|I like traffic lights…|
Time Can Be Rewritten is a recurring feature in which stories written in later years that were intended to be retconned into previous eras are analyzed in the context of their presumptive eras. Today we look at Simon Guerrier’s 2005 novel from BBC Books, The Time Travellers.
It is November of 2005. The number one singles for the month are Westlife’s “You Raise Me Up” and Madonna’s “Hung Up.” If 2000 was the absolute low point of Doctor Who, this is more or less the high point. On television, Christopher Eccleston regenerated into David Tennant five months ago, and in this month’s mini-episode for Children in Need, the world saw him for the first time.
This book, then, is a holdover – the second to last book to emerge from BBC Books, which had been carrying the Doctor Who torch since 1997. The problem is that in April of 2005, Russell T. Davies’s Doctor Who established the Last Great Time War as a major plot thread. For a variety of reasons that we’ll deal with when we get to this era, this was a phenomenally massive diss to the BBC Books line, a diss that the series has basically made no effort whatsoever to apologize or make up for. So this book is, in many ways, a ghost – the last breath of an already dead strand of Doctor Who history.
Which is perhaps why, unshackled from any actual responsibilities to be good or carry on the tradition of the series or break new ground and ensure the series long term survival, Simon Guerrier was able to do something that had frankly been lacking in the bulk of the BBC Books output – write a really interesting story that filled a meaningful gap in the series history.
See, not to get too spoiler heavy, but in the televised story after Planet of Giants, Susan becomes the first regular character to depart Doctor Who. If, at the end of the third episode of Planet of Giants, you suspected this, you are, frankly, psychic, as the story gives no setup whatsoever for that development. So it makes sense to put something in the gap between the two stories – a decent gap, given that the only teaser at the end of Planet of Giants is that the Doctor has no idea where they are. Admittedly the next episode also begins with the Doctor having no idea where they are, but let’s be fair, that’s true of almost every episode of Doctor Who. (Oddly, Time Travellers is the only story in Doctor Who set in this gap, with other stories preferring the Reign of Terror-Planet of Giants gap despite the fact that, as pointed out by a commenter two entries ago, that gap is actually a bit dodgy, whereas this gap is pretty solid. Indeed, given that Ian and Barbara are visibly surprised that they might be in London at the start of the next story, moving a few more stories into this gap would not be an unreasonable decision on the part of those who are obsessive enough about Doctor Who chronology to care about this sort of thing.)…