Book Review – Doctor Who: Lights Out

  • Title: Lights Out
  • Series: Doctor Who Novelette Collection
  • Author: Holly Black
  • Characters: Twelfth Doctor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/11/2016

Doctor Who Lights Out is the last volume in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary 12 Doctors 12 Booksset of mini-books. GoodReads describes these as “e-books” and they may have been first published that way, but my set consists of 12 little mini-books the size of your hand, plus 12 postcards in a slip case. I bought the set from either Amazon or Barnes & Noble (I don’t remember which).

This particular story features the Twelfth Doctor as played by Peter Capaldi. Clara is mentioned but is not actually present in the story. The story begins in first person with a “space trucker”, someone who ferries coffee beans from the Intergalactic Coffee Roasting Station (ICRS, pronounced Icarus) to “the planet of the coffee shops”. This un-named character is waiting in line at a coffee shop, a couple of people behind the Doctor, when the lights suddenly go out – when they come back on, someone is dead, and people nearly panic because the coffee supply has been cut off. The Doctor immediately begins to try to solve the mystery.

But as the Doctor starts talking to people, suddenly the lights go out again – and there’s another murder. The Doctor suggests he and our point-of-view character go to the station control center to find out about the power outages. During the walk through long corridors the lights go out again, but no one is killed.

The Doctor and our character go to the control center, only to find both workers dead. The Doctor convinces our main character that they must go to his ship. On the ship, the Doctor has a talk to him about monsters – about becoming a monster. We learn more about the guest point-of-view character, whom the Doctor had rescued from a scientific “research” laboratory that was creating merged creatures, monsters, as weapons. The Doctor’s “pep” talk convinces our point of view character that the Doctor must take his escape pod and return to the Station and he will do what is needed.

The ending of this story was surprising, but it felt a bit rushed. I wasn’t sure I liked it. Having the main point-of-view character as the “monster”/murderer was a different approach as well. I just don’t know about this last story.

The series, however, is worth getting both for veteran Doctor Who fans and for new fans. In fact, I’d say, this collection is ideal for new fans – it introduces each of the Doctors and some of their best-known companions. The stories are modular and not dependent on any continuity knowledge and can be read independently. Each story features the Doctor and a single companion, or no companion, or a companion for the individual story only – a format familiar to New Who fans. Even eras of the show that had a larger supporting cast, are stripped down to the Doctor and a companion. This means the stories are approachable to New Who fans. And Classic Who fans aren’t forgotten – there is a story here for each Doctor as well as featuring some of the best known companions. The booklets are small – about the size of your hand, and short – easily read in a single sitting. Recommended.

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Book Review – Doctor Who: The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage

  • Title: The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage
  • Series: Doctor Who Novelette Collection
  • Author: Derek Landy
  • Characters: Tenth Doctor, Martha Jones
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/08/2016

Doctor Who – The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage is another short, little volume in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary – 12 Doctors, 12 Books collection of mini-books. This one features the Tenth Doctor and his companion Martha Jones. The TARDIS lands in a bank of fog, but when Martha steps out of the TARDIS it immediately becomes a clear and sunny day with grass and trees and such. The Doctor and Martha meet four children – two boys and two girls, and Martha realizes she recognizes them as the Troublemakers – characters from a series of books that she read as a child. Quickly, she realizes that the situation is the same as the first Troublemakers book she ever read, “The Mystery of the Haunted Cottage”.

Martha and the Doctor work to figure out the clues and solve the mystery. When they take a boat down an underground river they are attacked by mysterious beings. They also quickly discover not only who is behind the mystery from the children’s book – but who the real threat is. This threat attacks the Doctor and Martha – causing them to run to escape through a maze of fictional characters and landscapes.

The Doctor confronts the being at the center of everything successfully and he and Martha, ultimately escape.

