Book Review – Doctor Who: Nightshade

  • Title: Doctor Who: Nightshade
  • Series: Doctor Who The New Adventures
  • Author: Mark Gatiss
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 5/23/2020

**Spoiler Alert** Doctor Who: Nightshade is a novel in the Doctor Who The New Adventures line from Virgin Books. The New Adventures feature the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and take place after the Classic Series episode, “Survival” (1989). In the novel, Nightshade, in the 1960s, strange things are happening in the small town of Crook Marsham: a retired actor who played Professor Nightshade on television is attacked by one of the creatures he fought on his television show in his retirement home; a woman is haunted by the spirit of her brother who died in World War I; and other strange occurrences happen. And even though people can enter the village – no one can leave.

The Doctor and Ace arrive, but the Doctor is ready to just settle down and retire instead of getting involved. While Ace explores the village and meets a young man named Robin, the Doctor heads to a nearby monastery for some well-deserved rest.

There is also a large radio telescope on the moor. The small staff there is studying the constellation of Orion, specifically looking for novas to study. Yet their instruments keep getting overwhelmed by some sort of strange signal. Also, Holly and Vijay, two members of the staff are having an affair, much to the dismay of their racist co-worker, Hawthorne. Fortunately, the director of the work at the radio telescope, Dr. Cooper is much more reasonable.

As the situation becomes more desperate and people start dying, the Doctor and Ace get involved and the Doctor tries to help. But this creature that remains unseen, attacks people through their memories – feeding on regret, sadness, guilt, and anger. And the Doctor has plenty of regrets. When the mysterious creature uses Susan against the Doctor he barely escapes. The situation becomes desperate, a nursing home aid accompanies a busload of seniors out of the village but their driver becomes overcome by sickness and crashes the bus. The driver dies but the seniors and Jill are alright. A visiting BBC reporter entering the village sees the accident and helps get everyone to the monastery. The Doctor reads up on the history of the village in the monastery and tries to discover what might be plaguing the village. Ace helps but also becomes friends with Robin. But the arrival of several seniors ultimately leads to a horrific creature attack when someone makes the mistake of starting a sentimental singalong.

As more people die in the village itself, the Doctor has everyone gather in the church, which has the effect of putting all the food in one place. He also spends time at the radio telescope, examining the signals that Dr. Cooper and her team found. But it’s at the monastery that he encounters the creature, which has taken over one of the local young men the Doctor tries to talk to it. He discovers the creature is old, nearly as old as the Earth itself, which formed around it. And the history of haunted castles and such in the village is due to the creature.

Later, however, as the situation gets desperate, the Doctor, Holly, Vijay, and the actor, Trevithick, go to try to communicate with the creature. It’s a disaster as Holly dies, and Trevithick sacrifices himself so the Doctor and Vijay can escape back to the radio telescope. But the Doctor finds out how to get the creature to leave. He tells the creature he can get all the energy he wants from the exploding star, a nova. The creature uses the radio telescope and leaves, heading to outer space and back in time as it follows the explosion that occurred nearly 300 years ago. Ace and the Doctor head back in the TARDIS and see the creature arrive in the 1600s where it causes a fire at a castle. The creature then heads into space to the nova – and eats up all the energy of the star. It follows another energy trace to a supernova and eats that up too. But eventually it gets trapped by the gravity of a black hole.

I enjoyed Nightshade. The Doctor is in a bit of a mood, due to previous events in the series, but the events in the village and Ace help bring him out of it. He’s much more fallible in this story, which fits with the Seventh Doctor – for example, he never should have brought Holly, Vijay, and Trevithick with him when he tries to communicate with the creature. Having the village gather in the church is less of a disaster – because, although the creature attacks it, no one dies. But having a radio telescope as a major set piece also reminds the Doctor of how his Fourth incarnation died, so that hangs over the novel, effectively.

Nightshade has a spooky quality to it – Holly, though she’s fallen in love with Vijay, cannot forget her previous fiancé who died. Trevithick remembers the most successful time in his life, playing the lead on a spooky BBC television children’s SF show (sound familiar?). Various characters remember past friends, relatives, situations, that they regret or that make them sad – which makes them vulnerable to the creature. Even the Doctor isn’t immune. Ace actually uses her complicated feelings about her mother to her advantage to fight off the creature. And the story takes place in an isolated village, on a moor, which adds to the spooky factor. Nightshade is an atmospheric novel, well-written, with great guest stars, and I also liked seeing a more vulnerable Doctor who can make mistakes. But the story is also clear and understandable, something that can be hard to find in the Doctor Who New Adventures line from Virgin Books. I recommend Nightshade.

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