(1965 / 2016) David Whitaker, BBC Books, £9.99 / US$13.99, hrdbk, 160pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94053-8
This is a novelisation by the scriptwriter of an early adventure from the Doctor Who TV series, staring William Hartnell in the title role. It was a four-episode story called ‘The Crusade’ and ran from the 27th of March to the 17th of April 1965 (one nomenclature describes it as the 6th serial in the second season in). The book was originally published the same year as the broadcast; this is a reprint from BBC Books. It includes several pen and ink drawings by Henry Fox, as per the original publication.
We all have our favourite Doctors and, whilst I have enjoyed most of the others, William Hartnell’s has always been my favourite. To me he is the definitive Doctor, a man of wisdom and knowledge who thinks his way through things rather than waving a magic wand (sorry, sonic screwdriver), mumbling technobabble, and charging round furiously followed willy-nilly by a companion(s). Reading this book reminded me of those glorious days when the script was more important than the special effects and the multi-episode stories meant that you could become familiar with both the Doctor and his companions as well as the local participants of the particular story. What is more, the book is in black-and-white, just like the TV picture was! (OK, I admit that high definition, colour pictures are excellent, but let us just go with the nostalgia for a moment … ).
The TARDIS possesses the ability to materialise only where it is physically safe but has no such ability when it comes to avoiding political danger or other likely problems; this is fortunate as otherwise the Doctor’s adventures would be rather mild! On this occasion it materialises in woodland near the ancient city of Jaffa. It is the time of the Third Crusade and King Richard the Lionheart is ensconced in the city though, on this particular day, he has taken a small band of friends hunting in the woods, safe in the knowledge that the Saracens would not be aware of his little outing. However, he is wrong - El Akir, the Emir of Lydda, has been discretely following him and is about to spring a trap; he will capture the King and kill his friends. Close by and hidden by a thick clump of bushes, the TARDIS materialises and the Doctor and his companions, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki, step out to assess their new surroundings. Moments later the hunting party is attacked but Richard escapes, Sir William des Preaux having distracted the attackers by loudly declaring himself to be the King. Unfortunately, whilst the rest had been safely hidden by the bushes, Barbara had become separated from them and is also captured; El Akir thinks he has both Richard and his sister, the Princess Joanna, and heads to Ramlah to present his prizes to Saladin.
Saladin immediately recognises the error, places the captives under his custody, and sends El Akir away in disgrace. The Emir is a man of great evil who had achieved his position by theft, treachery and murder, and he blames Barbara for this setback and vows revenge. He steals her from Saladin and takes her back to his palace in Lydda with the intention of torturing her to a miserable death, the only thing that passes for enjoyment to El Akir.
Meanwhile, the Doctor, Vicky, and Ian have treated Sir William de Tornebu, a survivor of the original attack, and helped him return to Jaffa and Richard’s court. The King soon regards the Doctor as a wise councillor and, impressed by his valour, knights Ian as Sir Ian of Jaffa and sends him to Saladin to negotiate the release of Sir William des Preaux and Barbara. Saladin refuses to release the knight but, recognising that he had failed to protect Barbara from El Akir, gives Ian a passage of safe conduct through his lands to Lydda so that he may attempt a rescue. Things do not go so well for the Doctor as court intrigues and rivalries catch up with him, the King comes to suspect him, and he and Vicky must make a hurried departure whilst they still have the freedom to do so.
It would not be giving too much away to reveal that Ian succeeds in his rescue, the Doctor and Vicky succeed in their escape from Jaffa, and they all safely return to the TARDIS and take their leave of the Crusades.
This is not a long novel and the story moves along quickly to its conclusion. It is well written in a straightforward style, it gets on with the story without wasting time, and it tells the story well. I also enjoyed that the Doctor and his companions had more to them, deeper thoughts and wider understanding, than has often been the case in more recent adventures. As I said at the start, this is a thinking Doctor, with thinking companions, and is all the better for it. Barbara demonstrates her quick wits and her determination, Ian has developed into a man of action, whilst the Doctor remains somewhat in the background, more in the way of orchestrating events than leading them. Vicky, sadly for her, mostly sits this one out as she simply keeps the Doctor company. It was an enjoyable little read and brought back the glory days of multi-episode adventures with a bit of substance to them and I am pleased to have it on my bookshelves.
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