THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
AND "THE JANUS
OFFICIAL BBC 'EIGHTH
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
Arriving on the
ancient planet of
Hyspero, a world
where magic and
danger walk hand in
hand, the Doctor and
Sam are caught up in
a bizarre struggle
Hyspero has been
ruled for thousands
of years by Scarlet
of dangerous powers
that a member of the
Doctor’s own race is
keen to possess: the
time traveller and
As the real reasons
for Iris’s obsession
become clear, the
Doctor and Sam must
embark on a journey
across deserts AND
and oceans. Both
friends and foes
are found among
alligator men and
golden bears - but
in a land where the
magical is possible,
is anything really
as it seems?
The Scarlet Empress
I have very vivid memories of reading The Scarlet Empress the first time around.
In keeping with my usual approach, before reading the story itself I flicked to the end of the book to read about the author. And on this occasion, I was surprised - not to mention rather delighted - to find that instead of limiting himself to a brief paragraph or a smattering of witticisms, newcomer Paul Magrs had written a very fluent and articulate account of a youth spent hungering for Target paperbacks... an account that I could identify with completely.
What surprised me even more though was that – save for the odd fleeting reference to the Doctor’s “capacious” pockets – The Scarlet Empress had very little in common with the range of novelisations that inspired its author. For one thing, it had been written in the most luscious prose style - a far cry from your Terrance Dicks’ and Malcolm Hulke’s (sorry fellers); and for another, The Scarlet Empress was about as far from being a ‘traditional’ Doctor Who story as you can get.
Magrs’ plot is fantastic in the literal sense of the word. His story sees the Doctor and Sam arrive on the planet Hyspero, where they soon become embroiled in a Lord of the Rings-style quest together with the (now legendary) “Transtemporal Adventuress”, Iris Wildthyme. The resultant story is a playful yarn, elegantly presented. Not quite my usual cup of tea, it’s fair to say, but rollicking good fun nonetheless.
And as we all now know, Iris is really something - a wacky, alcoholic old hen that travels the universe in her time and space machine, which is stuck in the form of a London double-decker bus and is actually, believe it or not, bigger on the outside! Iris also has a certain affection for the Doctor – an affection that arguably sets The Scarlet Empress apart from more ‘traditional’ stories – which makes for some humorous, if occasionally cringeworthy, reading.
What I really love about Iris though is her mystique, which she has managed to maintain right to this day. She is so brazen that the reader is lulled into thinking that they have her sussed from the first paragraph, but in truth she’s shrouded in mystery. The Scarlet Empress sees her claim to be Gallifreyan (though not a Time Lady, I note, despite regenerating at the end of the book), and alludes to her rich and twisting history with all of the Doctor's incarnations to date.
“You didn’t foil the Dalek invasion of Earth in the twenty-second century. I did!”
The real delight though is in how Magrs has Iris pass the Doctor’s adventures off as her own. Again, on the face of it, this ‘plagiarism’ is rather comic; however, when Iris puts her case
to the Doctor, it really gives the reader pause. Did Iris actually have these adventures in a parallel universe, or some other quantum offshoot? And if so, are her adventures any less valid than the Doctor’s? She would certainly argue that they are more valid, given that she has meticulously documented them.
The only real drawback to Magrs’ using Iris here is that she is such a dominant character
that even the vibrantly depicted cast of The Scarlet Empress seem dreary by contrast.
Of course, the Doctor himself is far
from dreary. In fact, Magrs writes for
Paul McGann’s Doctor with real relish,
The Scarlet Empress clearly betraying
the author’s passion for this exuberant
incarnation, as well as his apparent disdain for his predecessor. Painted here as a dashing, matinée hero, the eighth Doctor is
a joy to read about. His contemptuous reading of the Aja’ib (essentially his own life story!) in particular stands out, as does his scene with Iris where they discuss regeneration and talking to their previous incarnations inside their heads.
Given all of the above, The Scarlet Empress has a lot more pros that it has cons. My only real criticism of it would be that the plot is not all that spellbinding in itself, though to be fair I can’t say that this hampered my enjoyment of the book all that much. It’s amazing what you can do with a nicely-crafted turn of phrase and some luminously drawn characters…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyrighted to the BBC and are used solely for promotional purposes.
‘Doctor Who’ is copyright © by the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.