Doctor Who and the Zarbi by Bill Strutton

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Doctor Who and the Zarbi by Bill Strutton

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: From BBC and Penguin Random House comes a time machine, taking us back to a story about a time machine caught up in a most unusual space war, although with not that brilliant a result.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: April 2016
Publisher: BBC Books
ISBN: 9781785940354

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Consider the time machine. You probably know of it as looking like either some fancy Edwardian sit-upon machine that the Morlocks nick, or perhaps a battered old English police call box. I would suggest it can also look like a small paperback book – pretty much like the subject at hand. This reprint of a Doctor Who novel, first presented in 1973 from the series shown in 1965, certainly has the ability to take you back. I grew up with the series on TV and the books in a Target imprint, but this predates that – it was, apparently, the second ever Who book-of-the-series. In it, the good Doctor and his three companions arrive on a certain quarry-like planet. One stays in the TARDIS, only to find it and her nicked by aliens; another needs rescuing from alien mind control by a different species of aliens; and the third with our irascible hero work out what actually took control of their ship and stranded them there in the first place…

But what it is with the definitive article? You notice its use (or non-use) within the first two lines of this book. The novel dares to call the lead character Doctor Who – I believe the TV series titles only called him that once, and the fact here he is often The Doctor but more often than not is given the series name as his is quite galling. Also much against modern form is the fact we read of The ship Tardis – nothing CAPITALISED, but italicised, and not even with an article at times. I don't think it's ever been called a ship as such, and to have it as a mere name, rather than something much more – well, it feels very understated. But then this book does a heck of a lot to go against common form – it hardly describes the TARDIS whatsoever, barely mentioning the sound, not describing its size inside – and while mentioning the control console never defining it. Mind, you don't even get a description of this Doctor. It's almost as if you have to have the TV series in front of you to get the full picture, and it's the TV series the novel goes about conveying pell mell.

And that's the issue. This is definitely a novel from the days before DVD and repeated viewings. This is so much a transcript of the series (even if one 25-minute episode becomes fifty pages) it's clearly designed to be an alternative to it – it was, after all, the only way the fan could re-experience the story, and here the screenplay author gives us it with barely any embellishment or major descriptive work. And it has to be said it's not that brilliant a story. One alien species only talks to the Doctor while he stands under a cylindrical bit of Perspex he likens to a hairdryer at one point; the other was never bound to look on TV as anything other than childish. The twist in their warfare is not worth hanging a whole story on. While presenting a scene of dialogue as uninterrupted and complete, characters refer to what we as reader have been told but not they themselves. It's up to Barbara – who is introduced as being about to cook breakfast, of all things, before having the ignominy of other characters forget her very existence – to save the day.

It seems then an unusual choice for publication at this date. Well, BBC Books have decided to give us one of these books fresh from the vaults for all of the first seven Doctors, and the fact they look superb together on a shelf has to be noted. The go-to-guy Justin Richards gives us some small notes for each book, as well. But with the most notable thing about this story being the trivia that the opening episode would be the biggest ever audience for the series until later in the 1970s, you do see how unbrilliant this book is. Still, it's a damned good piece of time travel to take us back to when Who books were allowed thus to be.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

You can revisit every single Doctor with the help of the likes of Doctor Who: 12 Doctors 12 Stories by Malorie Blackman, Holly Black and others.

Buy Doctor Who and the Zarbi by Bill Strutton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Doctor Who and the Zarbi by Bill Strutton at

Buy Doctor Who and the Zarbi by Bill Strutton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Doctor Who and the Zarbi by Bill Strutton at


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