The Two Doctors, as a TV story, has the reputation of being amongst writer Robert Holmes least successful scripts for Doctor Who. That fact, along with the story being the weakest of the three multi-Doctor stories of the classic series, makes its 1985 Target novelization all the more surprising.
The story's novelization was to be the first, last and only contribution Holmes would make to that long running series (not including a small contribution to the novelization of The Time Warrior). In a way it's a shame because The Two Doctors works better as a novelization and does so in large part thanks to Holmes.
Holmes seems to relish the chance to novelize one of his own stories. The story is full of vivid characterizations that expand much on the character's seen in the TV version (which gives Holmes the chance, through the memory of Oscar Botcherby, to poke fun at the 1953 film of The War Of The Worlds). The Sontarans for example come across much better in the novelization as Holmes actually gives them a sense of presence, though that might be due to ejecting both the over the top performance of Clinton Greyn as Stike (which one would expect in the novelization anyway) and the fact the in this book he firmly reestablishes them as clones to the point of saying that the only way to tell the difference between the two Sontarans is Stike having a bit more gold on the shoulders of his uniform. Holmes has something of a reputation for the character's in his TV scripts and this novel shows that gift could have extended to prose as well.
Another gift Holmes brings is pacing. The TV version of the story is almost pedestrian in this aspect but the book moves along at quite a pace. It races along, never staying in one place for too long and managing to bring a sense of tension to the Sixth Doctor and Peri's visit to space station Chimera. In fact, once everyone arrives in Spain the pace picks up as it builds towards the ending. Holmes takes a middling TV story and turns it into a page turner.
Which isn't to say that Holmes make The Two Doctors really a better story. It still suffers from the weakness that it's a multi-Doctor where one Doctor just lies around for much of its length. The plot is still every bit of a jumble as it was on TV, as it moves along without really any purpose or threat. In fact the novelization attempts to make it look like the second Doctor died on space station Chimera make even less sense. The ending also still feels like something of an anti-climax, but it oddly seems to work just a tad bit better here. As said previously, Holmes keeps the story moving though at a pace that puts the TV story to shame which helps but it doesn't fix the plot problems.
The Target novelization of The Two Doctors proves two things. The first is that while the plot of the TV version definitely had issues, the book shows that the writing behind it was solid. The second is that it makes a sad fact all too clear: Robert Holmes would have been a fine novelization writer. Reading this, it's hard not to wonder what he might have made of say The Deadly Assassin or The Talons of Weng-Chiang. For just being the single Target book by arguably the best scriptwriter of the original series, The Two Doctors Target novel is well worth a read.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.