The first batch of Doctor Who novels featuring the Eleventh Doctor and Amy came out not too long ago. I’m a fairly consistent reader of these books, mostly because the bulk of my free time to read these days is shortly before bedtime, and frankly I’m never in the mood for anything too heavy, or too compelling, at that time of night. (I did skip out on the last few batches of Tenth Doctor novels, because honestly, I really don’t care about more adventures with the Krillitane or the Slitheen, especially when almost all of them felt compelled to include a plucky teenage girl as the Doctor’s temporary side-kick. I should probably go pick up that Sontaran one, though, because I guess it has Rutans in it too, and that’s the kind of nerd I am. Anyway…)
In comparison to previous offerings in the line, the new set of books are slightly larger, though still in hardcover. This makes them more durable, especially considering that the primary audience for these books is children, but as an adult reader it does rather make me feel like I’m reading a Perma-Bound book. It’s not exactly infantilizing, since the Torchwood books were in the same size and hard-cover format, but I prefer the cover-stock that BBC Books used for their Being Human tie-in novels. Those are closer to something in between a standard trade size paperback and that elongated mass-market size. On the other hand, with the new season, it does slightly feel like the core audience for the franchise is aging up a bit, and being closer in size to “real” books does have a slight psychological effect, possibly, of making the books seem more grown-up. In any case, moving away from the smaller, mass-market format does make them stand out from the rest of the tie-in novels in a bookshop, and that’s probably not a bad thing.
There’s very little continuity between the three books, or between the books and the television program. Normally, this is perfectly fine, but there are moments in each book here that give off the impression that the books were originally written with a Generi-Doctor and Companion in mind, with sudden declarations of the Doctor’s or Amy’s appearance or mannerisms inserted afterwards. More probably, the authors were writing from a brief, without having seen Matt Smith or Karen Gillan in the roles, and a more natural characterization simply wasn’t possible.
The first book in the set is Apollo 23, by Justin Richards, which also has the distinction of having the best cover of the three books, by far.
The plot involves the Doctor and Amy investigating the appearance of an American astronaut in a London shopping center, conincident with the death of a woman and her dog on the moon. This leads them to discovering an American prison on the moon for “the worst of the worst,” with a strong yet unspoken implication that the prison is housing mostly political prisoners, with again unspoken comparisons to the American prison in Guantanamo Bay. The political subtext is probably subtle enough to escape kids, but it’s mostly forgotten in favor of an alien invasion plot that bears more than a passing resemblance to the plot of “The Idiot Box.” Though the Doctor and Amy end up separated from one another for much of the story, and the American setting is novel for the series, the solution to the problem sounds, from a non-technical stand-point, much like the Doctor endorsing homeopathy. An “I’ll explain later” can go a long way in situations like this.
Next up is David Llewellyn’s Night Of The Humans, which features the Doctor and Amy investigating a distress signal at a planet-sized garbage dump in space, only to get separated from one another. Amy ends up with the Sittuun, a race of humanoids who all adopt Arabic names for themselves, while the Doctor ends up with the humans, savage primitives who worship cowboy films. Again, the political subtexts are probably going to go right past any kids, and the casting of humans in the role of evil aliens is clever and a subversion of the shows usual tropes, the inclusion of Dirk Slipstream, as a criminal Captain Kirk/Flash Gordon/Buck Rodgers type of space hero is gilding the lily somewhat, especially with his occasional references to previous encounters with the Doctor. (His recognition of the just regenerated Doctor is one of those moments that would seem to suggest that the book was written with a previous Doctor in mind.) Night of the Humans is also noteworthy in that it’s one of the very few of the new series book tie-ins to feature a “pile of bodies” ending.
Finally, there’s The Forgotten Army by Brian Minchin, featuring the Doctor and Amy at some relatively contemporary version of New York City that is being menaced by a resurrected albino mammoth. Unsurprisingly, it turns out to be a cover for an alien invasion, from tiny beings whose resemblance to troll dolls we are frequently reminded of. They’re a visually interesting idea, and a concept beyond the scope of a reasonable television budget, so they work well as villains here, though the separation of the Doctor and Amy is starting to feel a bit forced at this point, and while the invasion strategy, to make New Yorkers so afraid of nonspecific, invisible and potentially nonexistent threats is cleverly described, once again it feels like some political subtext has sunk in.
Overall, the three books are light, distracting reads. Fun for a fan of the franchise, but probably of little appeal to anyone else. Night of the Humans is probably the best of the three, and also the one that feels most like an episode of the television series. All three books suffer slightly from a similarity in plot, particularly the reliance on the Doctor and Amy being separated for much of each story. To be fair, it is a trope of the series itself, but as a plot device it feels extremely heavy-handed in this set of books. The next set of books, for my own taste, looks to be more promising, with another Gary Russell novel in the offering and the presence of Amy’s fiance Rory as a full cast member. Rory is great, and I’m looking forward to getting as much of him as possible. I even love the “talk to the hand” pose he has on this cover.
It’s good that the show is making use of him and…wait…what?