Monday 27 October 2014




The post-anniversary publication schedule has slowed down to a trickle now, with only a handful of titles representing Doctor Who in print. The hardback range has released its latest batch of three, the first novels to feature the twelfth Doctor, but to be honest my enthusiasm for the standard print releases is pretty low these days and all we see are the same authors time after time. The e-book only range, which kicked into gear for the anniversary year, is still popping out the occasional treat, however, and considering the much, much lower price of these titles (£1.99 for the Time Trips series, only a pound for the Puffins) it's much more tempting to dip into these. Furthermore, these tend to be written by authors new to Doctor Who, meaning that we get some new voices amongst the same-old of the physical books.

The Time Trips series, conceived as quick reads for all ages, has suffered from too many mediocre releases over the year, but September's release by Joanne Harris is a triumph. Before tackling the book, however, let's just reiterate that: this is a Doctor Who book by Joanne Harris, MBE. Celebrated author and an absolute master of the short story, rightly famed for her novel Chocolat, and writing for the Time Lord. And she's clearly a fan; The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller is set during the Doctor's long, painful journey back to Earth between scenes in Planet of the Spiders. That's not something a non-fan just pulls out of a hat; this is an author who knows the series and has a definite idea of the point in its history she wants to explore. Harris has an excellent grasp of the third Doctor's character, but uses her story's setting to portray a weaker, more vulnerable version than the one we're used to. This is, after all, a Doctor on death's door, determined to explain and stop the power behind the world he's arrived in, even as it is the only thing keeping him alive. While it occasionally veers towards tweeness, it has a dark enough heart to keep it from arriving there, and is a strong, satisfying story with a twist that, while not completely unexpected, is off-kilter enough to be effective. Indeed, there are times when this surreal story feels like something from the strange Doctor Who annuals of the 1970s, albeit with a standard of prose about 150% stronger.

While The Loneliness is perfectly fine for a bright child to read, Lights Out is aimed specifically at a younger audience. The Puffin series of Doctor-by-Doctor stories had its winners and losers, but boasted a Who's Who of modern children's literature that gave it a particular standing. This late addition, allowing the twelfth Doctor to join the party, is no different. Holly Black is the author of the excellent Spiderwick Chroniclesseries of children's books, and while her work is more often lavishly illustrated, here she uses the blind prose to her advantage. The central twist is a little too similar to that of Charlie Higson's ninth Doctor release for the range, and it will read weaker when collected into the Twelve Doctors omnibus that collects the full series. Of itself though, Lights Out is a very effective little mystery, very brisk and with some fascinating science fiction concepts. Again, the author is clearly a fan; the story is littered with perhaps too many references to its parent series before it starts pushing ahead with the story. It makes effective use of the Doctor, who is a known quantity to the central character, but not in this incarnation. It's a clever tie-in to the appearance of a new and unsettling Doctor onscreen. Whether we'll see any further Doctor Who releases from Puffin is uncertain. They could do a War Doctor story, and rerelease all the others all over again. Barring that unlikely event, though, Lights Out is a fine end to the run.

Placements: As mentioned, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller takes place during the final moments of the third Doctor's swansong, Planet of the Spiders, during his long voyage through the Vortex as he succumbed to radiation poisoning. While it took two weeks for him to arrive home from the point of view of Sarah Jane and the Brigadier, the New Adventures suggested that for the Doctor, ten painful years passed on the journey.

Lights Out also takes place during a particularly specific gap. While the Doctor is fetching coffee for Clara between the episodes Deep Breath and Into the Dalek, he pops to a space station in the distant future where the events of this story take place. The coffee is actually vitally important to the plot.

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