With BBC’s Doctor Who back in full swing on the tele, one can be forgiven for thinking that 45 minutes or so of time spent with the Doctor every week just isn’t enough. Broadway has you covered, having recently released three tie-in novels, set in the Eleventh Doctor’s universe.
The first is called Plague of the Cybermen and is written by Justin Richards. The Doctor arrives in a remote village hundreds of years before the present day, wherein the residents are dying of a mysterious plague. It doesn’t take our hero long to discover that what they actually have is radiation sickness, owing to a crashed Cybermen ship nearby. But when bodies begin going missing, the threat is suddenly a lot greater than some leaking radiation.
Second up is The Dalek Generation by Nicholas Briggs. The Doctor responds to a distress call and finds three recently orphaned children. He attempts to return them home and discovers a series of worlds ruled by benevolent Daleks. Knowing that the Daleks are never benevolent, the Doctor investigates further, trying to figure out what scheme his oldest enemies are up now, not realizing he is being manipulated by an old foe.
Lastly, we have Tommy Donbavand’s Shroud of Sorrow. The Doctor, with Clara in tow this time, arrives in Dallas, Texas just after the assassination of JFK. The whole world is grieving. Suddenly, they begin seeing the dead faces of their loved ones appearing in the strangest places, saying the meanest things about them. Along with some new friends, the Doctor and Clara identify the cause as the Shroud, parasitic aliens who will feast on sadness and leave their human meals reduced to a single emotional element. They plan on doing the same to Earth, that is, unless the Doctor can stop them.
The first two novels seem to be set during the Amy and Rory era, even though the two companions are not in the story at all. The Doctor isn’t depressed, and while he isn’t completely eager to jump into caring for children, he is fine with helping out worlds, which is not the case after losing his friends to the Angels. They could also possibly take place after he meets Clara, but before she begins traveling with him. We don’t yet know if Clara goes home in between missions, so I suppose it’s possible that they may happen during Clara’s time, but certainly not during the post-Amy/Rory time thus far portrayed on screen.
All three authors do a pretty decent job of capturing the Doctor’s voice and spirit. Briggs has it best, perfectly balancing the wacky with the day-to-day, while the other two struggle from going taking the titular character too over the top. But some of the trademark catch phrases and mannerisms are present in all three novels, and even when the Doctor is being too enthusiastic a time when it feels inappropriate to be so, he is still, at heart, the Doctor.
I’m not as certain that Clara’s tone is captured. She only appears in one of the books, and we’ve only seen her in a few hours of the show at this point. It also seems that she has a pretty tricky personality to capture, so while I don’t think it’s quite right here, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. Of course, some sympathy can be given to the writer, who penned this before the most recent episodes aired, and had even less to go on.
However, Clara is the least of the problems with Shroud of Sorrow. The volume has some obvious and definite weaknesses. There are a plethora of plot holes and many things don’t make sense. At one point, during an action sequence, enemies are suddenly further away than they were a moment ago. Americans use British slang. There is a military character who is nothing but a stereotype. Plus, somehow there are a bunch of clowns in the story, which seems too strange and silly for what is trying to be accomplished.
As you may be able to tell, I liked Shroud of Sorrow least of these three. Having only recently caught up with the modern Doctor Who, I have devoured dozens of episodes in the past six months, and I just don’t feel this story, and the way that the characters act, match what one would expect from the series. As such, I didn’t care for it very much.
Richards, who wrote Plague of the Cybermen and edits the book series, recently talked about capturing the tone in an interview he gave, describing it as an “indefinable quality.” I think he captured such a spirit in his entry; Donbavand, sadly, fell a bit short, in my opinion.
There is one redeeming part of Shroud of Sorrow, and that’s the end. I didn’t like that the author chooses Astrid as the woman the Doctor misses most at this point, considering how many much more important people he has lost, including, recently, Amy and Rory. But the finale of the book revisits and touches on many of the past Doctor incarnations and companions in a great way.
The other two books, though, were much more enjoyable. Plague of the Cybermen has sort of a Frankstein-y vibe. It’s kind of dark and mysterious and medieval, which is a setting that the Doctor thrives in, even if he only stops there occasionally. There are enough surprises to keep one guessing, and it’s pretty well thought out. The descriptions are nice, and I really feel like I can picture the landscape and citizens of the town.
The Dalek Generation is my favorite. We occasionally get to see the Doctor interact with children, but not often, and Briggs takes full advantage of the premise. Not only does he capture the Doctor on the page, he also captures the Daleks, and makes the children into fleshed-out, vivid portraits. The entire thing just flows seamlessly, and with perhaps a few minor tweaks to make it feel more seasonal, I could easily see this making a wonderful stand-alone Christmas episode of Doctor Who.
All of these are, obviously, stand-alone adventures. Although Richards works with BBC to match the books to the television show, meaning he often sees scripts and rough cuts of episodes before the public, the larger arcs would likely date the books too much and limit the potential readership, whereas they can currently just be picked up and enjoyed by themselves, even if one is not a regular Doctor Who viewer. While I do prefer more serial arcs on television, that probably wouldn’t translate as well in the novels, given their constraints of doing a tie-in, and so appreciate the tales they tell on their own.
A balance is definitely achieved here, with the books not contradicting or stepping on the current episodes; being complimentary without getting in the way. That is a difficult thing to do, and Richards has ushered three books that manage it.
They are also a great length for a quick read. I finished each in about two and a half hours, which, while longer than the series, is a good amount of time for a short snack of a book.
Overall, I would definitely recommend checking out at least the first two of these releases, as they not only help provide an in-between episodes Doctor Who fix, but are pleasantly exciting stories in their own right. Plague of the Cybermen, The Dalek Generation, and Shroud of Sorrow are on sale now.