A Big Hand For The Doctor

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Chris Morley joins in with a big hand for the First Doctor.


Your point of view on whether or not established principles of continuity can & should be played with will no doubt inform just how much you actually enjoy Eoin Colfer's A Big Hand For The Doctor.



The Irishman, who penned the Artemis Fowl series & indeed beat off competition from Charlie Higson (who was left with the admittedly not bad consolation prize of writing for the Ninth Doctor in the same 12 Doctors, 12 Stories having been keen to write for either the man who kicked off Doctor Who in the first place or the man who brought it back in 2005) to write a tale for William Hartnell's First Doctor.

Why opt for a return to the very beginning? As the author told the Guardian,
"I chose the First Doctor because I always imagined him to be a crank who was jaded by the Universe's cruelty rather than amazed by its wonders.

There was no naivety about him whatsoever. He had seen far more in his life than he ever wanted to, and his fight against evildoers was dogged and not punctuated by repartee.

The First Doctor's companion was his granddaughter Susan and her love for her granddad was perhaps the purest thing in his world, and something he was prepared to protect fiercely."

In investigating that he invites us into the rarely glimpsed period pre-An Unearthly Child, which on this occasion finds the white haired young grump & granddaughter Susan in the London of the 1900s as he undergoes a spot of surgery to replace one of his hands, lost in a previous battle with the Soul Pirates - who return here. Somewhere a young JM Barrie is watching....

And with good reason. The Doctor's scrap with the captain who originally pinched his replaced limb is implied to later serve as inspiration for Peter Pan's duel with Captain Hook, one of many allusions to that particular classic of children's literature. Consider also the Pirates' motto We Never Land. Their business here is a little grisly!

For they would appear to be little more than organ harvesters, pinching body parts to replace their own. Victims are lured to them by a soporific beam - putting them into a dreamlike state while they wait to be parted from their bodies. The dream sequences here offer tantalising glimpses of life pre-fleeing Gallifrey for both young Ms Foreman & her dear old grandad, she telling him she's going to see "mummy" as he's too late to stop her attempting to save two small children from the Pirates - though we never find out who her mother might be.

For him there's a memory of his own mother, who asks her son all about his adventures across time & space since fleeing their native corner of the constellation of Kasterborus. Before he can answer, though, he snaps out of it & does what he does best, saving the day even after cursing the fact that he isn't the tall one with the dicky bow yet, noting not without humour that all that running down corridors will keep him fit.

Some may feel that that detracts somewhat from the feel of things - not unreasonably you might expect a story featuring a Classic Who Doctor not to stray into territory firmly staked by New Who. He even has a gadget of sorts in the form of a wrist communicator, allowing him to receive messages from Susan however late they arrive having been delayed by signal problems. Whether it's attached to his one remaining natural biological wrist isn't revealed, though the bionic replacement is implied to look a little girly & a bit too big! How he lost the real one could be seen as yet another retrospective reference to New Who - a sword fight!



DOCTOR: You cut my hand off.
SYCORAX: Ya! Sycorax!
DOCTOR: And now I know what sort of man I am. I'm lucky. Because quite by chance I'm still within the first fifteen hours of my regeneration cycle, which means I've got just enough residual cellular energy to do this....
SYCORAX: Witchcraft.
DOCTOR: Time Lord.
Indeed, having admitted to being introduced to his subject initially through Target novelisations many years before actually getting around to watching the television series, you might start to wonder if Eoin Colfer's viewing consisted solely of episodes from 2005 onwards.

The defeated Higson was gracious enough to lavish praise on the victor in the quest to write for old Bill. In a separate Guardian interview to promote the anthology he would say that,
"I would have loved to write the William Hartnell story and kick off the series, but the brilliant Eoin Colfer beat me to it and got the gig. And I really think he did in some style."
Cementing this writerly love-in, Higson's The Beast Of Babylon finds the Ninth Doctor remarking to Karkinian companion Ali that he once had a hand similar to hers - ie the bionic one- in "a body far away." A body which will eventually wear a bit thin, paving the way for the first instance of the regenerative process which will eventually give him bigger ears & a leather jacket to replace his original rather Victorian ensemble, which is implied here to have been chosen by the TARDIS's computer systems to allow him to blend in.

Incidentally the original is terrified at the prospect of a change of face/personality, a fact established in Ten Little Aliens from the 50th anniversary novel reprint selection - fittingly that's where we head next. Back to the ship, child!

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