Doctor Who Book Review: The Witch Hunters

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As part of the new History Collection series, the BBC has reprinted one of the old first Doctor PDAs – The Witch Hunters, featuring the original TARDIS crew arriving in Salem, 1692, at the time of the infamous witch trials.

The Salem Witch Trials is, actually, a period of history I’m relatively familiar with – or at least, I’m familiar with The Crucible, having spent probably too much time studying it over the past two years. It was pretty weird, then, to see characters like Abigail Williams and John Proctor and Rebecca Nurse interacting with Susan, Ian, and the Doctor. (Obviously, I know that they were real people, but having treated them as essentially fictionalised versions of themselves for so long, there’s something of a disconnect for me.)

I think the novel works quite well, actually, in terms of the way it’s structured, and how each character is used. The role given to Susan stood out to me; it made a lot of sense to have her play off against the other girls her own age, particularly with the exploration of Susan’s own developing psychic abilities. Rebecca Nurse and the Doctor also had a rather interesting plotline, with a resolution that put me somewhat in mind of Vincent and the Doctor.

(Actually, I tell you what it really reminded me of in places – this story I wrote, also with Ian, Barbara, Susan and the Doctor, in a timey-wimey historical adventure.  Obvious similarities – historical with the original TARDIS crew with a changing of time aspect, but also both I and Steve Lyons alluded to a previous event wherein the Doctor learned the hard way about changing time, and gave Susan similar ish plot beats about how she’d feel if Ian/Barbara left. The main difference is that in my story, they succeed in changing time, as opposed to being unable to in The Witchhunters.)

All in all, then, I’d actually quite strongly recommend this book. You might not get the same level of enjoyment out of it as I did if you don’t have the same background understanding of The Crucible, but there’s still a lot to like – it’s a very well written historical with the original TARDIS crew, after all.

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: The Monsters Inside

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The sky was a shimmering green. Three suns shone through the haze, their heat prickling her skin. The muddy ground was the colour of olives and sloped up sharply, while beyond it a range of pale mountains, perfect pyramids, stood like pitched tents on the far horizon.
It wasn’t Earth. She was, officially, somewhere else.

It’s taken me quite a long time to review this one, hence the relative lateness of it. It took me a fair while to read it as well – things got in the way, and, I suppose, I wasn’t all that into it.

And I’m not entirely sure why. It was a good book, it was well written  – great characters, great premise, great plot – but it just… wasn’t particularly gripping? With the other books that were released alongside it (The Clockwise Manand Winner Takes All), they really did, to use a cliche, have me ‘glued to the page’.

I’m not really sure why this is exactly – maybe it was the way certain things were handled? I’m not sure. A complaint I did have, I suppose, is that the Slitheen weren’t handled fantastically – they were given a bit more background, but nothing was really added to them or developed about them. I mean, obviously you can’t give them laser eyes or something, but you could, say, address certain themes about them in different lights, perhaps. Not sure.

There is a lot to like in this book. The setting – a futuristic prison – leads to some great characters, and some great ideas being presented. The Doctor ends up in a prison think tank, working on new forms of space travel – at one point, the book sort of seems to be saying something about the function of prisoners in society… but it probably wasn’t, and I was maybe reading too far into it. Which could be alright really – that’s hardly the function of the book, it’s meant to be a diverting way to spend a few hours.

And provide that it does. One thing I remember is a particularly funny sequence where the Doctor is trying to give Rose a coded message, and does so via Coronation Street references! It was a nice moment, which I can really imagine showing up on TV.

So… good book, not the best. Probably comes into third place of this set of three. It’s nice though. Recommended, but not… not strongly recommended.

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor Reviews

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: Winner Takes All

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It’s not fair, is it, when we’re forced into pitying someone we hate. Feels like the world’s turned topsy-turvy. But it’s all right. You’re still allowed to hate them. As long as you don’t gloat at their downfall, that’s all.

love this book.

I know, cutting right to the chase here. Normally I’d have a little paragraph of introduction, talking about how prolific an author Jacqueline Raynor is, mentioning all the other books she’s written, all of those things – but, nope, none of that. I just really love this book.

First of all, there’s a really, really great premise. Aliens are exploiting human greed in the most contemporary and banal of ways; through lottery scratchcards. That lends it a really, really realistic touch. There’s some very, very deep moments, and they’re all really… true. All the conflicting emotions, for example, are done exceptionally well. Rose is glad that someone died, yet at the same time she’s revolted at herself for thinking that – but doesn’t care, because the person who died was quite so horrible. That’s really, really fantastic, and it’s written brilliantly.

