08 October 2015

Books: Human Nature By Paul Cornell (1995)

As I’ve mentioned before, my association with Doctor Who goes make to 1979/1980. It was around this time that my PBS station in Chicago began airing the show. And while Third Doctor Jon Petwee had some minor success on PBS, it wasn’t until Fourth Doctor Tom Baker debuted that the series really took off for me. Also, beginning in April 1979 and running June of 1980, Pinnacle Books, an imprint of the publishing company Kensington Book, released Americanized editions of ten Target Book novelizations. 

They were:
  1. Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks
  2. Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon
  3. Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion
  4. Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks
  5. Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen
  6. Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster
  7. Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang
  8. Doctor Who and the Masque of Mandragora
  9. Doctor Who and the Android Invasion
  10. Doctor Who and the Seeds of Doom
The first three were adaptations of the Third Doctor stories, while the rest were of the Fourth Doctor (which may explain further why the Tom Baker’s Doctor remains many Americans -of a certain age-favorite Time Lord). I, of course, owned all 10. But because most PBS station across the nation were airing the adventures of the Third and Fourth Doctors (mainly because they were in color –the first two Doctor’s serials were produced in black & white) only, we were still missing a huge chunk of the franchise. 

So when the first of many American distributors began importing the Target Books line-up in the early 1980s, it was our first chance to read –video tapes were in its infancy then- adventures of the First and Second Doctor along with the rest of the Third and Fourth. Even for many Britons, the novels remained their sole gateway to those older episodes, as the BBC hardly ever re-aired them, and as a matter of fact, began a system wide destruction of those earlier serials (which was among many programs the Corporation destroyed to save money). 

I acquired all of them over the next decade and half and would eventually be able to see all the surviving Doctor Who episodes as well. 

Target Books launched the Doctor Who novelizations back in 1973 –even though there had been a few stories of the First and Second Doctor released in the 60’s- and quickly became the go to house for these books (American’s would see only the paperback versions, but Target also released hardcover versions) until 1989, when the show was cancelled, and W.H. Allen & Co would sell the imprint to Virgin Books in 1990.

The Target Books line was retired on new books following the publication of Victor Pemberton’s The Pescatons (which was an adaptation of radio play) in the fall of 1991, which left just 7 TV serials unpublished in book form. However, when Virgin Books later made deals with the Estate of Terry Nation and published novelizations of the serials The Evil of the Daleks and Power of the Daleks, along with an adaptation of the radio play The Paradise of Death, these books were identified as being part of the Target series on their title pages. Thus The Paradise of Death, published in April 1994 as No. 156 in the "Doctor Who Library", was the last book to be connected to Target.

It was Virgin's new fiction editor, Peter Darvill-Evans, who quickly realized that there were few stories left to be novelized, so he approached BBC for permission to commission original stories written directly for print. In some small part, this would’ve been a good idea, as some franchises, especially cult shows like Star Trek, were seeing some success with original stories (Batnam published a line before Pocket Books too them over). But the BBC, failing to see what a financial boom it could be for them, refused him. But when the show was cancelled in 1989, Virgin was granted the license to produce full-length original novels continuing the story from the point at which the series had concluded. Between 1991 and 1997, Virgin Books released a whopping 60 novels in their “New Adventures” line-up all featuring the Seventh Doctor, with Dying Days, the 61st book and the only one featuring the Eighth Doctor, was the last one published by Virgin. They also released 33 “Missing Adventures” featuring the other six Doctors. After the “success” (depending on your point of view) of the 1996 TV movie, the BBC then began releasing a line-up of original novels featuring the Eighth Doctor. 

Most of the Virgin line-up books were written by long-time fans of the TV series, and some went onto to be huge success writers. One was Russell T Davies, who later became the chief writer and executive producer of Doctor Who television series when it was revived in 2005, who wrote 1996’s Damaged Goods. Another notable was Paul Cornell, who wrote five of the novels, including the single most popular one (according to the Doctor Who Magazine poll), Human Nature. Cornell went on to write for the 2005 revival of the television series, penning Father’s Day and adapting Human Nature into the two-part episode Human Nature/Family of Blood.  

Of course, by 2005 all of the Target Books and Virgin Books were long out of print. And when the revived series took off right away, a lot of fans, both old and new, began looking for these older book titles. And when Human Nature was adapted for TV in 2007, it became the single most sought after title, with sellers on EBay asking hundreds of dollars for the paperback, which probably sold for 6.95 back in 1995. I’ve been looking for it for a while, as I threw out a lot of Virgin paperbacks many years prior to the end of the century. Of course, I regretted this action, but that’s the way things work. I mean, I do enjoy these original works, but my problem with them was some were well written, while others seemed penned by a 10 year-old. Also, because I was (and still somewhat am) a person who is canonist, these novels were always separate from the TV timeline. 

Anyways, BBC Books began to began re-issuing some Virgin’s more popular titles of the New Adventures (now called The History Collection)line-up a few years ago, including Human Nature, which I finally found at Powell’s Books when I was in Portland helping make the film version of Jay Bell’s acclaimed novel Something Like Summer.

Bernice Summerfield is grieving since the death of Guy de Carmac, (as seen in the previous novel, Sanctuary). The Doctor takes her to a market on a planet called Crex in the Augon system. He quickly sets off, telling her he'll be back in an hour, and Benny finds a pub where she orders a beer and finds a group of female human drinking partners. After Benny's had several drinks with them, the Doctor arrives and places a patch on her cheek — a pad that disperses the alcohol in her system. He tells her that they need to leave immediately, and leads her back to the TARDIS. He hands her a scroll, tells her he'll see her in three months, and collapses. Meanwhile, the genesmith Laylock meets with his associates. They plan to follow the Doctor. In a long, dark room, a teenager named Tim awakens from a dream, having had a premonition that everyone will die. Unable to understand Benny's grief on a human level, the Doctor has purchased a device which alters his biodata, transforming him into a human named Dr John Smith. Smith lives as a history teacher at a public school in 1914 England, and falls in love with a fellow teacher named Joan. However, the Aubertides, hoping to acquire Time Lord abilities, attack the school. 

The book, in many ways, is different than the filmed episodes. Both novel and episode occur near the Great War in a small English village that is home to a school for boys and Joan Redfern is the object of Smith's attention in both. Timothy (given the surname Dean in the novel) is the schoolboy that finds the object containing the Time Lord essence (a cricket ball in the novel, a fob watch in the episode), and experiences some mannerisms of the Time Lord personality. John Smith does write a book that draws from his Time Lord personality - in the novel, this is a children's story borrowing terms like "Gallifrey" and "TARDIS", while this manifests as the "Journal of Impossible Things" within the episode. The Aubertide, like the Family of Blood, take on forms of the villagers, including a little girl with a balloon, though in the novel, the balloon is a sentient and deadly creature controlled by the Aubertide. The Doctor also gives Bernice a similar list of instructions of things to prevent him from doing -omitting what to do if he should fall in love.

The ending in the book is nearly the same in the TV episode. I’ve also read that while Cornell is credited for adapting his own novel, and given high praise for it as well, it appears a great deal of the episode had in fact been rewritten by executive producer Davies. I’m not sure what was added, but it’s clear that Davies ramped up the romance between Smith and Joan than was seen in the book –or played better on TV?

It’s a strong book, and I can see why it remains popular. Mostly, I think, because it tries something different with the format, even when it does contain some stereotype characters and situations (it’s a military school, so we get tons of dialogue about honor, abuse of the underlings –and those who take great pleasure in exerting it). The Doctor falling in love was something never seen before, so I think this hook was what makes the book so popular. The Aubertide’s come off somewhat bumbling, and not as evil as The Family of Blood is portrayed in the episodes.

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