THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE TV
STORY "VENGEANCE ON
VAROS" AND THE TELOS
OFFICIAL BBC 'PAST
RELEASED IN MAY 2000.
Dorsill: a group of
islands shrouded in
fog, the community
facing economic ruin
BUT SURVIVING. THAT
IS, Until the
In one sense, “Grave Matter” is Justin Richards’ most conservative Doctor Who novel to date, yet in another, it may well be his cleverest. Indeed, Doctor Who’s Range Consultant appears to have discovered that there is still room in the series’ burgeoning marketplace for a very traditional gothic horror jaunt – a realisation that may just set this novel apart from much of his earlier work.
Essentially, “Grave Matter” is a Philip Hinchliffe / Robert Holmes story with the volume turned up. A pseudo-zombie thriller set on a remote group of fogbound islands, this novel plays upon cliché after cliché common to both Doctor Who as well as the horror genre in general. Even the book’s cast of characters is rather intimate, really strongly evoking that studio-bound television serial feel.
However, given that Richards is not bound by any broadcasting conventions here, he is able to go much further than Mary Whitehouse’s lot would have put up with back in the day. A couple of scenes in “Grave Matter” particularly linger in the mind of the reader afterwards – at least, they certainly lingered in mine! Take the dreadful suffering that Sheldon is forced to endure time and again, for example. Condemned to have his arm forcibly removed only for it grow back again, and then be amputated again, only for it grow back again… Nasty stuff. And Madsen’s futile suicide bid is perhaps more sickening still.
I have to admit though, at first I did wonder why Richards plumped to use the sixth Doctor and Peri in a setting so clearly ideal for the fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane, or even the fourth Doctor and Leela. This soon becomes evident, however, as the story progresses and once again it is painfully illustrated just how much we missed out on thanks to Colin Baker’s short-sighted sacking.
Nevertheless, despite all of the above, “Grave Matter” does suffer from one near fatal drawback – tradition and cliché inevitably breed predictability and, consequently, tedium. Accordingly this novel is one that can only really be enjoyed when you are in precisely the right mood – a Target kind of mood. Deep down you know what is coming but you do not care; you are just there for the ride.
And so Richards has brought the time-honoured gothic horror story round for another pass, not because it was necessary, but because it was fun.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This novel’s blurb places it after the television story Vengeance on Varos. Early scenes in the book establish that the Doctor has just carried out repairs to the TARDIS, suggesting that it follows Varos immediately.
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.