THESE STORIES ALL
OFFICIAL PANINI BOOKS
HARDBACK (ISBN 1-846
53-001-6) RELEASED IN
JOIN THE DOCTOR AND
ROSE ON A WHOLE NEW
SET OF TARDIS TRAVELS.
TAKE THEM FROM AN
ART GALLERY ON THE
MOON TO THE SLEEPY
SUMMER OF 1975, FROM
A DESERTED VILLAGE TO
A SPACE STATION UNDER
ATTACK, AND FROM AN
ALIEN OPERA HOUSE TO
A SPOOKY GRAVEYARD
WHERE THE DEAD WON'T
(EIGHT SHORT STORIES)
Sometime things get missed out in the huge backlog of Doctor Who fiction. Also, some of us have jobs, and can’t spend all day reading comics and annuals and then writing about them, as much as we may like to. So, here is the much-belated review of the very first Doctor Who Storybook, dated 2007, so naturally published way back in 2006. It seems a long time ago, now. The tenth Doctor was still the new boy, Rose was still travelling in the TARDIS, and Panini had lost the licence to produce official Doctor Who annuals. So, they ditched the quizzes and facts, concentrated on the stories (the better part of the format by
far) and renamed the series. These Storybooks, utilising the writing talent of the TV series, are much, much better pieces than the BBC Annuals, and in places, surprisingly grim and adult in tone.
Cuckoo Spit, begins this volume, after the requisite and now-traditional ‘Letter from the Doctor.’ A creepy tale from the marvellous Mark Gatiss, ‘Cuckoo Spit’ is told in extracts
from a diary by schoolboy Jason in 1975. In fact, it’s very 1975, with Thatcher references
and everything. Very much concerned with childhood fears, both the otherworldly and down-to-earth kind, there’s a general atmosphere of discomfort throughout. The alien threat of the piece, described evocatively as a “wet puppy with no eyes,” envelopes its victims in foam-like “cuckoo spit,” transforming people into empty shells to protect its young. Among the chilling Bodysnatchers-vibe comes a fantastic description of the tenth Doctor and Rose, respectively “a thin man in a brown suit; the suit was all crumpled even though he had a tie on;” and “ very pretty, and had a big chest like that swimming teacher that came for just one term.” Add to this beautifully creepy illustrations by Daryl Joyce, and you have a great opener.
The Cat Came Back by Gareth Roberts is a silly, rather clichéd but very fun story, well illustrated by Martin Geraghty. Mitzi, the first cat in hyperspace, receives super-evolved intelligence and vows to take revenge on humanity - first a starship crew, then the world. It might be daft and build up to a funny twist, but it’s well-told and has some interesting things to say on human treatment of animals.
There’s always room for a bit of fantasy in a book like this, it seems, and so here we have Tom MacRae’s Once Upon a Time. The tale of young Brynn, who sets off to find why the children are disappearing from his village, and to find the source of a mysterious song, it’s beautifully told. I’ve found myself enjoying fantasy again recently, and, although this has the Doctor turning up to provide a pseudo-scientific explanation, the magical atmosphere is retained to great effect. The story is ably served by Adrian Salmon’s spiky, idiosyncratic artwork, although the dragon is a bit of a swizz - it’s not actually in the story!
The sole comic strip offering, Opera of Doom, I’ve already reviewed once as part of The Betrothal of Sontar collection. I originally said: “It’s a flimsy, inconsequential affair, but it’s undeniably fun, as the Doctor and Rose discover a cybernetic music machine threatening the world. It contains the wonderful idea that someone who, like me, has no musical ability will be invisible to such a creature. Throwaway, but a good laugh.” I stick by that, and also
my oft-repeated assertion that Martin Geraghty is a great, great comics artist.
Justin Richards gives us Gravestone House, a clever little story which mixes spooks and science-fiction. When a terraforming probe crashes in a cemetery, strange events ensue, with a bizarre, primordial environment created, patrolled by the animated skeletons of the interned. The Doctor and Rose join a couple of young lads and an elderly lady in sorting things out, and have plenty of tea. It’s sweet, well told, and quite nicely illustrated in an old-fashioned sort of style by Andy Walker. It also has a cute ending.
Short story maestro Robert Shearman brings us Untitled, one of the very best Doctor Who stories I’ve read. A wonderfully creepy tale set in a vast art gallery on the Moon, it sees the tenth Doctor and Rose find the bodies of people mutated into paint, and a portrait of Rose seemingly screaming in terror. Beautifully written and very unsettling, the explanation for the events is set up in advance and so doesn’t feel like any kind of cop-out, which is often a failing of this sort of story. The notion of painting granted sentience, struggling desperately for identity is terrific, in both senses of the word, and the final line is laugh-out-loud. Brian Williamson provides gorgeous and disturbing artwork, perfectly illustrating the events with-out giving anything away. We are also given a glimpse of all of the Doctor’s past selves,
way before Human Nature did so on screen.
Writer, producer, actor and monster-
voicer Nicolas Briggs provides the
rather smashing No One Died, an
enjoyable story in which the Doctor and
Rose search for a village that vanished
off the face of the Earth in 1962. It’s a
great idea, and things get particularly
interesting when the Doctor manages
to land the TARDIS inside the village at the moment of its disappearance. The duo discover
the entire population suspended in coffin-like stasis boxes - brilliantly portrayed by artist Ben Willsher. Turns out that this is the work of the Viyrans, a mysterious group of aliens who have since become rather significant in the Big Finish world. Briggsy cleverly lays the seeds here for the Doctor’s earlier/later encounters with the Viyrans, and I love their boxy environmental suits, which gives them a mysterious, unknowable look.
The book finishes with Corner of the Eye, a genuinely disquieting story by mighty incoming showrunner Stephen Moffat. To describe it in much detail would be to ruin its effectiveness as a chiller, so I shall refrain, save to say that it combines a clever science-fiction conceit with the notion of unseen goings on in the background of our lives, and mixes in a dose of existential angst. It can’t have been an easy story to illustrate, low as it is on incident, but Daryl Joyce returns and does a marvellous job. It really is a very fine story; reading it again for this review, I got myself quite unsettled and had to have a strong cup of tea. A fine end to a fine book, the start of a series that continues to go strong.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 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.
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