The librarians at my school alerted me to this book. I knew Neil Gaiman had written a special short story, “Nothing O’Clock”, for the 50th anniversary, but I hadn’t been particularly bothered about finding it. Aside from the fact that I tend not to read fan fiction, the state of ebooks these days is still deplorable enough that finding a non-DRM copy would probably have been tricky.
Luckily, I was clever and made sure I’m on the good side of the librarians, and this is the payoff! Eleven Doctor Who stories by celebrated authors. Given the names on the cover, it’s possible to assume these stories are pitched towards a younger audience. I think that assumption would be a mistake, a mistake similar to assuming that Doctor Who is a children’s show. We’re all children compared to the Doctor.
I’m not going to go through every story and give a play-by-play of what I think worked and didn’t work. Suffice it to say that some of these stories were excellent and some were … not so much. Some authors captured the voice of their Doctor, and some seemed to have trouble recreating the magic of the silver screen through the written word. (Another reason I tend not to read fan fiction of TV shows.)
The first story that really jumped out at me was the Third Doctor’s story, “The Spear of Destiny”, by Marcus Sedgwick. I’m glad I enjoyed it, since I was not fond of the only other work I’ve read by Sedgwick, Midwinterblood. My roommate and I have been watching many of Jon Pertwee’s adventures, and Sedgwick captures the Third Doctor’s voice and mannerisms extremely well. He carries off that stern and slightly smug tone that Jon Pertwee likes to don in the face of danger. Like most of the stories in this book, the plot suffers for being slightly rushed—but let’s be honest, one Doctor Who fan to another: we’re seldom in this for the plot, right? We come for the Doctor …
… and stay for the companion. Most of these stories tend to follow the companion more closely than they do the Doctor. (Notably, the Sixth Doctor’s story is told from the first-person perspective of Peri.) Only the First and Eighth Doctors’ stories follow them in a limited, third-person perspective, and I don’t think this is a coincidence. The former’s is an adventure with … Susan … so the choice of perspective was limited. Likewise, the Eighth Doctor did not have a constant companion in his single television appearance (I know this is not the case in the audio adventures), so again, not much choice.
This focus on the companion’s perspective makes the Ninth Doctor’s story all the more interesting. I like it mainly because of when it’s set, between the split second when Rose refuses the Doctor’s first invitation to travel and he rematerializes and says, “Did I mention it also travels through time?” The Doctor visits the planet Karkinos (that is a hint) to stop a Starman. He impresses a local girl, and she inveigles her way into the TARDIS for his trip to ancient Babylon, where another Starman threatens to destroy Earth. Charlie Higson plays on our humanoid prejudices to create a very interesting companion who eventually persuades the Doctor to try to recruit Rose again.
Just because some of the other stories didn’t work as well for me doesn’t mean that they are unappealing across the board. It’s worth noting that my experience of some of the Doctors is negligible or virtually nil, so that can colour how I enjoyed their stories. And this is a collection for Doctor Who fans; this is not a good place for newcomers to suddenly dive in and say, “Wow, I guess I should probably try Doctor Who, what with it being so popular and all!” Fans will appreciate these stories, even if they don’t enjoy all of them. Every one of these stories is united simply by being a crazy, somewhat nonsensical adventure through time and space.