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