THESE STORIES ALL
OFFICIAL PANINI BOOKS
HARDBACK (ISBN 1-846
53-030-2) RELEASED IN
The TARDIS TAKES THE
THIS NEW SELECTION OF
JOIN THEM AS DODGING
BIONIC TORTOISES ON A
HELPING AN ORDINARY
BOY SAVE CHRISTMAS,
CREATURES ABOARD A
GIANT SPACE STATION,
EXPLORING A BEAUTIFUL
WITH A DARK SECRET,
AND TRYING TOSAVE A
MOTEL FROM RAMPAGING
(EIGHT SHORT STORIES)
Finally, a belated review of 2008’s edition of the Doctor Who storybook. Well, it
is 2008 now, even if the book was released around August 2007 (as is always the way with such things). Continuing in the style of the previous two volumes (Storybook 2007 and the 2006 Annual), this book contains a selection of short stories for kids of all ages, beautifully illustrated throughout. Overall, the book is an excellent piece of work, from the perfect like-nesses of the Doctor and Martha on the cover, to the final page, treating us to a variety of styles of both storytelling and artwork. The stories are just long enough to maintain a good narrative, but are also fun, bite sized chunks of Who to dip into when the mood takes you.
In contrast to the wildly successful annuals published by the BBC, Panini’s storybooks are, although aimed at children, sophisticated enough to provide diversion and entertainment to adult fans too.
Beginning with a revived tradition - the letter from the Doctor that first appeared in Doctor Who Weekly back in 1979 – Russell T Davies ‘forwards’ us a short note from the time traveller himself. It’s a silly, fun little taster of what’s to come. The book proper starts with Cats and Dogs by Tom MacRae (Rise of the Cybermen,The Age of Steel), illustrated by Andy Walker. This story sets the bar high; perhaps a mistake as none of the other stories can, in my view, quite reach the standard of this one. By far my favourite in the book, Cats and Dogs is a simply hilarious tale of two antagonistic alien races trapped in the bodies of Earth pets. How can anyone fail to love a story that starts:
“One morning, my cat started talking to me. Now, the funny thing is, this didn’t really strike
me as odd. I mean, I’m not one of those crystal-dangling tofu-stuffing nutjobs who thinks
animals are all secretly tuned into their own special language and if we could only free
ourselves from the shackles of the capitalist Western mindset then we’d be open to their
truth, and I don’t want to be Doctor Doolittle either (The Rex Harrison Doctor Doolittle I
mean – no one wants to be Eddie Murphy).’”
It’s a fun, ridiculous jaunt for kids, but also a good, old-fashioned science fiction tale with enough clever jokes, nudges and winks for adults. To go too much into the plot would spoil the wonderful twist in the tale, but the mystery of the aliens’ plight is resolved beautifully, and also alludes to a new alien race – the Ageless – only briefly mentioned, but, as a group of seeming anti-Time Lords, are very intriguing, and will hopefully turn up again. The last line
is a killer, and it’s a great shame that Tom MacRae’s story for the 2008 series has been postponed! Walker’s artwork is also very good, old-fashioned but effective, complimenting the story without giving the game away to those who, like me, may have skipped ahead to look at the pictures.
The second story, The Body Bank by Gareth
Roberts (The Shakespeare Code) is another
winner. A tale of body theft in the far, far future,
it’s a fast-paced, exciting little jaunt, in which the
Doctor and Martha must prove the innocence of
a woman whose body has been used to commit an atrocity. Probably the most enjoyable part of the story, for an old hand like me, is the use of the Chelonians, Roberts’ own creation from the New Adventures. As one of my favourite monster creations, it’s great to see them
in action in print again after so many years. They’re a bit more sophisticated too, a more peaceful, enlightened (although still not especially bright) evolution of the species. It’s also nice to see that the silliness of the concept – a race of cyborg tortoises – isn’t lost on the characters. Daniel McDaid’s artwork, some of the best in the book, has a cartoony style in broad brushstrokes, and his portrayal of the Chelonian character is just perfect. With a little luck, the reptilian creatures may even make an appearance in the television series one day.
Third along is The Box Underneath the Tree by Robert Shearman, illustrated beautifully by Martin Geraghty. Although the book was released in the summer, it’s inevitable that most children will be receiving it as a Christmas present, and so it’s apt that there’s at least one festive story in the collection. A charming tale about the power of a child’s imagination, Box displays Shearman’s ability for astonishingly clear and imaginative prose and well thought-out plots. The hero of the piece, a young boy named Harry, has been writing about a space war between two alien species, the Xarantharax – squidmen in suits – and the Iska’lanz’rm – cows with snakes for eyes, cursed with an unpronounceable name. The core concept, that the aliens’ existence, and perhaps even the Doctor’s as well, is entirely down to Harry’s imagination, is heart-warming and makes this story perfect for a young reader. Harry is shocked when he finds the TARDIS wrapped up under his Christmas tree, and is lead into his own adventure when both alien factions try to influence the final outcome of his writing.
