The Novel of the Film was a Gary Russell novelisation of the 1996 TV movie, Doctor Who. It was published in conjunction with the film's broadcast in the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Though for copyright purposes known as simply Doctor Who, the book has a cover which sends ambiguous signals about its title. On the front cover it is entitled Doctor Who, but on the spine, it is Doctor Who - The Novel of the Film.
The book was significant for a number of reasons. It was the premiere release of a Doctor Who novel by BBC Books, which would completely take over the Doctor Who publishing license from Virgin by late 1997. It was also the first novelisation not appearing under the Target or Virgin labels and the first novelisation to be completed before the filmed version was. Its tight publication schedule meant that Russell wrote it with, as he put it in his foreword, "precious little visual reference". For this reason, the novel contains, as Russell predicted, things which "differ from what we all see on screen". This is especially true of some of the descriptions of the minor characters.
Late December, 1999: the brink of a new millennium. An anachronistic British Police Box materialises in San Francisco's Chinatown amid a hail of bullets which find an unintentional target — a strange man who walks out of the Police Box. Despite the best efforts of Dr Grace Holloway, the unknown traveller dies and his body vanishes. And soon another stranger appears, claiming to be the same man inside a different body; a mysterious wanderer in time and space known only as the Doctor.
But the Doctor is not the only time-traveller in San Francisco. His oldest adversary, the Master, is there as well, desperately trying to steal the Doctor's newly-regenerated body. Before long, the Doctor is faced with a choice: to save his own life, or the billions of people who have no future unless the Master is stopped. If only the Doctor could remember how...
Deviations from the film
According to the introduction of the book, Russell wrote the adaptation based upon an early version of the script that wasn't the final one. As a result, the novel differs from the movie. It is hard to know, however, exactly which differences come from genuine ignorance of the final casting or costuming, which come from on-set revisions of the script and which may have been Russell's embellishments that would have survived in the text even if Russell had seen the film first. In any event, this novelisation does differ from the final film more than the average Target novelisation did from its source material. Some examples:
- In the scene where the Doctor is shot, one of Lee's fellow gang members is explicitly female in the book.
- The first chapter and a half goes into more detail about aspects of the TARDIS and how and why the Doctor got the Master's remains. In particular, the early part of the book suggests the Seventh Doctor has only just changed the TARDIS interior. Though possible, there's no on-screen evidence the interior has been recently changed. The Seventh Doctor seems quite settled in his surroundings. Stories in other media have contradicted this. In particular, many Big Finish Productions audios posit the Seventh Doctor well-ensconced in the tele-movie's console room.
- Dr. Salinger is depicted as at least somewhat romantically attracted to Grace, offering to take Brian's place in her life.
- Nurses Wheeler and Curtis are described somewhat in opposition to how they were actually cast. In the movie, Curtis is obviously older and she has more lines in the final cut. In the book, Russell describes Wheeler as the "senior" nurse.
- The final cut of the movie never quite explains how Chang Lee knows the ambulance driver's name is Bruce, nor why he would have been allowed to travel in the ambulance with the Doctor. The novel features a scene in which the police who arrive at the scene of the shooting interrogate Lee and determine that he might be of help to the paramedics. A policeman introduces Lee to the paramedic, who introduces himself as "Bruce Gerhardt". Bruce's last name is never revealed on screen.
- When the Doctor says to Grace, "it was a child's dream that made you want to be a doctor", the movie leaves the audience to wonder what that dream might have been. The book shows us a flashback to Grace's youth in Sacramento. There, we witness her mother dying young and Grace dreaming of finding a way to prevent other kids having to endure the pain of their parent's premature death.
- The novel features Lee and the Master not only seeing the Seventh Doctor in the Eye of Harmony, but all seven previous Doctors.
- Russell suggests the Eighth Doctor's costume had more variability in different scenes. In the part where Grace and the Doctor walk around the park, she's given him not just Brian's shoes, but his scarf and woolly hat, as well. Likewise, Grace's outfit in the scene is completely different from the final film.
