Top critical review
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on 16 June 2011
For a Doctor Who fan, and a novel fan, Doctor Who: The Novel should have been a five-star shoo in. Unfortunately it was a shoo-out-and-exterminate-yourself.
The Ninth Doctor wasn't much like Christopher Ecclestone's portrayal. Richards captured his detached confidence well, but no other aspect of his personality was apparent: his passion, his anger, his dry humour or his swagger. Admittedly, it's hard to recreate a character in print already well etched in the reader's mind, but had there never been a TV series, had the reader come to this book tabula rasa, then the `hero' would be read as a bland, aloof and essentially pointless character who was as much a Time Lord as he was a stick of celery. His most recognisable features are were the leather jacket and sonic screwdriver, both of which I could don without setting foot on Gallifrey.
Rose was better managed. Her feisty boisterousness shone through along with tinges of empathy and compassion making her a much more well-rounded character. She was so strong the story could have survived with her alone. The remaining cast, with a few exceptions, were a bland menagerie of boring stock characters and red shirt tokens.
The plot itself had the capacity to be a good one. There were various layers and in the hands of a better writer could have been enjoyable. However Richards - unfortunately the Creative Director for the BBC Books Doctor Who Series - created all the atmosphere of a tea party in a morgue. For a huge chunk of the book, nothing happened. Nothing. The Doctor faffed about playing chess and chatting, Rose wandered about feeling inquisitive and by the time the action kicked in, I was almost too fed up to care.
From the attack on the hotel through to the goldfish bowl prison, things were actually good. The action was pacey, the dialogue was snappy, the holder of the upper hand was constantly changing as loyalties were switched, examined and re-examined (even if the treatment of the cats was a bit violent before their secret was revealed). Then the dénouement came. And stayed. And continued some more. The whole Big Ben sequence left me wanting to climb those same stairs and throw myself from the top of London's most famous clock to end the misery. The climax lasted so unnecessarily long that I would have been quite happy if the Doctor was killed and London vaporised just to reach a conclusion.
The book wasn't without any merit. Freddie is a brilliant character, and there was a huge and important theme: the nature of humanity. This was explored with some skill that made its point without overegging it and there were beautifully poignant moments that actually present a challenge to `human beings' about humanity itself.
Nevertheless, the rating this novel is reflective of the sheer effort it took for me to keep picking it up. If I had a TARDIS of my own, I'd go back a few months and throw this book away before I had the chance to read it.