The Cosmic Hobo

Thoughts & reviews about the science fiction series Doctor Who.

Archive for the category “book reviews”

Book Review: Ten Little Aliens by Stephen Cole

Doctor Who Ten Little AliensMilitary science fiction is not a sub-genre generally associated with Doctor Who, so Ten Little Aliens was a surprising choice to represent the First Doctor in the 50th Anniversary line of novel reprints. Stephen Cole is a well-established writer of tie-ins, though, and was once in charge of the entire line. Naturally, all of the writers represented by the reprints have written more than a few novels for Doctor Who.

In the new introduction in the reprinted edition, Cole describes his initial pitch for Ten Littlie Aliens as “Starship Troopers meets Agatha Christie.” It is important not to let the fact that Starship Troopers is one of the most overrated novels in the sci-fi canon make you think Ten Little Aliens isn’t worth reading. It has some early struggles, as the pacing is a bit slow and the huge supporting cast makes it difficult to keep track of everyone, but it hits its stride around a third of the way in.

The novel features the First Doctor traveling with Ben and Polly, a pair of companions that is unfortunately the victim of so many episodes being missing. In the fact, “The War Machines” is the only serial they appear in that is still in existence, and it isn’t a particularly good one. This makes tie-ins like Ten Little Aliens all the more important in getting more out of these characters. Ben is as annoying here as he is on the show, and Polly is likable and spunky as always, so the characterization is spot on.

Ten Little Aliens is more appealing for the action and intensity, rather than any sense of mystery. The TARDIS team are on a strange rock and run into a platoon of ten space marines, as they are at war with aliens called the Schirr. Things get interesting when soldiers start getting picked off one by one, and naturally this is something they want to prevent. The supporting characters that make it through the bulk of the text actually turn out to be really well-developed and interesting characters. They are much better than the typical cookie-cutter supporting cast.

This novel may end up being too intense for a lot of readers. It is definitely not a children’s Doctor Who story, and the violence and gore is worse than has ever been shown on screen in the franchise. Those who aren’t bothered by a bit of blood and guts will probably enjoy the intensity, but fans who like their Doctor Who a bit more innocent will probably find it off-putting. Being that this particular reviewer likes Doctor Who novels that have a bit of edge and try something different, Ten Little Aliens is definitely a memorable and worthwhile read.

Rating: B

This review was cross-posted to Hardcover Wonderland, a website about literature of all kinds.

Book Review: The Monsters Inside by Stephen Cole

Doctor Who The Monsters InsideThe Monsters Inside is very notable for being the first tie-in novel in the new series to be referenced directly in an episode. That basically makes it indisputably canon, and it’s a shame that a rather “meh” novel like this would get that honor. Stephen Cole is a very good writer, who has contributed great things to the Doctor Who mythos, but this isn’t one of them.

As if the “Aliens of London/World War Three” two-parter in the series itself wasn’t enough to establish that the Raxacoricofallapatorians are a terrible alien species, The Monsters Inside brings them back pretty quickly and drives the point home. They’re awful. Whether it’s the Slitheen or the “Blathereen,” as the primary problem family is called here, they are just useless and not interesting at all.

Luckily, Cole at the very least gets the characterization right. Unfortunately, this is not used to its full potential because Rose and the Doctor spend the majority of the storyline apart. This wouldn’t be so bad if the storyline were better, but it’s really not particularly interesting here. The Doctor and Rose accidentally land on a planet that is being used as an experimental prison colony, so they are forcibly imprisoned and spend the entirety of the novel trying to find their way out.

I love a good dystopian story, but The Monsters Inside never quite achieves the mood it should. The Doctor and Rose being forced into a space prison should feel a lot heavier than this story does, and that stops it from being as compelling as it could have been. There’s nothing wrong with the prose, supporting cast, and the rest of it, but the mood is all wrong and the Blathereen are just another family in a species of terrible aliens.

Rating: D+

Book Review: 50th Anniversary Stories – The Nameless City by Michael Scott

DW Michael Scott The Nameless CityIn celebration of the 50th anniversary, Puffin Books are releasing eBook exclusive novelettes on a monthly basis. The series, which started in January, is representing every individual incarnation of the Doctor with their own story. The Nameless City, written by Michael Scott, is the second entry.

The story follows the Second Doctor and Jamie McCrimmon, probably setting the story in Season 6B, as they are thrust into intense danger upon being gifted a strange book that predates known time. The plot has a sort of “Doctor Who meets Lovecraft” feel, and it really works. Scott, who is probably best known as the writer of the Nicholas Flamel series of novels, clearly has a strong understanding of his main characters and does a wonderful job of establishing mood.

Because of the inherent brevity of the books in the series, it is difficult to have too much in terms of background or character. Still, The Nameless City makes the best of its low word count, showing Jamie and the Doctor at their best while still being surprisingly thrilling for a book aimed at younger readers. Naturally, it is fast paced, but doesn’t feel rushed at all. Although it doesn’t have the excellence of longer Second Doctor novels like The Murder Game or Dreams of Empire, there is a lot to enjoy in the story.

Because of the word limit, the ending feels like it comes on very suddenly. Still, there is adequate foreshadowing of the solution. If this story had about double the room to work with, it could have been a much higher echelon Doctor Who story. Still, it has a lot more good about it than bad. The entirety of the series of stories will be collected at the end of the year, but this particular novelette is worth discovering beforehand. Second Doctor fans specifically will be pleased with the characterization.

Rating: B-

P.S.: This review has been cross-posted, in a slightly altered form, to Hardcover Wonderland, my new website that covers books of all kinds. Book reviews I write regarding Who will find their way to this blog in modified form. I’m hoping to getting back to reviewing other stuff soon, too.

Book Review: Target Novelizations – The Daleks by David Whitaker

Doctor Who and the Daleks by David Whitaker
Target Novelizations #16 – First Doctor
Featuring the Doctor, Susan, Ian, Barbara and Daleks

Rating: D

Doctor Who and the Daleks is a strange novelization in that it deviates from the source episode pretty significantly, including treating the novel as though it were the earliest story in the series. It is complete with the introductions of Ian and Barbara, as they arrive at the junkyard to meet the Doctor under similar but different circumstances. Rather than being transported to pre-historic Earth, they find themselves on Skaro, and then essentially go through the events of the television serial.

The strangest part of all is that the novel is entirely from first person perspective, told from the point of view of Ian Chesterton as he and Barbara travel with the Doctor. It is interesting in theory; there aren’t a lot of Doctor Who stories written from a particular character’s perspective, but once the novelty of that wears off, this novel is actually pretty weak. Whitaker isn’t a bad writer, but nothing about the prose or dialogue really impressed me.

Whereas Terrance Dicks’ An Unearthly Child helped the televised story by providing a bit of depth to the characters while maintaining the feel of the serial, Doctor Who and the Daleks muddies things up a bit while failing to recapture the spirit or general feeling of the story. It is a total failure, as far as I’m concerned. Without the interesting choice in narration, it would be a big stinkin’ F. As it is, its not much better than that.

Book Review: Target Novelizations – An Unearthly Child by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child by Terrance Dicks
Target Novelizations #68 – First Doctor
Featuring the Doctor, Susan, Ian, & Barbara

Rating: B-

Having previously reviewed the associated serial for this very blog, I was intrigued by the idea of reading the novelization. I find it strange that the very first Doctor Who serial wasn’t novelized until #68 in the line. It strikes me as a bit odd, but the people associated with Doctor Who have never struck me as entirely logical.

As it is, the novelization follows the story on screen pretty much perfectly. I actually think that it works slightly better in written form than it does on screen, though. Most importantly, Dicks is able to give the cavemen a bit more development in the novel that leads to me as a reader having more sympathy for their characters in the book than I did watching the television serial.

It still suffers from the same problem that the show does: the first part is outstanding, and the rest is so-so. For many, the bad set design is part of the charm of the old show, but in the case of this one, I think it is nice that through the novel I am able to know that it is supposed to be a tiger that attacks one of the cavemen in the middle of the story. Based on what I saw on screen, I didn’t realize that was what it was supposed to be at all.

As it is, this is hardly an indispensable novelization, but I enjoyed it. The written word gives a lot more opportunity than a bad budget does, so in many ways it should be expected that the novelization is improvement. In this case, I think Terrance Dicks takes good advantage of the narrative and DOES make improvements on the televised story. Good read.

