‘The Devil Goblins from Neptune’ is set in 1970 and, ignoring questions of dating for the onscreen UNIT episodes, between the first and second years of Jon Pertwee’s tenure. As such it becomes quite a UNIT centric novel.
The major disadvantage to this seems to be that it contributes to making the main plot quite a basic, generic, alien invasion one. By the latter stages it becomes difficult to sustain interest. Also, as it is all from the human perspective and there is little interaction with the invaders other than combat the aliens become quite forgettable and not very interesting. To compensate for this there is an effort to suggest they’re an inspiration for the mythical kobold and, as such, they have historically visited Earth. This isn’t done very convincingly, however.
Instead this story is more about UNIT itself. It is a rare occasion where we are able to see more of international UNIT in action rather than just the British branch led by the Brigadier. Unfortunately this isn’t as interesting as it might have been. It also devalues UNIT. Usually UNIT is portrayed as an organisation above the petty squabbles of nation states. This novel has them just as culpable with divisions and conspiracies between British, Russian and American branches.
The regulars all get plenty to do. The Brigadier has his own solo mission (in a slightly similar vein to the recent Lethbridge-Stewart series of novels from Candy Jar) and Benton gets placed in more varied situations to those he usually deals with. The novel is also set in a period of transition where Liz Shaw leaves UNIT and Jo Grant and Mike Yates join. Although Liz has yet to go there are seeds sown for her return to Cambridge. This is, perhaps, dealt with better in the novel ‘The Scales of Injustice’ but it does allow for a little character development for Liz by exploring her life a little prior to UNIT. Likewise, Mike has already assumed his position (one version of the circumstances for him joining UNIT are covered in the Destiny of the Doctor audio ‘Vengeance of the Stones’) but the novel devotes some time to him orientating himself and settling in. It is also a little harsh on his characterisation at times.
The novel also has a preoccupation with late sixties/early seventies counter culture. There is a lot of anti-establishment talk, references to rock festivals and hippies and how all this fits into the alien invasion. But it all feels a bit superfluous to the actual plot. It is all done in a stereotypical way and feels more like an artifice for placing Liz, Yates and Benton in situations we don’t generally find them.
I can understand that younger reviewers might not know about Quatermass, which was a predecessor of Doctor Who on the BBC. It had similar elements, and this book has a lot of Quatermassine influences. It felt like an authentic entry in the "Whoniverse" from the period in which it is set, and as somebody who grew up with Pertwee's tenure as Doctor, it reminded me of the real 1970s, not just the series. It was nice to see UNIT from a different point of view, and I felt that links to the final Quatermass story had actually added something. It might even have made a decent TV adaptation!
I'm reading all the BBC Past Doctor Adventures and Eighth Doctor Adventures so thought I'd share my opinion of them all. I started with this novel, which was the first to be released on the Past Doctor line. First of all the title is very off-putting, like some old awful b-movie. It doesn't immediately make you want to read it and neither does the cover blurb. In fact the only selling point is that it featured the 3rd Doctor, who is one of my favorites. The book starts off very very slowly, and tries to build up the characters of UNIT. Another reviewer has said these characters are very 2 dimensional, they are correct. UNIT works as an organization but the characters are all samey Benton, Yates and Bell could be anyone and the character building just slows the book down. The authors do have the 3rd Doctor down to a tee though.
When the pace does get going, the story is actually quite entertaining but the authors then insist on going to interludes but these serve more as an irritant than anything else. I like my Doctor Who books to be about the Doctor and his companions, not random hippies. The story, like I mentioned, is actually very good. It's a little bit too conspiracy laden for my tastes and it seems to be trying to be like the X-Files but fails, as in Doctor Who we all know aliens exist.
This novel isn't bad, but it isn't great either. Had this been released a few months later it might get a more favorable review, but as the first book in the series it needed to pack a pretty big punch, which it just didn't do.
When I saw the title of this novel, I thought "How Naff!". However, this novel is far better than the title suggests. There are obvious parallels with the X-files, it's true, but then UNIT was devised to deal with X-files style incidents. For those who feel there are too many Liz Shaw novels, ask yourself this: Are there too many novels, or too few TV episodes? Four stories was not sufficient to explore the potential of this feisty Cambridge scientist. The same is true of the UNIT regulars. Remember, there were plans to give them their own series in the 70s. The Brig, Benton, Yates, and (yes) even Cpl Bell could all be developed further. Potentially, Cpl Bell could be a Captain by the time of Battlefield, and head of a communications section. So yes I enjoyed this book, more than I wanted to. And having read more by the same authors, feel that they should be encouraged. Bravo!
If you are enthralled by the incredibly shallow X Files, then you'll lap this up. Once again a writer [in this case two] tries to make the UNIT regulars more interesting by developing their characters and hurling them head first into the plot. The fact is, with the exception of the Brigadier, the UNIT regulars will never be interesting whatever a writer does with them. They were two dimensional extras on screen and have even less dimensions on the page. One also wonders how long Liz Shaw was with UNIT for. This is the umpteenth Liz adventure, which is now beginning to push the bounds of credibility. Well at least there was no Corporal Bell - or if there was I missed her. No doubt once writers get bored of Liz and Jo, we'll discover that she travelled with the Doctor for a while. Another minor character who can be shamelessly developed. Maybe she'll even get her own spin-off series of books? Rant over. Devil Goblins is a moderate read with no surprises, oh apart from the scenes in Cambridge, or was that another of the countless Liz adventures?