As well as that, there’s some great moments for the Doctor, which you can really just imagine Christopher Eccleston performing. There’s some funny scenes, showing the less serious side to the Doctor, like when he’s joking around and making puns with Rose – that was really nice, and it did feel like something that you might see in an actual episode. On the other side of it, which is borne from another aspect of the plot, there’s a point at which the Doctor has to control Rose so as to be able to save the day – and he absolutely hates it. He hates the fact he has to degrade her, remove her autonomy, control her like that. You can imagine the steel in Eccleston’s eyes when he talks about it.

So, another great book then. Definitely reccomend this one; it’s absolutely brilliant.

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor Reviews

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor: The Clockwise Man

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“You know,’ the Doctor said, resuming his pacing, ‘how sometimes you only appreciate something when it is taken away from you?’
‘You mean my freedom?’
‘I mean more like the hum of the central heating or the air-conditioning. You only notice it was there when it stops. While it’s constant, part of the nature of the things, it’s unremarkable. Just the way things are. Your brain doesn’t even bother to tell you about it, unless there is a change that might be important.” 

Books! People never really stop loving books. And Doctor Who has a pretty longstanding tradition with books – from Target Novels to the books that kept the show alive during the ‘wilderness era’. So why should this new Doctor be any different?

Across the 13 weeks Christopher Eccleston played the Doctor, there were 6 novels written featuring the Ninth Doctor… So, as part of this Ninth Doctor lookback, I’ll also be attempting to review each of them.

The first then is Justin Richards‘ The Clockwise Man…

Justin Richards is, I think it’s rather fair to say, something of a prolific Doctor Who writer. Lots and lots of novels. And all of them pretty good I think. I like his novels.

And this is another really good one! As a Doctor Who novel should, it does something that you couldn’t really get away with on television. It’s a lot more measured in pace, rather more akin to a 90-minute movie than the 45-minute episodes we get. What that means is that you can build up the intrigue, and draw things out a little – not so much so that the reader gets bored, but enough for Richards to set up a few plot twists, and make sure nothing finishes too quickly.

The plot is fantastic. There’s a great setting, and it’s got some really interesting ideas at its heart; revolutionaries of all races. Actually, ‘revolutions’ seems to be a rather present theme at all times – Bolshevik revolutions, the conspiracy plotted in Sir George’s House, Shade Vassily’s plans, and, of course, the revolutions of the clock. That’s really clever actually. (And, obviously, any mentions of Russia and the Bolsheviks earn points in my book.) The prose too is really evocative, and it paints a great picture of 1920s London; with every word, you really are there. It’s very well written stuff.

(Also, there’s a lot of weird similarities to The Girl in the Fireplace, at least in regards to the monsters. There’s even the same ticking motif, with similar “There’s no clock in here” reveals. Odd, that.)

The Doctor and Rose are characterised really well – which is pretty impressive, because I don’t think there would have been much more than the scripts when this book would have been written? There’s lots of little moments where you can really picture Chris Eccleston’s hard stare as he thinks about the Time War. There’s a lot of that, and it’s really well done.

The other supporting characters are great too; I particularly liked Aske and Repple, for all their weird dual identity subplots. Very well done.

So, in all, a great book. At 300ish pages, it’s not going to take you too long to read, and I’d definitely recommend it.

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Nine Years of the Ninth Doctor Reviews

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Doctor Who Book Review: Plague of the Cybermen (by Justin Richards)

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Spoilers, ish.

No one really seems to know what to do with the Cybermen now, do they? Or at least, in terms of New Who material, I’m not all that familiar with any recent Big Finish outings.

At any rate, there seems to be a desire to change the Cybermen, presumably to give them some sort of edge. This isn’t really a problem, apart from the way it’s manifested itself – slowly but surely, the Cybermen are being turned into Borg. In Nightmare in Silver, they were Borg in spirit – connected to a hivemind, constantly adapting to the situation, and with an overall ‘leader’.

This novel turns them into the Borg in terms of physicality. It takes the idea of Cybermen as scavengers on their last legs and runs with it; in a reversal of the Cybermen concept, these Cybermen are having to harvest flesh and blood limbs to replace their own broken or missing metallic ones. It’s an interesting idea, and is a pretty good use of body horror – the only problem with it is one of coincidence really. If it hadn’t been for Neil Gaiman’s recent Borg-ification of the Cybermen, I would’ve  seen this in a much more positive way; in the way it deserves to be seen, really… but when reading it now it wasn’t as impactful as it could’ve been, and it came across as a bit distracting.

