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on 19 July 2012
The Doctor likes playing chess. But, how he's alone in the TARDIS, challenging himself to the occasional match is starting to get a little stilted. Time to find an opponent... Landing in the Outer Hebrides in the 12th century, our favourite Time Lord discovers much more than he bargained for - including rampaging vikings, a furious princess on her way to an arranged marriage, local villagers eating pre-cooked turtles, a backstory for the Lewis Chessmen, and an alien life-form which lives, breeds and kills through fire. This isn't going to be the quick stop-off the Doctor first imagined.

JT Colgan (in reality, top romantic comedy author, Jenny Colgan) has written what is one of the most exciting 11th Doctor adventures to date (and I told her so last night, via Twitter!) In Dark Horizons, she captures Matt Smith's portrayal of the Doctor perfectly, introduces us to some wonderful new characters (Henrik being a particular favourite), and even allows us a glimpse (from a distance) of a holidaying 4th Doctor, Sarah Jane and K9! Add to that quite possibly the most exciting TARDIS sequence you'll ever read (I won't say where it takes place - spoilers, and all that) and you've got a timey-wimey historical romp that will keep you gripped, page after page.

Very highly recommended!
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VINE VOICEon 4 August 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
J. T. Colgan, better known as "chick-lit" author Jenny Colgan, was a surprising choice to pen a "Doctor Who" novel. However, given the fact that new "Who" is as much about Earthling emotions as it is about alien invasions, Colgan is an eminently suitable choice.

Much of her narrative dwells on human relationships, such as that between a widowed chieftain and his rebellious teenage son, and the one that develops between the feisty princess Freydis and the farm-boy-turned-Viking Henrik. However, balancing these interludes are the threat of a fiery extraterrestrial menace and some exciting TARDIS antics both on and beneath the waves. Colgan keeps the reader engaged by switching the action from a Viking longboat to a Scottish island to another Viking ship to a particularly exciting encounter on the seabed.

The tone of the novel is roughly the same as that of the modern television series. There are some gruesome deaths and references to sexuality, but nothing "adult" in an X-rated sort of way, so this book is suitable for all ages. It's not tremendously challenging or earth-shattering, but the author throws in some cool historical details that should interest the "Horrible Histories" generation and older readers alike, such as references to the Lewis Chessmen and the fact that the Vikings had no single, simple word for the colour blue.

The Eleventh Doctor is well characterised as an ancient yet youthful being, child-like and looking for fun, but burdened by responsibility. In a particularly beautiful moment (on page 221), Colgan puts her finger on the reason why the Time Lord lies: "The Doctor paused. He hated lying to children. But not as much as he hated scaring them."

The Doctor is travelling alone, without the Ponds, though there are echoes of them as Freydis and Henrik settle into their roles as stand-in companions. A fiery redhead, Freydis is, like Amy, an independent and commanding presence, the focus of all the boys' (the Doctor, Henrik, the Vikings) attention. Like Rory, Henrik is attracted to her, in awe of her and also a little afraid of her. In his own words, she is "a good but slightly terrifying woman" (page 284).

The author gets a little bogged down with the intricacies of TARDIS translation (for example, the Vikings and Britons require interpreters when talking to one another, even when the Doctor is nearby) and there is evidence that the final chapters did not receive quite as good a proofread as they might have done (for instance, little Luag's age is miraculously reversed from seven to six). The title doesn't seem very fitting, feeling more "Star Trek" than "Doctor Who" to me, and it doesn't really shout Vikings or fiery underwater menace. "Ragnarök" or "The Burning" might have been more suitable titles, though the latter has already been used on a "Who" novel.

These quibbles aside, this is a flaming good read.
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VINE VOICEon 22 August 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Vikings. If there's one great untapped human sub-culture in Who history, it's Vikings, as though since The Time Meddler somewhat covered their contemporary history and The Curse of Fenric somewhat their legacy, they've been thought best left alone which is a fifty year long mistake because who doesn't love Vikings? Well, the peoples they marauded and pillaged of course but as the underrated versus astronauts film Outlander (featuring Sophia Myles) demonstrated there's long boats full of mileage in showing these relatively primitive beard growers in an exciting adventure with aliens. Add to the list J.T. (Jenny) Colgan's Dark Horizons.

