Last of The Gaderene was first published in 2000, five years before the modern era of Doctor Who and ten years before Mark Gatiss increased his workload to include Sherlock. What I’m saying is: Mark Gatiss is a better writer now, but Last of The Gaderene is still a decent Doctor Who story.
Let’s get the bad bits out of the way first — in 2000, there wasn’t an adjective or adverb that Gatiss wasn’t keen to overuse, and the ensuing descriptions and dialogue tags suffer from that bloat. Now, I’m not an “all adverbs are evil” sort of writer/editor, but there are only so many “seemingly” and “nodded confidently” type things I can look past without rolling my eyes. Also, if he could quit emphasizing at every turn that the female villain is fat, that would be great. Cheers.
There are too many characters crammed into the story as well. I know the Doctor is all about everyone being important, but I don’t need to hear the personal story and interior monologue of (what seemingly seems like) a dozen villagers in order to care about the village. Some of these characters are important, yes, but not all of them need soliloquy time. We can still have them be useful to the plot through the eyes of someone else.
Still, Mark Gatiss’ sense of fun and great love for the Doctor is what makes Last of The Gaderene so enjoyable, despite its flaws (and is also why Gatiss is one of my favorite writers for the TV episodes). Placing us firmly in the 1970s world of the Third Doctor, we catch the Time Lord after his exile on Earth is no longer in effect, but he’s still very involved in UNIT. Jo Grant and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart are there too, and I’m quite fond of them both.
‘My dear Brigadier,’ said the Doctor, stretching back in his chair and folding his hands behind his head. ‘Running errands is not my forte. If you want someone to pop round to see your old friends, I suggest you try the Women’s Institute.’ He put his feet up on the Brigadier’s desk, the corners of his mouth turning up until a small smile. ‘I believe they make excellent jam.’
The Brigadier raised an eyebrow and shot a venomous look at the Doctor who had now closed his eyes, completing the look of indifference.
He was glad the Doctor had returned, of course, and he was certainly looking back to his usual dapper self in an emerald-green smoking jacket, narrow black trousers, and bow tie. However, he was displaying his familiar contempt for the Brigadier’s methods and seemed damedly disinclined to get back to work. Or, at least what the Brigadier regarded as work.
‘Perhaps if you could explain a bit more, sir,” said Jo helpfully.
‘Oh very well,’ sighed Lethbridge-Stewart. He sat down and leant forward over the desk, crossing his hands in front of him. ‘Alec Whistler is an old friend. He was a pilot during the war — ‘
‘Which war?” said the Doctor, still with eyes closed.
‘Well, the last one, of course,’ cried the Brigadier in exasperation.
‘Oh, yes. I lost track. You have so many.’ The Doctor settled himself further into the chair.
The Doctor enjoys winding up the Brig, of course. Eventually though, he and Jo agree to visit the village of Culverton, where some very strange things have been happening. A decommissioned air base is now swarming with workers — foot soldiers, really — clad in identical black uniforms, operating trucks and other equipment at all hours, and all are smiling in a very unsettling way. People have been disappearing, and though no one know what to make of it, something is definitely wrong to any of the residents paying attention, including the aforementioned WWII vet, Whistler.
The Third Doctor is his usual bombastic self, ready to roll up his sleeves and dive into the mystery with his trademark curiosity. Though I’m only semi-familiar with Jon Pertwee’s portrayal, it seemed like Gatiss got his (sometimes very patronizing) voice right, as well as the Brigadier and Jo. Jo is feeling like less of a subordinate and like more of a colleague to the Doctor, and the Brig is not as disbelieving as he once was (though he does still favor armed resolution over conversation).
The Doctor enlists some of the villagers to help him gather information, and there’s a bit of a domesticity we don’t often see with him — playing house guest:
The Doctor was halfway through a plate of scrambled eggs which he’d rustled up when Ted Bishop came downstairs, looking refreshed and better than he had in a long while, except for his hair which was sticking up at the back in a cowlick.
One doesn’t see the Doctor eating, much less cooking, very often. He’s around people eating plenty, but someone would have to refresh my memory as to how often we actually see him putting anything in his mouth (that he doesn’t spit out again).
The level of tolerance one has for the Doctor’s occasionally dismissive attitude and “Not now” comments depends on the fondness one has for the Third Doctor himself, and how one feels about semi-campy ’70s television. It’s not Shatner-levels of Staggered. Dramatic. Dialogue. but it’s different from other Doctors’ eras. And that’s all right, in my viewing/reading.
After the Second Doctor’s forced regeneration via the Time Lords, it would make sense that his character would be resistant to any authority other than his own (for he believes his interference throughout the universe to be in the right), and that restless fighting spirit would be amplified after his previous incarnation’s silliness. (The silliness, of course, being a reaction to dying of old age on the first go. The current regeneration is always borne from the circumstances of its predecessor.)
One is unlikely to read Last of The Gaderene without already being a fan of Doctor Who, but I’m unsure of how it compares to other DW-novels, except in the case of the Eighth and Ninth Doctors’ novels re-released for the 50th Anniversary, which I’ll review soon. However, this Third Doctor story, despite its problems, feels very much in the spirit of Jon Pertwee’s time on the show. It’s interesting to see Mark Gatiss at an earlier writing stage, and it’s to our viewing benefit that he’s progressed so well. I still recommend Last of The Gaderene to fans of the show, and I’m hoping to further expand my knowledge of the Doctor’s literary universe.
(This review originally appeared on Glorified Love Letters.)