I was drawn to the Find Your Fate - Doctor Who series as every fanatic is drawn to their passions: quickly and with an excited fervor. I was curious how the television series would translate into the novel format… especially when that format was a gamebook. Even with only a few volumes under my belt, my concentration on the series proved to be more than enough to enable me to make some interesting conclusions about not only the series itself, but other gamebooks, as well. I was pleased to note that much of the spirit of the Doctor Who show had indeed spilled over into the books, and in a manner that paid a deep homage to the purpose and pleasure of the BBC show.
First, a small bit of background. According to the Wikipedia, the television program “Doctor Who” began its production in 1963 on the BBC. While it did have a break from the years 1989 until 2003, the series has shown wild success throughout British and American audiences, alike. One such attributor to that success is the character of the ‘companion’, which has been a staple of the show (if not directly stated or named yet in the early days of the program) since its beginning. The job of the companion is to act as a sort of surrogate audience, or liaison between the audience members and the action of the show. Companions are often humans from Earth ––a relevant detail in a show filled to the brim with alien creatures–– who work to further the plot and ask questions the audience would otherwise be asking, themselves. They act as helpers, trouble makers, rescuers, doctors, love interests, and more in an effort to be the audience’s representative in the world of “Doctor Who”. It is a job description not unlike that of the POV “you” in gamebook play. Where gamebooks have “You accompany Indiana Jones on a search for an ancient, powerful crystal!” or declare that “You are a member of the GI Joe Team!”, it is the companions in the “Doctor Who” show who follow out dangerous tasks and go on adventures under the guise of acting as the audience members would. More importantly, however, it is with the Doctor Who companions that audience members see the most growth.
On adventures with the titular Time Lord, the mistakes and successes of the companions are fostered by the Doctor to help the passengers (and subsequently the audience) learn. Sometimes the missteps of the companions are met with comedic jibes, sure, but at the root of the show the companions learn valuable lessons throughout their time with the Doctor. He teaches them the proper manners when meeting new people (or species!), spurs them into perfecting quick decision-making under pressure, and even goes so far as to demonstrate the realities of fighting and war throughout history. When observing the Find Your Fate - Doctor Who gamebook series, the novel adaptation of this concept is very fitting for the show and, I believe, worth taking a closer look at.
As seen in the first choice of the Search for the Doctor novel, “it’s absolutely up to you” (Martin 1) as a reader to pick how the adventure will play out. Based on choices and chance happenings throughout the books of the series, readers’ adventures then reach certain endings. However, as I found early on with the Doctor Who books, the composition and narration of the series differs from other books in the Find Your Fate series. Most notably is, as I would go on to marker in my coding, the idea of an “end with option to re-try”. Such cases occur when:
- A decision is chosen that leads to death, but the reader has the option to go to a previous page and begin the adventure again.
- A decision is chosen that leads to death, but the reader has the option to go to a different page and continue the adventure on a different route.
- An “incorrect” decision is made, such as a wrong turn, and the reader is sent back to the node they came from in order to choose the “correct” pathway.
These options pop up frequently throughout the Find Your Fate - Doctor Who series, but are not seen on a similar scale within other Find Your Fate series. Granted, it is within the universe of “Doctor Who” to enable time travel, but I believe the “re-try” option goes beyond that idea, as rebirth after a death is a power solely gifted to the Doctor, himself. Below are comparisons of two Find Your Fate - Doctor Who novels and two Find Your Fate - The Three Investigators novels. The dark, diamond-shaped boxes represent all the places with an “end with option to re-try” possibility. Not only are they much more abundant in the Doctor Who novels, but the addition of the option changes the structure from something more linear to a form that folds in on itself and repeats in a unique way for a gamebook.
