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A review of Doctor Who: The Face of the Enemy by David A. McIntee

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Jan. 23rd, 2007 | 06:00 pm

Turn back now if you don’t what an “Axon” or a “Bok” are…

A little bit of self-indulgence is good for the soul, especially for the closet geek. BBC Books (and before them, Virgin Publishing), used to publish a series of Doctor Who novels for those who are deeply under the influence of the old series. Unlike the current range of books, which are clearly aimed at the new and younger elements of the programme’s audience, the BBC Books and the Virgin Books before them are clearly written with the more mature Doctor Who aficionado in mind.

Do not even attempt to read these books if you’re new to Who, especially if you have not been acquainted with the original series that ran until 1989. You’ll be lost and you will not appreciate them. This is no reflection either way on the quality of the writing which is, as one would expect from a series of novels written by different writers, highly variable. But for those have been initiated, those who know their Masters from their Maras, and for those who can tell you not only when Tom Baker started in the role, but who wrote, directed and produced his first story and how it differs from the previous ‘regeneration’ stories, these books are a guilty pleasure, the ultimate hit for a furtive habit, novels that stimulate and satisfy but ones that you’ll never really talk about with your work colleagues.

Not that the readers should feel that bad or be secretive in enjoying these books, as they really are well written when the author is on the ball; it’s just all in code for those who never though more of Doctor Who after the episode’s credits have rolled. Since being a Doctor Who fan was decriminalised a couple of years ago, the exchange of this socially prohibited literature no longer carries the threat of solitary confinement or being exiled from dinner parties, and I hear that occasionally Doctor Who fans congregate in central London, seeking solidarity and to campaign for equal rights for those who find time travelling police boxes and quirky robot dogs attractive.

Doctor Who: The Face of the Enemy by David A. McIntee

If you have fully come to terms with your Doctor Who-ness, and if you really do know more about the programme than you really should, please accept as a recommendation Doctor Who: The Face of the Enemy by David A. McIntee. The Face of the Enemy is an unmitigated hoot from start to end, rewarding not only the loyal fans of 1970s Doctor Who but those who are also familiar with the James Bond films, old ITC television series and 1970s pop culture.

As already mentioned, The Face of the Enemy fits into the narrative of 1970s Doctor Who, when the eponymous hero was played by Jon Pertwee, exiled to Earth by his race the Time Lords and assisted by dollybirds in inappropriately short skirts (not very practical for alien planets and home county quarries). During this period of the show, the Doctor was mainly Earth-bound due to his exile, the constraints of the BBC budget and the Three Day Week, and he worked as Scientific Adviser for UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), a paramilitary organisation that was a cross between the X-Files and Dad’s Army, complete with a quasi-comedic Brigadier, who is very much a fan favourite.

The Face of the Enemy’s unique selling point is that the Doctor does not feature in this story, as he’s co-currently engaged in another adventure (the 1972 story The Curse of Peladon, if you really must know). This allows the supporting characters of this era of the programme to take centre stage, with a particular focus falling on the aforementioned Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the Doctor’s arch nemesis, The Master, who is a kind of Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes.

The main plot is very much in the Quatermass for the kindergarten mold that the series was cast in during the early ’70s, extraordinary and sinister events taking place against a familiar, contemporary backdrop. In this case a plane crash involving the corpse of a still accounted for Cabinet minister, a bank robbery and people emitting a strange, mysterious radiation are the building blocks for an exciting thriller that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve (or should that be dust jacket?) and that never dawdles.

The militarism of the 70s programme is accentuated here, with violence that would have had Mary Whitehouse choking on her Saturday dinner, let alone complaining. This doesn’t jolt the fan though, as there is something innately appealing in the Master brandishing Kalashnikovs, bringing down helicopters, after a failed mob meeting in the Oxo Tower, in what is a brilliant pastiche of a similar scene in The Godfather Part III. Indeed, the early parts of the book is more in hock to 70s ITV serials such as The Sweeney and The Professionals, conjuring up images of car chases involving Ford Cortinas, cardboxes and a still-undeveloped and abandoned London Docklands.

McIntee perfectly captures the characters from the programme, fleshing out previously quite anaemic portrayals and minor roles. He has the most fun in depicting the suavity of The Master, who was played with such assurance in the programme by Roger Delgado. He firmly places the character at the heart of this 70s world, half-Carlos The Jackal, half –Jason King:
The strains of Bowie singing ‘Diamond Dogs’ filtered out from the Waltham radiogram as the Master sat with a copy of The Financial Times, idly toting up his profits from the day’s trading. The humans used such a primitive system of investments that they might as well simply give him their money. He didn’t need the money as such, especially the currency of such an irrelevant planet as this, which wasn’t even legal tender anywhere else, but it had its uses for acquiring local labour. And so it was a necessary evil.
It is playfulness such as this which makes this book such a joy to read. It’s never going to be regarded as Crime and Punishment, but it was never meant to be. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and is on a par with any of those Alistair MacLean novels that get sandy on summer holidays. Admittedly, you really will only enjoy this if you have quite a formidable familiarity with the original Doctor Who, featuring as it does surprise and substantial cameos of other popular characters not mentioned in this review, but if you have ever cowered behind your sofa because of the Daemons, been terrified of the Autons or witnessed the colony in space, this book is a nostalgic and highly enjoyable read that does not disappoint.

Doctor Who: The Face of the Enemy by David A. McIntee was published by BBC Books in 1998.

Past Peter Crispin Doctor Who Reviews:
Doctor Who - The Runaway Bride
Doctor Who - New Earth

Official Site:
Doctor Who (BBC Site)

Unofficial Fan Site:
Outpost Gallifrey

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Comments {1}

lonemagpie

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from: lonemagpie
date: Jan. 28th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC)
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a brilliant pastiche of a similar scene in The Godfather Part III

I'd love to claim the brilliance, but would you believe I've never actually seen Godfather Part III?

I do love the description of the Master as "half Carlos the Jackal, half Jason King" - though I can't mentally adding the Bernard Black coda "all bastard"

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