As the author herself described to this very blog, Colgan's approaches Vikings through the mystery of the Lewis Chess men, who created them and their purpose. The Doctor bumps into these beautifully carved objects whilst travelling alone and searching for someone to have a game with. He pitches up in primitive Scotland in the middle of a Viking attack, which is quickly overcome with flames, a St Elmos Fire which almost destroys both attackers and attackees, generated by an alien force that typically the Time Lord finds utterly beautiful but can't be reasoned with (not unlike some of his companions).

In other words, it's a kind of celebrity historical with an important artefact in place of Alexander Graham Bell or some such, though the chess set really is more of a jumping of point. The real interest is in Freydis, a kidnapped princess and one of the islanders, her captor Henrik, who're the Doctor's temporary companions, providing an analogue of Amy and Rory's rapport, she with the acerbic temper, he the streak of nobility. As they inevitably stumble into the Doctor's technology, their mixture of boggled-eyed wonder and matter of fact appreciation provide some of the novel's funniest moments and their ensuing romance some of the most touching.

None of which really captures just how marvellous Dark Horizons is. If you'd told me this was the work of a veteran Who spin-off writer I would have believed you. But as the first attempt, it shows none of the jitters of some other A-list writers working the franchise and can slot comfortably in with some of the classics of the form. I should temper that by adding that it doesn't reinvent the wheel, no epochs have been damaged in writing of this novel. But as an example of a spin-off work, it's perfectly pitched, atmospherically described and has an understanding of the central character which even some of those veterans can often lack.

Tonally, the novel's slap bang right in the middle of the intended demographic of the new television series. There are deaths, which shouldn't be too much of a spoiler, but they're supernatural in origin and the creepiness is strictly in the teen horror category. When the Vikings do maraud, it's generally played for laughs; some darker themes do intrude, but they're utilised educationally to demonstrate masculine dominance in this society, how the princess under normal circumstances isn't allowed to decide on the pattern of her own life, sacrificed to make way for peace treaties between warring factions.

But this isn't a history lesson. There's real poetry hidden within these pages as Colgan captures these isolated specks of humanity in a world which is yet to be infested by too much civilisation, the harsh landscape itself a constant source of mild peril. In her interview, Colgan described how one of the challenges was dealing with meals and bed times, but they're often the most involving, peoples gathered together considering their past and their fate, new alliances and old enemies made over dinner in the moon and torch light, with the Doctor in the midst of it all, thinking of his next move whilst simultaneous enjoying their company.

Indeed, it's Colgan's interpretation of the eleventh Doctor which deserves the most applause. Even in these later years, with Matt Smith's magical portrayal, too often in these spin-off works he can still be a rather generic Time Lord or just sometimes the wrong Time Lord with authors imaginations still holding on to David Tennant's manic energy and long constants. From his first scene, it's impossible not to think of Smith wearily glancing over his chessboard starved of company. Judging by the length of his hair on the cover and various hints we have to assume this is the older Doctor from late in the last series, his age weighing heavily on his shoulders.

Like Steven Moffat, Colgan's also interested in the Doctor status as a mythical entity. Freydis identifies him with the norse god Loki, a trickster. The Doctor explains often and at length that he isn't a god, and almost goes out of his way to prove it, as his magical cabinet fails him and his magic wand rarely works for the benefit of those he's chosen to protect. Yet he still has god-like qualities, not least a moral need to be fair to all species, or at least give them a chance to do the right thing, a code which stretches from the settlers to the Vikings and the aliens. As usual he's disappointed, but this quandary which adds some unexpected thematic depth to the novel.

