As I’ve mentioned in responding to comments on my post on Saturday, I share the view that the links between crime fiction and science fiction are very strong. A long list of the fine writers who have worked in both genres includes Isaac Asimov, John Sladek, Fredric Brown, and John Wyndham (though Wyndham seems to have given up on detective fiction once the Golden Age had passed.)
I was reminded of the crossover between genres by the TV special of Doctor Who which was screened last night. The Waters of Mars, in which the excellent David Tennant was paired with Lindsay Duincan, saw the Doctor land on the red planet and become embroiled in a disastrous confrontation between the first human settlers on the planet and dark, water-based forces from Ancient Mars which were hell-bent on taking over the incomers. In a nice joke, the settlers occupy Bowie Base One – a nod to the composer of that marvellous song ‘Life on Mars.’
In the last series of Doctor Who, my favourite episode featured Agatha Christie, and countless quips based on the titles of Christie’s detective novels. Here, the focus of the story was on psychological suspense, with a classic race against time. The Doctor knows that the settlers are about to die, on the very day he lands on Mars, and he fears that he can do little or nothing to save them. But might the course of history be changed in any event – and what is to happen to the Doctor himself?
The writers of The Waters of March did a good job of ratcheting up the tension – a skill required of both sci-fi and crime writers. Less time than usual was devoted to the internal anguish of the characters, a feature of the modern Doctor Who stories which sometimes slows down the action. At its best, Doctor Who is a terrific show, and The Waters of March was one of the most compelling and sharply written episodes I’ve watched for some time.