Top Doc: Almost too generic to describe and yet perfectly recognisable as the Doctor. Whilst I feel we have lost the eighth Doctor for this book, the righteousness, eccentricities and humour are all spot on recognisable as the greatest hero ever known. He is described as having to go digging up dirt wherever he goes. The Doctor gets drunk on company, which he describes as the best way to get drunk because there’s no hangover. A Gallifreyan freak? Compassion seems to think so and her uniqueness attracts his attention wildly. Fits thinks he is distracting himself with other people’s problems to forget about the loss of his TARDIS. There is a fantastic moment where the Doctor visits a market and talks with people, samples the local produce and plays with the children…it reminds you of why he travels the universe in the first place and provides an excellent example of his explanation to Compassion at the climax. He shares his secret for enduring immortality, travelling, meeting people and staving off the borderm.
Scruffy Git: He is described as always pretending to be something he’s not. It is clear the Doctor is rubbing off on him in more ways than one and he is starting to emerge as a real hero of the people, he knows that some injustices cannot be tolerated. He considers the old TARDIS his home now and misses it. Described as human-normal. Ish. Florence is failed romance number ten but losing her is not really his fault considering she gets eaten by a ruddy great slug. Even Compassion notices he is no longer the self obsessed runt that he had been.
Stroppy Redhead: She thinks she is dead, because she cannot be hurt or killed. She is absolutely dumbstruck when Fitz tells her he has never considered her to be a woman. She finds herself questioning her allegiances here, wondering what is stopping her abandoning the Doctor and Fitz and striking out on her own but the truth is she is more scared of the Time Lords than she is being on her own. She tells the Doctor whatever he might have had with his old TARDIS he does not have with her. At one point Compassion describes herself as a walking, talking, dimensionally transcendental broom cupboard! There is a great moment at the climax where the Doctor questions whether she will save him or leave and they share a moment of understanding when she does the right thing and rescues him.
Twists: It is not until we get to the heart of the problem on Eskon that the book really surprises but then it kicks into high gear with scenes of rampaging slugs tearing through the Eskon community. There are a number of brilliant deaths, among them Garek (vomiting up snakes in black bile), Revan (torn to shreds by an explosion), Manag (melted by a steam generator, ‘the mucus covering his body sizzled like cooked fat…’), Anavolus (the sound of crunching bone as he is devoured) and best of all is how the Doctor deals with the problem of the Spulver worm, attracting it to Tor Grymna by warming up an explosive, it swallows him whole and the guy explodes inside its stomach! Genius! The scenes of the Spulver worms tearing through people’s homes are terrifying. The twist that it is the Spulver’s pus infecting the water is obvious but still disgusting.
Funny bits: There is a fantastic joke about the Timewyrm. Fitz and the Doctor are described as cancelling each other out, Fitz being geared for self-preservation and the Doctor well…not. Fitz smokes an alien cigarette and faints.
Embarrassing bits: This is a book that is trying desperately hard to shoehorn a traditional Doctor Who story into Lawrence Miles’ ultra trad universe. Whilst it pretty much succeeds on that level it feels desperately out of place. I take it back, the twist that the infection is in the water supply is really obvious as is the appearance of some nasty beneath the surface.
Result: Predictable and safe and yet somehow strangely likable, despite the feeling of laziness in the plotting and content it ticks all the right boxes for a ‘classic’ Doctor Who TV adventure (and lets face it, that’s what got us into this lark in the first place!). It is barely endowed with innovation and you can guess pretty much every single twist that’s coming, characterisation is pretty sketchy and the prose is nothing to shout home about but Trevor Baxendale clearly LOVES Doctor Who and his enthusiasm for his material is quite infectious. From no-where the last fifty pages are genuinely excellent, the book kicks into high gear, the deaths are extremely memorable and the plot is tied up very nicely. It is the weakest book for an age, which goes to show how good they have been lately because regardless of its unimaginativeness it is still enjoyable and passes the time: 6/10