All in all, really good value. In the acknowledgements Colgan thanks fellow novelist Naomi Alderman (who recently had her own Who published) and Caitlin Moran (who should). With Stephen Baxter having a past Doctor novel published later in the year, there's now a genuine sense that writing for this corner of the franchise is as much of an honour as for the television series and there are hints that the anniversary year will bring announcements of even more surprising signings. If they produces work as entertaining as Jenny Colgan's that's all to the good. Now I'm off to reacquaint myself with chess. Not that I was ever really very good at it.
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VINE VOICEon 28 June 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Being a Doctor Who fanatic since 1971 I was drawn to this straight away of course. The added bonus was that it was about Vikings, set in the past and features the best of the new series Doctors, number 11 played by the brilliant Matt Smith.

One of the major faults that I've found with the new series novels is that they essentially dumbed down to suit the younger audience of the TV series who would buy the books. This is a story written by a more mainstream author rather than the same old shower that's been turning out turd tome after turd tome since 2005. And yet, arguably, this follows the same direction in that it's quite childishly written. I don't mean that it's bad but it doers seem to have been written for younger kids to devour as well as older fans. I don't think that was the right approach as the kids already have the other range to suit them, they don't need this to cater for them.

And yet some of the deaths in the story are quite horrific and unsuitable for a younger readership so it's very difficult how to accurately classify this book.

I did like the story itself and the author's grasp of the eleventh Doctor is spot on and, as she is a fan, her knowledge of what makes a good Doctor Who story is right on the nail. It's not the story at slight fault, it's the way it was written.

All in all, average, but as part of the three 'adult' hardbacks so far this is the easiest to read but ultimately the most disappointing and it should have been so much better.
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on 14 December 2012
Having been a fan of J.T.Colgan for some time (in her other incarnation as Jenny Colgan) I was most intrigued to see what she would do with Doctor Who. The results were exactly what I was hoping for and then some! I don't like to give too much away when reviewing but I suppose the key thing to point out is that the characterisation of the 11th Doctor is absolutely note-perfect. I think that's always the key with Doctor Who books because the risk is that the reader reads the words "The Doctor" without getting a clear image of which one is starring in the story! It's also nice to see our hero in new situations - I don't recall ever seeing the Doctor swim before! The story is set in the era of the Vikings and, as a committed medievalist myself this could have been a major problem for me. I don't necessarily demand historical accuracy from fiction but I do require historical plausibility if I am to enjoy what I am reading or watching. Fortunately, not a problem here. Some people may find the style too jokey but, then again, watch the TV series! Heartily recommended!
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The latest in this seemingly occasional series of hardback 'guest author' Doctor Who books- from authors who are already famous for their non-Whovian novels- is a very welcome treat.

It isn't as much of a departure from the familiar as some of the other books have been- it's more or less on the same level as the BBC Books standard range, with possibly a slightly more adult leaning, but definitely accessible to younger teens. There's very mild horror, but nothing worse than you've seen in the TV series.

It's a nicely evocative windswept Viking story, not dwelling too much on the traditional 'horned helmets' images (yes, I know they didn't) and instead portraying a strong image of primitive isolated people struggling to survive in wild Northern landscapes. There's also a thick sense of humour running through things, for example in the brief addition of farm boy Henrik as a 'companion' in the conventional Who sense, one who is rather underwhelmed by the Doctor's un-seaworthy TARDIS.

The story overall doesn't break any particularly new ground- we've seen pretty much all the constituent parts of it in other Who stories- but it rattles along very nicely and entertainingly, with a couple of neat twists that keep you reading.

So while there's nothing revolutionary here, this is nevertheless an excellent addition to the 'slightly more grown up' side of the Who range.
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on 29 August 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I've always rated the novel adventures of Doctor Who higher than the TV series. Literature allows the creator to ignore any budgetary restraints and send the Dr and his companions anywhere in time and space. In recent years the TV show has also done this via the power of poor CGI. I'll stick to the books as my imagination is far more powerful than the Beeb's computer. `Doctor Who: Dark Horizons' has forgone the idea of distant worlds and is set on a remote Scottish Island during the time of the Viking invasions. Who is companionless in this adventure and must prevent a war between the Vikings and the local Scots, as well as investigating a strange fire that is enveloping the sea and anyone that comes in to contact with it.

