They had an unusual relationship, these two travellers. The Doctor was twice Peri’s age at least, but he didn’t act like a father or an uncle – more like a big brother with a bad case of sibling rivalry.
Recently I bought quite a few of the old Classic Who books, that were published when the show was off the air. I bought quite a few with the Sixth Doctor, and one of those books was Blue Box, by Kate Orman.
I was looking forward to reading this quite a lot – one of the few EDAs I’ve read, Vampire Science, was co-written by Kate Orman, and it’s an exceptionally good book. The same applies here; Blue Box is an absolutely fantastic read.
The plot is pretty clever, and not the sort of thing I’d ever really seen on Doctor Who before. It’s a novel about computer hackers, basically, and the Doctor has to join in with that world. There’s a lot of moving about from place to place (on a road trip!) as the Doctor, Peri, and two new characters track down Sarah Swan, another hacker, who has gotten hold of an alien computer device. It’s very well suited to a novel, and not the sort of thing you’d find in a TV episode.
For the most part, Blue Box is written in the first person, from the perspective of journalist Chuck Peters, who’s trying to write an article on the world of hackers. Because it’s all from his perspective, you see the way he rationalises it, swinging between assuming the Doctor was a Russian agent trying to find an American superweapon, or a British agent with his own agendas. Admittedly, this style of prose doesn’t always work – there’s quite a few instances where the character narrates things he wasn’t present to or couldn’t have known – but on the whole it was a nice change to the norm.
The key thing about Blue Box is characterisation though. Every character us absolutely pitch perfect. The new characters, Bob (a hacker friend of the Doctor’s, enlisted on the road trip for tech support) and Chuck both shine; they’re very distinctive, realistic characters. (There’s an interesting twist about Chuck and his background, which I wasn’t quite sure what to think of, but I’ll hold off in case of spoilers.) Sarah Swan is a perfect villain for this story – she’s petty, greedy and vindictive, and I guarantee you will hate her by the end of it. Other background characters like Mondy and Luis Perez also fit the story and add really well to the tone of the novel, creating a detailed view of the hacker world.
What’s really fantastic though is the Doctor and Peri. Because this story is set in America, near Peri’s home, what Kate Orman does is examine Peri’s homesickness, and why exactly she still travels with the Doctor, now he’s quite so abrasive. Their bickering is really well described, but it’s also made very apparent that the pair do care about each other a lot. It’s quite touching at times, and it’s absolutely how I think of them – sometimes the bickering is quite terse, but behind it is genuine affection. All in all, this is an excellent book. I loved the focus on technology, on computers when they were brand new. It’s particularly nice to read that now, when computers are such a big part of our lives. I’ll give it an 8/10.