Thursday, January 9, 2014

Doctor Who: EarthWorld - A Book Review

Anji Kapoor has just had the worst week of her life, having lost her boyfriend Dave to alien invaders. 

This week is not looking any better.

Trapped on board the TARDIS, The Doctor was trying to get Anji home.  The problem is The Doctor isn't feeling quite himself and is incapable of operating his sonic screwdriver much less piloting the TARDIS.  Fitz, The Doctor's companion, is in a similarly useless state of mind. 

Perhaps this is why they wind up somewhere far away from Anji's office in modern London.  Someplace with robot dinosaurs, poorly researched exhibits inspired by "real Earth history", a trio of psychotic preteen princesses running the show and a group of teenage terrorists trying to shut the thing down.  Only one thing is certain - Anji will never complain about reporting to her office on Monday morning again!  Assuming she lives...

One wonders if they could have chosen a more accessible Eighth Doctor story for inclusion in this collection.  EarthWorld is not a bad story but it is largely dependent upon the reader being familiar with a number of earlier stories.  Writer Jacqueline Rayner gamely tries to explain things in both the introduction to this reprint volume and throughout the novel, yet it is still too much for a neophyte Whovian to cope with.

Anji is perhaps the best example of this.  Rayner makes use of a neat literary device by having Anji write e-mails to her deceased Dave in the midst of all the chaos that is occurring around her.  While this does an effective job of building sympathy for Anj and giving the reader insight into her mind, it gives the reader surprisingly little detail about Dave and the circumstances of his death, presuming the reader has already read the previous novels in the series.

The subplot involving The Doctor's other companion Fitz suffers from similar problems.  Without giving too much of the game away, Fitz undergoes an identity crisis that mirrors The Doctor's current troubles with amnesia while simultaneously conflicting with them.  Whereas The Doctor cannot remember, Fitz cannot forget.  Of the two companions, Fitz's conflict is definitely the more interesting and his plight is a more sympathetic one.  Yet Fitz's problems are even more dependent on an encyclopedic knowledge of Fitz's actions in the stories leading up to this one!

Thankfully, the final execution rises far above the rote plot.  The story moves at a brisk pace, managing to reach the conclusion before the reader is likely to notice just how thin everything is.  All in all, I'd say EarthWorld is worth reading but it might be best read as part of the whole of the Eighth Doctor Adventures than as one part of the 50th Anniversary Reprints series. 

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