Monday, October 06, 2014

A Bit Wibbly-Wobbly

The Tenth Doctor, as portrayed by David Tennant, is probably the second-best Doctor overall, and certainly the best of the four 'new' Doctors to date. A lot of this is probably due to the sheer length of his tenure, while a significant debt is also owed to the writers, who produced some outstanding material (as well as some real dross - "Fear Her" probably being the worst example).

Funnily enough, the reading for the Tenth faced exactly the same threat as did the Tenth Doctor himself - in both cases, the previous example had set a very high bar indeed. So I had some doubts going in. Fortunately, just as the Tenth Doctor proved the best possible successor to a very good Doctor, this month's reading proved a very good successor to the novel and story for the Ninth Doctor.

I read the short story first, this being "The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage" by Derek Landy. This turned out to be the right decision, as this story featued Martha as the companion, where the companion in the novel is Donna, and so I managed to hit the right chronological order, which was nice.

The story was a lot of fun, as the Doctor and Martha somehow find themselves trapped in a children's novel - something reminiscent of the "Famous Five" or similar. Funnily enough, the moment I read this, I thought back to a half-remembered novelisation in which this happened... and then the story referenced that very story. Huzzah!

It was then established that they were actually trapped in a storyland constructed from Martha's memories. The story then proceeded to play around with all the other books she'd read (and, in one case, a film she'd seen). This was highly amusing, especially, "Don't judge me!"

And then it pulled out the standard Tenth Doctor rabbit from the hat solution, which was fine - the story had done what it intended, so time to move on.

The month's novel, "Beautiful Chaos" by Gary Russell, was likewise good. This one featured Donna, Wilf, and Sylvia. It was set some time during Donna's season, but was obviously written after that season ended (but before "The End of Time"). And the story was mostly just a standard "alien invaders possess humans" story. However, as with the Ninth Doctor story, it managed to fit in some musings on what makes people who they are, and a very well-done subplot about memory loss and degenerative diseases.

What really made this story work was that Russell got the characters exactly right. Had they filmed this, exactly as-is, it would have fit perfectly into that season. And that was truly excellent - back when RTD (a different Russell) was running the show, I often had issues with his handling of the action scenes, and especially his reliance of Doctor ex machina to resolve plots. However, his big strength was the character work throughout the series, and this novel carries that through perfectly.

That said, as with many of the Tenth Doctor episodes, this novel does have some problems with the climax, where there is one instance of a character suddenly breaking out of character, then snapping back into character, and then going again; and one point where it's not at all clear how two characters could possibly have the conversation they have when they have it. But those are fairly minor quibbles.

One other oddity: unlike most Doctor Who, the ending for this story is distinctly bittersweet. That's not a bad this, just a surprising one.

For the second month in a row, the position of best Doctor Who novel changes hands. Alas, it seems the Ninth Doctor just can't catch a break! There's now only one more month in my reading to go: November is the month of the Eleventh Doctor.

#48: "Beautiful Chaos", by Gary Russell

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