Presumably someone, somewhere, thought that Ashildr/Series Nine were destined to be runaway smash hits with the fans and, as a result, here’s a motley quartet of short(ish) stories chronicling some of Ashildr’s historical adventures when the Doctor wasn’t around, and most specifically between his first and second encounters with her (the series logo features prominently on the cover and there’s a TARDIS on the back as a sort of belt-and-braces exercise). Ashildr’s adventures fit perfectly into the whimsical fairy tale world of Moffat’s Doctor Who and these stories are gossamer-thin romps filed with medieval magical castles, princes, unlikely fanciful monsters and all the stuff that rarely sits well in Doctor Who’s once-tougher and more muscular and ruthless Universe.
The main problem with Ashildr is that – immortality notwithstanding – she’s just not a hugely interesting character to read about, and whilst the authors have done their best, the flat, bland performances by Maisie Williams on TV have really given them very little to work with in terms of injecting the character with any excitement or vivacity. Of the four stories, Justin Richards’ Arabian Knights-style romp is not without its charm, whilst David Llewellyn’s romping story sees ‘Ash’ join the crew of a rogue vessel setting out to find a mythical land of gold. Colgan’s story is set in London during the time of the Black Death and ties up TV series continuity by explaining on-screen references during her second encounter with the Doctor in The Woman Who Lived to the death of Ashildr’s children and in The Ghosts of Branscombe Wood, set shortly before her second encounter with the Doctor, Ashildr has become more of a detached loner as she investigates mysterious apparitions in a forest at dead of night.
Modern Doctor Who has often excelled in expanding the backstory of many of its more interesting supporting characters and, in theory, there might have been expected to have been a lot of mileage in and some enthusiasm for the ‘untold’ adventures of the Doctor’s latest acquaintance. But with most of Series Nine having fallen on stony ground and Ashildr having been received with little more than indifference and disinterest from the general audience, it’s hard to imagine who but the determined hardcore are likely to find much entertainment value in the mundane adventures of a very run-of-the-mill secondary character who, hopefully, we’ll not be troubled by again on TV or any other medium.
DOCTOR WHO – LEGENDS OF ASHILDR / AUTHORS: JUSTIN RICHARDS, DAVID LLEWELLYN, JAMES GOSS, JT COLGAN / PUBLISHER: BBC BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW