THIS STORY TAKES
SIMON A. FORWARD
OFFICIAL TELOS DELUXE
HARDBACK (ISBN 1-903
889-17-0) RELEASED IN
The Doctor is washed
up - literally - on an
alien beach with only
intelligent crabs for
How can he possibly
rescue Peri who was
lost at sea the same
time as he and the
TARDIS? But Peri has
problems of her own.
drowning by an
growth, she has been
adopted by the life
form as its own
As the denizens of the
beach come under
attack, the Doctor
must discover the
truth in time to save
all their lives.
Ultimately Shell Shock proved to be the eighth of fifteen
Telos Doctor Who releases, and “slap bang in the middle” pretty
much sums up my thoughts on this unremittingly forbidding effort.
Essentially a lengthy epilogue to a war that the reader knows
nothing about, Shell Shock is a deceptively experimental affair.
Particularly after reading Guy N Smith’s incongruous foreword, I
was half-expecting a low impact, sprightly tale about a bickering
Doctor and Peri battling giant aliens crabs on some far-flung
planet. But instead, I found Simon A Forward’s startlingly bold
story to be about as far from my preconceptions as you can get.
Indeed, despite most of the story revolving around a group of
(reasonably) intelligent, mechanically enhanced, super-soldier
crabs, Shell Shock is all about character.
The Doctor’s thread of the plot is ostensibly the most interesting, as he finds himself mar-ooned in the company of a cast of sentient crabs. Colin Baker’s Doctor is presented very much in the style of the Big Finish sixth Doctor - his more pompous qualities are suitably reigned in, and the author even presents him with some very delicate moments, which he handles with remarkable tact. For me though, the real joy of Forward’s portrayal is that we get to see the behind the Doctor’s words; behind his actions. Although his dialogue and even his actions may be much more tempered here than they ever were on television, those caustic quips and rash impulses are never far from his thoughts as conveyed in the prose.
What perhaps surprised and impressed me most of all though was Forward’s realisation
of the crabs – Scrounger and Ranger in particular. In fact, through Ranger the title Shell Shock takes on a whole new meaning. Clearly aided by some beautifully-written bursts of ‘crab perspective’, these ‘guys’ are every bit as real as any humanoid characters that the Whoniverse is capable of throwing at us. If anything, they’re so well-drawn that I was const-antly in danger of forgetting that they were giant crabs and not people.
However, the most outstanding aspect of Shell Shock is without doubt its development of Perpugillium Brown. Always just “one letter away from peril”, as the Doctor so cruelly puts it, this young lady is completely deconstructed here in both the literal and the figurative sense. Forward posits that Peri was sexually abused by her step-father, Howard; an experience
that his story cleanses her of in the most bizarre, yet extraordinarily fitting of ways.
Now it goes without saying that most Doctor Who purists won’t approve of such squalid subject matter being explored, and were this a ‘mainstream’ release then I might well be attempted to agree with them (though I’m certain that I’ve come across this suggestion in some other story before or, as may be the case, since, but can’t for the life of me remember where). But the whole point of these Telos novellas was to push the envelope, or perhaps even rip it up, and this being the case I have to applaud Forward exploring areas that would, in the general run of things, fall well outside the show’s remit.
Nevertheless, for all its laudable qualities Shell Shock does lack one important quality, and that’s drive. There are no villains to fight here save for those inside the characters’ heads. There is no impetus as such. Now of course, I could say the same about this point as I did about the one above – i.e. that this a Telos novella, and as such should be praised for being experimental – but what sets the two apart for me is that I really enjoyed reading about Peri ruminating on her past and overcoming it; I didn’t really enjoy being softly swept along by a sideways-crawling tale.
And so as I intimated in the introduction, my overall impression of Shell Shock is middling. Bold but oblique and shocking but dour, this one is about as mixed a bag as you’re ever likely to find.
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.
This novella’s blurb offers to clue as to its placement. However, the text itself makes it clear that Peri’s most recent traumatic memories are those of her transmogrification on Varos, placing the events depicted shortly after Vengeance on Varos. We have therefore placed Shell Shock in the closest available slot.
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