This is not the book I intended to review. Over the Christmas holidays, I started reading The Knight, the Fool and the Dead by Steve Cole, the first book in the multi-platform, multi-Doctor Time Lord Victorious extravaganza, but the chill finger of COVID-19 continued to touch all our lives; death rates in the UK were at an all-time high and the strictest lockdown yet was imposed upon us. I suddenly found that the morbid, death-obsessed premise at the heart of Time Lord Victorious was not something I wanted to read any more. I closed the book and put it back on the shelf, looking instead for something that harked back to a happier Christmas, when Doctor Who was riding on the crest of a wave and its first Christmas Special was something everyone was looking forward to.
I’m not sure why I never read The Christmas Invasion when it was released as a paperback in 2018, I’ve enjoyed all of Jenny T. Colgan’s Doctor Who books and I bought all the ‘Nu-Target’ editions when they came out, but for some reason I never got round to reading this. I’ve always been a fan of The Christmas Invasion and for my money it’s easily the best of the TV Christmas Specials. It makes me laugh when people criticise David Tennant’s first story for not having the Doctor in enough, because they’re inevitably the self same people who wax lyrical about Blink! How does that one work? For me, it’s Russell T. Davies at the height of his Who pomp, recognising that the best way to ease in a new Doctor – especially to an audience who may have forgotten about regeneration – is to give the familiar companions a bigger role.
Jenny Colgan gets it – and she was the ideal writer to adapt Russell’s script because, at its heart, this is a story about relationships and how they change over time. I’m guessing that the number of us whose friend or lover has physically changed bodies is relatively small, but we can all relate to an unexpected change in personality. It’s not only the relationship between the Doctor and Rose that’s explored, because we’re allowed once again into the complex emotional background of Mickey Smith. As in Russell T. Davies’ Rose, we get to see a side of Rose’s beleaguered boyfriend that we never really got to see on television. He was a character that some writers didn’t really know what to do with, leading to him virtually being the victim of bullying in The Age of Steel, but Jenny Colgan understands Mickey and allows us to see what it must feel like to have someone you genuinely love drift away from you in favour of someone whose level of impressiveness you can never match.
Colgan also gives depth to Rose, emphasising her naivety in way that wasn’t always put over on TV; she doesn’t understand why Mickey is upset about her flouncing off with another man and she finds it irritating that her mother Jackie would kinda prefer to know that she’s safe when she’s half way across the universe. Let’s not forget that Rose Tyler is supposed to be 19 years old and although a lot of 19-year olds might think they know everything, they inevitably do not (I sure as hell didn’t at that age). A failing common among some Doctor Who writers is that they feel the need to write young companions with the wisdom of the ages, making them almost a pseudo-Doctor, but Jenny Colgan is able to put her finger on the truth of the situation because, unlike the predominantly male roster of writers, she was once a teenage girl and knows the folly that sometimes comes therewith.
One of the great things about The Christmas Invasion has always been that it’s not full of posturing heroes and demigods; everyone in it is fallible, from Harriet Jones to the Doctor himself. Even the Sycorax themselves – who are terrific villains and really deserved a proper reappearance in the show – are only really tough guys in their own eyes; a lot of their villainy is revealed by the Doctor to be bluster and their blood control technique little more than a parlour trick. Physical confrontations are often hard to put across on the printed page without being turgid and repetitive, but the sword fight between the Doctor and the Sycorax leader comes across really well and at just the right number of words to prevent the reader from getting bored.
Of the four Nu-Who books that were released in 2018, I think that The Christmas Invasion best captures the spirit of Target Books. Rose was a great book, but it proudly and properly flew the flag of the version of Doctor Who that Russell T. Davies introduced in 2005; The Day of the Doctor presented a dense text that drew in lots of different elements that Steven Moffatt wanted to get of his chest and Twice Upon a Time, though a love letter from Paul Cornell to the books of his childhood, can’t help but present the odd Cornellian touch. In The Christmas Invasion, Jenny T. Colgan gets the balance absolutely perfect and presents a book that could easily and proudly have adorned the shelves of the Kayll Road Library during my childhood.
In 2021, we’ll see three more Nu-Who Target books that have been postponed from last year: Dalek by Robert Shearman, The Crimson Horror by Mark Gatiss and The Witchfinders by Joy Wilkinson. I’ll certainly be picking those up and, having learned my lesson from The Christmas Invasion, I won’t be waiting two years to read them – especially if they’re even half as good as this book that I neglected for so long.
This edition of ‘Doctor Who – The Christmas Invasion’ by Jenny T. Colgan was published by BBC Books / Penguin Random House (2018).