Book Review: Revenge of the Judoon by Terrance Dicks

Revenge of the Judoon by Terrance Dicks
Quick Reads #3 – Tenth Doctor
Featuring the Doctor, Martha Jones, and the Judoon

Rating: C

Of the three Quick Reads I have tackled so far, Revenge of the Judoon engaged me the least. I really like the Judoon as an alien species, and I think it is pretty damn cool that Uncle Terry is open to taking on monsters that didn’t exist in the show until decades after he stopped writing for the television side of Who. He seems to know the Judoon well enough, and that’s good.

The plot itself is a bit weak; it is essentially the same as “Smith and Jones,” the episode that showed the Judoon for the first time, but set in 1902 Scotland rather than contemporary London. The Judoon show up looking for somebody, and in the process uproot and steal a castle they believe their target to be residing in. Like I said, same plot.

Luckily, the characterization of the Doctor and Martha is quite good, and Dicks creates a quite likable supporting character in Harry Carruthers. Despite the problems with not having a lot of words to work with, Carruthers is a very well developed and likable character. It is always a positive when a tie-in manages to add new characters that are at least interesting. Sherlock Holmes fans will probably take something from this as well, as Arthur Conan Doyle has a few brief scenes in the story.

As it is, this one just didn’t grab me nearly as much, mostly due to the lack of originality of plot. It was still mildly enjoyable, though, because Dicks is a good writer who always seems to write good characters. Still can’t say I’ve ever really disliked anything he’s written.

Book Review: Made of Steel by Terrance Dicks

Made of Steel by Terrance Dicks
Quick Reads #2 – Tenth Doctor
Featuring the Doctor, Martha Jones, and the Cybermen

Rating: B-

Terrance Dicks is often criticized for the rather pedestrian efforts he made in the dozens and dozens of Target novelizations he did, but he’s still one of the most important writers in the show’s history, having helmed the Third Doctor’s entire era as script editor, and contributed to some classic stories like “The War Games.” Made of Steel is the third original Doctor Who novel I have read of his, and I have enjoyed each of them.

Made of Steel is essentially a sequel to the Series Two finale, with a handful of Cybermen being left behind on our Earth due to the fact that they were created after entering this dimension, and thus were not sucked back through the Void when it closed. Pretty clever premise. Unfortunately, due to the required brevity of the quick read series, Dicks didn’t have a lot of time to work out an epic story, but this still ended up being an enjoyable romp.

Dicks has a remarkably strong grasp of the Tenth Doctor. He has to be one of the few people to write for every Doctor from Second on to Tenth (except the Ninth) and has done a good job of writing the Doctor in all of these incarnations. I think overall Made of Steel is a better written story than The Sontaran Games, the other Quick Read I’ve reviewed, and the character building is more substantial, despite the story’s length. The Sontaran Games was more generally engaging and intense, but Made of Steel was equally enjoyable, despite being a bit lighter.

It’s hardly an awe-inspiring book. That being said, it is really cool to see Uncle Terry still contributing to the Doctor Who canon (Yes, canon until proven otherwise) after all these years. I’d love to see the BBC Wales series bring him back to write a new television episode, but being that this is unlikely, I’m glad he’s still doing it in written form.

Book Review: The Sontaran Games by Jacqueline Rayner

The Sontaran Games by Jacqueline Rayner
Quick Reads #4 – Tenth Doctor
Featuring the Doctor and Sontarans

Rating: B-

I didn’t really know what to expect going into these Quick Reads aside from the obvious brevity that is required for it to actually be a quick read. On that front, this novel(la) really delivers: it comes in at about 100 pages and I read it in about an hour and a half, and that’s with being distracted by the television at the same time.

Set in the companion-free period after the end of Series Four, the Doctor stumbles upon an Earth athletic training facility only to find that a string of mysterious deaths are giving the athletes-in-training a bit of trouble. The Sontarans have made an appearance, and decide that it would be great fun to enslave all of the athletes and force them to compete to the death as a means of seeing what the best of humanity are capable of when it comes to sprints, long jumps, and other sports of track and field.

The nicest thing about a book in the Quick Read series is that there isn’t any worry that it will take fifty pages for the Doctor to finally show up; he’s right there on the first page, swinging the doors of the TARDIS open and getting right into the nitty-gritty. The prose is okay but hardly awe-inspiring, and the dialogue occasionally leaves something to be desired despite Rayner clearly having a pretty good grasp on the Tenth Doctor as a character.

