City of Death
by James Goss
Review by Sami Kelsh
As far as classic Doctor Who
serials go, City Of Death
is surely one of the most fondly remembered: from its fantastical and romantic score to the imagery of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward running through the streets of actual Paris to the exceptionally mad and delightful Douglas Adams dialogue, it figures in many a fan’s best-Doctor-Who
-stories-EVER list, and with good reason.
With this source material in mind, writer James Goss already has a wealth of brilliance to draw upon for his novelisation, but he does so much more than just a simple note-by-note and line-of-dialogue-by-line-of-dialogue recap of the story as we know it. He enriches it, makes it fresh, and does it every bit of justice.
The novelisation is very much a precious and lovely work in itself; indeed, it remembers to make the story accessible enough that a reader who hasn’t seen the serial (if such a person exists in the world) will follow along with rapt enthusiasm, but so will the reader who’s watched those four episodes so many times they can recite every beat verbatim. The story takes us and our heroes (and villains) on a spirited adventure from 400 million years in Earth’s past, to Paris in 1979, and notable points in between, as The Doctor and Romana (with the help of the delightfully confused Duggan) investigate the cause of curious time-hiccups, some very complicated methods of making chickens and eggs and vice versa, and why anyone would have a centuries-old private collection of Mona Lisas.
Goss peppers the story with a handful of references that left me beaming so joyously I may well have alarmed the other patrons of my local Costa Coffee to no end – including a callback to one of my very favourite Hartnell companions, and a little nod to a certain side project of Baker and Ward’s during their tenure as Doctor and Romana. He also deftly takes advantage of the novel format to allow for explorations of the histories and inner lives of a number of supporting characters, including some very pleasant surprises. The tale is woven together with prose so sparkling, it’s as effervescent as the kind of champagne so good only Count Scarlioni could afford it.
City Of Death is a novelisation which retains the spirit of a Douglas Adams story, while allowing the author a voice of his own. It’s a beautiful collaboration, a work of love, and a celebration of the very best of Doctor Who that’s luminous with joy.
I realise that the longer I spend extolling the many virtues of this book, the longer you have yet to start reading it; as such, I will now leave you to it in the hope that I have convinced you. Just go read it – it’s so bloody good!
BLOGTOR RATING 9/10
Thanks to BBC Books