You might recall that I was quite impressed with the two part story Human Nature/The Family of Blood from the 2007 series of Doctor Who. At the time, I mentioned that it was based on one of the numerous novels written during that slight gap when there was no new Doctor Who on TV. What with the books being issued in limited numbers, and being long out of print, I wasn’t expecting to ever actually read the original version.
However, the BBC have made it available as a free to download eBook. You can read it on the website, or download a nifty PDF which comes complete with illustrations and some quite detailed notes by author Paul Cornell.
I may have nabbed a reformatted version from Feedbooks which I may have read on my Sony Reader. This did suffer from some formatting issues – missing paragraph breaks, mostly – but was perfectly readable.
So, what’s it like? Well, if you’ve only ever seen Doctor Who on TV, this kind of story is likely to come as a shock. It’s written for an adult audience, and includes levels of violence and gore that you’d never see on TV. It features the Seventh Doctor, as played by Sylvester McCoy, accompanied by Professor Bernice Summerfield, a companion created for the series of books. While there are a lot of differences – more characters, more death and destruction and more well, stuff, you’ll recognise it as a version of the same story.
Having read this, I have a clearer idea where some of the critics of the series are coming from. While the Doctor was away from TV, that small hard core of fans were reading these books, which took things in directions they could never take on TV, and became distinctly “adult” rather than “family friendly”. So what they’re expecting from the TV series is something quite different from what it is, and indeed what it could ever be – there are scenes in this story that could never appear on Doctor Who as we know it, or in any version of it that could be shown by the BBC while kids are watching. And while I enjoyed reading this, and I’ll look for some more of the same, I still think those critics are missing the point of what the show is, and what it’s for. Doctor Who was originally created as if not a children’s show, then certainly “family entertainment”, and when it returned, it still had to keep to that brief, regardless of what had been done with the characters in books. And if it hadn’t been made that way, it wouldn’t be the incredible success it is. We wouldn’t have the annual tradition of the Doctor Who Christmas Special, and we certainly wouldn’t have the BBC committed to the 2010 series already.
So, this (and quite possibly other) book is worth a read, but it’s not the Doctor Who you’re probably familiar with. Think of it as a parallel universe version of the Doctor if you like…
 Note: this would require a better memory than mine
 Plausible denial in case of copyright issues
 See previous note
 Many, many books were written, with lots of character development and stories by different authors feeding into each other, which makes picking up random ones a bit awkward, but never mind