For Doctor Who to still be a part of pop culture — at all — after 50 years of existence is a pretty notable feat. Having successful tie-in merchandise is a even further impressive. And to have adventures in novel format for fans to enjoy — where the writing is on par with what is seen on the television program — is downright extraordinary.
Normally with most television programs, authors are hired and they may not have much knowledge of their subject, let alone a relationship. Doctor Who fans are blessed to have writers of the stand alone novel adventures that are not just versed with their subject matter, but are fans themselves.
Released this week are three new 11th Doctor novels, each with its own unique story line: Plague of the Cybermen by Justin Richards, The Dalek Generation by Nicholas Briggs, and Shroud of Sorrow by Tommy Donbavand. Justin Richards has been writing Doctor Who books for years, Tommy Donbavand is a huge fan of the show, and all fans know who Nicholas Briggs is.
I read the first paragraph of each book to see where I felt most intrigued. All three were engaging; however, Shroud of Sorrow was an instant attraction due to the dating of the novel. Much like the premiere of the program itself, the novel starts just after JFK’s assassination. While the assassination itself isn’t the subject of the story, it gives a potentially interesting set up for what is. The grief — and sadness of the world — is so great that the alien Shroud has come to feast upon it. Getting too in depth gives away the story, but note that I actually wrote about it first because it is actually my least favorite of these new novels. It isn’t a bad book by any means, but there are moments throughout the book that I felt could use further explanation. Wormholes are timey wimey subject matter, and are part of this book — it’s just that we never go beyond a simple fact that emotions — yes, emotions — spawn them. Still, a good quick read to check out.
The Dalek Generation is an interesting piece by Briggs. He writes the Doctor’s actual thoughts. We get inside the Doctor’s head. It’s jarring, yet in a way, it’s very liberating. We’ve lived most of these years, with the program at least, interpreting what he must be thinking. In the novel, the Daleks are back, yet again, except this time they’re nice. Or so they appear. It is a nice change, however. Even as I’ve seen almost every episode of the series and read a few of the 9th and 10th Doctor novels, I can’t help but feel the Daleks have grown old. Still, Briggs makes the novel feel like a two- to three-episode story arc and it’s very engaging despite feeling like a lengthy read. The only hiccups again, for fans of the series, are the fact that we’ve been there and done that with the Daleks and changing it up a little doesn’t make it mind blowing — just interesting.
In contrast is Plague of the Cybermen, in which we never really get inside the Doctor’s thoughts and the read is much quicker and feels like one episode. This isn’t a bad thing — it’s the opposite and makes it the most compelling of the three novels. It’s actually intriguing even though we’re using yet another character we’ve seen throughout the series — the Cybermen — but they don’t seem to have become as stale as Daleks.
Richards’s relationship with the Doctor, and his overall love for the series, shows in this story and his style is very easy to immerse oneself in. While Shroud intrigued me with the first paragraph, my favorite of the three books is definitely this one. Perhaps it’s the medieval setting or the spin on the idea of the plague being twisted up into a Doctor Who storyline complete with the alien cause. I think it’s the easy nature of the book and the simplicity of the Doctor’s love for humanity — and his constant need to save it — that make it a perfect little read.
Having three books — and a fourth coming soon — is a rare treat for television program fans. For those who love Doctor Who, having these particularly well written novel adventures makes us very lucky.