I’ve wanted a Doctor Who noir for ages. Because with Doctor Who you get a whole new setting every time the TARDIS lands genres are a great shorthand to to move you straight through the the story: the Western, the Period Drama, Pirates!, a Whodunnit. Why not stick the Doctor into harsh, wise-cracking world of glistening sidewalks, dead chauffeurs and deadly dames?
At first I thought The Angels Take Manhattan was at last going to be this story.
“New York was growling outside, but I was ready for it. My stocking seams were straight, my lipstick was combat-ready, and I was packing cleavage that could fell an ox at twenty feet.”
Even when featuring Sting indicated that wasn’t the atmosphere they were going for, I wanted to read the book that line came from. It was soon plain it wasn’t a ‘real’ book, but after the episode I thought I was still going to be able to read it! As a tie in with the episode, the BBC released a Melody Malone novel.
So, is it any good?
Unfortunately, the line quoted above is the best line in it (and even the line used by Justin Richards – who is credited as author ‘with’ Melody Malone – “New York growled at my window” isn’t quite as good as Moffat’s “New York was growling outside”). And it turns out not to be the book we saw on TV after all.
The novel we see on TV is simply titled “Melody Malone” with the subtitle “Private detective in old New York town”. The novel you can buy online has Doctor Who branding (but I suppose we must forgive them that) but also has its own title “The Angel’s Kiss” albeit with “A Melody Malone Mystery” in larger writing. The chapter titles are different. None of the other lines we hear on TV are featured, not even the wonderful opening line, which Garner reads over Melody’s typing.
“The city of a million stories. Half of them are true, the other half just haven’t happened yet.”
On TV the Doctor, Amy and Rory are crucially written into the novel.
“I followed the skinny guy for two more blocks before he turned and I could ask exactly what he was doing there. He looked a little scared so I gave him my best smile and my bluest eyes… He said ‘I just went to get coffees for The Doctor and Amy. Hello, River.'”
Indeed, I eventually came to realise that this story would stop short of the beginning of the TV episode, though it does feature Grayle, Garner and of course the Weeping Angels. But its story has to be essentially self-contained; a mini-skirmish with the Angels before the big one. The plot itself is throwaway, but I wasn’t reading it for that.
I was reading it to see how well it could do gumshoe in Doctor Who. There are some good lines.
“I sat with my feet up on my desk and started to make a mental list of the people whod want me dead. Once I got to fifty, I decided this wasn’t helping.”
Sly references that the Doctor Who audience are enjoyable the first time.
“‘Let me through – I’m a doctor.’
“My heart beat a little faster, and I lingered just long enough to be sure he’d used the indefinite article.”
But too often these nods to the reader, and River’s self-awareness, feel forced and unfunny.
“I’d never seen anything like it. And things Ive never seen anything like worry me. Because I have seen so many things. What surprises life has left for me tend, for some reason, to be the unpleasant ones.
“Instead of wasting my wit, therefore, I decided it was time to be on my way.”
Like River trying too hard to be witty, Justin Richards’ struggle to force the exposition into the first person PI style becomes more evident as the plot becomes more involved.
And if, like me, you want to taste some quality Who Noir then take some comfort in the fact that it’s already been done, and done rather well. Twice, in fact. Once by Mark Gatiss, in whose Invaders From Mars the Eighth Doctor finds himself impersonating a murdered PI in ’30s New York (setting sound at all familiar). There’s one fabulously Runyonesque line as the Doctor gets into character:
“So, Miss Bee, what’s the rumpus? You cracking foxy with me, or is you in trouble with the bricks? They gonna drag you down to the hole because some guy got shot through the pump with a heater?”
It’s delicious delivered in Paul McGann’s gentle English accent.
And there’s The Maltese Penguin in which the Doctor hardly features, but for 75 minutes Rob Shearman gives his shape-shifting (whifferdill) companion dialogue that is witty, perfectly pitched, and relentless and fabulously Chandleresque.
“This was no ordinary dame. This was a dame with a capital ‘D.’ Perfect like cut glass and just as cold. If she’d been a stick of candy rock, you could have snapped her in two and seen the word ‘classy’ running through her centre.”
Until they can match that on TV, I’ll just have a listen to those CDs again…