- The Seventh Doctor's straw hat plays a bigger role in the novel, becoming a motif for the past.
- The Eighth Doctor finds it in the lockers where he gets his "Wild Bill Hickok" garb. When he touches it, it sparks a memory that begins to help him remember who he was. He decides therefore to keep it. (Exactly how it ended up there is unclear.)
- Later, when Grace and he are trying to get past the motorcycle cop, he takes the hat from his coat. Inside the hat is a white bag of jelly babies, which he offers to the cop.
- When the Doctor bemoans the lack of his sonic screwdriver as he tries to get at the heart of the beryllium clock, he has a "moment" where he ponders what might have happened to his screwdriver and his belongings. He pulls his predecessor's hat out of his pocket and wonders how this part of his former life survived, while other things went missing.
- When the Doctor and Grace return to the TARDIS, the Doctor takes his old self's straw hat, believing that somehow the TARDIS key might be inside it.
- Finally, at the end of the adventure, the Doctor hears Auld Lang Syne rising up from the city of San Francisco. Grace says she hates the song, but the Doctor claims to have "always had a soft spot for all things Scottish", whereupon he produces the hat again, smiling to himself. After he gives Grace a final kiss, he hands her the hat, apparently parting with his former self as well.
- During the final battle between the Master and the Doctor, the Master leaves Bruce's body and becomes a bleached silhouette of a man.
- The book does not end with TARDIS mechanical failure. Instead the Doctor ponders over where to go next, hoping for somewhere exciting—or at least a place with a good pot of tea.
- The Doctor watches a news program about San Jose.
Author, writing and publishing notes
- Photography for the front cover and rear cover is by Joe Lederer.
- The cover features the Doctor Who logo printed in silver reflective foil, which is also used on the spine of the novel.
- The front cover carries the line "He's Back...And It's About Time", a line never used in the TV movie but which became a tagline for many of the products and advertisements associated with the TV movie.
- The cover design of the first edition is virtually identical to that used for the first VHS release.
- The novelisation is dedicated to: Terrance Dicks (with the added line "Who made me want to write a Doctor Who novelisation"), Philip Segal and Matthew Jacobs.
- Author Gary Russell later worked with the Big Finish Productions audio dramas series and as script editor for Doctor Who when it returned to television in 2005. This makes him one of the few people connected in a major way to the 1996 movie to carry on with the later revival. He would also write IDW Publishing's Doctor Who comic book series in 2007-08 as well as novelisations based upon episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures. In the 1970s, Russell was a child actor and a co-star of the TV series The Famous Five; a photo shoot promoting the series in the TV Times showed one of the young stars - possibly Russell - posing with a stack of Target Books Doctor Who novelisations.
- The BBC released an abridged audiobook of this novel on audiocassette in 1997, read by Paul McGann. This release is notable for being McGann's first appearance on a Doctor Who audio, predating his work with Big Finish Productions by several years.
- Gary Russell did the abridging for the audio version, taking out 25,000 words of his 50,000 word novel in one weekend. Some dialogue was reworded to gain more consistency with the filmed version.
- In 2005 the audiobook was re-released as MP3 files on CD-ROM, as part of Tales from the TARDIS Volume 2.
Publishing history (UK)
- There were not print releases of this novelisation outside Britain. In 1996, BBC Books did not have a distribution agreement for North America (unlike Virgin) so it was not made available overseas except by specialist importers, despite the film's strong ties to both the US and Canada. The novel was released prior to the show's UK airing.
- The international reach of BBC Audiobooks in 2005 made the Tales from the TARDIS re-release of the audiobook the first time the novel had been readily available to international audiences, albeit in an abridged adaptation.
- Gary Russell's Strange Matter: 1996 TV Movie Novelisation, author notes on novelisation via Internet Archive: Wayback Machine