Home 60th Anniversary REVIEW: Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder (Target Books)

REVIEW: Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder (Target Books)

Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder by Mark Morris. Cover by Anthony Dry and Stuart Crouch. (c) Target Books

One of the more straightforward Target Books of recent years recreates the drama and body horror of Wild Blue Yonder, but doesn’t get under its creepy skin

 

The Target Books novelisations celebrating the recent specials arrive next week in paperback form. However, they got an early release in the eBook format, coming out just days after the episodes themselves aired. It was a clever move on the part of BBC Books, allowing them to plug into the excitement around the 60th Anniversary itself without worrying about the early delivery of copies accidentally spoiling things. Perhaps no story depended on that more than Wild Blue Yonder. After all, the Doctor Who team had meticulously carefully guarded its secrets for months, giving little hint of the storyline.

When it did arrive on screens, it delivered a tense and claustrophobic journey to a ship lost beyond the edge of the universe. Abandoned by the TARDIS, the Doctor and Donna must discover why this gigantic vessel is seemingly empty and adrift. But soon they encounter the Not-Things: fearsome monsters wearing our heroes’ own faces.

 

Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials - Wild Blue Yonder, Episode 2,The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/Disney+ Photo by James Pardon
The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) in Wild Blue Yonder,Or are they? BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/Disney+ Photo by James Pardon

The original episode provides several opportunities to expand on characters’ back stories and inner thoughts, but the adaptation chooses not to pursue them

Of the specials, Wild Blue Yonder seemed most ripe for the Target Books treatment. Even once viewers got a chance to see it, Wild Blue Yonder was still full of mysteries and half-told secrets. So much of the scenario pivots on the heroic self sacrifice of the alien equinoid captain we never get to see alive, for instance. Meanwhile we never learn much about the Not-Things themselves, either. Many potential readers might well presume that these are elements that the novelisation would flesh out substantially. So the fact Mark Morris’ adaptation barely touches on them is a disappointment.

Despite the fact that it’s exactly the sort of thing Targets traditionally do so well, there’s no flashback or prelude to introduce us to the Captain in life, or the horrors of her own battle with the Not-Things. Slightly surprisingly, we also gain no more insight into the Not-Things than we did on TV. We get the same dialogue description of them being drawn to the sounds of violent chaos coming from our universe. But no real sense of shapeless, mindless, essences slowly having the way they think and feel defined by those messages. Similarly, it would have been compelling to get an internal view of the Not-Doctor’s mind as it assumes a more Doctorish shape and gets closer to being able to work out the answers to the mystery for itself.

 

The Doctor (David Tennant) in Wild Blue Yonder, BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/Disney+ Photo by James Pardon

The adaptation lacks the performances of Tennant and Tate to underpin a mystery where most of the readers have already seen the solution

Instead, Wild Blue Yonder is content to be one of the more workmanlike novelisations of recent years. Every detail of the story is faithfully recorded, from the discovery of mavity to an old soldier greeting our returning heroes. Along the way, every frown, snarl, revolving wall and moment of body horror is meticulously detailed. But the adaptation never goes any deeper than that. When the Doctor is tempted with the possibility that Donna already knows the pain and heartbreak he’s been through, the well of thoughts and emotions that threaten to engulf him are still opaque to us.

For many adaptations this wouldn’t necessarily be an issue. But as an episode Wild Blue Yonder is powered by two things: the central puzzle and the dual performances of David Tennant and Catherine Tate. In particular, its re-watch value depends almost entirely on the latter. After all once you know how the pieces connect together – why the airlock opened, who the Not-Things are, what the robot is doing, what the words spoken by the ominous voice actually mean, and the rest – then you can’t unlearn them. And even the most skillful writer can’t transfer those performances’ brilliance to prose by simple description alone.

As a result, this simple retelling of events as we saw them on screen inevitably falls a little flat.

 

The Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) in Wild Blue Yonder, BBC Studios/Bad Wolf/Disney+ Photo by James Pardon

Despite being the least essential of the three new novelisations, Wild Blue Yonder still provides a pleasant couple of hours reading

More than ever, the value in a good Target book comes from it providing something you can’t get by simply firing up iPlayer or Disney+. Wild Blue Yonder doesn’t manage to meet that standard. Certainly, for many fans, it will nicely fill the slot in their collection. It’s certainly a pleasant way to while away a couple of hours too. But for more casual readers of the range deciding which of these three novels to pick up, it’s by far the least essential.

 

 

Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder by Mark Morris. Cover by Anthony Dry and Stuart Crouch. (c) Target Books

Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder

A ship at the edge of space. A robot with a secret. A sinister presence.

The Doctor and Donna are trapped on board a mysterious spacecraft. Fate of the crew: unknown. Fate of the universe if what’s on board gets out: terminal.

Doctor Who: Wild Blue Yonder is available on eBook now, ahead of the paperback release on the 11th of January. An audiobook read by Bonnie Langford arrives on the 1st of February.

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