Strictly Come Daleks

By Pat Black

Posted on November 22, 2013 in Books, Friday Favourites, Fun Stuff with tags Time Travel

Doctor Who’s 50th birthday party would be great, eh?

Opening time… (Tardis)… Opening time… (Tardis)… Opening time… (regenerate).

The time-travelling sci-fi hero has seen a few dips and bumps in the space-time continuum, but he’s now more popular than he’s ever been. The TV show seems part of Britain’s DNA, like the Beatles, warm beer and bad teeth – but what of the Doctor’s printed contemporaries?

Let’s take a jump to the left – and then a step to the right – into some classic time travel stories.

 

The Time Machine by HG Wells

the-time-machine-hg-wellsA mysterious traveller with no name… A machine that takes you through time and space… Sounds familiar? It should, as HG Wells’ sci-fi romp was a template for the Doctor’s adventures.

The Traveller’s encounter with the peaceful Eloi and the primitive Morlocks is as much an examination of Wells’ politics as a journey into the future. Wells saw the lazy, child-like Eloi as a consequence of technology eroding basic biological imperatives; when trouble rears its head, they simply don’t know what to do. Meanwhile the Morlocks arguably represent a repressed working class, kept in darkness and ignorance, away from the decadent Eloi. For Wells, both models represent the ultimate degradation of humanity.

But this dystopian nightmare wasn’t as affecting as the abandonment of poor wee Weena. How could you, man?

 

The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

time-travelers-wife-bookNo machinery involved here. The chap in the title manages to travel through the fourth dimension by way of a genetic disorder. I’d have preferred that to hairy earlobes – a chromosomal gift that keeps on giving. Anyway, this one is all about love, as the narrator encounters her soul mate at various points in life. Her bloke time-travels involuntarily, and his existence is a jumble of temporal displacement, a constant emergency. Relativity, it seems, applies to hearts as well as time.

 

A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury

SoundofThunderCover-2ivhlhrUncle Ray’s dinosaur story is arguably his best. It follows a bunch of hunters travelling back to the late Cretacious to bag the ultimate mantelpiece adornment: a tyrannosaurus rex.

There’s some wonderful monster-mashing as the prehistoric Elmer Fudds discover it’s not easy to stare down a T-Rex.  But that crashing, roaring creature’s fate is less important than that of a smaller, more delicate one.

 

The Skull by Philip K Dick

107336436Early short story madness from P Kindred D sees a convict sent back in time to kill someone who will have an important influence on world events. The convict isn’t told who this person is… But when he finds out, things get paradoxical.

Hellooo, McFly, hellooo! Does this make any sense? Probably not, but in much of Dick’s oeuvre the pleasure is in the Escher-esque paths his stories trace, rather than their logic.

 

Time’s Arrow by Arthur C Clarke

200px-Collected_stories_clarkeFossil hunters investigating an interesting set of dinosaur footprints are accidentally zapped back in time. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Well, amazing, yes… Safe, no. *See Ray Bradbury above.

 

 

11/22/63 by Stephen King

isbn9781444727333-detailThe 11th of the 22nd? Is that a stardate? Anyway, this looks at another event celebrating its half-century: the assassination of President Kennedy. A teacher travels back in time through a portal in a US diner in a bid to prevent JFK’s murder – but history does not like being messed with. A typical King thrill ride, beautifully researched.

 

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

9781775416166_p0_v1_s260x420…In which Mark Twain takes a blunderbuss to the works of Sir Walter Scott. Twain saw the rugged chivalry espoused in Scott’s romances as blustering, delusional and dangerous, and lamented its effect on American culture. In the story, a simple blow to the head takes a US everyman back to the days of King Arthur, where he gains power in Camelot by besting superstition with modern science and technology.

Twain died four years before the Great War broke out, but a shocking slaughter here involving knights charging modern armaments prefigures the horror of Europe’s battlefields eerily well.

 

 

 

Doctor Who – Warriors of the Deep by Terrance Dicks

Doctor_Who_Warriors_of_the_DeepWhen I was seven, I watched the serial above and thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. A couple of year later, I read the Terrance Dicks novelisation and thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever read. I re-watched some of the serial as an adult, and… oh my goodness. The Myrka.

Still, there’s this book. Author Terrance Dicks is a bit of an unsung hero in the world of Who, having script-edited the show and being involved in shaping its mythology. His novelisation of a script by Johnny Byrne involves the Sea Devils and Silurians invading an undersea nuclear missile base, and yes, it’s still exciting.

In Dicks’ hands, the Myrka is a terrible, scary monster and not a pantomime horse with googly eyes. The Sea Devils are armoured, reptilian bad-asses, and not blokes with rubber hoods that fold in half. And Peter Davison’s Doctor – my Doctor – well, he’s just the same. Noble, kind, brave, principled.

What a terrific character the Doctor is, and what a wonderful TV show. Here’s to the next fifty years.

***We didn’t have time for: Time’s Arrow, by Martin Amis; Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut; or Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Where does it go?***

Comments

2 comments on “Strictly Come Daleks”

  • Caleb Woodbridge says:

    Great choices! I particularly love ‘A Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’.

    I also remember listening to the audiobook of Warriors of the Deep read by Peter Davison (on cassette! Those were the days).

    I imagined the dimly lit underwater corridors… the terrifying cyborg bulk of the Myrka.

    And later I saw the TV series, with its brightly lit 80s corridors and pantomime horse Myrka. Needless to say, it didn’t match up!

  • Matt Crossman says:

    A fine selection although I would definitely have Time and Again by Finney and, my all time favourite time travel story, Replay by Ken Grimwood in the list.

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