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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Agatha Christie in Spaaaaaaaaaaaace!!!!, 14 Jun. 2004
This review is from: Doctor Who: Ten Little Aliens (Paperback)
Stephen Cole thanks Agatha Christie's daughter in the acknowledgements of Ten Little Aliens, and well he should. While I have not read Ten Little Indians (or, as it's known now, And Then There Were None), I know enough about it to recognize a pastiche when I see one. The question is, is it a good one? While there is an entire 46 page experimental section that makes the reader work a bit too hard, it is overall an exciting and suspenseful mystery in space and well worth a read.
An elite group of soldiers is on a training mission inside a burned out planetoid when things start to go wrong. They find a control room with ten alien corpses captured at the moment of an extremely violent death, frozen in time. They also find a blue police box, an old man, and two young people who shouldn't be there. Then, people start dying. The Doctor and his companions would like nothing better then to get back in the TARDIS and go somewhere else, but they appear to be blocked by an energy barrier of some sort. The Doctor has to use every wit he has to figure out what is going on. What is the horrifying secret of the planetoid, and will anybody survive to find it? And why does a alien corpse disappear every time a soldier dies? And could one of the soldiers know more then he/she is telling about all of this?
Ten Little Aliens is a classic "we're all trapped and people are starting to die!" suspense romp, and at times it shows too many of the clichés. Each character is given a potential reason for being the traitor and clues point first to one then another of the soldiers. It also has some Doctor Who clichés, as the Doctor and companions are first suspected to be the bad guys, but circumstances (and the Doctor's vastly superior mind getting ahead of everybody else) force them to enlist the Doctor's help in figuring out what is going on. The soldiers start out as stereotypical grunts (though elite ones) and don't usually move much beyond that point with a couple of exceptions.
The book works so well, though, that I didn't mind the clichés. The book started with the soldiers, and I had trouble getting into it, but when they reached the planetoid and things started happening, I forgave Cole a bit. He takes these clichés and turns them into something quite suspenseful and interesting. He gives the soldiers just enough character to make us feel a little bit when one of them dies. Of course, he has to do that or else the traitor part of the plot wouldn't work, as we wouldn't care who it was (or, alternately, we'd pick out the traitor because he/she is the only one *with* a personality). Cole really pours on the atmosphere, so much that you almost feel like you're in a cave, feeling the oppressive waves washing over you. It's almost enough to make you feel uncomfortable.
Cole manages to get the main characters dead-on, with only a quibble or two. The first quibble is that the Doctor doesn't really appear to be that close to his regeneration (this book takes place very close to the time where he regenerates into the Second Doctor, and he has previously shown the signs of this body's age). He certainly acts like an old man, not being able to do a lot physically and getting out of breath, but we don't really see the impending regeneration coming. Previous books set in this time period have hinted at this, which makes this book stand out. It's not a problem with the book itself, however, just a problem with where it is in the series. I loved Polly's canary yellow space suit, though it's convenient that the Doctor would have one that just fits her personality.
There is one aspect of the book that really brings it to a screeching halt, however interesting the concept is. At one point, all of the characters put on visors that hook them into the neural network, so they can keep in contact. The entire chapter becomes similar to a "choose your own adventure," except that it's a "choose whose viewpoint you want to follow." You end up reading all of the sections anyway (which is extremely clever on Cole's part, making sure it all ties together), but you're hopping from page to page, and I'm not sure I did get them all. This goes on for 46 pages, where each short section ends with something like "if you wish to see this from the Doctor's viewpoint, go to page 200." It makes the reader really work, and I found it really dragged the pace of the novel down. It's interesting because they can all get some sense of each other's thoughts, but ultimately I think it detracts from the book.
Other than that, though, Ten Little Aliens is a taut thriller with an exciting climax. The characters grow beyond their clichés to be interesting, and the plot will keep you going until the end. I guess the reason why clichés exist is because they started out really good, and can be good again when done right. Stephen Cole has done it, though he teeters on the edge a little bit. Check it out. Meanwhile, I'm late for my berth on the Orient Express.
David Roy
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