AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
2 out of 5
Doctor Who: Marco Polo
A novelisation of a First Doctor (William Hartnell) adventure, originally scripted by Lucarotti himself, featuring Ian, Barbara and Susan. Arriving in 1289, the TARDIS promptly breaks down, forcing the Doctor and his companions to seek shelter with the travelling caravan of famous Venetian explorer Marco Polo. When Polo seizes the TARDIS the time travellers are forced to accompany him on his journey to the court of Kublai Khan.
It's easy to forget that Doctor Who began life as edutainment, with the historical episodes intended to teach the audience about specific times and cultures. And the reason it's easy to forget that is because it's such a clunky concept that the series itself moved away from it for most of the rest of its lifetime. However, I read David Whitaker's novelisation of 'The Crusaders' and actually rather enjoyed it. So I went into this book fairly open minded.
Unfortunately, I was very disappointed. The historical characters here are one dimensional and the TARDIS travellers seem to be caught in an endless loop of politely asking Marco Polo if they can leave, being told no and then still being pally enough with him to politely ask again the next night. The historical setting itself is totally unremarkable and is more or less just a series of encampments, totally failing to capitalise on the potential of one of China's most interesting historical periods.
In truth, the only thing I actually enjoyed here was seeing the Doctor and Kublai Khan bonding over the aches and pains of being old men.
1 out of 5
Doctor Who: The Aztecs
Here Lucarotti novelises his own script for a First Doctor (William Hartnell) adventure featuring the original companions Ian, Barbara and Susan. Arriving amid the waning days of the Aztec civilisation, Barbara is mistaken for the deified reincarnation of a High Priest. However, the High Priest of Sacrifice Tlotoxl refuses to believe in her and schemes to ensure that Barbara is cast down and the other TARDIS travellers suffer horrific fates.
I've always been wary of the early Doctor Who historicals and Lucarotti's novelisation of 'Marco Polo' only cemented for me everything that can go wrong with them. Here, however, there is more to keep you interested than in that, earlier, story. Although, it must be said, that a great deal of the impact of the Aztec setting was probably reliant on visuals that you don't get in a novel.
For me, a good Who story not only takes us to interesting new places, but also has something significant to say about the Doctor and his companions too. That last is very much the case here as everyone but Susan has an important part to play. Sadly, as often seems to happen, Susan is relegated to reactionary dialogue, teenage stubborness and not much else. For Barbara, we see her having to struggle to maintain the facade of a living god, whilst always desperately trying to sway the Aztecs away from the horrors of human sacrifice. Ian's role is a little less complex, with him being the go-to physical character whenever some fighting/climbing/digging is required, but he nevertheless gets some good scenes with his Aztec rival Ixta.
Finally, we get to the Doctor. Here we get to see the full range of his compassion, cunning and, it has to be said, unreasonable tetchiness. Perhaps most interesting is his relationship with the older Aztec woman Cameca, who falls in love with him and whose intellect causes the Doctor, surprisingly, to mirror some of that affection back at her. My favourite scenes in the book have the Doctor discussing being a time-traveller with Barbara, however. In the first he tells her, with a surprising depth of sadness, how he understands the frustration of not being able to change history. Then, right at the end, when Barbara asks what's the point if they can't help anyone, the Doctor points out that she helped the priest Autloc, saying "You couldn't save a civilisation, Barbara, but you helped one man." That line says more about the Doctor as a character than you see in most entire stories (particularly early ones).
So, overall, this isn't a brilliant book, but it has enough insight into the main characters to elevate its quality beyond just what the plot provides.
3 out of 5