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Examining Dr. Nikola

Posted by at 10:00 am Monday, June 26, 2017 in English Pulp, Proto-pulp, Villain Pulps
Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Examining Dr. Nikola

Dr. NikolaWhen it comes to series centered around the villain, we usually think of Fu Manchu or perhaps Fantomas.

But a character that appeared before them and may have been an influence is Dr. Nikola.

Created by Guy Boothby, he appeared in five novels between 1895 and 1901 that were serialized in English magazines. Dr. Antonio Nikola seems the model of a sinister Italian. Elegant, cultured, he is slim with dark hair and eyes, with olive skin. Highly intelligent and with psi powers, he is unscrupulous, but honorable (like some other super villains). His constant companion is a black cat, Apollyon, who perches on his shoulder.

His goal is not so much world domination or to run a criminal enterprise, but the search for a formula that will resurrect the dead and prolong life. But too often in the works it’s not clear what his goal really is. It’s a problem with early characters where the author doesn’t know how to use a character to its fullest.

And any good villain must be opposed by a hero. Strangely, it’s not the same man through the series. His main opponent is Richard Hatteras. But he only appears in the first and fifth novel. The second book has Wilfred Bruce who worked alongside Dr Nikola. Gilbert Pennethorne is the protagonist of the third book, but Nikola is not very prominent, so this one could almost be dropped from the series. The fourth book has Dr. Ingleby who was also an assistant to Dr. Nikola.

The series is:

  • A Bid for Fortune: or, Dr. Nikola’s Vendetta (1895) (AKA Enter, Dr Nikola)
  • Dr Nikola (1896) (AKA Dr. Nikola Returns(
  • The Lust of Hate (1898) (Note: Dr. Nikola makes only a peripheral appearance in this novel.)
  • Dr. Nikola’s Experiment (1899)
  • Farewell, Nikola (1901)

The series is fairly easy to find in electronic form. Book form is another case. Wordsworth reprinted the first two in an Omnibus volume. Another publisher, Leonaur, published the whole series in two volumes.

Another interesting novel from Boothby that may be of interest is Pharos, recently reprinted by Dover, as part of their Horror Classics series. This thriller has a sinister old man, Pharos, who proves to be Ptahmes, a mummy who has survived through the centuries with full magical powers.

Dr. Nikola has been used by other authors. I first learned of him when he was used in one of Millennium Publications’ Doc Savage comic series (Doom Dynasty), and I seem to recall Will Murray wrote an article with more info on him. Rick Lai has been using him in his series of novels that make use of the Black Coats, making him a member of that group. But Nikola is mainly a secondary character who only occasionally appears. And Wayne Reinagel uses him in Sanctuary Falls, the final in his Pulp Hero trilogy, here being the secret head of Odessa.

Maybe it’s time someone does a work that uses him as the main character (hint, hint).

But check out some of the original stories of Dr. Nikola.