One of the most refreshing aspects of Chris Chibnall’s new era of Doctor Who on TV is its determined avoidance of smug continuity references to the show’s own history. The last few seasons have been blighted by a continual desire to wink at the hardcore fan audience at the expense of casual viewers, and the show slowly sank into a soup of its own self-importance, much as it had done in the latter years of the 1980s. But it seems that this ‘fresh start’ memo hasn’t reached the authors of its licensed fiction.
David Solomons’ breezy, fast-paced Secret In Vault 13 is awash with clunky, tiresome continuity references which will sail right over the heads of the 9-12 year old audience the book is aimed at whilst raising the heart-rates of older fans who go weak at the knees at any mention of Yeti, Robots of Death and the Master’s TARDIS. We’d suggest a drinking game where you knock back a little of what you fancy when the Doctor gabbles on about some previous exploit (Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans all get a mention by page 4) but chances are you’ll be paralytic by chapter three and in need of a trip to the hospital and the use of a stomach pump by chapter six. One character is called Delgado and one chapter consists of Yaz being chased around by another who just spouts out the names of virtually every monster or mad scientist to have ever appeared in the series. It’s the curse of the fan writer given the chance to play in their favourite sandbox, and Solomons is rolling around in the mud for nearly 300 pages.
It’s a shame as the constant back-referencing gets in the way of a fun romp which borrows shamelessly from a plot device the show itself has utilised a couple of times, as the Doctor and her new chums Yaz, Ryan and Graham race across Space and Time to find three keys which will give them access to the mysterious Vault 13 on a remote and frozen world, before an evil plant-creature called Nightshade can carry out her plan to use the Genesis Seed to reboot the entire Universe.
In a breakneck adventure, the team travel to the Galactic Seed Vault on the planet Calufrax Major (there’s another one for you), battle the Faculty on a stranded spaceship on a hostile planet, and encounter a giant mole in modern-day London in a story strand that briefly evokes, of all things, The Wicker Man. It’s a mad, breathless romp full of improbable robots, giant spaceships and fanciful aliens – the sort of stuff still way beyond the TV show’s budget and ambition – and, with pretty spot-on characterizations of the Jodie Whittaker’s fast-talking Doctor and Bradley Walsh’s Graham (Yaz and Ryan are a bit more generic), takes the tone of the TV show and magnifies it for the written page.
The book fizzes with wit and bold ideas; Solomons writes with confidence and style and there’s rarely a dull moment in a galaxy-spanning adventure guaranteed to please a new generation of youngsters who have discovered Doctor Who whilst bringing a quiver of arousal to more mature fans who get a little weepy at mentions of Voord, Ood, Judoon, Tritovores, Sea Devils and Weeping Angels. A bit more restraint on the showing-off front could have made The Secret In Vault 13 a slightly less wearing read, but it passes muster as a bright, imaginative book suitable for a younger crowd.
DOCTOR WHO: THE SECRET IN VAULT 13 / AUTHOR: DAVID SOLOMONS / PUBLISHER: PENGUIN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW