Doctor Who -Mawdryn Undead by Peter Grimwade
Published: January 1984
Editionread: Target first reprint, 1984
CoolestCover: I’ll go with Alister Pearson again rather than a photo of Peter Davison looking ready to give somebody a smack in the face. Presumably a Target cover designer.
The TARDIS materialises and dematerialises...Soundlessly.
Childhood Recollections: The marks on the pages tell me that I tried to read this at least once, but it didn’t make any impression.
Ramblings: From ‘The Five Doctors’, which condensed twenty years of Doctor Who into a single story and then rebooted the ongoing story, it’s interesting to move on to ‘Mawdryn Undead’, a story which actively requires you to have a working knowledge of the series’ past- at least to the extent that the end of the first chapter depends on the reader being familiar with the Brigadier and it being a surprise to find him teaching. Perhaps this is the moment where the rot started to set in for 1980’s Who, or perhaps it’s a fair expectation for a book numbered 82 in the series, but when the book comes in at 119 pages (largely, it has to be said, due to Grimwade translating less significant portions of dialogue into reported speech) then it isn’t really satisfactory. In some ways, Grimwade’s adaptation of his own scripts is an improvement- the sequences at Brendon are very true to the spirit of a boys’ public school, it’s difficult not to feel that in some of the characters and names Grimwade is adding a few in-jokes, and his position as an insider in the early JNT era puts him in an excellent position to add little asides about Tegan’s childhood or adventures over the two previous seasons. But it’s the missed opportunities which stand out; ‘Mawdryn Undead’ having been originally conceived as a fusion of the Flying Dutchman legend and the concept of a story unfolding simultaneously in two separate time zones, the story then gets bogged down in the Turlough/Black Guardian business and never really gets a chance to shine. It would also have helped Grimwade’s adaptation if he’d been a bit more radical and stuck with either the Doctor or Nyssa and Tegan for longer in the middle of the story, giving more of a sense of mystery to the Brigadier’s recollection of meeting Tegan in 1977 and whether the injured Mawdryn is in fact the Doctor.
That said. Grimwade’s handling of the Brigadier in particular is sympathetic, and it’s difficult not to feel for him as an upright man used to being in control, who finds himself having to cope with the personal aftermath of his experiences on Mawdryn’s ship and his subsequent thinly-veiled shame at his "breakdown". As the serial’s original writer, Grimwade naturally understands better than most what the story is about (or meant to be about), but it’s just a shame that the demands placed on his story by the production team ultimately mean that the story he was trying to tell never quite gets told, whether on screen or in print.