This story was a bit disappointing – it’s very simple, both in structure and in writing style. The Doctor makes some good points about “The Troublemakers” books and Martha makes some good counter-arguments (the books might not have been that good in an objective sense, but she loved them as a child and they set her on the path of a life-long reader). The descriptions of the Troublemakers books reminded me of Nancy Drew (syndicated series – written by ghost writers), and the characters also reminded me of Scooby Doo (but without a dog), because the Scooby kids included two guys: Fred and Shaggy – two girls: Velma and Daphne and they solved mysteries. Overall, though, the story was about as flat as the type of books and stories it parodied. The ending part, with the reveal of the real villain was slightly better, but not as good as other books in this series.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Beast of Babylon

  • Title: The Beast of Babylon
  • Series: Doctor Who Novelette Collection
  • Author: Charlie Higson
  • Characters: Ninth Doctor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/05/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Doctor Who – The Beast of Babylon is part of the 50th Anniversary 12 Books – 12 Doctors collection of mini-books. This book features the Ninth Doctor, as played by Christopher Eccelston and takes place between Rose deciding not to travel with the Doctor in “Rose” and the Doctor coming back and asking her a second time, also in “Rose”. It’s a unique idea that the Doctor could have an entire adventure in that brief span we see as seconds in the first episode of the new series.

The novel starts with Ali having a picnic with her family, when the Doctor shows up. The Doctor, well, does Doctorish things, which seem a bit confusing because the story is from Ali’s point of view. Then Ali sits and thinks about how much she wants to travel and have adventures as she watches the moons over a lake at night. So we know Ali and her family are on an alien planet. The Doctor arrives and says that Ali has something he needs back, a silver orb. Ali does have it, but she wants to travel with the Doctor. The Doctor agrees.

As the Doctor takes the TARDIS to ancient Babylon on Earth, he explains he is after a Starman – a being created during the collapse of stars into black holes and white dwarfs and such. The silver orb can be used to send the Starman back where it came from before it can eat a planet. And it was the silver orb that the Doctor used to defeat the Starman on Ali’s planet. The Doctor also talks about the girl, Rose, he met on Earth.

When the Doctor arrives on Earth, he tells Ali to stay in the TARDIS. Ali listens, but full of curiosity, figures out how to use the TARDIS scanner. So she sees the Doctor getting in trouble. When the guards, who have hauled the Doctor off, attack the TARDIS – Ali strikes back, using her antenodes and even killing a man. Ali then wanders around, following the Doctor, trying to help, and causing havoc in a way. It’s at this point we realize she isn’t human.

The ancient Babylonians think Ali is a monster and the Doctor a sorcerer. However, when the Starman attacks it prevents the Doctor’s execution, and the Doctor and Ali work to defeat the Starman. The Doctor then rushes Ali in to the TARDIS. Ali is, it turns out, an ant-like being, but, obviously, intelligent. The women are the deadliest of her species. And she convinces the Doctor to give Rose another chance. Ali is returned to her home planet, glad to be home, and appreciative of her home.

This is a good story, especially the way Higson gradually reveals that Ali isn’t human, but that she is still a “person” so to speak. And I really liked seeing the Doctor with a non-human companion for a story. The Starman wasn’t a great villain – basically a monster to defeat that, despite being a strong threat, is rather easily defeated. Ancient Babylon and King Hammurabi make for a different setting for a Doctor Who story.

Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Spore

  • Title: Spore
  • Series: Doctor Who Novelette Collection
  • Author: Alex Scarrow
  • Characters: Eighth Doctor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/03/2016

Doctor Who – Spore is the eighth book in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary 12 Books 12 Doctors collection and features the Eighth Doctor as played by Paul McGann. The Doctor has no companion in this story. The Doctor lands in Nevada in the dessert and immediately runs into a military investigative team. They are all in protective gear, but Major Platt jumps to the conclusion that The Doctor is from the CDC in Atlanta, this bit of mistaken identity doesn’t actually last long though and the Doctor ends up introducing himself as being from UNIT – which gives him the run of the operation.

