THIS TEN-PART SAGA
TAKES PLACE BETWEEN
THE AUDIO BOOK
"DEAD AIR" AND
THE GRAPHIC NOVEL
"THE CRIMSON HAND."
JUSTIN RICHARDS (1, 4, 7, 10),
COLIN BRAKE (2),
RICHARD DUNGWORTH (3),
STEPHEN COLE (5),
TREVOR BAXENDALE (6),
JACQUELINE RAYNER (8),
& MIKE TUCKER (9)
OFFICIAL BBC CHILDREN'S
BETWEEN JANUARY 2009
AND SEPTEMBER 2009.
FOLLOW THE DOCTOR ON
HIS EXCITING JOURNEY
TO FIND NEW WORLDS,
NEW MONSTERS, NEW
DANGERS, AND NEW
BEGIN THE QUEST!
JANUARY 2009 - SEPTEMBER 2009
Since the series’ revival in 2005, a lot of fans have turned away from the world
of Doctor Who literature, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Whilst there is nothing at all wrong with BBC Books’ current output (in fact, they’re market leaders so far as quality tie-ins go), their releases are squarely aimed at ‘young adults’; and none more so than this Darksmith Legacy series of novellas, which targets the very youngest of readers. As such, it’s some-thing of an unreal exercise to look at these ten paperbacks from the viewpoint of a grizzled adult reader, broken on the likes of the Virgin New Adventures, but given that most of this site’s readers are such grizzled veterans, I’ll give it a go anyhow.
On the shelf, the ten books are shiny and laden with embossed images and bright colours – plenty of curb appeal, to say the least. And those fortunate enough to have obtained one of the limited edition slipcases are in for a real treat, as when neatly lined up inside, the spines of the books form the current Doctor Who logo.
Indeed, gimmicks are clearly the order of the day as around a tenth of each book’s page count is devoted to activities, puzzles and even bald-faced story clarification, masked as extracts from the TARDIS’ Data Bank. For me, as an adult reader, it was these sections
that irked the most – I couldn’t get through a chapter without some ‘task’ or other rearing its head. However, I would imagine that for a younger reader, such diverting accoutrements are what set The Darksmith Legacy apart from, say, a Doctor Who Quick Read novella, which in comparison must seem incredibly dry and staid to young eyes.
This interactivity is then taken to a whole new level through The Darksmith Legacy website, which youngsters can log onto in order to partake in further puzzles and conundrums, and even earn points. I’ve no idea what these points are for, if the truth be told, but points are always good. Everyone should have points.
Nevertheless, as an adult it was the narrative that concerned me, and I dare say that - bells and whistles notwithstanding - even the ten year-old me would have quickly lost interest in this saga had its ongoing story not been engaging enough. But to be fair, it isn’t bad at all. It’s straightforward, unsurprising, and even a little hackneyed - it couldn’t not be, littered with characters going by names such as ‘Lord Drakon’ and ‘Blackheart’ - but it’s also terrific fun, and not without reward for a devoted completist. For me, the two stories that it most brought to mind were The Infinite Quest and The Daleks’ Master Plan, the former in terms of pace, style, and tone; the latter in respect of its broad, meandering but nonetheless progressive storyline.
The tale begins on the Moon in Justin Richards’ The Dust of Ages, which sets up the basic tenets of the saga, such as what the Eternity Crystal is; what it does; and who these titular Darksmiths are that forged it. Readers of the Target range of Doctor Who novelisations will doubtless be as amused as I was by Richards’ flagrant homage to some of Terrance Dicks’ oft-repeated chapter titles from those books (Escape to Danger!), but beyond this there is very little else to say about this introductory
tale. The same could also be said about Colin
Brake’s follow-up, The Graves of Mordane,
which sees the action shift to the graveyard
planet of Mordane, where the Eternity Crystal
is causing the dead to rise.
It was not until the third book of the range came along, The Colour of Darkness by Richard Dungworth, that The Darksmith Legacy started to pique my interest. Set on the Darksmiths’ home planet of Karagula, this tale inducts us into the marvellously malevolent underground world of the eponymous Darksmiths, fleshing out their intriguing back story and in particular the unique power that they have; a power that eluded even the Time Lords.
