This book is the first in a series of BBC tie-in novels known as “The 8th Doctor Adventures”, commissioned and published in the interim years between the show ending in 1989 and being relaunched in 2005. The series of books ran alongside another set of releases known as “The Past Doctor Adventures.”
For both of these, the clue is in the name. The Past Doctor Adventures were new (not novelisations of episodes) adventures featuring the previous seven incarnations of The Doctor, those that were portrayed in the television show. This series of 8th Doctor Adventures introduced a new, eighth reincarnation into the mix, seen only before as Paul McGann in the ill-fated TV movie, and sadly written out of the continuity with the 2005 relaunch, much like the above mentioned TV movie version.
The Eight Doctors is Dicks’ initial foray into the territory, given the unenviable task of introducing a new Doctor. The BBC trusted Dicks with this task for a reason, not only was he a writer, script editor and producer of the TV series, but by the time this new series of books launched he had already written no fewer than 64 novelisations of the Doctor Who episodes. But how did he fare with an original novel?
He did well. It’s a good book but not excellent. The new Doctor is successfully introduced, and is given his own characteristics and personality without simply being a rehash of any of the previous incarnations. He stands proudly and, in the way The Doctor, should heroically. Sam, the new assistant, is also introduced and while her character doesn’t perhaps get as much attention as she could have been given her basic premise and driving characteristics are established.
As the name of the book suggests, this is one of the many times that The Doctor breaks with all known time travel rules and crosses his own path, meeting each previous incarnation in turn, to establish more knowledge about himself. The reasoning given is that The Doctor has a form of reincarnation amnesia and The TARDIS directs him to these previous timelines to regain these lost memories. As a plot device, it’s adequate if not completely original.
This narrative works well as an introduction, it allows Dicks to compare and contrast this new Doctor against those prior versions without being too contrived. The problem with the book is that the whole plot feels like it was written with this singular goal in mind.
As a standalone book it’s fine, but just that, fine. It suffers for doing exactly the job it set out to do. It beautifully lays the groundwork for the authors that follow Dicks. It establishes a new base for the 8th Doctor, and Sam, to be built off without ever being too prescriptive in how their journey will unfold from here.
Every fan of Doctor Who will tell you that the reincarnation episodes, and those special episodes where two (or more) of the Doctors meet, are among the most highly anticipated, the most exciting and they rarely fail to deliver. When compared to these TV equivalents, the book falls a bit flat.
That doesn’t mean I would recommend against reading it, far from it! There are 73 books in total in The 8th Doctor Adventures and they can be picked and read in any order, but every single one builds off this initial establishing novel. So if you’re thinking of reading any of them, read this one first.