The Doctor goes to the nearby town of Ft. Casey, where everyone is dead and only a black goo remains – of all organic matter (plants, people, even animals). The Doctor recognizes the signs – it’s an ancient spore which once terrified Gallifrey, killing thousands of Gallifreyans. In the town, the Doctor meets Cap’t. Evelyn Chan, the soul survivor of Major Platt’s original team. The Doctor explains what the Spore is – but far from a simple organic virus or biological entity, it’s designed. Whether it was a weapon or a form of terraforming is unknown. However, the surprising thing is that after the first stage of gathering organic material, and the second stage of making organic constructs for defense, it begins the third stage – constructing a brain – this brain will ask The Question. If the Question is answered correctly, the entity will self-destruct, leaving the intelligent species alone. But if the species answers incorrectly – the entire planet will succumb to biological destruction. The Doctor enters into conversation with the entity and gambles.

This was a good short story. The idea of an intelligent virus or entity was unusual. And the story, though at first sounding like The Andromeda Strain actually ends in a much better way and is more intelligent.

Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Ripple Effect

  • Title: The Ripple Effect
  • Series: Doctor Who Novelette Collection
  • Author: Malorie Blackman
  • Characters: Seventh Doctor, Ace
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/02/2016

Doctor Who – The Ripple Effect is part the of Doctor Who 50th Anniversary 12 Doctors 12 Books series of mini-books. The Ripple Effect features the Seventh Doctor as played on the BBC television series by Sylvester McCoy and his companion Ace (aka Dorothy McShane). The mini-book opens with the Doctor and Ace in the TARDIS and they are stuck. They are in the space/time equivalent of the Sargasso Sea – becalmed and utterly unable to move. Other ships are also stranded. While the Doctor works on the TARDIS console trying to fix it so they can get out of the time/space trap, Ace watches out the viewing screen at the greyish exterior. Then she suddenly sees the TARDIS. But the Doctor dismisses this as an illusion.

The Doctor makes a desperate move, and the TARDIS is kicked free of the trap. They “auto-land” on a planet, which they soon discover to be Skaro. But rather the home of the militaristic, xenophobic, racist, bullies we know as Daleks – Skaro is home to a race of Daleks who are the center of teaching, medicine, and research for the entire galaxy. People of all races and of all ages come to the Academy on Skaro to learn, study, and do research. Even the Time Lords have come to Skaro to say thanks for the Dalek medical team that saved the life of the Lord President of Gallifrey.

The Doctor, of course, knows this to be wrong. Ace also remembers her own fights against vicious Daleks, but over time she comes to accept the new world she’s on, and the new universe.

The Doctor, however, continues to investigate – and although the Daleks are as good as they seem, this alternate universe isn’t stable – and in the end, he and Ace must do something about that.

The Ripple Effect is an excellent story, in that it’s really about prejudice – the Doctor’s previous experiences with evil Daleks make it difficult for him to accept that these Daleks are good. Ace at first agrees with him, but she gradually accepts what she sees with her own eyes, despite her memories, these Daleks are good. Ace even becomes friends with one of the other students – which makes the end even more tragic.

This is an excellent and very short story, as all the other stories in this series are short. Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Something Borrowed

  • Title: Something Borrowed
  • Series: Doctor Who Novelette Collection
  • Author: Richelle Mead
  • Characters: Sixth Doctor, Peri
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/27/2016

Doctor Who Something Borrowed is the sixth book in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary 12 books – 12 Doctors collection of mini books. This one features the Sixth Doctor (as played by Colin Baker) and Peri, and is told in first person from Peri’s point of view.

The Doctor and Peri arrive on a planet who’s entire civilization is based on Las Vegas in the 1960s. The planet is an intergalactic tourist attraction, making money from hotels and casinos. They are also known for their elaborate weddings. And it is a wedding that brings the Doctor to the planet, as he’s received an invitation from an old friend to his son’s wedding. But the natives on the planet also have a unique biological capability that only happens during wedding ceremonies – the Phasing, when natives of the planet take on a whole new appearance.

