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Not Quite What You Remembered

By:David Layton, Los Angeles, United States
Date:Friday 24 April 2020
Rating:   8

"The Pirate Planet," Douglas Adams' first contribution to Doctor Who, has long been sought after for novelization. Finally, in 2017 it was done. James Goss became the writer for the job. He is a good choice in that he genuinely likes the Graham Williams period of Doctor Who and he has a sense of humor very similar to Douglas Adams'. It is a sense that nothing is sacred or above ridicule and that wherever someone is being serious, that is when they are being most ridiculous. It is tough, therefore, for writers like Adams and Goss to get the right tone for Doctor Who, where the threats need to feel credible, but the Doctor's "live and let live" attitude still needs to prevail. For this novelization, Goss had access to multiple early versions, not just the shooting scripts and the adventure as shown on TV. Goss has, therefore, incorporated the elements of the early versions while mostly retaining the plot of the televised version, and keeping all of the characters. The result is a remarkably different experience from watching the TV version. For instance, all the characters are boosted, given both more to do and more overall character. The reader finds out much more why characters are as they are. The character boost becomes most apparent in secondary characters whose function in the TV version was mostly to be cogs in the plot machine, delivering information in amusing ways. Thus, Balaton, the old man who is the voice of conformity in the society of Zanak, gets a motivation for this, a desire not just for an easy life, but also to keep his family together. Mr. Fibuli is another such character, a man whose goal is to be an ordinary civil servant type, but more or less resigned to his fate as inevitably another victim of the Captain's wrath. Goss has also made efforts to enhance the Captain as a character, making it clearer that the robotic elements of his body are the patchwork job of a novice, and that he is more understandably mentally unstable - part genius, part maniac, part naughty boy. Additionally, Goss changes much of the dialogue, adds whole scenes, deletes some scenes that never quite made sense in the TV version, and adds a layer that was scrapped from the TV version, but actually makes sense of what is happening. This has to do with the question of how Queen Xanxia, who could not be expected to be a technical wizard, is able both to perform robotic surgery on the Captain and build the time dams. Answers are in the book and I won't spoil it here, but suffice it to say that they are pure Douglas Adams. Ultimately, a reader's pleasure from this book is going to depend greatly on how well the reader feels that the writers get the mix of serious and silly. My own feeling is that the whole veers just a little too far on the side of silly, especially with regard to how many pirate clichés are thrown in. Nevertheless, the novel in this case is actually more satisfying than the televised version.

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