Of the three BBC books released to mark the on-screen arrival of the Thirteenth Doctor, the longest and most complex is Steve Cole’s Combat Magicks. Notional a historical set in 451 AD Gaul, with Attila the Hun fighting the remnants of the Roman Empire, within pages it becomes apparent that sorcery is afoot, and being Doctor Who, that means aliens and alien technology. An insight of little comfort when both armies are being helped by supernatural forces and the body count keeps rising.
Not only are the TARDIS team dealing with both the Hun and the Romans, but there’s also the mysterious Legion of Smoke. Three angles of interaction is unusual, but does mean the companions can be separated and each have something to do. Of course there are aliens at work here, and Steve Cole excels himself in the design of the aliens and there plan. There are many genuinely creepy scenes as the extent of the aliens’ powers becomes apparent, and what Atilla needs is help from his own sorcerers, in this case the Doctor and Yaz. Meanwhile Ryan is mixed-up in the Legion of Smoke as he finds the world of 451 has more in the way of technology than any history books have ever mentioned.
With so much at play in terms of history, aliens and a dark plot, Steve Cole also populates the story with great characters, none more than Atilla and his entourage. Attila is shown as ruthless, bold, decisive and a leader very much of his time. There’s more than enough in the history of events for this to have been a pure historical, but the addition of alien science posing as magic does add a piquancy to events, and while we get to meet several historic figures, Steve Cole also gives us some glimpses of the new companions as well.
The cover shows Yaz and the Doctor, but It’s more than fair to say Ryan has plenty to do across the story, with Graham also getting involved when he ends up in the Roman camp. As he does on screen, Graham acts as our modern eyes and is suitably appalled by what he sees and afraid this may just be the final outing for all of them.
The plot doesn’t shy away from making it difficult for the Doctor and if the Legion of Smoke are a little deus ex machina, they are also an interesting idea worth exploring more.
If you can’t wait between the end of Series 11 and the New Year special, you could do worse than put this on your list for Santa, but be quick!
DOCTOR WHO: COMBAT MAGICKS / AUTHOR: STEVE COLE / PUBLISHER: BBC BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: AVAILABLE NOW