The Short Version: In 1910, strange creatures are devouring the minds of Londoners. In 2789, an android over 1600 years old is pulled from the Thames – and so the Doctor, Amy, and Rory begin battle against the Squall, teaming up with one Professor Angelchrist along the way…
The Review: I’ve always been a leery of literary Who. I’m a big NuWho fan and I’ve dabbled in some of the older episodes – but I’ve, with I think the exception of Neil Gaiman’s “Nothing O’Clock”, steered clear of the ancillary stories. This is not for lack of desire; I’d love to go back and see the Tenth Doctor and Rose running around, to see the Ninth again period. And it was fun to see Matt Smith’s gangly Eleventh Doctor racing around with his best companions, the Ponds. Fun, too, was Mann’s decision to tie the Whoverse into his Newbury & Hobbes Universe with the introduction of Professor Angelchrist as a link.
So why then did this book sort of just make me shrug? I think it may be because, as someone who IS a Who fan, I didn’t need the signposting that Mann employed to make things comfortable for readers who’ve maybe only seen a few episodes. (Why they’re picking up a novel from the series is beyond me but that’s another issue.) We know the relationship between Amy and Rory – it doesn’t need to be spelled out and then repeated throughout. The novel works best when it focuses on the action and lets the Doctor and Angelchrist get up to some mischief. The far-and-away best scene sees the Doctor and Professor charging through town in the Professor’s car (the Doctor winkingly referring to Bessie as he drives), on the trail of the Squall, and I wish more of the book had had that level of fun and a wanton disregard for spelling things out, relying instead on the action carrying things through.
Speaking of the action: the Squall were an interesting baddy for the Whoverse. There’ve been a fair chunk of monsters from outside the universe / threats to the whole universe since Moffat took over the reins of the show and such threats can get a little boring. After all, you can only put the whole universe in peril so many times before it gets a little dull. But Mann pulls it off here, even as the Squall themselves appear relatively unremarkable. He plays with paradox far more intelligently than Moffat’s crew does, not wiping it away with some magic plot device but instead using it to illustrate a little bit about humanity and about the Time Lords. Whether it’s canon or not, I suppose I don’t know – I’m not that big of a fan – but I like the idea that travelling through the time vortex can rip a hole in space-time if you aren’t careful. That makes sense to me (also makes sense that the Time Lords figured out how to not do that). I also liked the paradox for what it was: the idea that the Doctor and his companions can often make a situation worse than when they’d arrived through their interference, even if they always make it better in the end.
I just wish that darker, more serious stuff had given more attention in the novel. Instead, it felt like one of those episodes in the mid-back-half of the season, that you enjoy but probably don’t rewatch as much as the others. Not that the novel reading like an episode of the series is a bad thing, now that I think about it.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5. I pretty much read this to be a George Mann N&H-verse completist, much as I love me some Doctor Who. I’ve heard great things about his War Doctor novel, which maybe I’ll try some day… and maybe I’ll pick up an adventure featuring Nine or Ten someday just to get a ‘new’ adventure with an old friend. But there was nothing all that exceptional about this adventure with the Doctor: it’s not that great, but not that bad either. The writing is aimed at a TV-watching audience and the winks to Mann/Who fans are for those who are looking for them. And while it’s fun to see the Raggedy Doctor again, the nostalgia factor just doesn’t really get you that far.