The Depths of Despair sees Richards return to the helm to set up the next main thread of
the storyline. Whilst searching for Brother Varlos, the Eternity Crystal’s creator, the Doctor encounters Varlos’ robotic daughter, Gisella, who will be his companion for the rest of the adventure. A fascinating creation, Gisella is an ageless android that looks exactly like a young schoolgirl; sort of a mechanical Peter Pan. She really comes to the fore in Stephen Cole’s subsequent Parisian grotesque, The Vampire of Paris, which sees her track down her mysterious father only for him to perish before he is able to tell the Doctor about how the Eternity Crystal can be destroyed.
Trevor Baxendale’s Game of Death is a largely self-contained tale, but a fairly interesting one nonetheless. In the claustrophobic setting of an impossible country manor at the heart
of the Silver Devastation, the Doctor and Gisella are forced to participate in the most lethal of contests. Baxendale’s story itself is characteristically grim, which always goes down well with me, but what I really enjoyed here was his beguiling portrayal of the Silver Devastation.
“An area of deep space where two galaxies collided over a hundred billion years ago.
The resulting stellar collapse was called the Silver Devastation -
a vast sector of space that contained nothing but dead suns and dark matter”.
Much in the same way that Alan Barnes rewarded the long-standing fans that watched his Infinite Quest with a flood of continuity titbits, here Baxendale explores the fabled home of the Face of Boe and last retreat of the Time War-weary Master with comparable relish. It’s little touches like this that really make reading The Darksmith Legacy worthwhile for adults.
Book seven sees Richards take conduct of the proceedings again, with the relatively plot-heavy Planet of Oblivion. Chock full of Darksmiths and Dreadbringers, this action-packed tale sees the second main thrust of the narrative conclude in glorious fashion.
My favourite of all the ten books though is Jacqueline Rayner’s Pictures of Emptiness,
a two-fold tale that sees the Doctor tried by the Shadow Proclamation for his theft of the Eternity Crystal, before being drawn into an escapade on contemporary Earth featuring
an alien being that captures people by taking their photographs.
Both threads of the plot are executed wonderfully by the author, who has clearly had great
fun with this one. Here Gisella’s story is pushed to what one would assume is its natural conclusion, whilst the Doctor is forced to use all his guile to outsmart the Darksmiths and
the Shadow Proclamation’s Arbitrator, before changing into jeans and a red T-shirt to play
a market trader on the telly. Brilliant.
Mike Tucker contributes’ the legacy’s penultimate novella, The Art of War, which sees
the last aspect of the plot unfurl as the Darksmiths’ mysterious clients are finally revealed.
Uncannily reminiscent of Tucker’s Fleshsmiths (from his novel Prime Time) the Krashoks are a duly gruesome and menacing foe. Harvesters of body parts and technology ranging from human to Dalek, the Krashoks commissioned the Darksmiths to create the Eternity Crystal for them so that they could resurrect their fallen troops and elevate themselves from lowly, warmongering arms dealers to invincible rulers of the cosmos.
Inevitably, it fell to Richards to conclude what is, essentially, his saga. But The End of Time is not only a title that will raise an eyebrow or two, as it shares the name of David Tennant’s last two-parter, but it’s also a complete misnomer. Whilst this largely classroom-bound romp makes for a suitably impressive and engaging climax to The Darksmith Legacy, it’s hardly of epic proportions, and save for the Krashoks’ emergency temporal shift at the beginning, time has very little to do with it.
Ultimately then, any adult approaching The Darksmith Legacy expecting even the level
of sophistication that one would find within the pages of a Quick Read is going to be very disappointed, though I dare say that those who approach it with an open mind and gentle humour will certainly get something out of it.
Youngsters, on the other hand, will no doubt see these ten books as being the bedrock of Doctor Who literature, and at the end of the day, who am I to argue? Not that long ago, I might have even agreed with them.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
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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