Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma by Tony Attwood

Published: 1986

Edition read: Target first 1986

Coolest Cover: You really can’t beat the combination of Chris Waddle, the Space Dock from the Star trek films and a little Imperial Star Destroyer.

The BBC Budget Wouldn’t Run To: Making the story.

Childhood Recollections: I must have read this at 14 when it first came out and wasn’t impressed. For once I think my immature taste was bang on.

Ramblings: Somebody more obsessive than me must know how many original Doctor Who novels have been published since the original series ceased production in 1989,a lthough it must be somewhere around 200, and with six a year still coming out, it’ll probably be a while until the revived series catches up. So it feels odd in retrospect to come back to one of the first book-length attempts at original fiction set in the Doctor Who universe, particularly when your tastes have been formed by what came afterwards.

The idea of producing a series of original books based on the adventures of the Doctor’s companions subsequent to their televised adventures is in some ways logical and in others distinctly odd, not least because there are only so many you can follow up- although that hasn’t stopped subsequent writers from trying. It is however a reasonable halfway house on the way to producing original Doctor Who fiction without interfering with the televised series, which was after all in production at the time. Similarly, the choice of Turlough is odd- although to an extent a logical choice as the most recent companion to leave, I think it’s fair to say that in spite of what turned out to be an interesting backstory, he wasn’t the most popular companion at the time and Mark Strickson’s portrayal wasn’t to all tastes. Equally, the choice of Tony Attwood as a writer is both a cautious one- at the time he was almost certainly "approved", having written the Blake’s 7 programme guide and a tie-in novel, but had no track record with Doctor Who at all, which leaves one wondering whether Turlough’s creator Peter Grimwade might not have been a better choice.

I can’t help feeling that Blake’s 7 isn’t the key to understanding the book- it opens with a secretive hero obsessively pursuing a furtive mission, and once you’ve thrown in a female dictator who uses the titles of President and Commissioner, not to mention the hero’s unreliable ex-girlfriend, and it’s difficult not to wonder whether Attwood wouldn’t have been happier just writing another Blake’s 7 tie-in. Given the comparative freedom of the Doctor Who universe to play in, though, he takes the rather odd course of taking things back to Earth and the Time Lords- although I haven’t read any of his other books, it also feels as if he doesn’t have the self-discipline to tell an expansive story which spans several different planets and time zones without wandering aimlessly off the point and losing any sense of focus. The characters never really come to life, and it’s difficult to imagine Mark Strickson speaking many of Turlough’s lines although the least satisfying character is the Magician, a Doctor substitute made out of odd mannerisms cobbled together and crowned with a figure-of-eight hat (and I’d love somebody to explain that one to me).

Without wanting to dwell on every fault of the book, however, it’s difficult not to feel that there are a few good ideas here, but the author didn’t really know what to do with them and probably should have been handling them in an original novel rather than tacking them on to Doctor Who in a way which doesn’t really ring true. Attwood’s Turlough could by and large be any male lead most of the time and, given that the character was originally conceived as a foil for Peter Davison’s moral but ironic Doctor, doesn’t quite have the same effect when he’s no longer being unreliable and evasive. As for the plotting, it meanders with no real sense of focus, moving from one incident to the next on the flimsiest of rationales, and while some of the episodes are realised better than others, it probably says something about the execution that I could no more tell you what the book’s about now than I could before I’d started re-reading it. So while it deserves a certain amount of recognition as essentially the first full-length original novel set in the universe of Doctor Who, I can’t help thinking that later writers would learn as much from what it did wrong as what it did right.