Book Review: Doctor Who and the Crusaders by David Whitaker

cover1Title: Doctor Who and the Crusaders

Author: David Whitaker

Year written: 1966

Publisher and year: BBC Books, 2011

ISBN Number: 978-1-849-90190-1

I haven’t been reading that much over the past month or so besides the Christmas Carol book which seemed a bit seasonal to review now, maybe I should anyway, would people want me to now it’s past Christmas? I’ve finally started on my pile of books I have bought and not read, the first lot being a set of Doctor Who ones based on the first three doctors that I got from eBay. This book is about the First Doctor as portrayed by William Hartnell and was published originally in 1966.

This book is based on a three episode story arc written by David Whitaker that was shown in 1965 though apparently there are a few alterations like giving lines to other characters, skipping some scenes and making alterations to others so it works better as a book rather than with a TV series. This copy of Doctor Who and the Crusaders is a reissue done in 2011 though it is true to the original with an additional foreword and a Between the Lines section at the back that explains some bits including some errors between this book and the original TV series, the best of which is probably saying that Susan left the Tardis to marry David Cameron rather than David Campbell.

cover2I really like the art on the cover of this book, from what I can see inside it was drawn for the reprint in 1973 and it definitely doesn’t have a modern look to me. I like the limited colours used in it, the way the Doctor and King Richard are in black and white against the colour and the gold. I’m not sure if it’s the age of this copy, it does look like it should be older than 2011 just by the page edges, but the cream finish on the front is nice too, it does give it that aged look and adds to the feel of it. I think I prefer these style covers to the ones of more recent books, either the ones with the photos on like the hardbacks (later paperbacks I think) from Nine onwards and the more brightly coloured covers of the classic Who series the BBC has released since.

Sometimes the extra bits in books don’t really add much but I like the foreword and how Charlie Higson gives some background on the TV series as well as the point in the series this comes from so if you’re not familiar with it then you can understand a bit about it. The Changing Face of Doctor Who is also a useful couple of pages as it includes information on each of the four main characters that were at the tie in the TV series; The First Doctor, Vikki, Barbara and Ian and what point in their travels this all happened so you know they’re not fresh into the Tardis. With these extra bits this book could actually probably be read with no knowledge of Doctor Who at the time, I haven’t seen that much of the First Doctor’s episodes and I’m not sure I’ve seen any with these companions so it did help set the scene and explain who they were without needing it in the story itself which meant the action could get going that bit faster.

The Between the Lines section at the end was interesting too, it explained about this being a true to the original reprint of the story with few alterations and that meant that some of the words which were used at the time and now thought offensive were left in because that’s how it was written. It also says about this book’s place in the series, both TV and the books written at the time and about the discrepancies between this and the TV version of this storyline. I’m not sure if this is one that has survived, if it has then it would be a nice extra for people who have seen it to compare, if not then it brings the TV episodes back a bit, at least to me.

One thing that I was surprised at, though I probably knew it at some point, is how the original Doctor Who was meant to be educational so there would be one sci-fi episode and then a history based one, this book is based on one of those history based story arcs. I don’t think there’s anything alien in this aside from the Martian Chess mentioned in the prologue which doesn’t really have anything to do with the story itself and Barbara describing some of the stories in previous episodes as her ‘stories’ at one point.

The story is based in the time of Richard the Lionheart and the crusades and there is nothing alien in it so if you’re expecting an alien fighting story then this may be best to skip. It’s based in and around Jaffa, which is apparently part of Tel-Aviv, and is about the fights between King Richard and Saladin. They’re both historical figures so the struggle between them was real but I don’t know who else in the story was. I can’t say that I was taught much about the crusades in school aside from that they happened and I think I learnt more from Robin Hood than from lessons so I don’t know how historically accurate it is, it does make a nice setting for a few sword fights and plenty of killing which seemed unusual for a Doctor Who story but I guess it happens in others, it just seems less violent than in this one.

The story itself gets going very quickly, within twenty pages the Doctor and his companions are in trouble and there’s been some action so no worries about it being a bit slow to start. It is only a short book with 171 pages including the other additions so it’s a quick read but there were no slower portions so it could hold anyone’s attention while you read it. Although some parts seem like they’re writing for the fans, or maybe the writer himself, such as having Barbara spend probably half of the book in a bikini it could be argued it makes sense in a harem, it just seemed like it was probably one of those things made for TV, a bit like Princess Leia with her bikini. As the story moves quite quickly there are a few parts where it skips between the parties when they split up but they’re easy to follow, there’s plenty of action in both of them and the ending is satisfactory enough, it ties everything together and they can be off for more adventures.

illustrationThroughout the book there are illustrations, the ones included in the original printing of it, which are a nice addition especially for children reading it. It definitely reminds me of the feel of some of the children’s books I used to read growing up, probably from a similar time, like the Enid Blyton ones where you’d have a similarly styled picture every so often to show a character or the action happening at the time. I don’t think that modern books have this as much, maybe I’ve just not been reading the right ones. I know it’s more in YA or children’s books they’d have it but I’ve read recent Doctor Who books aimed at the same audience and no illustrations in any of them.

Although the story is about history and Doctor Who it does have a lesson in there, at least it seems to me it’s intentional, it’s repeated often enough by the different characters. The general message is that everyone is the same, no matter what religion you follow or what you believe in. I think that’s a pretty good message for a book to have, especially as it’s one that was originally aimed at children and linked to a popular TV series so I guess quite a few people will have read the book, or watched the storyline and I think it’s probably a similar message in the original episodes.

Overall I enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to the next ones in the set. If the time it took me to read this one is anything to go by then I might be doing a couple of reviews a week while I read them as they were very quick reads, it took me three days to read them and that wasn’t reading them for long stretches at a time. I think this could be a good book for teenagers, as there is some violence and possibly graphic descriptions of blood and killing (I say graphic, I mean for a kids book, not for an adult book) then it might not be one for younger readers.

I would also say the use of the word Negro at a few points (this is one of the points written about dating the book more than if it was changed) could offend people so it might be best not to give it to younger readers unless they know the use of the word. I might be being over cautious there mentioning it in the review but I thought I should as it’s not a word you use today and isn’t politically correct so may not be a nice surprise to some people reading it. As it was PC and widely used at the time it has been left in the book as it’s a faithful copy of the original.

I think this is a good book, it’s fast paced, short and has a very Doctor Who feel to it despite the lack of anything space related aside from the Tardis at the beginning and end. It could also be a nice story if you like action stories over sci-fi or don’t really know the Doctor Who universe as anything you might need to know about the characters is included in this version. There are aspects that make it dated, the language used definitely does and possibly the way the ‘modern’ characters interact could date it, but I think the story and the overall message is a good one.

I don’t know where you can find it but it says the RRP is £4.99, I paid not much more than that, I think around £7 for the six books. I would say that if the set is available at a similar price it’s worth getting, at full price I’m not sure this would be worth £4.99 due to the length of the story unless you’re a collector of Doctor Who things or wanted to complete a set. If you can find it in a library and are looking for a short read with lots of action and some of the First Doctor (who is actually called Doctor Who on a couple of occasions I think) then this is a good book to consider. It’s definitely not a heavy read or too philosophical but it will keep you entertained.

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