Book Review – Doctor Who: Spiral Scratch

  • Title: Spiral Scratch
  • Series: BBC Books Past Doctor Adventures
  • Author: Gary Russell
  • Characters:  Sixth Doctor, Mel
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 10/04/2012

This is a tie-in to the wonderful British Science Fiction television show Doctor Who. It is not a novelization of an episode but rather an original story, that borrows the characters of the Sixth Doctor (played by Colin Baker) and Melanie Bush (played by Bonnie Langford) under license from the BBC. Doctor Who is the world’s longest-running science fiction program, having run continuously from 1963 to 1989, picked up for a TV movie in 1996, and then returned to the screens in 2005 and still running strong. The program will celebrate it’s 50th Anniversary next year (2013). The BBC Past Doctor Adventures (sometimes referred to as PDAs) were published by BBC Books and are one of five series of original tie-in novels. There was also a series of novelizations published by Target Books (the paperback arm of UK publisher WH Allen). Of all the various Doctor Who novels I’ve read I find the PDAs and EDAs (Eighth Doctor Adventures, published at the same time) to be the best.

This was one of the best Doctor Who BBC Books Past Doctor Adventures I’ve read. The story felt like a good Doctor Who story, something that could have been done on the series – if they’d had the budget. It’s actually a complex tale. The Doctor and Mel head to Carsus, the universe’s ultimate library to meet an old friend of the Doctor’s, a retired Time Lord named Rummas. It’s not quite a vacation, but not quite a mission to save the universe – yet. However, while traveling to Carsus, various other versions of the Doctor and sometimes Mel appear in the TARDIS. When they arrive at the library, first the Doctor find Rummas dead, then he’s alive. Mel sees other versions of his helpers at the library. And before long she and the Doctor have to save the universe.

However, it isn’t just the universe at stake – it’s the multiverse. Spiral Scratch deals with multi-universe theory in a highly interesting way without being too bogged down in long explanations. Before long, The Doctor and Mel are trying to save Helen, but as things get more complex, and they continuously fail and return to the Library, it becomes apparent that something bigger is going on.

What that is… is Monica, a Lamprey, a creature that lives in the Vortex itself and devoures Chronon (time) Energy. However, Rummas has become trapped – because Monica lives outside of time, and Rummas lives life in a normal line and cannot change his own past — every time Rummas tries to stop Monica, she can simply slip back and stop him. Rummas, unaware of this, continues to call the Doctor to him, bringing in more and more versions of the Doctor from different alternate universes.

Our version of the Doctor, and Mel, are unaware of this – as is the reader at first, as they try to rescue various time-sensitives, from various planets, in various different universes of the multi-verse. And each time the Doctor fails – he or Mel sees ghost images of other versions of himself in the TARDIS control room.

The fun of this novel starts with the various different universes such as an Imperial Earth where Rome never fell. The novel also includes chapters without the Doctor or Mel as Monica goes about her business of wrecking havoc – which the reader can slowly put together like clues in a great mystery novel. I also liked the other versions of the Doctor — one dressed in mourning black, with a scar on his face, missing an eye. He’s kinder and gentler than “our Doctor” but also blames himself for Peri’s death (in the universe where Rome never fell – she was from the Americas and a native princess named Brown Perpugilliam). Another Doctor travels with a human/Silurian hybrid named Melanie Baal. These “other” Doctors and Mels are fascinating.

The conclusion of the story is fantastic, and I loved it. I’m not going to spoil it here, but trust me… if you’re a long-time Who fan, familiar with various versions of the show and official tie-ins to it, you will enjoy Spiral Scratch. Also, this novel fills in a continuity gap from the original series that most fans will recognize. I also loved, loved, loved that. And I will say, though normally I don’t really like the companion Mel, I found that this book made me much more sympathetic to her, which is an accomplishment. I highly, highly, highly recommend this novel to fans of the TV Series Doctor Who. I also think that if you like a good tie-in novel with a strong SF plot, you’ll enjoy this… though if you don’t know Doctor Who you’ll probably miss some subtleties of the plot.

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