As to the rest of the novel, it’s a pretty traditional fare; it’s a base-under-siege story, essentially, with a slightly macabre atmosphere. And a well written one too. (Admittedly, elements of the plot riffed upon Richards’ earlier novels, such as The Clockwise Man and The Resurrection Casket, even copying a few of the jokes!) The style of prose was good (which is definitely a good thing; I don’t know why, but sometimes Justin Richards’ novels seem… off slightly? It’s probably just me) as was the characterisation of Matt Smith’s Doctor. It was exactly right, striking the balance between silliness and seriousness. Richards’ even managed to throw in a few morbid jokes, and make them feel in character. That’s a pretty impressive achievement.

Overall, I did like this book a lot, and would probably read it again. So…

7/10.

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Doctor Who Book Review: The Shroud of Sorrow

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Doctor Who Book Review: Shroud of Sorrow (by Tommy Donbavand)

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Wow.

I want to post the blurb here, first of all.

23 November, 1963

It is the day after John F. Kennedy’s assassination – and the faces of the dead are everywhere. PC Reg Cranfield sees his late father in the mists along Totter’s Lane. Reporter Mae Callon sees her grandmother in a coffee stain on her desk. FBI Special Agent Warren Skeet finds his long-dead partner staring back at him from raindrops on a window pane.
Then the faces begin to talk, and scream… and push through into our world.

As the alien Shroud begins to feast on the grief of a world in mourning, can the Doctor dig deep enough into his own sorrow to save mankind?

You’d think that this is a relatively serious book, wouldn’t you? One with quite a mature tone – after all, it does have a rather mature theme (death and the stages of grief), so you’d expect it to be a generally mature book, right?#

And… well, I suppose it is in places. But in other places, it’s the exact opposite. The tone is as malleable and inconsistent… clay in water? Does that analogy work? Probably not. But the point stands – the tone of this novel is ridiculous. You’ve some very serious moments on one end of the scale, such as the introductory scene for FBI Agent Warren Skeet (this scene fleshes out his backstory, and depicts the death of his former partner) but on the other side of things you have Wobblebottom.

Yeah, you read that right. Wobblebottom.

You see, around halfway through the novel the Doctor, Clara, Warren Skeet and Mae (another new character) travel to the previous world which the Shroud had attacked, and they find the remains of the civilization. In what should have been a very complex and intelligent segment of the novel, the Doctor & co find a group of crazed tribes, each defined by a separate feeling – different emotions took over after their grief was removed, and so they become Tremblers (fear) or Ragers (rage) or Wanters (averis). That’s a pretty bold and interesting concept, I think, which should have been explored much more fully, and with a great deal more intelligence – instead we’re soon introduced to Wobblebottom and Flip flop, leaders of the Circus resistance.

It’s… it’s a nice idea, that a Circus is trying to give people back their emotions through happiness… but it doesn’t work, not in this scenario. It just undercuts everything that had been built up already. Not that much had, admittedly – the tone was always going to be an issue, what with the way the Doctor has been characterised in this novel. It’s as though all the whimsy, all the jesting, all the not-at-all-serious-and-sometimes-borderline-irritating aspects of the Eleventh Doctor have been distilled and put into this (it really is a pastiche, the sort of thing you find in juvenile fan fiction. The Doctor even calls the TARDIS “sexy”. Twice. Like… what?). It’s a terribly misjudged piece of writing, one that doesn’t deserve to be likened to Matt Smith’s brilliant portrayal.

The other issue is a gratuitous overuse of continuity. And I mean that quite seriously – continuity is great, but this is too much. Way, way too much. A couple of examples –

  • The policeman at Totter’s Lane. (He’s totally superfluous to the plot, sadly)
  • 23 pages in, and we have a reference to Astrid. Seriously?
  • The Fast Return switch is introduced in the most poorly written way (“What’s that?” “Oh, it’s the Fast Return switch”) simply so it can be used as a plot device in a few pages time. (And it barely makes sense there either)

Given that the final confrontation is, essentially, a huge continuity fest (flashbacks from painful moments in the Doctor’s lives) I would’ve expected all those little things to have been cut right down. They do get very, very distracting, and can bring you right out of it. Especially when it’s wrong, for goodness’ sake! (Admittedly, the larger moments – flashbacks and a joke sequence – do work very well, but they feel cheapened by all the other, prior references)

So… eh. This book was not a good one, to be honest. I’m not sure I’d recommend it for anything beyond completion’s sake, unless you enjoy that more whimsical tone of story. Certainly one to avoid if you’re expecting a serious novel, in the vein of prior stories (I was actually expecting this to be sort of similar to Vampire Science, but… it couldn’t be further removed from it)

2/10

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Doctor Who Book Review: Plague of the Cybermen

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