I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. The opinions below are entirely my own.
Published by Ebury Publishing, September 4, 2014.
In this entry in the Time Trips short story series, the third incarnation of the Doctor accidentally lands in what appears to be an idyllic English country village, while attempting to get back to Earth and say goodbye before he is destroyed by the radiation he has absorbed on Metebelis III. (This story gives a glimpse at one of what must have been many stops, since he was trapped for 10 years in the time vortex while slowly succumbing to radiation poisoning and eventually regenerating into the Fourth Doctor.)
As per usual with any seemingly cheerful, bucolic setting in the Doctor’s journeys, something is not quite right. No one has a name beyond their profession (Milkman, Postman, etc), everyone attends a “wellness parade” each day, and there are no children. Also, doctors are forbidden. The Doctor meets a woman known only as the Queen, and with her reluctant help must attempt to get out of the town and find his missing TARDIS to continue his journey “home,” avoiding suspicious townsfolk, running from creepy clockwork “toys,” and uncovering the mystery of the strange energy force that seems determined to keep everything eternally the same.
I’m not very familiar with Three, so I was excited to read a story featuring him, especially one written so well. I can’t evaluate the “accuracy” of his characterization very well since I’m not as familiar with his mannerisms, but he definitely had the Doctor qualities that are most important- he’s clever, impetuous, kind, and a little imperious. I love that Harris included a bit of Three’s signature Venusian Aikido moves, even as he suffered from radiation poisoning.
The story relies heavily on fairy tale themes, which works very well for the short story format, and are especially well-done by Joanne Harris. Harris is probably best known as the author of Chocolat, another story that relies heavily on fairy tale logic, which became an incredibly successful film starring Johnny Depp and Juliet Binoche. I mention this because it seems so very different from what we expect from Doctor Who, but based on this outing I think it was a brilliant choice. The writing is much more lush and “literary” than traditional Who novels and shorts, which are definitely kept on the simpler side (not a bad thing); I actually found myself underlining passages that were particularly evocative. There is a fine line to be walked when writing genre fiction (especially media tie-in genre fiction), where the plot cannot be sacrificed for style but atrocious prose does even the most ripping yarn no favors, and I think Harris maintained the balance beautifully. The only minor complaint I can muster is that the emotional power of the finale is less than it should be- there is a lack of development that keeps the ending from having the impact it is capable of, but this is perhaps more the nature of the series (each Time Trips entry is supposed to be less than 10,000 words) than any real fault of the author.
I’ll admit, I was a little wary about the Time Trips series- its purported intention to bring big name authors into the Whoniverse made me nervous after the spectacularly mixed results of Michael Moorcock’s Coming of the Terraphiles. But if this one is any indication of the rest, I’ll definitely be adding them to my ever-growing Who reading list.