Review: Doctor Who – Spore / Author: Alex Scarrow /Publisher: Puffin / Release Date: Out Now
Puffin’s monthly fiftieth anniversary run of ‘quick-read’ style Doctor Who eBooks reaches Paul McGann’s Byronesque Eighth Doctor who, you’ll recall, enjoyed just an hour’s worth of TV time in the 1996 American TV movie. Tough call. Fortunately Scarrow, best known for his Time Riders series of children’s adventure novels, has opted to focus more on his plot than the character of a Time Lord who, in this incarnation at least, is still a blank page for many readers (despite Big Finish’s stirling work in putting some flesh on the Eighth Doctor’s TV bones).
The TARDIS lands near a dusty New Mexico town where a deadly alien pathogen is on the loose, growing and infecting on a scale which could consume the whole planet in a matter of weeks. It’s already spread to the nearby town and turned its inhabitants into an icky black mush (surprisingly nasty and graphic for what’s ostensibly a short story for kids) and, after a quick chinwag with some American soldiers, the Doctor decides to venture into the town to try and find a way to stop the spread of the infection. Here he meets up with soldier Evelyn Chan, only survivor of an army unit sent into the town for investigation purposes. The Doctor faces a race against time to find a way to communicate with the pathogen and force it to leave the Earth forever.
Nothing much wrong with Spore apart from the fact it doesn’t feel much like a Doctor Who story. McGann’s Doctor is disappointingly generic – there’s really not much sense of anything but a fairly typical square-jawed hero in the way he’s written – but at least Scarrow’s brief description of the Doctor identifies him as the TV movie version of the character and not the leather-jacketed upgrade more recently created by Big Finish. But the story itself seems more suited to something like The X-Files and in some ways it’s easy to imagine it as an episode in any US-based McGann TV series which might have (but didn‘t) follow from the TV movie.
So while it doesn’t really sit that well as a Doctor Who tale, Scarrow seems happy enough with his occasionally grisly text; we’re told frequently how human victims of the pathogen are effectively melted or absorbed into the virus itself. It’s a story which doesn’t mess about, it just gets on with it, gets the job done and gets out. McGann fans might be frustrated by the blandness of the depiction of their hero whereas others might find much to enjoy about Spore’s simple, linear storyline and its undercurrent of gruesome body horror.