Those of you of a certain vintage will have read ‘Doctor Who And The Crusades’ and probably still have a battered copy. This is a spanking new hardback edition of a book originally issued as written by the scriptwriter David Whitaker of the several lost presumed wiped series of the early ‘Doctor Who’. As a novel, it offers a fascinating glimpse into the mindset, the research and the preoccupations of 60s Britain. It’s also a fun book and if you like a bit of history with your Doctor, a glimpse of a forgotten world.
The Doctor, Vicky, Barbara and Ian arrive in the Holy Land at the time of the Crusades and are quickly caught up in the conflict. The English king, who is on Crusade against the Saracens is Richard the Lionheart. He is on a little sidebar hunting trip and this is interrupted by the arrival of the Saracens themselves, who are intent on kidnapping the king. They carry off Barbara and Sir William des Preaux, believing him to be the royal personage. The others take the injured to King Richard and receive his hospitality. So, the team are split up leading to Ian’s constant worrying and a suitably heroic rescue on his charger. Meanwhile, there is enough of a sub-plot to fill in the gaps and make the historical part of the drama matter to us, it’s not just about our away-team.
This is truly an historical adventure with no sonic screwdriver, no aliens and no get-out-of-jail free plot devices. It is a carefully worked plot that is complete in itself, no time cabinets other that the TARDIS that throws them seemingly randomly into major historical events on Earth.
It’s certain that the presentation of foreign actors from other continents in the 1960s was at best misguided and at worst just insulting. The novelisation has characters that fall into the bad-foreigner category but this is balanced by its representation of the actual characters here. Saladin is noble but the villain, El Akir, is downright bad to the bone.
‘Doctor Who And The Crusades’ is a good read with plenty of descriptive passages along with a fast moving plot. It reflects the careful research done by the writers who were allocated a historical moment to find a story that could fit into the series allowing the characters to develop. These were done to be educational and probably relied heavily on vast encyclopaedias where we tend to go straight to Wikipedia. It was also probably influenced by the fact that William Russell could ride a horse and fight the good fight. This novelisation is a glimpse into the almost lost past as only two of four of these episodes survive and it all seems like very long ago and far away in a gentler time.
(pub: BBC Books/Ebury. 160 page small hardback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78594-053-8)
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