There are some stand out moments in `Dark Horizons' including a great underwater scene and the relationship the Doctor has with the strange flames. As a series `Doctor Who' is always best when our hero is torn between trying to do what is best and what is realistic. Sometimes what is morally right is against the nature of the aliens. How do you help someone that refuses your aid? The moments of angst when the Doctor realises that there is only one extreme course of action left are the highlight of the book.

It is elsewhere that J T Colgan fails to develop elements of the story. The setting is a little drab - a bleak Scottish Isle. There is also an issue with the Viking characters, they are often spoken of as vicious killers, but Colgan constantly softens their edges to appeal to a family crowd. All this does is undermine the threat they pose and any person, of any age, can see this. Finally, there is a rather drippy love interest between a Viking and a princess; by far the weakest element of the story. `Dark Horizons' ends up being a book with a great central concept, surrounded by extraneous gumpf. Enjoyable, but flawed.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In complete contrast to the deadly dreary audio book, which was also an amazon vine offering that I snapped up quickly, this book was really rather good; I read it over a day or so (always a good sign for a book in my eyes).

It had a nice balance of gruesomeness and humour, the Doctor was on good form and all was fine and dandy within the world of Vikings, etc., only it wasn't really. Lots of Vikings getting all toasty and crispy crittered along with lots of turtles really piqued my interest. Would turtles have frequented that area in that time period? Who knows, maybe the author has a thing for partially cooked turtles. Anyway, some nifty little historical notes chucked in and this added nicely to the mix.

I warmed easily (ha) to the characters; they had a reasonable amount of depth and likeability and the whole story bumbled along quite happily. Nice little bit of alien double-cross and normal Dr Who'ishness is restored.
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on 30 July 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Jenny Colgan, best known for contemporary romantic fiction, joins the select but growing band of female DW writers - and I for one hope they ask her back. Her fan credentials are impeccable, if the blurb is to be believed, and among the many likeable features of this story is her sense of the show's long and varied past. I don't know how much control DW novelists are allowed to have over the settings of their stories, but it's clear that Colgan has a deep attachment to the scenery and history of the Outer Hebrides, and it's used to great effect in building up the texture of the society that the Doctor stumbles into.

Initially I was disappointed to find the Doctor travelling alone in this adventure, but the secondary characters are drawn well enough for this to be an advantage. Many of the elements of the tale are predictable - a disaffected teenager vulnerable to an alien intelligence, a pair of young lovers and a bright, motherless child who tags along with the Doctor as his substitute dad. The setpieces and the unfolding of the plot, however, proceed with flair and imagination. The Eleventh Doctor's Trickster God persona is made explicit here and Colgan's particularly witty and intelligent on the way the Viking and Scottish characters place him within their own cosmology - all done with a light touch and the humourous irony that characterises the Doctor's interactions with humanity.

It's hard to tell from the presentation quite what age group this is aimed at. It's a little slight for adults, and I think it would go down well with older children (around 11 upwards) and teenagers. I don't think there's anything too horrific for the youngsters here.

Only one error, but that's serious enough to cost the book one star - Beltane is in May, not September, and marks the beginning of the summer. Whoever edited this, they need to mug up on their pagan lore, or at least be kept well away from any future TARDIS visits to Glastonbury!
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on 16 May 2013
One of the best Doctor Who novels I've read in a long while and certainly the most satisfying of this recent range of 'event novels' by well-known authors. Jenny Colgan perfectly captures not just the personality of the Eleventh Doctor but also the style of his era. This would make a marvellous two part TV story, but it really benefits from the depth and inner voices that a novel can provide.

The Dark Ages historical period is well depicted and the humanity of the Vikings and islanders leaps off the page. Clearly the author had done her research and I've learnt something too. I thought the explanation behind the Burning was ingenious, something unlike any life the Doctor has encountered before.
So I can definitely recommend this one to other Doctor Who fans.
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