It is also relevant to note that often these instances were paired with unique narration, which is what originally caught my eye to them. The words are encouraging and teaching, with the intent that the reader try again using their newfound knowledge from their failure to reach a more desirable ending. Some examples are as follows:
Search For the Doctor by David Martin
“Next time you start, remember that too much caution can sometimes be as bad as too much risk… go back to 2.” (22)
“Although your idea was good it was not sufficiently thought through… Bring yourself back to life, learn from your mistakes, and go back…” (31)
Crisis in Space by Michael Holt
“Sorry… Turlough called your bluff. But don’t be down-hearted. It was a jolly good guess. You’ll be glad to know the great scientist Sir Isaac Newton thought like Turlough. Great minds think alike!… Well, sometimes. But they both happen to be wrong. Go to…” (37)
“No… Mars is cold. The ice-capped volcanoes were a bit of a clue. Though, of course, volcanoes on the Equator (on Earth!) are snow-capped…” (41)
“You’ve gone left when you should have gone straight… go back to the gibbet. Now, which way do you turn…?” (62)
The word choice and the format of these narrations are incredibly reminiscent of the “Doctor Who” television program. They reveal the purpose of the companion as a student, and within the context of the novels the options to re-try become an application and reaffirmation of what is being learnt. As I stated before, these books pay homage to what makes “Doctor Who” so special as a show. It provides an adventurous and learning-filled experience to audience members on another level by providing a character made just for them. These books parallel that. By placing the narrative within a gamebook format it makes the show’s desire for audience participation possible in an intimate way. Here would be a good time to point out, too, that the authors of the Find Your Fate - Doctor Who series are not standard novel writers. In fact, many of them were hired screenwriters from the “Doctor Who” show. David Martin, the author of Search for the Doctor and The Garden of Evil, contributed to over eight “Doctor Who” scripts between 1971 and 1979. William Emms wrote Mission to Venus but also contributed to the television story “Galaxy 4”, and authors Philip Martin, and Pip and Jane Baker also heavily contributed to the “Doctor Who” television series. The books, then, were written and formed by those with an intimate knowledge of the “Doctor Who” show, and it shows in the mirroring values of the two mediums.
To end, I would like to speak about the more general importance of the inclusion of the “re-try” option, and how this idea can aid in the learning development of gamebook audiences. Humans have the unique capability to learn from others without having to experience an event, themselves. In Communication Theory, it is called vicarious interaction. Gamebooks give the sense of direct and personal action, but in fact are more closely examples of vicarious interaction. That is, audiences don’t really need to live through a life or death decision to learn that being rude can mean you’re led to a spike pit rather than a car home. Through gamebooks, audience members have the ability to choose the wrong decision, have their character die, try again if they so wish, and then learn from the whole experience. My belief is that gamebooks are not capitalizing on this teaching capacity enough. With the Doctor Who series, the combination of the “re-try” option and the teaching words that followed each wrong decision were a step in the right direction toward unlocking the usefulness of gamebooks, especially for child audiences. Like a parent with a child, the books allow readers to make their mistakes, but then picks the reader back up again, dusts them off with a few kind and informational words, and sends the reader off to try, try again. This cycle of teaching breeds decision-makers with a critical eye for where each choice will take them. Gamebooks, in my eyes, are the perfect medium for delivering this cycle to audiences and fostering the learning of life’s many consequences. In sum, it is my strong opinion that other gamebook authors take a look at the kind of writing and structuring shown in the Find Your Fate - Doctor Who series. It just may trigger a revolution in the most entertaining form of education.
- 08-01 Find Your Fate - Random House. Thundercats and the Ghost Warrior, The. Author: H. William Stine, Megan Stine. Publisher: Random House, 1985. Publisher series no.: 163. Book ID: 1126.
- 08-04 Find Your Fate - Random House. Three Investigators in: The Case of the Dancing Dinosaur, The. Author: Rose Estes. Publisher: Random House, 1985. Publisher series no.: 163. Book ID: 1125.
- 08-12 Find Your Fate. Indiana Jones and the Eye of the Fates. Author: Richard Wenk. Publisher: Sphere, 1984. Publisher series no.: 159. Book ID: 1078.
- 08-31 Find Your Fate - G. I. Joe. Operation: Death Stone. Author: Barbara Siegel, Scott Siegel. Publisher: Ballantine, 1986. ISBN: 0345329368. Publisher series no.: 161. Book ID: 1103.
- 08-46 Find Your Fate - Doctor Who. Search for the Doctor. Author: David (Dave) Martin. Publisher: Ballantine, 1986. ISBN: 0727820877. Publisher series no: 160. Book ID: 1092.
- 08-47 Find Your Fate - Doctor Who. Crisis in Space. Author: Michael Holt. Publisher: Ballantine, 1986. ISBN: 0727820931. Publisher series no.: 160. Book ID: 1093.
- 08-48 Find Your Fate - Doctor Who. Mission to Venus. Author: William Emms. Publisher: Ballantine, 1986. Publisher series no.: 160. Book ID: 1095.