- Title: Molten Heart
- Series: BBC Books New Series Doctor Who Adventures
- Author: Una McCormack
- Characters: Thirteenth Doctor, Yaz, Ryan, Graham
- Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/30/2019
Molten Heart is an achingly beautiful book. The planet where the Doctor and her companions happen to land is beautiful, and home to a unique society of living rocks. The story opens with the Doctor and her companions, Graham, Ryan, and Yaz landing the TARDIS – they are in a bubble inside the crust of a planet. There are gemstones and semi-precious stones in abundance, but something seems off. Ryan and Graham are nearly killed by a sudden super-heated geyser of water and steam and the group meets Ash – a living rock, and one of the people who live in Diamond City, though she is more of an explorer than the very much stay at home types of her home city. It turns out her father, Basalt was a scientist – and a scientist who is very concerned about their home. He did studies and experiments in his library and workshop but the leadership of Diamond City ignored him. Finally, in desperation, he set out on a mission to find out more about the sudden cracks in the sky, the geysers, why the Ocean dried up, etc.
After learning about this from Ash and a friend of Basalt’s named Quartz, the group hides as much of Basalt’s research as possible, then sets off to follow him. Fairly early on in the trip, there’s another surprise geyser and the group is separated into two groups – the Doctor, Ryan, and Ash continue to follow Basalt’s trail whereas Quartz, Yaz and Graham return in secret to Diamond City. The Doctor manages to warn Yaz not to trust Quartz.
In Diamond City, Yaz and Graham meet a group of Basalt’s “friends” but many of them don’t quite trust the travelers and see them as proof of Basalt’s “heresy” instead, so they are turned over to the Greenwatch – the secret police directly controlled by Emerald, the leader of Diamond City. Yaz tried to explain to Emerald she was from another planet but that the Doctor was there to help, but Emerald refuses to listen and locks her up. Fortunately, one of the people at the initial meeting, Onyx, does believe Yaz and helps her and Graham get out of jail.
Meanwhile, The Doctor, Ryan, and Ash follow her father’s trail – it’s beautiful, exciting and weird, the type of fantasy-science adventure we don’t often see in Doctor Who more similar to Jules Verne or JRR Tolkein than the show, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You have canoeing on a lava river, giant mushroom forests, all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff. Eventually, they find Basalt and the remains of an extraterrestrial mining colony – which is stressing the crust of the planet and threatening the entire civilization. Basalt and his small company of companions are trying to stop the crack, because if it continues the entire world will flood, but they aren’t having much luck against such a huge problem. The Doctor goes to the surface of the planet only to discover the entire operation is automatic, and even the machines were built automatically by nanomachines. She turns off the drilling equipment but triggers a series of defense satellites, which start firing at the planet. Then she contacts the people responsible – only to discover an inexperienced staffer on his second day who has no idea what to do. The Doctor talks him through making some good decisions. Ryan also gets to play an almost video game of shooting the unarmed satellites out of the sky. Needless to say, Ryan loves it.
The Doctor also uses to alien telecom equipment first to reach Yaz and Graham, but later to address Emerald – and when she discovers Emerald had declared Basalt a heretic who’s “science” was causing the disasters (by this time an entire “colony” or suburb had been destroyed when a crack in the sky let in deadly seawater), the Doctor address all the people in Diamond City, showing them the truth about their Bubble World, the aliens who had started mining operations, and how even with shutting everything down – Basalt would need help fixing the existing damage. Emerald has a hard time admitting her mistakes – but she does, and the Doctor uses the TARDIS to transport more rock people to the crack to help fix it. Ryan also suggests reversing the nanobots to take apart machinery and fill in the miner’s tunnels, which they do.
With everything on its way to being fixed, and Basalt being rescued – as well as seeing the surface of his own planet for the first time, briefly, the Doctor and her fam leave.
Molten Heart is a beautiful story – the rock people and their city is gorgeous, their society makes sense (it’s small and insular and in general no one wants to explore – very much the small English village or even small, American town), and even though the message about how the climate is changing and it threatens everyone and everything if something isn’t done – well the message is there but I didn’t feel it was too overbearing. Emerald isn’t evil, just a bit misguided in how she approaches a challenge. Her fear of “panic” if people know the danger is overblown of course, once the Doctor tells everyone the truth and asks for help for Basalt – she gets even more help than she needs and everyone pitches in to help shore up the cracked ceiling and prevent seawater getting in and killing the rock people and destroying their city. (The salt water acts like acid and dissolves the rock people instantly.) Even the aliens who set up the mining are more lazy and inefficient than outright evil – the planet seemed uninhabited. (The guy the Doctor contacts is almost laughable and adorable at the same time – it’s his *second day* and he has no idea how to handle a crisis, much less the Doctor!) I highly recommend this novel, it’s one of the best Doctor Who stories I’ve read in a long time!