Doctor Who: 11 Doctors, 11 Stories by Eoin Colfer, Michael Scott and others

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Doctor Who: 11 Doctors, 11 Stories by Eoin Colfer, Michael Scott and others

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A great collection of short, all-ages Doctor Who stories, that make a fitting celebration of its 50th birthday.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 528 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Puffin
ISBN: 9780141348940

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It's basic knowledge that Doctor Who has changed a lot since first being seen fifty years ago – and I don't mean the title character, but the nature of the programme. It has gone from black and white, and cheaply produced, and declared disposable, to being an essential part of the BBC, full-gloss digital, and accessed in all manner of ways. So with the celebratory programme still ringing in our ears, and leaving people pressing a red button to see a programme about three Doctors, er, pressing a red button, we turn to other aspects of the birthday bonanza. Such as this book, which has also mutated in its much shorter lifespan, from being a loose collection of eleven short e-book novellas written by the blazing lights of YA writing, to a huge and brilliant paperback collecting everything within one set of covers.

Eoin Colfer might be seen to be drawing the short straw with the first Doctor, but certainly has a big name to launch the book, with a darling little tale that feels completely appropriate (with the exception perhaps of the Doctor swearing D'Arvit!) and makes you think 'did they really never do that particular story before?!'. Michael Scott gets to 'follow that!', and does very well, with a tale regarding an unfortunate Jamie bringing the Necronomicon into the very core of a broken-down TARDIS. Another classic element of fantasy, the Spear of Destiny, is given us by Marcus Sedgwick, who goes against his literary grain with a snappy, dialogue-heavy work that takes us from Bessie pootling through London to snowy Norse mythology. The fact this tale is so short in paragraph length can only remind us of the annual literacy-encouraging short Who novels I've always enjoyed, as it has to be said they've been of a consistent high standard over the years, and this fits that bill too, of a collection of works that are amenable to all ages and yet not condescending or inferior for any.

The fact these works are all so small – forty to fifty pages – means not many authors have to do what the writers of the full novels had to, which includes coming up with new ways to describe the TARDIS sound effect, or describe the Doctor in detail. Philip Reeve takes the Tom Baker incarnation onto an orbiting tree, although it's soon clear the Doctor is known of old to the inhabitants; Patrick Ness uses his time to take us to Wartime USA, with an unusual alien invasion, but whereas his story is very much from the point of view of the locals and not the Doctor and Nyssa, the Time Lord's character is still there, as was Reeve's Tom Baker, even if you get the feeling Ness would have preferred a meatier hero.

Indeed, after that, the book proves it shares so much DNA with the television version that the weaker, middle-era Doctors that were eminently low on character, prove to be just the same on the page. Richelle Mead even uses Peri to narrate her story, an encounter with one of the TV version's baddies in a sort of alien, feudal Las Vegas. Malorie Blackman doesn't really go into her Doctor's character much either, but provides one of the better efforts here, a dazzling story where the Doctor and Ace pop from one nasty circumstance to another, yet come across the most unusual – kindly, educative and pleasant Daleks. The fact that both this franchise and this author have delighted in the past by presenting the topsy-turvy makes this a match made in heaven.

Drawing the short straw of that-doctor-who-did-it-once-and-that-was-enough, Alex Scarrow provides us with a richly detailed look at another small-town USA alien invasion, one that again has shadows of the Doctor's past in it. Charlie Higson is on hand, however, to pick up the pace for the final leg, with the more recent Doctors. His 9th Doctor story feels slight, and relies too much on a novelistic twist unavailable to the TV people, although it still feels perhaps like one of the more literary efforts. He catches the character succinctly, and manages to cram his story into a very recognisable beat of the TV mythos.

The best Doctor is gifted to Derek Landy who really gets that character's zippy dialogue onto the pages of his story, about a story. Sort of. It reminds you of Neil Gaiman in a way, and this man – the only one of these authors to also write for the TV series – rounds us off with the Matt Smith version, and Amy, facing a multi-faced, multi-faceted nasty, in a fun manner.

On the whole this collection is superb. Sometimes the quality is nearer a four star rating than five, but the mass of talent and writing shows everyone taking the task to hand in a strong way, and putting their all into fitting into the franchise with intelligence and respect. So many people writing for an established series try and do on the page what can't be afforded or managed on screen, and that doesn't happen here, but that's down to the short format, and the fact that Doctor Who has always managed in one manner or another to show us the incredible. These fantasies at their best are fantastic, however, and take us from the early Who, when the black and white episodes (and the science in them) wobbled, to the gloss of current days, when the timey-wimey stuff still wobbles. This itself is a glossy, and most fitting, birthday present for any fan.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For further reading, all the above highlighted authors bear exploration.

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