Plot wise, I was pleasantly surprised by The Sontaran Games. The murder mystery aspect coupled with an absolute blood bath of a book (about one death per dozen pages or so), its a lot of fun while also putting the deliciously sadistic Sontarans to very good use. There’s a bit of a twist at the end that I might have seen coming if I was really paying serious attention but as it was I was surprised and liked it. I can certainly see the appeal in these quick reads, especially if the plots are always this solid.

Book Review: Illegal Alien by Mike Tucker & Robert Perry

Illegal Alien by Mike Tucker & Robert Perry
Past Doctor Adventures #5 – Seventh Doctor
Featuring the Doctor, Ace, and the Cybermen

Rating: A-

Being that it was just on the top of my pile of assorted Doctor Who books, I dove right into Illegal Alien without so much as reading the blurb on the back. I had no idea what I was getting into, and didn’t do any of my usual research into the reception to the novel or anything else before giving it a read. As it turns out, I found Illegal Alien to be a deeply enjoyable novel that is a cut above the average Doctor Who tie-in.

Mike Tucker and Robert Perry, the writers of the novel, are known for having written a whole slew of Doctor Who novels. Although several of them have been written as a duo, they have also have written a few by themselves. If my research is correct, Illegal Alien is based on a proposed Season 27 script that never had a chance to be made. Whether this means it will eventually be adapted as a part of the Lost Stories audio line remains to be seen, but the quality of this novel is so high that I don’t think it needs to be adapted into any other form.

Tucker and Perry capture the feeling of an old hard-boiled detective story, with every bit of echoing of any number of Humphrey Bogart movies. The setting is London in 1940 during the Blitzkrieg, and McBride is an ex-patriot American detective who sits in his office drinking whiskey while he watches the bombs fall. The narrative brilliantly establishes the mood right away, and I knew from the end of the first chapter I was going to enjoy it.

An alien ship crash lands, and everyone is convinced that it is the work of Nazi scientists. Of course, the Doctor and Ace show up to tell everyone otherwise, and in the meantime get thrust into a plot that involves Cybermen and Nazis trying to cause a bit of trouble for both the Doctor and Ace. Unfortunately, despite a few moments of typical bad-assery, Ace spends the majority of the story getting captured and getting out just in time to be retained again, but both characters are very brilliantly written.

There is some padding here and there, and a good 30 or so pages of trimming could have made this a bit better. Perhaps one of the various companion-in-peril chapters could have been trimmed, but this is a minor qualm. Tucker and Perry write the Seventh Doctor picture perfectly, and they create supporting characters that are not only believable, but mostly likable. There are a few twists here and there that do a good job of holding interest while moving the plot along. There isn’t a lot here in terms of great canon or anything so drastic as that, but it is a deeply enjoyable romp. A really solid Cyberman story that I could see myself revisiting down the line.

Edit Note: On thinking about the story some more, I’ve decided to boost the rating from a B+ to an A-. I couldn’t justify this novel not having an A in front of it, despite the very minor issues.

Book Review: Target Novelizations – Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters by Malcolm Hulke

Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters by Malcolm Hulke
Target Novelizations #9 – Third Doctor
Featuring the Doctor, Liz, and the Silurians

Rating: B

After having seen the short documentary about Malcolm Hulke’s novelizations on the special features of the “The War Games” DVD, I thought I’d take a look at one of his novelizations. I think the praise heaped on him by the people who speak of Mr. Hulke in the documentary is merited; this novelization of his television serial “The Silurians” is the perfect example of what a novelization ought to be. It basically fixes all of the minor issues of the television story (like pacing) and adds a bit of depth to the characters that would have been hard to get across on the show.

“The Silurians” might be my favorite Doctor Who serial of all time, so it was lovely to re-visit the story in this form. Hulke writes very well, and I love the way he humanizes (for lack of better word) the reptilian people. Being a leftist myself, I think I have a general affinity for Hulke’s work in Doctor Who (having been a fervent atheist and leftist himself). This is a really excellent read, and I will definitely be taking a look at his other novelizations soon. I have greatly enjoyed every story that Malcolm Hulke has been involved in, with the exception of “The Ambassadors of Death.” I have to say that when that one hits DVD, I’m going to have to take a second look. He’s one of my favorite Doctor Who writers.

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