Saturday 8 February 2014

WHO REVIEW: Time Trips #2 & #3



The second and third releases in the Time Trips series are both improvements on the first, and focus on more recent incarnations of the Doctor. Jenny T. Colgan – now sporting an Iain M. Banks-esque middle initial for her sci-fi work – writes for the eleventh Doctor, a version she has already shown a knack for capturing in her 2012 novel Dark Horizons. A month later, Nick Harkaway, author of the critically acclaimed The Gone-Away World, provides us with an energetic tenth Doctor story. Both are pacey, witty adventures that suit the fast-talking the authors have chosen (or been assigned?)

Colgan gives us Into the Nowhere, an evocative and creepy tale which sees the Doctor and Clara arrive on a planet which, impossibly, appears nowhere in the TARDIS databanks. This is enough to both spook the Doctor and make it irresistible for him. The nameless rock is, it seems at first, uninhabited, but there are revelations to come concerning its true nature. While the Doctor wants to get to the bottom of this mystery world, the main concern for him and Clara is just staying alive, on a planet that seems to have been designed to kill them.

Harkaway follows this up with Keeping Up With the Joneses, less spookily titled but no less bizarre and inventive. This sees the tenth Doctor, during his solo travels, in dire straits as the TARDIS collides with a weapon leftover from the Time War. He finds himself in Jonestown, a quaint Welsh settlement that seems to have spontaneously set itself up inside the TARDIS. There he meets Christina, a young widow who, inexplicably, is the spitting image of cat burgler Lady Christina de Souza. There's also a sentient electrical storm, firemen, and a lot of mushrooms involved. It's certainly not wanting for imagination.

Both stories have their similarities,each depositing the Doctor in an impossible space and leaving him to work out the truth behind it, while trying to stay ahead of the numerous threats. They fit their length well; a single, well-defined mystery suits these novellettes. They also find room for some decent characterisation of the leads. Into the Nowhere pushes Clara to the brink with its non-stop barrage of traumatic assaults, and sees her and the Doctor questioning just what sort life one has to lead when travelling in the TARDIS. Joneses, on the other hand, being essentially a solo Doctor piece, is more introspective, and manages that most difficult of tasks – believably getting inside the Doctor's head and examining his character.

Joneses trumps Into the Nowhere for me, though, for its conclusion. The eventual revelation of the mystery planet's nature is a little underwhelming, and the central villain is unimpressive. I realise he's supposed to be, but it's still anticlimactic. In Joneses, however, we know from the outset the nature of the villain, but it develops in unforeseen ways, and while we may suspect the true nature of of Jonestown, the ultimate explanation is rather ingenious. Both stories end on cautiously optimistic notes, with their monsters given a second chance in a new world.

Nick Harkaway pips it for me for his poetic turn of phrase. “There was indeed a dark cloud looming out towards the east, a pendulous monster grumbling and growling to itself, and he could feel the psychic backwash already.” There's also an extended riff on cheese, which is worth the cover price alone. However, both Harkaway and Colgan have provided excellent stories, complex yet easy to read, and a sure sign that this series can work very well indeed.

Placements: Keeping Up With the Joneses takes place between The Waters of Mars and The End of Time, while Into the Nowhere would seem to occur between Day and Time of the Doctor.

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