BOOK REVIEW: DOCTOR WHO – THE BLOOD CELL / AUTHOR: JAMES GOSS / PUBLISHER: BBC BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The Doctor’s been imprisoned – for heinous, unnameable crimes - aboard a high security, inescapable prison built into an asteroid far in the future. The trouble is, the Doctor keeps trying to escape; he certainly has free run of the complex and its cells and corridors and whilst he seems in no hurry to leave, it’s not entirely clear exactly what he’s doing there in the first place. Every now again a pert young girl comes to visit, standing out on the landing platform waving placards because the prison’s red tape won’t allow her access to the building. But all is not well aboard the prison; there are constant power outages and there seems to be something mysterious and bloodthirsty stalking the lower levels...
The Blood Cell sees regular BBC Books contributor James Goss make his first stab at capturing the new Doctor/Clara partnership in print and, by and large, he’s nailed the pair of them. Although they’re apart for much of the story when they finally meet their bantering love/hate relationship is much as we’ve seen it on screen. The Doctor – or Prisoner 428 as he’s generally referred to – is recognisably Peter Capaldi too. Whilst Goss gives us little in the way of physical description of the Time Lord – “he had a face made for fury and was making the most of it” is one of the best - beyond the fact that he looks a bit tired and old now and again, his mannerisms and behaviour are very much as seen on TV. The Doctor is brittle, blunt, and sometimes breathtakingly rude. He’s also occasionally a little bit kinder than we’ve yet seen in the TV series; a very moral man trying to do the right thing but not necessarily absolutely sure why.
Some fans might feel uncomfortable with the book’s first person narrative; the story unfolds through the eyes of the Governor, a jaded, broken, and dejected man whose past glories are way behind him and who really just wants a quiet life at his latest billet. But Goss makes the Governor interesting and a little bit pitiful as events and circumstances spiral out of his control and his isolated, half-forgotten prison falls into chaos and confusion. The ‘Blood Cell’ of the story contains the book’s monster, a great nasty blob composed of body parts. It’s a grisly and graphic image and Goss wisely, for the benefit of younger readers, goes easy on the gore and allows the imagination to do all the hard work in visualising something appalling inhuman. Also on hand are the Custodians, the prison’s robot guards who have a handy line in death rays and whirling claws and blades.
Pacey, highly readable, and ingenious, The Blood Cell might irritate those hoping for a more traditional Doctor Who yarn. For example, the TARDIS is a no-show here even though it’s obliquely referenced from time to time. Goss has, however, made a decent fist of writing a very different kind of Doctor Who story from an entirely original perspective but which, at its heart, is still Doctor Who through and through.