REVIEW: DOCTOR WHO – TALES OF TRENZALORE / AUTHOR: JUSTIN RICHARDS, GEORGE MANN, PAUL FINCH, MARK MORRIS / PUBLISHER: BBC BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who constantly divides opinions, but one area where it’s certainly not lacking is scale. The Time of the Doctor, Matt Smith’s swansong, saw the Time Lord defending the town of Christmas in a nine-hundred-year siege. Of course, the episode itself only lasted an hour, and so much of this conflict occurred off-screen. It’s these narrative gaps that Tales of Trenzalore, an anthology of four stories, aims to fill. Released as an eBook earlier this year, Tales is now available in paperback.
First off is Justin Richards’ Let it Snow, in which the Ice Warriors plot to kill the Doctor by messing with the town’s weather. It’s the weakest of the lot, the main problem being that it takes its time building up to a blindingly obvious twist that anyone can see coming from five pages in. Once the reveal finally happens, the story continues to surprise no one, with a generic Doctor-vs-evil-plot climax remarkable only for a use of the sonic screwdriver actually related to sonic energy.
Next up is George Mann’s An Apple a Day, in which the carnivorous Krynoid turns Trenzalore’s plant life against the town. The herbaceous horror hits all the right notes, particularly a nasty body horror sequence in which a man turns into a plant. The story’s weakness is the child companion placed alongside the Doctor; seeing the ageing hero through young, admiring eyes is a great idea, but young Theol’s loss of his father is only brought up towards the end – an opportunity for character development missed out on.
Strangers in the Outland by Paul Finch sees Autons terrorising the people of Trenzalore. Though little is made of the weirdly irrelevant detail that they’re disguised as the Doctor, they’re not to be messed with, depicted here as brutal plastic thugs, and the story leads to a very action-centred crescendo.
In Mark Morris’ The Dreaming, by far the highlight of the volume, the mysterious Mara infects the minds of Christmas’ citizens, leading them to bring it into physical form via an occult ritual that would look genuinely scary on screen. Morris captures the voice of the Eleventh Doctor significantly better than the other writers; here he’s at his most elderly, still playful yet capable of intimidating rage, and there’s much-needed complexity added to his relationship with the villagers.
Overall, what we have here is a mixed bag. While the first three stories aren’t without charm, they all feel Who-by-numbers, and more bolder stories like The Dreaming would be appreciated. If you were a fan of The Time of the Doctor, this light reading will flesh out its world for you, but, like giving a Krynoid a sausage roll, it’s insubstantial, forgettable flesh.