Doctor Who: Rose – Illustrated Hardback

Rose - The Illustrated Hardback.

Written by: Russell T Davies

Illustrated by: Robert Hack

When BBC Books released its hardback, sumptuously illustrated version of Doctor Who and the Daleks, the first Doctor Who story ever novelized (by David Whittaker) – and featuring its controversially different beginning for the show – it was a coming-together of worlds that could only delight.

David Whittaker’s novelization has long been acclaimed as one of the best of the breed, especially as it’s largely written from the point of view of initial companion, Ian Chesterton, thrown into a world of aliens good and bad, and learning how to cope with his expanded reality.

Robert Hack is an illustrator of quite extraordinary sensibility, who can make even smaller items poignant and realistic despite an impressionistic style, and add value to any page he touches.

The resulting illustrated hardback was a thing of beauty in every conceivable dimension, and marked a high-point in the Doctor Who reading calendar.

New New Doctor

Now, as the world embraces Ncuti Gatwa as the 15th Doctor and welcomes the return of Russell T Davies as showrunner for a second stint in the big chair, BBC Books has released an illustrated hardback version of Davies’ own novelization of the first story from his first tie round – Rose.

The symmetry is gorgeous, whichever way you slice it – Just as he’s announcing that the first season of Gatwa’s Doctor will be a re-start from “Season One,” so his first story from “Series One” of New Who is released in illustrated hardback form – resonating also with The Daleks release as the first time a new Doctor encountered some evil aliens on-screen.

Davies’ novelization of his own work – released as it was during the Jodie Whittaker era – is a thing of boundless, energetic joy in its own right, synthesizing the survivor-guilt of the Ninth Doctor and the initially clueless gumption of the London teenager, Rose Tyler, into a story that’s funny, scary, dark and powerful by turns.

In particular, not publishing the book until four Doctors later gave Davies the opportunity to do something fairly magnificent with his novelization. When Rose encounters the Doctor conspiracist, Clive, in the on-screen version, his examples of Doctoring are necessarily limited. By the time of Davies’ novelization, he was able to include instances of Doctors 10, 11, 12 and 13 in Clive’s so-called “Shed of Secrets.”

But better than that, Davies took the opportunity to project the existence of other Doctors – strong black women and young androgynous teenagers in wheelchairs among them.

On its initial release, those words written about potential future Doctors we the audience simply hadn’t seen yet were enormously powerful.

Robert Hack, being an artist with quite enough gumption of his own to stand up to Davies’ Doctor Who writing, doesn’t shy away from those examples here, but adds them to our headcanon in some joyously inventive ways – the teen Doctor in the wheelchair, for instance now has a headrest in the shape of one of the Time Lords’ stiff collars. In fact, Hack adds to the joy of the whole experience by taking the thing on a level – published as it has been in the interim between Ncuti Gatwa’s announcement as the 15th Doctor and his first scenes on-screen, Hack appears to have added an image to Clive’s shed of a Doctor who looks distinctly like the Gatwa incarnation – down to the thin moustache and wide lapels!

The Joy of Imagery

His illustrations throughout the new release are highly atmospheric, and manage to turn even some high camp moments in the story – the plastic Micket with mallet-hands, for instance – into scary concepts. And – as is clearly the goal with these illustrated hardback editions – you get more than your money might be bargaining for. There are illustrations here of some of the key moments from the story, sure enough – Nestenes, the London Eye, the coral Tardis, and so on – but you also get elements like the crack in the universe from Matt Smith’s first series, and a Dalek skulking around a very familiar junkyard in Totter’s Lane.

And while on-screen, the BBC of 2005 was able to bring the Autons on a way from their 1970s appearance, Hack’s use of shading and darkness here make for a genuinely claustrophobic feel that intensifies their uncompromising danger. And to the whole experience of the book, which is buoyant and brilliant and scary by turns, Hack adds a sense of ever-encroaching menace, drawing on the explicit way in which the Nestene and the Autons represent an underlayer of danger and war that exists both literally and figuratively just beneath the surface of human day-to-day existence.

As with David Whittaker’s Doctor Who and the Daleks, the Robert hack illustrated hardback of Rose combines a work of pop culture genius with illustrations that are both accurate and evocative, taking the experience of the novelization to a whole new level – and especially with both Davies’ and now Hack’s abilities to bring the detailing of the Doctor’s reality on a couple of degrees from when the episode was first shown in 2005, what you get here is a very special – arguably a uniquely satisfying version of a story that (be strong, older readers) is coming up to 20 years old.

Rose - The Illustrated Hardback.

Worth your money? In a handful of heartbeats, yes. The combination of Davies and Hack works beautifully to render you a version of Rose that makes the most and best of all its available elements.

Will we be getting a Robert Hack-illustrated version of The Church on Ruby Road, by Esmie Jikiemi-Pearson within the next couple of years? Given the penchant of BBC Books to mark the start of new eras this way, it’s distinctly possible. And if and when we do, there’s every chance we’ll tell you to go and buy that too – the addition of Robert Hack illustrations to any Doctor Who adventure inherently raise their value.

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