The Doctor and Peri arrive among chaos as Pterodactyls attack the populace but not them. Escaping the attack, they find the Doctor’s friend and are taken to his mansion. Peri is sent off with a servant to get “cleaned-up”, and she discovers almost by accident who is not only behind the Pterodactyls attack but who the intended bride really is – an old enemy of the Doctor.

This surprise enemy of the Doctor’s holds Peri and the servant-girl hostage, but soon the Doctor arrives to rescue them. And before long they are off to stop the wedding.

This was a fun and light read. I enjoyed it. The first person narration is highly unusual for a Doctor Who novel, though it’s been used on some of the audio plays. Recommended.

Book Review – Doctor Who: Tip of the Tongue

  • Title: Tip of the Tongue
  • Series: Doctor Who Novelette Collection
  • Author: Patrick Ness
  • Characters: Fifth Doctor, Nyssa
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/23/2016

**Spoiler Alert** Tip of the Tongue is book five in the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary – 12 Stories 12 Doctors collection of short books or novellas. It features the Fifth Doctor (as played by Peter Davison) and Nyssa, who journey to a small town in the US in the 1940s. Most of the story revolves around the people living in the town, especially a young German Jewish boy and a biracial girl. They’ve become outcasts as both are poor, living with single mothers, and, well, are not accepted by the WASPs of the town for unfair but obvious reasons.

This story gets the tone of the time period just right – and I could picture these characters perfectly. It also gets it’s vocabulary correct – the school Johnny and Nettie attend has a principal, not a headmaster etc. For once a Doctor Who story set in the US that doesn’t make basic mistakes of vocabulary, law, or common practices (like how to turn right on red – e.g. only after a full stop – where legal and not posted as otherwise), and the tone and the characters were so rich.

Unfortunately, that means the Doctor and Nyssa get short shift. Nyssa is in the story so little I had to flip through to see which Davison companion was in this story, when writing this review. And the Doctor has very little to do until the very end – when he strolls in like a police officer and “solves” the case and arrests the aliens responsible as well as releasing another group of alien slaves. But I get ahead of myself.

The story, taking place in a small town in the 1940s, involves a Jewish boy and a Biracial girl who become friends because they are both different and experience similar hardships. The boy, though, thinks he wants to be with a girl named Marisa – one of the popular ones at the school. So he takes $2.00, a fortune at the time, to buy a Truth Teller from his friend Nettie. The Truth Tellers are weird devices that are worn on the chin and will say a truthful, but ultimately hurtful thing about the person one is looking at. The Truth Tellers are brought into the town by Annabelle the daughter of the richest man in town, owner of the local shop, and the local factory. Annabelle is also the most popular girl in school – and a bit of a bully towards her friends. Marissa is, of course, one of her friends. The town finds the Truth Tellers to be annoying, but think they are fad that will go away on it’s own.

But then the Doctor and Nyssa show up, right after the mansion built by the richest couple in town blows up. The Doctor explains the couple and their daughter “Annabelle” are not humans at all, but aliens. And the Truth Tellers aren’t a cute gadget but aliens enslaved by the first group (who look like upward-standing human-sized sheep when not disguised. I loved that description. Only Doctor Who would have human-sized sheep as evil aliens.) The Doctor takes care of everything, and Marissa steals Annabelle’s fur-collared coat. Johnny realizes he doesn’t care for Marissa at all, and smiles at his real friend, Nettie.

The story of Jonny and Nettie, oddly enough, reminded me of the classic children’s book, A Bridge to Terabithia but I think that was more the tone of the book than the plot. I was a child when I read A Bridge to Terabithia and although I know I loved it – I don’t remember much about it now. However, as a Doctor Who title, the lack of the Doctor and Nyssa was a bit of an issue in this short story or novella. Still, it’s part of a set, so enjoy.