“Every life is a pile of good things and bad things,” once said the eleventh Doctor, and he wasn't wrong. He could just have easily have said, “Doctor Who is a pile of good things and bad things – The Caves of Androzani on one side, The Twin Dilemma on the other.” Or, “a fan fiction anthology is usually a pile of good things and bad things – cross your fingers when you open one.”
Fortunately, A Pile of Good Things, the new eleventh Doctor fanzine put together by Ginger Hoesley, is accurately titled. There's not a single poorly written story in here, which, in even the slimmest collection, is really saying something. For me, there was a nice mix of new and recognisable names, and even those stories that were slightly weaker than the best in the collection were great reads.
The collection runs in roughly chronological order from the Doctor's point of view, beginning with “Displaced Persons” by Michael O'Brien. This is a bit of a delight, an affectionate spoof of space opera that drops the Doctor and Amy into the middle of a thinly-veiled episode of Star Trek to solve the problem of the week, only to find some familiar enemies cropping up. I won't spoil it, but I will say that while I might have guessed the first alien race that brought back from the archives, I was happily surprised by second. And for Trek fans, there are little nods at the Whoniverse equivalents of Section 31 and the Department of Temporal Investigations. The interplay between the Doctor and Amy is great, although their dialogue sometimes seems a little off.
Katie and Claire Lambeth bring us a beautiful story with “Lost Soul,” a wartime drama with a solid mystery at its centre. This story sees the Doctor travelling alone but paired up for an adventure with the sparky twelve-year-old Edna. Seeing the Doctor from a new character's point of view, especially a child's, is always a great way to explore him. “Lost Soul” is a quite touching story with some classic sci-fi elements.
“Someone Kidnapped, Something Blue,” my personal highlight of the collection, is a follow-up to the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip adventure “Hunters of the Burning Stone.” This strip saw the eleventh Doctor reunited with Ian and Barbara for the fiftieth anniversary, and was deserving of a follow-up. Author Tina Marie DeLucia absolutely nails the three characters and their dynamic, with Ian and Barbara affectionately coming to terms with this new Doctor while absolutely refusing to get drawn into another reckless adventure. It's a small scale story and all the more effective for it. Beautiful.
Two stories take place during the Doctor's extended sulk on top of a cloud in Victorian London. Paul Driscoll gives us a fun story with some unexpected elements in “The Birds of Sweet Forgetfulness,” which sees the TARDIS try to set the Doctor up with a new companion picked off the streets of London. It's an effective examination of the Doctor's loneliness and depression, which also points out that if he really wanted to be left alone, he wouldn't have picked a bustling capital to hide out in. Driscoll's story even sees the Doctor take over the ownership of a pub, yet still complain about people bothering him, which sounds exactly like the sort of thing he'd do.
Dana E. Reboe's story, “The Stars and Their Promises” is set a little later in the Doctor's self-imposed exile, it seems, as he is beginning to defrost and enjoy his time in London. He's only a little put-out when Madame Vastra recruits him to deal with an alien threat to the capital. It's a lovely little horror story with some great interplay between the two heroes. Both Vastra and Reboe can see clearly that whatever he says, the Doctor's only really content when he's in the middle of an adventure.
It's appropriate, then, that the next story sees the Doctor struggling with the challenge of spending a few days in London without taking in an adventure. “Staying Put” by Ellen Montgomery brings us into the era of Clara and Coal Hill School. Clara doesn't think the Doctor can stay put for a week without the using the TARDIS, and to his credit, he does technically manage this. Perhaps with a little string-pulling from school governor I. Chesterton, the Doctor is given charge of a group of Year 8 pupils. Naturally, his idea of a suitable field trip is to take them back to his junkyard on Totter's Lane, only to find it's been replaced by a Nando's. A very fun story indeed, with a particularly good rendition of the eleventh Doctor.
The funniest adventure, however, has to be William J. Martin's “Lost in Translation.” This doesn't involve two disparate souls thrown together in Tokyo, but the Doctor and Clara's trip to the planet Delphon. Yes, that's the same planet Delphon where they communicate with their eyebrows; the idea of sending the opto-follically challenged eleventh Doctor to this planet is hilarious. The idea of eyebrow language makes you wonder just what sort of creature could possibly evolve to communicate like that, and Martin comes up with a clever answer. It's a funny but clever piece of sci-fi on the universe's quietest planet. (Now do one set on Tersurus.)
Michelle Alvarez brings us “Making Memories,” a very beautiful tale of the Doctor and Clara's of a world where memories can be recorded onto snowflakes. It's a brief but touching look at the friendship between the two time travellers. Kara Dennison's “Universal Love” is another funny one, a biting take on New Age nonsense alternative medicines, which sees the Doctor take Clara on a shopping trip to the least exciting locale in the universe. Fair enough, he needs specific types of crystals and knows that a Wellness Fair is exactly where to find them – even if the vendors have no idea what they're actually useful for.
The stories have enough variety to keep things interesting, while fitting nicely together as a single collection. There are one or two Americanisms that stuck out in the main characters' dialogue, but otherwise this is well-edited and thoroughly enjoyable selection of tales. Not only are the stories great, but the design of the fanzine is eyecatching and the selection of artwork is fantastic. It's a stunning piece of work altogether.
Perhaps surprisingly, there are no appearances by everyone's favourite Roman, Rory Williams, nor any stories set during the Doctor's long vigil on Trenzalore. It shows just how rich the eleventh Doctor's era was that there can be so much in here yet still be more to explore. Still, there's always room for a second Pile of Good Things.
You can order A Pile of Good Things here, but hurry - it's only on sale till the 25th of November!
All proceeds go towards the Cancer Research Institute. There's merc too!
Ginger's site and shop can be found here.