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Doctor Who: City of Death, James Goss (2015)

City of Death is often picked as one of the better Classic Who stories, thanks to the (at the time unusual) location shooting in Paris, the quality of the script as heavily - and frantically - rewritten by Douglas Adams, and the performance of Julian Glover as Count Scarlioni, alias Scaroth, self-described last of the Jagaroth. Unusually, it never got a novelisation, because it was unthinkable that anyone but Adams could write it, but Adams felt obliged to hold out for something proportionate to his usual advance, which was far above what was usual for such a book, and so it never got written.

That's now been rectified via James Goss' novelisation, although 'novelisation' doesn't really do it justice; it's based on the original script, script notes, elements of earlier drafts and even the original story Adams heavily adapted, allowing Goss to explore or develop ideas that were jettisoned or abbreviated for time. Goss also interpolates some nice continuity touches and references to other Who stories (he ties in Pyramids of Mars to nicely explain something we see), and gives a very interesting take on Scarlioni/Scaroth. It's potentially a risk to go inside the head of a character only seen in the third person on screen, but Goss, building on Adams' script notes, succeeds quite well.

How well Goss succeeds in capturing Adams' writing style will be something for each reader to decide. He doesn't try to pastiche it, but rather to write in what one might call an Adamsesque style. Judge for yourself:

(From Chapter One)

   Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth, was in for a surprise. For one thing, he had no idea he was about to become the last of the Jagaroth.
   If you'd asked him about the Jagaroth a mere, say, twenty soneds ago, he'd have shrugged and told you they were a savage and warlike race and that, if you weren't happy about that, you should meet the other guys.
   By and large, all life in the universe was pretty savage and warlike. Show me a race of philosophers and poets, said Scaroth, and I'll show you lunch. It would, however, be unfair to say the Jagaroth were completely without accomplishments. They did build very nice-looking spaceships, although they were not necessarily very good ones. There was a lot to recommend the Sephiroth. A vast sphere rested on three claws. It suggested formidable menace whilst evoking the kind of insect you'd not care to find in your bed. The tripod arrangement of the legs also meant that it could land on anything.
   Which was ironic, as right now it couldn't take off from anything.


Goss also isn't above lampshading the odd weak point in the plot:

(From Chapter Eighteen)

   Romana spotted the figure striding across the plain towards them first. Considering he was a monocular cephalopod in a lounge suit, he looked rather suave. Apart from the gun he was pointing at them.
   As he approached them at the base of the Sephiroth, Scaroth nodded to them. It was the polite acknowledgement one makes to party guests, saying that you will talk to them later while firmly intending not to. Instead, he turned his attention to the craft. Several million years of planning and he hadn't thought to bring a megaphone with him.
   He shouted and waved his hands in the air. 'Stop, stop my brothers! In the names of the lives of all of us! Stop!'


- although, as he notes in his afterword, some aspects of the story are best left unexplored (just what was going on with Scarlioni's relationship with the Countess?)

For my part I felt Goss does a very good job of capturing the quite distinctive tone of City of Death and the result is very readable; I may even re-watch the serial in light of doing so.

Date: 2015-06-04 08:27 am (UTC)
watervole: (Default)
From: [personal profile] watervole
Certainly has an Adamesque feel to it.

Date: 2015-06-04 05:28 pm (UTC)
andrewducker: (Default)
From: [personal profile] andrewducker
I'm very tempted by it. But will wait for the price to drop to paperback levels.

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Simon Bradshaw

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