Top critical review
The Messingham Trap
on 3 October 2015
The greatest hunters in the universe assemble on the enigmatic Planet 1, reigned over by the godlike Sebastiene, for the greatest prize of them all... the last of the Time Lords, The Doctor.
Messingham is no stranger to Doctor Who, having written Strange England and Tomb of Valdemar in the past, his tales usually marked by a high concept that feels like a merging of Who and an classic Edwardian concept. Here, we essentially have Who's take on 'The Dangerous Game': a group of alien hunters pursue the Doctor across different zones modeled after their home worlds, while Sebastiene has Donna and the TARDIS in his clutches. But on top of that, we have humanoid robots who run Planet 1, a duplicate of the Doctor who is also his number one fanboy and even Sebastiene himself having a fixation with 19th century Europe, hence his appearance and behaviour. That's a pretty odd mix, but how does it work out?
The problem is is that The Doctor Trap never feels like it makes most of the use of its premise, and it's a fairly tensionless story. The story starts a little too slow for such a mind game, trudging through backstory and setup, and the use of a doppelganger pretty much acts as a dead giveaway of what the story is going to do. The actual hunt isn't even until halfway through the book, and by then, maybe fills up two or three chapters before the idea seems to be drop in favour of a standard big confrontation. Most of the book is mainly spent seeing the Doctor manipulate Sebastiene's game from the inside, or Donna being trapped inside a mundane hell of a discount hotel and whining about the Doctor. The stakes never feel that high and Sebastiene is a little too kooky and silly to act as much of a threat or feel like a challenge for the Doctor. Even the humour doesn't seem very well thought out, going from Adams-ish parody and wit to just lame pratfalls with Sebastiene's robotic servants.
On top of that, Messingham writes a fairly generic smart alecky Doctor that only half the time sounds like 10, the rest being a jumble of 4, 5 and 7, and his Donna is very poor, as I barely imagined seeing Catherine Tate during the reading of the story, and instead more of a whinier Rose with just a touch more sass. In fairness, the prose is uncluttered and easy to read, which makes sense given the book's young demographic, and Messingham may not follow through on them but no one can deny he hasn't got an imagination on him, but it just isn't enough. Not recommended.