Author: James Goss
Publisher: BBC Books
The TARDIS is crashing! It’s landed on Earth! There are strange faceless figures who seem familiar! No, not The Rebel Flesh, but rather James Goss’ first foray into Doctor Who novels. Goss has previously written Who for BBC audio, alongside novels for Torchwood and Being Human, so he has certainly got good form, but just how does this latest offering from BBC Books fare?
The similarity pointed out at the start is an unfortunate coincidence, considering the latest TV adventure, and it seems remiss to criticise it too much (though surely someone must have been made aware of the similarity earlier on?) since the story does differ hugely from Matthew Graham’s latest work.
The trouble with reviewing Dead of Winter is that it’s hard to do so without giving too much away. There are twists, and plenty of them – some you might be able to see coming, but others you definitely won’t. This reader was certainly impressed on a couple of occasions, and it’s to Goss’s credit that he manages to maintain the surprises.
It’s a small cast of characters in what is – essentially – a ‘base under siege’ tale, the like of which Doctor Who does so well. Yet it’s set in 18th century Italy in a sanatorium that shouldn’t really exist. Getting to the bottom of that mystery is only half the problem though since the TARDIS crew have lost their memories. “Amnesia, that tired old plot point!”, you may say, but in the context of the story it works very well. The reason as to why is such that it doesn’t come across as contrived, lazy storytelling, rather as an integral part of the tale. To say much more would ruin your enjoyment of the novel.
Goss has really had fun with his narrative techniques too, presenting the novel as fragments from different viewpoints. We get chapters from Rory and Amy’s separate recollections of events, letters from the patients of the clinic and diary entries from the Doctor presiding over the place. It’s a neat twist to the usual method, and varying the narrators definitely adds to the enjoyment of the story, the reader never being quite sure exactly what will happen next.
The regulars are all very well characterised, with Rory in particular worthy of praise. It’s heartening that his portrayal here echoes his rather more substantial role in series 6, with Amy too written to the latest series’ specifications.
The Doctor gets to show off as much as ever, and is perfectly Matt Smith in both action and speech pattern. In response to one character’s intended use of a gun, the Doctor remarks, “Well please don’t shoot it at the weather!” For this reader it was a standout line, and also indicative of just how well the Doctor has been captured.
The supporting cast are all well realised, which is undoubtedly helped by most of them having parts of the story written from their viewpoint. No one is as they seem for one reason or another, and Goss is continually wrong-footing the reader as to who to trust and what people’s motives actually are.
The novel is unique in its own way without breaking too much new ground. It’s very entertaining, well written and contains plenty of twists and turns. While the enemy of the piece is similar to those from Who’s past (which in itself is a fairly inevitable fact of an almost 50 year-old show), it’s dealt with in such a way as to still be tremendously entertaining.
The yardstick of these 11th Doctor novels so far seems to Oli Smith’s quite splendid Nuclear Time, and while Dead of Winter doesn’t quite top it, it certainly gives it a good run for its money. Highly recommended.