This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

30 April, 2014

DOCTOR WHO: TALES OF TRENZALORE


DOCTOR WHO:
TALES OF TRENZALORE
THE ELEVENTH DOCTOR'S LAST STAND
BY
JUSTIN RICHARDS
GEORGE MANN
PAUL FINCH
MARK MORRIS

ISBN: 978-1-44814-260-6
Pages: 123
Publisher: BBC Books/Ebury Publishing
Published: 27 February 2014
Paperback edition published: 3 July 2014

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website.)

As it had been foretold, the armies of the Universe gathered at Trenzalore. Only one thing stood between the planet and destruction – the Doctor. For nine hundred years, he defended the planet, and the tiny town of Christmas, against the forces that would destroy it.

He never knew how long he could keep the peace. He never knew what creatures would emerge from the snowy night to threaten him next. He knew only that at the end he would die on Trenzalore.

Some of what happened during those terrible years is well documented. But most of it remains shrouded in mystery and darkness.

Until now.

This is a glimpse of just some of the terrors the people faced, the monstrous threats the Doctor defeated. These are the tales of the monsters who found themselves afraid - and of the one man who was not.


   This is an anthology of four stories by four different authors. I will give a review of each individual story before giving my overall impression.

LET IT SNOW by Justin Richards

   In this story we meet some of the Doctor's most prominent enemies. And they make for very interesting antagonists in this setting. I must say I quite liked how Richards did not try to make a mystery out of who they are. That choice worked out very well, and being the first to know works to heighten the tension in the rest of the tale.
   This isn't a long story and it doesn't try to go for something grand either, it embraces the short length and instead goes for something a little bit different. The difference being that it is The Doctor's enemy that is the focus here. We get up-close to them, and even inside their heads. I found that to be both effectful and really interesting. Richards shows that there is still ways to do a story of the Doctor that feels fresh and original.

   Because of the short length there isn't a very complicated resolution to the peril that the story introduces. But to me that wasn't a problem at all. The aforementioned insight into the antagonists is the important bit here, and that is something that was pulled off very well, and something that makes this an interesting Science Fiction story in its own right.
   This is an excellent Doctor Who story, and a very nice Science Fiction story belonging to the Base Under Siege tradition.


AN APPLE A DAY... by George Mann

   This story is more of a Horror story, than a Base Under Siege one, and since it is a Doctor Who story that means it is a monster story. In this instance there is not really much humanisation of the monster, it is an entity that has one target that it goes for relentlessly. Of course it is up to The Doctor to make sure that the monster does not succeed, and he's got help her from a boy named Theol.
   Theol is a new acquaintance it is quite a pleasure to meet. He has more going for him than many of The Doctor's one episode characters. Even though this is only a short story, Mann manages to give him both a personality that is realistic, and as a bonus he comes with some "baggage" that relates to The Doctor's previous experience on Trenzalore. but perhaps the best thing about Theol is what he does at the very end of the story.

   I really liked the monster here, and I felt that there was real peril. The story is very well written, and Mann is great at giving Theol a real presence despite not having much space to do so in. This is a great Doctor Who story, and for anyone who has an affinity for Matt Smith's Doctor, this is an absolute must.


STRANGERS IN THE OUTLAND by Paul Finch

   I try to avoid comparing stories/novels I review with others, but I feel my hand is in many ways forced here. This story has some of the same feel, and is set in a comparable place to, At the Mountains of Madness. Granted, it is the Polar milieu that evokes that comparison, but it was hard to escape it. A comparison like that won't help anyone that has not read At the Mountains of Madness, so an alternative comparison would be to any (hi)story of the polar expeditions of the early 20th century.
   Finch manages to get across very well the feeling of the cold wastes of winter. I say that as someone who lived the first four decades of his life in Norway, and has plenty of experience with temperatures below -30C.

   So, the setting is excellently done, but that doesn't make a story on its own. Fortunately the author has more for the reader than that. There is a really tense narrative set in the frozen landscape of this story, which is what reminded me of At the Mountains of Madness to begin with. Apart from the beginning, this is centered almost exclusively on The Doctor, everyone else are really only bit-players. But that helps enhance the tension, and it is palpable throughout. Even as the story ends you get the feeling that there is still some travails to come.

   Finch's story is an excellent one. The Doctor gets to shine, as he should in a story with his name on, and we get another visit from a past enemy. Who the enemy is is not really important, the essence of this is a well written Psychological Thriller story that in itself is satisfying enough, and that makes for an excellent Doctor Who story.


THE DREAMING by Mark Morris

   This is another very interesting story, and this time we also go into Horror territory. The type of Horror story used will be familiar to most people, it is not an uncommon one. The story is however not suffering from the familiarity, and it won't matter if it is a new type of story to the reader, it is simply too good a story for that.
   Although this is a story firmly rooted in the Horror tradition, it is also the most light-hearted of the stories in this anthology. It is not a comedy piece though, it is just that there is some glimpses of humour here that got a couple of laughs out of me.
   Morris does not follow Horror conventions slavishly, but lets the story go in the directions it needs to do. There is no mistaking that this is a Doctor Who story, and the Horror element even comes from one of The Doctor's old enemies. The Doctor does what he does best here, and Morris has really gotten the Eleventh Doctor to come alive on the page. It's easier to hear the voice of Matt Smith than it is to avoid doing so.

   I found this to be a great Doctor who story, and a very good Horror story. It is a nice glimpse into an older Doctor, and it is almost bittersweet to see him like he is in this story. I do think that fans of the Eleventh Doctor will like to see this side of him. An excellent end to the anthology.


OVERALL IMPRESSION

   There is no doubt that the TV series did a rather short version of The Doctor's centuries long stay on Trenzalore, so it is a part of The Doctor's history that is obviously a rich vein to mine for those that write prose about him. One of the obvious dangers of mining quiet periods in any fictional story is that it feels like the expansion is shoehorned in to a period where nothing did really happen. Having presented that possibility, I want to immediately make it clear that it is absolutely not the case here. What we get here are some very interesting glimpses into what is actually a huge part of The Doctor's life.

   Despite being constrained by the setting, and the aforementioned Base Under Siege element that has to be there to keep this canon, these stories are very different. Sure, there are similarities related to the setting and type of threat available, but the four writers are represented by four stories that does not flow into each other in your memory. It is clear that there is an editor that has done a very good job of giving the reader four different slices of The Doctor's time on Trenzalore at work here.
   The nature of these tales means that they do veer into Horror or monsters as it is usually called in Doctor Who. They are not overly scary though, so even those that cannot normally stomach Horror stories should be fine with these.

   This is a great anthology, and a very good addition to the lore of the Eleventh Doctor. Everyone who loves  Matt Smith's Doctor would do themselves a great disservice if they don't get their hands on this. If you haven't tried written Doctor Who yourself this would be a very good starting point.
   Simply put, this is an excellent little book of Doctor Who stories that is well worth getting your hands on.

NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this from the publisher/NetGalley.

REVIEWS: Click here for a full list of Doctor Who reviews.

LINKS: Justin Richards   George Mann   Paul Finch   Mark Morris   Ebury Publishing

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