crew of Martian Ice Warriors have thawed out and have decided that an unplanned delay of five millennia is no reason not to continue their efforts to conquer our world.

This sets up the sort of "Last Stand" situation that Doctor Who has used any number of times, in which humans trapped in an isolated location are threatened by aliens. This time, it's a scientific base surrounded by glaciers. In other story arcs, the location has been a space station or a giant mobile mining complex or an undersea base.

Well, this time around the aliens need to raid the base to replace their deteriorated fuel supply. The humans need to keep the Ioniser running, but doing so might cause the reactor on the alien ship to explode. The guy in charge of the humans is intelligent enough, but unwilling to make a decision unless the master computer approves a specific course of action. His best scientist has thrown a snit and gone to live in the wilderness with other "scavengers," which includes a guy who thinks he can negotiate with the Ice Warriors because he hates scientists. (Don't try to follow his logic in this--he's pretty much just nuts.) And Victoria has soon gotten herself captured by the Ice Warriors, because next to screaming and fainting, being kidnapped is what Victoria does best.

This leaves the Doctor in a situation where, aside from rescuing Victoria, he has to gain the trust of the humans, help them get the Ioniser online before the base is crushed by glaciers and figure out how to stop apparently indestructible aliens. He manages to slap together a few scientific Macguffins that just might help him do the job.

It's a great little novel. I just re-read it in one sitting and had a ball. I admit I never cared for Victoria as a companion, but she does manage to stop screaming long enough to be useful a few times, so I'll be forgiving.

All other aspects of the story come together nicely--the danger generated by the Ice Warriors plays nicely off the tension that comes from the shortcomings of the various humans. As was usual for the original run of Doctor Who stories, you know that a few of the supporting characters are going to get killed, but you never know for sure which ones that will be. There aren't any obvious Red Shirts. In fact, one character death actually surprised me--it was someone I thought was being set up to play a larger part in the story.

This was, by the way, the first appearance of the Ice Warriors. I always thought these guys were good visual designs and effective villains, but they seem to have largely faded away--overshadowed, perhaps, by Daleks and Cybermen. Well, one never knows. They may make a comeback someday.

Tom Baker will always be my favorite Doctor, but I'd happily step into the TARDIS with pretty much any of them.

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