Overwhelmingly, fans of Doctor Who have strong opinions about Doctor Who. Do we love Peter Capaldi’s no-hugging grumpier Doctor, or are we having a hard time understanding his accent? Does everyone miss Matt Smith already? Are the new episodes too confusing, or not confusing enough?
Perhaps we need to put our quibbles aside and start reading. Because if you take a look at this season’s plot lines, you might notice the show is drawing heavily on books, books you should probably read right now.
Here’s a rundown of Doctor Who’s new season so far, with the great books that inspired each episode.
The debut of Capldai’s furious-eyebrowed Doctor began in a Victorian setting, a departure from the past several modern-day Doctor regenerations. This gaslight atmosphere was for more than just mood, as elements of the plot were taken from the heavy-hitters of Victorian literature: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde. In the episode, a rogue dinosaur spontaneously combusts, leading the Doctor to play detective in order to determine if there have been similar mysterious occurrences (of spontaneous combustion…presumably there was just the one rogue dinosaur). His deduction—that the dinosaur blowing up was murder—is totally in line with a Sherlock Holmes leap of logic, and the idea of an apparent accident concealing a planned murder is a big part of the classic Holmes mystery “The Bruce-Partington Plans.” Madame Vastra and Jenny’s presence in this episode also continues their Holmesian relationship with Scotland Yard. Despite the fact that characters like Robin Hood are often “real” in the Doctor Who universe, it appears Sherlock Holmes is still “fictional.”
This one also has a little bit of a The Picture of Dorian Gray thing going on, insofar as the blowing up of the dinosaur (and all the other deaths in the episode) is part of a master plan to conceal all the evidence. Dorian Gray, too, has a friend totally dissolve the corpse of an artist in order to dispose of some evidence.
“Into the Dalek”
The premise of this one is a science fiction oldie-but-goodie. In order to perform surgery on a Dalek, the Doctor, Clara, and a group of soldiers have to be shrunken down to super-tiny size. When the Doctor gets wind of this, the first thing he says is “Fantastic idea for a movie,” a nod to the film Fantastic Voyage, the novelization of which was written by prolific sci-fi author Isaac Asimov. (This would be like John Scalzi or recent Hugo winner Ann Leckie writing the novelization of Transformers: Age of Extinction.) Asimov did eventually write an original “sequel,” Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain. Guess what part of the body the miniature people have to enter.
“Robots of Sherwood”
The title makes this one fairly easy to spot; clearly, the episode was taken from the legends of Robin Hood. Ah, but which Robin Hood legends? This Who adventure posits that the fictional Robin Hood was actually a real person, yet not all the events we see correspond to those super old ballads (where he’s sometimes called Robyn Hode), instead relying mostly on Howard Pyle’s 1883 novel The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, which in turn heavily influenced the famous Errol Flynn and Disney films. To put it another way, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood is a novelization of a ballad of an oft-told story, meaning a lot of what’s in there was invented for the book. Still, it’s a great read.
In this episode, the Doctor gets really interested in ghosts, and, in particular, the familiar fear of someone grabbing your foot from under the bed. Through topsy-turvy, timey-wimey shenanigans, we learn the ghost under the Doctor’s childhood bed was actually a time-traveling Clara. This episode might not have an obvious literary ancestor, but the repetition of the word “Listen” is a big tip-off to a possible inspiration. The second chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, begins: “Listen. Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” The subject of Slaughterhouse-Five obviously concerns how time travel makes one feel about life, and Vonnegut also employs the word “listen,” both in this book and in other works and speeches, as a sort of signal for kindness. In this excellent Doctor Who episode, it’s the same: at first “listen” seems ominous, but later, it becomes a word of kindness for the Doctor, and comfort, too. Vonnegut probably would have loved it.
This one is all Philip K. Dick. When the Doctor and Clara find themselves in the middle of a bank robbery with no memory as to how they got there or why they’re the ones robbing the bank, the first story that comes to mind should be “Paycheck.” In this classic Dick tale, a man named Jennings has his memory erased after doing a job for which he expected to be paid handsomely. Now unable to remember what the job entailed, the man is stunned when, instead of a paycheck, he’s bizarrely given a strange bag containing all sorts of stuff, stuff he eventually ends up needing very badly. As in the Doctor Who episode, breaking the law is involved, and, of course, the future benefactor who’s the big helper in “Paycheck” turns out to be a time-traveling version of Jennings himself. A character like Jennings can be forgiven for not figuring this out right away, but an experienced time traveler like the Doctor? No way.
What are some of your favorite Doctor Who literary mash-ups?