As the Doctor puts it to Harry:
“There are millions and millions of stories out there. Trillions.
But sometimes the storyteller is so good, his imagination is so powerful,
that it leaves an imprint on the universe. The stories can’t help but come true.”
I’m sure that many a child left the book on side for the rest of Christmas Day, whilst they sat down to write their own stories, and that’s just fantastic. I’m confident that, in years to come, writers of the adventures of the nineteenth Doctor, or whatever, will point to The Box Under the Tree as one of the stories that inspired them to write.
Zombie Motel, by Paul Magrs, failed to grip me in the same way as these first three. In no way bad, Magrs style is, I feel, simply more suited to adult fiction. His story, about a motel
full of zombies, would you believe, is well told, hopping across time zones on a whim, but somehow lacks the charm that the book has displayed up until now. Ben Willsher’s artwork, however, is excellent; highly stylised but very clear, the final image in particular being really very emotive.
Sun Screen by Jonathan Morris, the volume’s only comic strip, starts off as a surprisingly grim affair. A crew submit themselves to a slow, inevitable death in order to run a space station that shields the Earth from the Sun’s radiation. Things are made more difficult as a group of bat-like / bug-like aliens, the Silhouettes, swarm to the station in order to absorb its energy. Effectively portrayed by the artwork of Martin Geraghty and David Roach (on pencils and inks respectively), the Silhouettes would surely look amazing on screen. The ending is
a little whimsical for such a dark story - Martha’s colourful T-shirt being the key to driving the creatures away, but otherwise the tale is well told, and, naturally, the Doctor saves the crew from their self-imposed fate as well.
The Iron Circle by Nicholas Briggs once again uses a young boy as its starting point, but fails to integrate it into the sci-fi plot. Nevertheless, the Doctor and Martha’s adventure is entertaining and rather fascinating. Giving us the truly bizarre image of electricity pylons walking across the Isle of Wight, The Iron Circle features a well-spoken, metallic extra-terrestrial that needs to eat metal to survive – including said pylons, milk floats, Martha’s fillings and bits of the TARDIS. Amusingly dismissive of the Doctor’s pseudo-scientific explanations, the alien is also quick to point out that, while its devouring of an island’s worth of metal may cause chaos, at least it doesn’t eat living things, like we do. The story ends rather too suddenly, but is an effective tale. Presumably, the only reason Nick Briggs hasn’t been signed up to write an episode of the series is that he’s too busy running every other aspect of Doctor Who these days. Adrian Salmon’s highly stylised artwork is pleasing, far more so than in his comic strips, which can be hard to make out. The discreet illustrations are a far more effective use of his skill.
Kiss of Life by Justin Richards is, in my opinion, the weakest story in the book. A tale of princes and princesses on the planet Geravalon, it features a very nice central concept –
an alien creature that needs human DNA to stay in human form and live the life it wants –
but somehow the telling doesn’t work. Perhaps it’s just me, but the narrative, although not particularly long, drags somewhat, and the denouement is made very obvious by the story’s title. Once again, Andy Walker provides the illustrations, but this time his style seems some-how more old-fashioned than before; probably as a result of the traditionally-styled subject matter. In many ways, it reminds me of the old annual stories, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
The final story of the collection, Deep Water by Nicholas Pegg, is something of a return to form, but it still doesn’t reach the heights of the first few stories. It tells of Subaqua One, an underwater settlement on a human colony planet… or so it seems. There’s a rather nice little mystery here, well told, and the Doctor, although he does little directly, inspires rebellion on the world in his own inimitable way. The villain of the piece, referred to as the Controller, is misguided rather than evil, but this doesn’t spare him from the Doctor’s anger. The piece is helped no end by Brian Williamson’s dynamic paintings, which give excellent likenesses for the regulars, and make the Controller something like an ancient, malevolent Peter Cushing.
Overall, the Doctor Who Storybook 2008 is an undoubted triumph of style and storytelling. Not every tale hits top marks, but when at their best, the stories in this volume are absolutely superb, and complimented by some stunning artwork. I eagerly await the next volume, as I’m sure do many young readers around the country, and indeed, the world… although I’m sure they are also busy wondering what the Doctor and Martha got up to on the insect planet seen in the frontispiece, and how they came to meet the Slitheen on the contents page…
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2008
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